This article is part of my “How to Make Planner Stickers to Sell on Etsy” guide.
Please raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by your Silhouette Cameo, Cricut Explore, or other sticker cutting machine.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Believe me when I say that I too have experienced my own fair share of troubles when it comes to fighting with my Silhouette. There was shouting. There was crying. There was lots of lying on the floor staring at the ceiling wondering where I went wrong. In fact, I can vividly remember my various stages of the learning process: optimism, determination, denial, anger, utter desperation… success!
As frustrating or hopeless as it might seem right now, I want to reassure you that with persistence and practice, you will be able to get consistent results. Personally, I struggled with my machine for about 3 months before I was confident enough in my production process to open my Etsy shop. Now, it’s not like I was constantly spending all my free time on this process, so realistically, it probably only took me several weeks of casual work.
Regardless, it was no small effort. One of the biggest problems for beginners is the lack of understanding the importance of trivial actions. When I started using my machine, I read the manual, watched a few videos, and thought the process was a piece of cake. All I had to do was place the paper in the correct corner of the cutting mat, load it into the machine, and start the process. The machine would read the registration marks, recalibrate itself if required, and cut beautiful results, right?
Turns out, not only is the placement of the paper on the cutting mat more involved than just lining up the corners, but other factors such as lighting, image placement within the software, and machine calibration are all equally important too. The key to success is figuring out the root cause behind each of your issues and recognizing how each factor impacts the final cut.
The more practice you have with your machine, the easier it will be to distinguish one problem from another. In this article, I’ll be covering all the issues that I have experienced and sharing how I was able to resolve the problems. I will be covering both printing and cutting issues.
Common Issues in the Cutting Process
* Failed to Read Registration Marks:
This troubleshooting tip is probably the most important one on the list, as it is the root cause of many other issues. I urge you to pay close attention to the information listed below and try to verify that you are able to consistently achieve result #1. If you ever get a cut that is randomly way off the mark, chances are that you have an underlying issue causing your registration marks to fail as described in result #2.
When you load a document and initiate the cutting process, your machine should immediately begin searching for registration marks. At this point, one of three things can happen:
Result #1: The machine is able to successfully read the registration marks and will continue cutting the stickers. If this happens, your first cuts should always be relatively close to their desired location, but may be off the desired location by less than 1/16 of an inch. As long as this difference is relatively small, it is safe to assume that the registration marks were read correctly and the issues are related to calibration.
There are a few unrelated issues that can cause cuts to become crooked as the blade moves further down the page. These will be discussed later. Thus, you should always judge the registration marks issue only based upon the first few cuts on the sheet, close to the top of the sheet. As long as your first few cuts are relatively correct, you are safe to assume your registration marks are being read successfully. Further troubleshooting topics will help resolve minor calibration issues.
Result #2: The machine cannot find any indications of registration marks, so it will treat the document the same way it treats a blank piece of paper: it will just choose a random spot on the page to start cutting. It will not display any error message. If this happens, your cuts will likely be way off from where their desired locations, sometimes up to 1/8” away. If you have random, extremely off cut marks, chances are you have an underlying issue that is causing your registration marks to fail to be detected. This could be due to improper placement on the cutting mat, lighting, or even an issue with your software file. These topics will be discussed later in the article.
Result #3: The machine realizes that the page has registration marks, but it cannot read them well enough. In this instance, you will receive a hard stop error on your machine letting you know that it failed to read the registration marks. You will need to unload the document and try again.
* Lighting is Important:
In my old troubleshooting article, I failed to understand the importance of good lighting. At the time of writing that post, I was almost able to consistently achieve good cut results. However, I would occasionally get a random sheet that would cut extremely off mark. It would happen unexplainably, and no amount of adjusting the paper on the cutting mat was solving my issue. This is a prime example of result #2 of the registration marks situation explained above. Eventually, I discovered the root cause of my problems was poor lighting.
To give yourself the best chance of success in fixing poor lighting, the best thing you can do is troubleshoot your machine during the day in a room with a lot of windows. You should find the brightest room in your house and move the cutting machine to that location. Remember, you are not trying to put the machine it in the path of harsh, direct sunlight, but rather to simply place it in a room with lots of ambient natural light. The machine is not as picky as it seems, so attempting to troubleshoot under these brightly lit conditions should almost certainly guarantee that you have a proper lighting setup.
