Cutting Cards with a Silhouette Portrait Cutter
Guest Review by: Corey Young
Synopsis: The cutter makes quick work of cutting printed cardstock into cards.
As a game designer, I make a lot of cards. I mean A LOT of cards. I iterate my designs very quickly. If something is broken, or we find a typo, or for any number of reasons, I make entirely new sets of cards. Until recently, I used 80lb cardstock, usually duplex printed at my local FedEx Office. I’d then cut these using an X-Acto and straight edge, then round the corners with a corner rounding punch.
Ah, the joys of carpel tunnel syndrome. I had to find a better alternative.
This past week, I saw an ad for the Silhouette Portrait craft cutting plotter. It lists right now on Amazon for $109, down from $199. I thought that for that price, it was worth a try.
The installation of the software and driver was very easy. The software is easy to use and intuitive. I made a layout that mirrored my typical 9 card arrangement in under 10 minutes.
The first thing that you’ll have to get used to is the cutting mat. It’s a long sheet of transparent plastic, coated with a sticky/tacky surface. This holds the media (cardstock) in place while it’s being cut. At first, this can be off-putting because the cardstock tends to REALLY stick to the cutting mat. I recommend that you use a few sheets of scrap cardstock to break the surface in. It will tear the paper a bit, and leave bits behind. Once you’ve done this a few times, the surface will be “seasoned” for grabbing, without damaging, the media.
I was very concerned that my duplex-printed cards would lose ink to the cutting mat sticky stuff or be torn up, but I was delighted to discover that it actually made the cards pop off more easily. It left no marks on the cards. I over-bleed my backs, ensuring that the entire back is covered with ink. Again, I have FedEx Office do my printing, so the printing is of very high quality and saturation.
You may want to do a lot of trial and error calibration to get your cutter’s registration exactly where you want it. Here are a few things I’ve found that might help you.
- In the software, set the cut speed to 3. Setting it slower wastes time and decreases the accuracy. The default cut speed for 105lb+ paper is 1, but I’d ignore that.
- Set the depth on your blade to 4 or 5. It works just fine, and I’m thinking that it will help the cutting mat last longer. I am a bit concerned that my cutting mat will wear out faster than the manufacturer might think, simply because I’m always cutting the exact same pattern. I ordered 2 extra mats and an extra blade.
The registration (calibration) routine listed in the instructions are basically useless for getting the precise cuts that I need. They basically tell you to line up the black arrow centered between the white rollers on the cutter. The center point is not marked. You just have to eyeball it. Not good enough.
Why is it so imprecise? I suspect that the primary use for the device, cutting craft shapes out of monochromatic materials, does not demand the same degree of precision. If you want to cut a flower pattern out of yellow cardstock, it doesn’t really matter if the pattern is off by half an inch. For my purposes, cutting printed cards with almost no bleed, I needed to take extra steps.
I’ll provide a lot of detail here in the hopes of saving you the experimentation time.
- The cutting mat has a nice outline showing where an 8½”x11” sheet fits. Carefully align your card stock to that.
- When you’re feeding the mat into the cutter, look for the two parallel guides at the left. Align the left edge of the card stock to the inside (right) edge of the leftmost of the double guides. I know that’s confusing. I highlighted the line I’m talking about in the first image. The second image shows the card stock aligned correctly.
This will center the stock correctly every time. To make my life easier. I then took a Sharpie marker and marked the cylinder exactly where the black arrow on the cutting mat is pointing.
I’m now able to precisely cut 9 cards, with rounded corners, in about 45 seconds. This used to take me something like 5 minutes using my manual process. The time savings is certainly worth it to me.
I may start cutting my prototype tiles for Santorini with the Silhouette as well. These tile faces will be elongated hexes printed on adhesive-backed paper. I should be able to set the cut depth so that it cuts the surface material, but not the waxy backing material. This too will be an enormous time savings for me.
Conclusion: The Silhouette Portrait craft cutter is an inexpensive, worthy tool for game designers.