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Graphic Software for Craftcutters

A modeler, designer, or putz house builder who wants to get the minimum use out of any computer/craftcutter setup will need:

  • A computer connected to the Internet,
  • Software that talks to your cutter, and
  • A cutter that your computer can talk to.

I will be honest; thousands of people do a better job at computer graphics than I do. But for hobby purposes, I find myself mostly cutting out relatively simple shapes. Shapes that have to be repeated again and again.

For example, if you're cutting out windowframes for a large building, you can use graphic software to design one windowframe the size you need, then replicate it a dozen or three dozen times. Send it to your craftcutter, watch it for a minute to make certain it's working the way you think it should, then go get a snack and come back.

Vendor Software or Third-Party Software?

Though the software that was designed specifically to work with craftcutters is getting better all the time, many hobbyists also use vector graphic software that is more powerful than the software that comes from the craftcutter manufacturers.

Many users design in a graphics program, then import their design into the craftcutter's software for the actual cut. So there are a range of combinations of software being used to design and to cut.

This article is intended to give you an overview, and to let you know which software packages and combinations folks with your cutter brand are using successfully.

What are .svg Files?

Craftcutters, like their predecessors signcutters, depend on simple lines and curves to cut shapes (remember Geometry class?). The instructions that tell them where to "draw" those lines and curves are saved in "vector graphic" files (more definition below).

Though each craftcutter's associated software has its own file format, almost all of them read "Simple Vector Graphic" files (.svg). Most of the programs will write them as well. As a result .svg files have become the default interchange format for people using different brands of cutters.

Your friend who has a different brand cutter from you wants to send you his pattern so you can try it for yourself? He saves it as a .svg file and e-mails it to you. You import it into your program, resize or tweak it as you wish, and cut your project.

This is also the default file format for freelancers selling their designs online. Consequently, when Cricut finally allowed users to import .svg files into their current software, that was huge.

At this time, though, neither the Brother ScanNCut software, nor the basic version of Silhouette Studio import .svg files. Third-party software Sure-Cuts-A-Lot ("SCAL") to the rescue. It can convert .svg files into Brother's .fcm format. It can also write directly to Silhouette machines, bypassing the Studio software altogether. (Silhouette does offer a ~$50 upgrade that can read .svg files, though in my mind, there is no excuse for not offering that in the basic version.)

Dateline March, 2021

I put the approximate date of publication prominently near the top of these articles because this sort of content can go out of date quickly. In fact, I'm writing these articles because most of the internet pages I found while researching these topics was so outdated as to be useless. On the off chance that I don't get this page updated, and you stumble across it in five years, I want to let you know that the information I published here (after much research and experience) may no longer be valid.

You'll thank me later. :-)

Craftcutter-Specific Software

Cricut and Silhouette make software that is specifically designed to drive their products, so in one sense, your choice of hardware can determine your choice of software. That said,

  • Most brands of cutters have their own software packages, but can also be driven directly by third-party programs, including Sure-Cuts-a-Lot. The exception to this, of course, is Cricut.

  • Owners of Cricut Explore, Joy, and Maker (as of this writing), will need to use Cricut software to drive their machines, though they can use other, more sophisticated programs to design their cuts.

  • Owners of Silhouette Cameos can use third-party programs to design their cuts. However Silhouette Studio, which is free to Cameo owners, has been updated many times since it was originally introduced, so it is much more like a full-fledged graphic design program than the current Cricut software.

Details on software from Cricut, Silhouette, and Sure-Cuts-A-Lot are provided below (apologies to other software vendors whose products I haven't tested yet.)

Cricut Software

Longtime Cricut owners know that Cricut has introduced, then discontinued software for their machines not once, but twice.

  • Cricut Design Studio allowed you to arrange images and fonts from cartridges you owned to make better choices and more efficient cuts. It was discontinued when Craft Room came a long.  Cricut has since dropped all support altogether. Click for bigger picture.Design Studio - Allowed owners of early Cricuts to "lay out" patterns before they cut them. This helped save material and help make certain that you got the size and cuts you wanted. Drawbacks include(d):

    • You could only cut images and fonts that you had purchased on cartridges.

