Introducing the latest addition to my still-in-its-infancy collection of crafting and making tools: the computer-controlled automated cutting machine.
There’s a couple of respected brands and models available, with a variety of different pros and cons and features they may or may not have, but I ended up getting a Silhouette Cameo 3.
If you’re like 99.9% of the population, you’ll have never heard of a Cameo or even cutters like this in general. The Cameo, and other cutters like it, are dedicated machines that can cut (a limited number of) materials for you based on input parameters given to it using special computer software.
More specifically, here’s what a generic workflow using the Cameo 3 might look like:
- Download or create a graphic using any regular graphic design software (I like using GIMP and Inkscape), or in Silhouette Studio directly
- If necessary, import the graphics into Silhouette Studio
- Use the built-in tools to quickly convert the graphics into “cutting paths”
- Put a piece of material (paper, cardboard, vinyl) on the appropriate cutting mat (they come in high-tack and low-tack variations, depending on the material you’d like to cut)
- Place the cutting mat onto the indicated loading position on the Cameo, and push the on-screen display button to load it.
- Using the Silhouette Studio software, send the active task to the Cameo 3, and watch it kick into action
- Wait for the Cameo 3 to finish cutting, then unload the results using the on-screen display button.
“But,” you might ask, “why do you need a computer-controlled and pricey piece of hardware to do what anyone can do by hand?”
I’m glad you asked.
There are several reasons for anyone to want a cutter like the Cameo 3. The most obvious reasons are reproducibility and precision. If you need an identical design more than once, being able to just press a button a few more times is hard to beat. On top of that, devices like this have no problem being accurate down to a tenth of a millimeter, which is great. Intricate designs that would be incredibly difficult to do by hand are also no issue whatsoever.
These are the same reasons we use printers instead of writing or drawing by hand when we want something that we might want more than one of, or that would take too long to do by hand.
There’s another reason, though, and that’s a far more personal one: I have bad joints. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably know this. I have more or less random better and worse days, but even on my better days, I can’t cut things for long. It’s genuinely difficult for me to hold a knife and cut things for more than a few minutes. Some days, it’s just impossible, and even the least bit of force on the joints on my fingers is enough to put me in a lot of pain.
For me, having a piece of hardware that’s designed to do the cuts that would be difficult and painful for me to do (if I could even do them at all) is a way to work around a disability. It enables me to do things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anymore, and even go beyond that when needed. And that’s just magnificent.
Here’s a quick test I did when I first got my Cameo 3 all hooked up. I made the design (if you can call it that) in Silhouette Studio using the built-in text tool. The heart image I downloaded and used the built-in auto-trace tool on to turn it into a matching cutting path. I then sent the cutting task to my Cameo and had it cut this out of a sheet of vinyl. I then manually took out the letters, and used the remaining part as a stencil that I applied just long enough to spray-paint the heart and letters onto a leftover furniture panel:
The results are striking, especially when you consider that I had almost no experience with cutting machines, that the surface was a prelaminated furniture panel that’s designed to clean well (and not designed to be painted on) and was not prepared for paint in any way (no sanding or priming). The results were still pretty amazing – not necessarily for the results themselves, but for the future potential that they represent.
I will say that it was a tough choice to spend so much on something that’s seemingly so simple, and I had to work hard to convince myself – using many of the arguments I’ve outlined above. I saved up for this for a while. Part of the refund I got from returning my broken scroll saw went towards this. I’d also like to thank my dad and my mom, who together pitched in over half the purchase price as a belated birthday present.
But really, I’m incredibly happy that I’ve added the Silhouette Cameo 3 to my arsenal of tools. You can expect me to begin using it in my projects soon, as well. Look forward to that!
Editorial note: I actually bought my Silhouette Cameo 3 a month and a half ago, at this point… I just hadn’t gotten around to writing about it yet! Sorry!