If you still have trouble with the registration mark issue under these brightly lit conditions, your error may be caused by incorrect placement on the cutting mat.
Once you are able to get your machine to function properly in ideal conditions, you can then attempt to move it back into its home location and find a lighting solution that works.
* Placement on the Cutting Mat:
To achieve consistent cut results, you will need to create a consistent method for placing the paper onto the cutting mat. Subtle differences in position can cause errors during the cutting process, so mastering a consistent routine is important.
First, let’s discuss an issue that could be causing your registration marks to fail: placing the paper too far off the read-able area of the cutting mat. Generally, you should always try to line the paper up exactly with the lines on the cutting mat. If need be, err on the side of just inside the lines instead of just outside the lines. If you have the paper too close to the outside of the lines, or if your cutting mat is loaded into the machine just a hair beyond the alignment guide, you may find yourself having registration mark errors as specified in result #2 above.
To make the issue more complicated, you could also have registration mark read errors if your paper is too far inside the lines as well. You should always strive to align your paper correctly.
Improper placement on the cut mat could also cause minor errors in your cuts, even if the registration marks are reading correctly.
You will want to pay close attention to both the horizontal and vertical alignment of the paper on the cutting mat. When I was learning how to cut stickers, I would only line up my sheet with the starting edge of the mat; the horizontal section. However, I noticed that my cut lines would start out correctly, but veer more and more away from accuracy the further the blade moved down the page. This turned out to be an issue with the vertical edge of the paper not being parallel to the rollers. As the paper rolls further and further down the sheet, the small difference in angle becomes very noticeable as the distance increases.
Similarly, if you have an issue with cuts becoming more out of place as they increase in “latitude” down the page, then your issue is most likely due to slippage. When the paper is not securely adhered to the cutting mat, or if the surface of the paper is very slick, the machine can have trouble gripping the material. The rollers will still move, so the machine thinks it is still in the right location. However, the paper did not move as much as it was supposed to, so the paper is more and more out of sync, causing errors in cuts to become more and more noticeable as the cutting session continues.
* Issues with Software/File setup:
You may encounter registration read errors due to placing images too close to the registration marks. In this situation, it is possible that the machine may mistake your designs for the registration marks themselves. If you think this might be the cause of your issue, you should try to avoid placing images in the grayed out area of the software, at least while learning the process. As you become more comfortable with setup and using your machine, you may realize that you can push the boundaries.
* Fine tuning small errors in Cuts:
Once all the above issues are recognized and fix, you should be left with relatively consistent cuts that are only slightly off mark. Remember, you should always judge the accuracy of your cuts based off the first few cuts. If they worsen later on the page, the issue is related to the sheet placement on the mat.
First, recognize whether your cuts are consistently off in the same direction, or if they seem to be more random:
1. If they are NOT consistently in the same direction, then the registration marks may not be reading exactly accurate. This is most likely an issue with lighting or a software/file setup issue. If the machine accidentally reads part of your design as the registration mark, it will obviously not adjust itself properly. Likewise, harsh lighting can cause distinct shadows and make it harder for the machine to accurately detect the precise edges. I personally had issues with this due to holding a very bright flashlight over my machine. I thought the flashlight was resolving my lighting problems, but it turned out that the harsh, direct lighting was actually causing more harm than good.
2. If your cuts are consistently off in the same general direction, you have an issue with calibration. To test this, you should print 3 sheets one after another, at the same time of day; the reason being that environmental conditions such as light can cause the calibration direction to differ at various points in the day. Not realizing that this calibration difference existed was part of the problem for me when I was learning how to cut stickers. I would try to cut one sheet in the morning and another in the evening. However, comparing these two sheets that were cut in different lighting environments made it impossible to diagnose my issue or find patterns.
If you test 3 sheets and realize they consistently off in the wrong direction, you have a few different options to recalibrate your machine.
- Option A: Physically recalibrate your machine
Your cutting machine should have instructions in the manual that will let you adjust the physical calibration. If you find that your machine needs the same calibration adjustment at all times of the day and under all lighting conditions in your house, this might be the best solution for you. However, if you find that you require different calibration adjustments at different points in the day, it would be silly to calibrate your machine at the physical level, as it would need changed multiple times per day.