    • When it successor, Craft Room, was released, Design Studio stopped receiving updates for new cartridges. So only a fraction of the cartridges that have been released will work with the software. (If there's a cartridge I really think will be useful, I check the dropdown list in the Design Studio program to make certain it works with the softare.)

    • After Cricut discontinued Craft Room, they also discontinued all support. So even if you have a licensed copy of Design Studio that is still running, you can not move it from your old computer to your new one.

      What About "Linked" Cartridges? If you do have design studio running on your computer, and you find a cartridge that works with it, it doesn't matter whether it's "linked" or not - it will work fine with your Design studio. ("Linking" registers the cartridge to your account so you can use the images and fonts from it on modern Cricuts. However a cartridge can only be "linked" once, so if you get a used cartridge that someone else has "linked," it can't be linked again to your account. But it will work fine on "Legacy" machines.

      That said, when the computer with your only working copy of Design Space fails (and it will, eventually), you will not be able to use those cartridges with modern Cricuts.

      Works/Worked with Cricut Personal Cutter, Expression (1), Create, Cake, and Cake Mini.

      Warning: - If you don't have this working on your computer already do not buy this software, not even brand-new, sealed-in-the-box software. You won't be able to activate it. All activation, even of legally purchased and licensed copies, has been shut down.

  • Cricut CraftRoom was an online-only replacement for Design Studio. When Adobe discontinued the Flash software that supported the application, Cricut was forced to shut the program down.  Because it was online only, not even former users have access.  Click for bigger photo.Craft Room - This was an enhanced, online-only update to Design Studio. Unfortunately it was based on a software platform that Adobe discontinued because of security flaws. When the platform went away, so did Craft Room.

    Because Cricut was already transitioning to a digital-only model, they saw no value in, say, updating Design Studio. Instead they poured their R&D into their next all-digital solution, Cricut Design Space.

    As a side note, two Cricuts that were designed specifically to work with Craft Room became cartridge-only machines - the Imagine and the Expression 2. The Cricut Mini, which couldn't take cartridges, became a doorstop. That's why there isn't a "works with" section for this software. Cricut Design Space is the first Cricut-branded software that allows you to import original or third-party images and fonts.  It also lets you use images and fonts from cartridges you bought and linked to the system.  Click for bigger photo.Cricut Design Space - This is Cricut's current support software. Unfortunately for owners of older Cricuts, it supports only the newer models - Explore, Joy, and Maker (as of this writing).

    When it was initially released, Design Space was online-only, like Craft Room. However, in 2020, Cricut converted it into a system that is mostly based on your computer, though it still goes out to the internet when you try to use certain features.

    Unlike Cricut's previous software releases, Design Space allows you to import original or third-party images. Those are my door and windowframe outlines in the little graphic. I created them in CorelDraw and saved them as .svg files for importing into other programs.

    "Linking Cartridges" 2021 - Longtime Cricut owners are also pleased that they can register ("link") their cartridges to their accounts so that they still have access to the images and fonts on cartridges they bought in the past. However, you can't link cartridges that have already been linked to someone else's account.

    Also, the linking process isn't always easy, especially with the device Cricut invented to make it easy - the Cricut Cartridge Adapter - being unavailable for months on end (as of this writing). If you have "linked" your cartridges to a Gypsy, you will have to do manual process. The last I checked, this involved photographing the front and back of each cartridge and sending the photos to Cricut support.

    Here's a sort of warning: if you buy an Explore, Joy, or Maker used and it's already been registered to another user, linking cartridges to your account gets even more convoluted.

    After the CraftRoom experience, I admit I feel a little better being able to use the software that the system requires without being 100% dependent on the ProvoCraft servers. But I'd feel better if Design Space didn't keep opening my browser for what ought be be simple tasks.

    Also, while the increased flexibility is welcome, folks who are used to using more sophisticated programs to design their cuts complain that its features and interface are still playing "catch-up" to their competitors.

