The Silhouette Cameo 3: My First Impressions

Merry Xmas to me!

My Experience

Happy New Year! I’m very excited to report that my boyfriend’s mom bought me the Silhouette Cameo 3 for Christmas. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been playing with it to see how this super-cool, newfangled machine can help me to papercraft more efficiently. My friend Jenny Bonet, who is an awesome photographer and card maker and the owner of Jenny B Occasions, showed me how to use her Silhouette Cameo 2 a few months ago. We were working on a special project that I featured on my blog a few months ago, and we were both amazed by what it could do.

Although I’m grateful for the opportunity to play with this amazing product, so far my feelings about it are a bit mixed. I’m hoping that I warm up to it as I get to know it better.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’m primarily a card maker who uses cardstock, ink, rubber stamps, and embellishments to make my products. I’m a former Stampin’ Up! demonstrator, and have owned the Stampin’ Up Big Shot since it came out. I really love collaging and stamping, and can spend entire afternoons making cards that are one-of-a-kind pieces of art. But, that’s not always practical, especially if you need to reproduce multiples of one type of design.

The beauty (and also the difficulty) of the Silhouette Cameo 3 is that shapes and designs can be transferred directly from the Silhouette Cameo’s library to the machine. You can purchase a design in the library or create your own, then scan and print it using the Cut and Print feature. I particularly like artist Sophie Gallo’s designs, and the image below was created by her. It is available for purchase in the Silhouette library. At the time I wrote this post, Silhouette offers a $25 shop credit to be used within 30 days of purchase.

Intricate heart design

The Silhouette Cameo 3 eliminates the need to purchase specially shaped dies that might only be used once or twice and then take up space in a drawer until you discover them on a decluttering binge five years later (yes, guilty as charged over here!). It also allows for a lot more personal creativity than many other die cutters. If you know how to use the Silhouette Cameo 3 properly, it can replicate and cut out pretty much any drawing that you make. And, perhaps because it can do so many complicated things, it is also a bit complicated to learn to use. “There’s a learning curve,” is what I keep hearing and seeing from friends who have the machine. I would have to agree wholeheartedly with that statement based on my experience.

The printed out heart

One of the things I really want to use my Cameo for is to print intricate designs, like the valentine heart pictured above.  A heart like this can’t easily be made through what we papercrafters like to call “fussy cutting.” “Fussy cutting” involves using tiny scissors to cut out tiny pieces, and can be hard on the hands, not to mention time-consuming. So, to find out more about how to use the machine for intricate designs, I went online and read several of the Silhouette America and Silhouette School tutorials for beginners before I proceeded to set up my machine.

One thing that I found somewhat frustrating right away was that a lot of the beginner tutorials that came up in my first Google search seem geared toward people who are beginners to making things in general. Other tutorials apply to those who are using the machine to cut vinyl or iron-ons rather than cardstock or other forms of paper. I’m an experienced card maker and specifically wanted the machine to cut out intricate die cuts on cardstock. So, I purposefully sought out tutorials that would be appropriate for cutting cardstock, such as this one from Lori Whitlock, which I found tremendously helpful.

Here’s the machine hard at work!

In the beginning I must have set up something incorrectly, because on the first pass the blade from the machine munched a little chunk out of the 12×12 plastic mat that came with it! Fortunately, I was able to cancel the job and unplug before any further damage was done. Although this scared me a bit, it didn’t stop me from experimenting. Several hours later…here’s what I learned.

Comparison of manual (left) versus auto (right)

Some Advice for Card Makers Using this Machine

Manual settings are better than auto – The Silhouette Cameo 3 has a feature called “Auto Blade” which will allow the machine to choose the settings for you. I would not advise using the Auto Blade setting for a very intricate design like this one. I had to manually adjust the machine’s blade in order to cut the design effectively, which is what most experienced users advise. After many hours of experimentation, I ended up having to use a setting of 6 for the blade, 7 for the speed, 23 for the thickness, and had to turn on the “double cut” feature in order to get a heart that would look more like the one on the left than the one on the right. Lower blade settings and thicknesses didn’t produce a deep enough cut for the heart to easily come up off of the mat, even though it’s better for the blade if you use lower settings.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to experiment – Even after reading several blogs that included advice about how to set up the machine manually, it took two separate sessions of about 4 hours each in order to get a setting that worked for the intricate design that I purchased. I ended up feeling a bit exhausted by the process and was thinking to myself that I could have just cut some cute intricate hearts out of construction paper in half the time it took to get this design to print correctly. To be fair, as a beginner, I probably should have chosen a less intricate design to start with, but I really wanted to try something that I couldn’t do on my own easily.

I have wondered if the quality and brand of the cardstock matters – I am using a stash of Stampin’ Up! cardstock that I had on hand from when I was a demonstrator. It’s pretty thick and is of good quality, but it isn’t new. Perhaps if I had used the cardstock sold on Silhouette’s website, the online advice would have worked as expected.

The machine is quite loud – My boyfriend said it sounded like an old dot matrix printer. Be forewarned that using this machine is not a great thing to do while a roommate, partner, or baby is sleeping.

Less intricate design = FTW

Less intricate designs seem to work better than more intricate ones – I decided to purchase an Eiffel Tower design from the Silhouette Library (above), and used the same settings for this as I had for the more intricate design. These cut out like a dream, but I’m guessing that I could probably have cut them out on a lower setting given the straighter lines.

What I don’t love about the Silhouette Cameo 3: So far, it’s not able to cut out intricate designs as easily as I thought it would. There is a large and exhausting learning curve to get to know the machine. There are a lot of small breakable parts, including the blade, that I worry about messing up. Each kind of paper has to be tested and adjusted to suit the machine. And, it takes away some of the fun of making unique pieces of art when you use a machine to do some parts of this work.

What I love about it: I love the variety of designs that are available in the Silhouette Library, and the freedom to upload, scan, print and cut my own designs. It makes it much easier to make multiple die cuts. Once the learning curve is past, it’s probably going to be a time-saver.

Do any of you have a Silhouette Cameo 3 or similar machine? Would you use one? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.













About The Paper Pinup

Hello, I'm Laurel! I live in upstate Manhattan with my boyfriend Charles. I'm passionate about papercrafts, art journaling and sewing as "craft therapy" and bring a fresh and irreverent approach to my projects. I'm also a swing dancer and love vintage style from the 1920s through the 1950s.