- Option B: Fix the calibration issue at the software level
This is what I often do, because I have different adjustment requirements at different points in the day. Essentially, I just realize that the final cuts will be slightly too far up and to the right, so I always position the cuts in my files slightly to the left and down. I usually only need to nudge the cuts one or two pixels out of place in the middle of the day when the sun is the brightest. However, in the evenings when I rely on ceiling light, I find that I need to give them 2-3 nudges instead. This is a very quick, simple, and flexible solution.
- Option C: Fix the lighting
If you are using a lamp or bright light to illuminate your machine, you could try adjusting the angle of the light and seeing if it has an impact.
* Perfect Kiss-Cut Settings:
It took me a lot of trial and error before I could find the perfect kiss-cut settings for my Silhouette Cameo. This is because I was relying solely on adjusting the physical ratchet blade, and not specifying the cut settings digitally. Check out my previous article “How to Print and Cut Planner Stickers”, where I show the cut panel and my preferred cut settings for sticker paper. Remember, you may need different cut settings for each of your different types of paper. Glossy tends to be a little thicker than matte paper, so I generally increase the thickness by a few notches when required. Each new blade from the factory may differ slightly as well, so you might need to fine-tune your settings when you replace your blade.
Common Issues in the Printing Process:
* Your Design is Blurry:
You should always design your stickers using at least 300 dpi to ensure it is high enough quality for printing. Assuming that you do have designs at 300 dpi, here a few additional issues that I have experienced that can cause your prints to become blurry.
First, be sure to save your images as a PNG or TIFF file. These file types are lossless, which means they will retain the integrity of your images down to pixel perfection. JPEGS and other common formats are lossy, which mean they lose some of the picture data when saved. This loss is mostly unnoticeable in photographs. However, the difference becomes very obvious on graphics that use solid blocks of colors and precise lines.
Another issue that can cause blurriness is saving cut files from Silhouette Studio into PDF format. Initially, I liked the idea of being able to save my cut files as a PDF so that I could easily print files without needing to open up the software. However, despite looking nice and crisp in Silhouette Studio, letting the software save the file as a PDF utterly butchered the print quality. The PDF process must have compressed my images, resulting in blurry images. It may be possible to change the settings and increase the PDF quality to prevent compression, but I was not able to figure it out.
* Paper Curl:
If you have a laser printer, it is inevitable that you will always have a small amount of paper curl. As long as the curl is not severe, your sheets should mellow out in a day or two, especially if placed in a folder or within cellophane packaging. To minimize the effects of paper curl, you should experiment with different print settings by changing the specified paper type. By specifying the type of material, your printer will adjust the amount of heat and the amount of toner applied to the page. I speak more on this topic in my older article, The Trials and Errors of Etsy Planner Sticker Making.
You should also note that paper curl can also be increased or minimized depending on how you pull your sheets off the cutting mat. If you have a very sticky cutting mat, you can actually cause a huge amount of curl just by pulling the sheets off the mat carelessly. I try grab my sheets by one corner, and focus more on pulling up, away from the mat than pulling sideways.
* Grayscale Streaks on Page:
This issue was my number one headache for many months, even after opening my Etsy shop. I have a large stack of misprint stickers due to this really bizarre issue from countless months of trying to figure out the root cause. Thankfully, I have been streak-free for a few months now and can safely say that I resolved the issue.
This problem is actually caused by a software incompatibility between my HP Printer and Silhouette Studio. This problem was supposed to be fixed many months ago in a software patch. However, I tried updating all my software, reinstalling my drivers, and various other troubleshooting attempts. Nothing worked; I needed to find my own solution. Ultimately, I discovered that the issue was solved by moving my design in silhouette studio all the way to the left of the page, to the point where it should be directly under the registration mark.
I have no idea why this works for me, but it does.
* Thin gray lines appearing on prints:
Once again, a very strange issue that took me a while to figure out. Sometimes, I would find very thin, printed gray lines randomly on my sheets. It was so bizarre!
Turns out, this was due to importing my files with a white background instead of transparent. Specifically, it was due to the fact that my white sheets had a few anti-alias pixels around the curved edges. Silhouette Studio probably interpreted these lines to be gray when rendering the final print file. To prevent headaches, I suggest always saving your files and designs with a transparent background.
Learning how to print and cut stickers consistently is a process that takes lots of patience, practice, and perseverance. Hopefully the issues I explain above will bring some clarity to the situation, and make your learning process progress more smoothly.
If you have learned any tips or tricks in your experience that you think could help others, leave a comment below and I can add it to the guide!