Easy Papercraft with the Silhouette Cameo

When the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine arrived a while back, some of us hard core DIY CNC people at Inventables gave it a wary glance.  Within a few days we all quickly fell in love with it.  It is so versatile, so easy to use and it just plain works.  The projects are quick, fun and look great.

One of the features I quickly latched onto was the recognition marks feature.  If you have a full color image, the software can add registration marks and send it to your color printer.  The Cameo can then see those registration marks and accurately align cuts on that print.

I immediately thought of papercraft.  Papercraft is making 3D objects out of paper.  Typically you print the image on your printer, cut it out and then fold it into the final object.  Some of them have very complex shapes to cut out.  This can take a lot of time and cutting skill.  It is beyond many children who are otherwise very fond of papercraft. The Cameo can do a lot of the work for you.  If you load images and vectors into the software, it can send the images to your printer and send the vectors to the Cameo for cutting.

The Process

Get The Image

My favorite repository of papercraft things is Cubeecraft.  I browsed through the site and found a fun little Yoda.  Unfortunately, most of these are only available in raster image format.  That is perfect for printing and manually cutting, but not so good for automated cutting.  With that said, all you need to do is import it into a drawing program and draw a vector shape around the perimeter.  It would be a little work, but probably less work than actually cutting the item by hand. Fortunately, like all digital fabrication methods, once the initial work is done, multiple copies are easy.

Adding the Vectors

I decided to use CorelDRAW, but Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (free) would work just as well.

I started a new document and set it up for the paper size I was going to use.  I set it up as a standard letter size (8.5" x 11") in portrait mode.

I created two layers using the Object Manager. One was for the image and one was for the vectors. This allowed me to quickly turn the visibility of either on and off which can be helpful. I was going to be exporting the image and the vectors separately, so the layers can make that easier.

I imported the image onto the layer I setup for the image. The registration marks need a little room, so I scaled the image down to where there was about 3/4" of free space around the edge of the paper.

The shapes are very square and symmetrical so I dragged in a bunch of guidelines onto all the horizontal and vertical features.

I turned on the "snap to guidelines" feature and drew a shape on top of the image using Bezier lines to match its shape.  When the image was complete I gave it a contrasting fill color to make it easy to see.

Often things like arms are symmetrical, so you can copy and mirror an item to make the other side.

When the shape is done I deleted the guidelines. I did it in Object Manager because it allows you to group select them easily in one click. I took about 10 minutes to outline all the objects.

I then drew the lines for the internal cut lines.  These are the lines that tabs and other feature slide into.  I also had to add one for the chin, because that pops out and does not fold with the rest of the face.

The Cameo software does not have a format for importing both bitmaps and vectors in the basic version. The Designer Edition can import SVG, which may allow that.  I selected the raster image first and exported it as JPG format and used all of the default values of the export options.  I exported the vectors in DXF format and used all of those default export options as well.

Silhouette Studio Software

I started a new project with standard letter size paper (8.5" x 11"). I then turned on the registration marks to see where they would be on the paper.

I imported (merge) the image.  Next, I imported the DXF file.  It came in at a slightly different scale and location so I need to resize and move one of them until it matched.  It was pretty easy.  I used the corner resizing handles because they don't affect the aspect ratio.

I now printed from Silhouette Studio to my color printer on white 80lb card stock.  It printed my graphics as well as the software's registration marks.

The last step was to cut it on the Cameo.  I stuck it to the backer sheet and loaded it into the machine.  With registration marks enabled in the software, it knew to look for them after loading the sheet.


Everything worked great and now I can knock out copies in minutes.


  • Don't go crazy trying to be perfect with the vectors. It is going to cut way better than you could do manually anyway.
  • I found it easier to make the internal lines just a little longer than the image had. It makes inserting the tabs easier.
  • Draw a large rectangle behind everything and export with both vector and raster formats. It makes it much faster to re-size the two imports to the same size.
  • Draw on the back side over the fold lines with a ball point pen and ruler. This makes your folds easier and straighter.


Crish said…
With the $40 Silhouette Connect plug-in for Illustrator, you can add print the raster layer from Illustrator, then export the file to Connect and then cut out the image. Things will also line up perfectly that way, and you don't add compression by creating another JPG.

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