    Works with - Explore (all models so far), Joy, and Maker (as of this writing).

    Do You Have to Use Design Space? - If you buy a new Cricut today, you have to use this software for at least the cutting process - your machines will not work without it. However, it isn't hard to do all your design work on another platform and use Design Space only for the actual cut.

    Design Space can import SVG, PNG, JPG, DXF, GIF, and BMP files. SVG files are important because thousands of vector graphics and designs that are available on the internet are delivered that way (and they're - strangely - a file format that Silhouette Studio's basic version (below) does not import).

    Whatever you do, save all of your work files on your computer, in case this platform goes away in the future and you have to migrate to something else.

    • If you've done a lot of work in Design Space, you can't save .svg files, but you can turn off the grid lines, do "screen captures," and save each layer individually as a bitmap graphic (.jpg, .gif, or .png).

    • If you've created or downloaded .svg files, then ported them into Design Space for cutting, save the original .svg files as well. They don't take up that much room and can save you a lot of hassle in the future.

Silhouette Studio

Silhouette Studio is a relatively powerful program for designing cuts on Silhouette cutters but you need to buy the upgrade to import .svg or .pdf files, a huge shortcoming in my opinion. Click for bigger picture.The basic Silhouette Studio software is free to any Cameo or Portrait owner. Unlike Cricut's software, Silhouette's software has been built around the same platform since about 2011. So instead of starting "from scratch" three times, like Cricut, Silhouette has focused on continuous improvement.

The "basic" program has many features you need to create complex cuts. The "drafting board" part of the program is more fully-featured than Design Space. As an added benefit, the same program drives all of the Cameos, so if you upgrade from a Cameo 1 to a Cameo 4, you can plug in the new one, make a few minor adjustments, and keep moving.

But - ironically - you can't import .svg files unless you pay extra. That's a big failing in my book, since that has become the standard interchange format for cutter files.

In fact, my .svg windowframe graphic in the picture above right imported directly into Design Studio, but to import it into Silhouette Studio, I had to use a 3rd-party program to convert it to .dxf, an AutoCad format.

Sure, it "only" costs $50 ($30 on "sale") to get this critical feature, but that's still an extra, unnecessary "gouge" for someone who's already laid out money for the hardware. The term "shareware" comes to mind.

To be clear, here's a quote from their manual:

    The Silhouette Studio® software uses a proprietary .STUDIO file format, which consist of vector art for line and color/gradient fill type data intended for printing and/or cutting. The Silhouette also is able to open* the following vector file formats in a Ready to Cut format:

    • GSD/GST (ROBO Master program files)
    • DXF
    • SVG (Designer Edition only)

    The Silhouette Studio® software can also import some other vector and raster file formats for the purpose of being able to trace these images to create cut lines for Print & Cut images. The following additional file types can be imported:

    • JPG
    • BMP
    • PNG
    • GIF
    • WMF
    • PDF (Designer Edition only)

    In addition to files that may be opened or imported, Silhouette Studio® can also access font. [sic] Please note that Silhouette cannot guarantee the quality or success of fonts not offered by our company as not all fonts are designed with cutting or sketching in mind.

    You are also able to create your own images to cut with the Silhouette software. There are simple line drawing functions built into the Silhouette software that will allow you to do so from within the Silhouette program.

Works With: - All Silhouette Cameos, Portraits, and Curios, and most older models.

Alternative? - If you are using an older Cameo simply to make cuts, the Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 5 software will give you a lot of useful features you have to pay extra for from Silhouette.

However, I'm told that Silhouette Studio does a great job of working with the enhanced features of later Cameos, especially Cameo 4 and Pro. So "biting the bullet" and buying a Studio upgrade or two will probably be your best bet.

Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 5

Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 5 (SCAL5), possibly the most fully-featured software designed specifically to operate Craftcutters.  Click for bigger picture.In the early days of home craftcutters, CraftEdge created a program that would support most of them directly, including the first-generation Cricuts. Then ProvoCraft, makers of Cricut, sued CraftEdge for making it possible to use a Cricut to cut patterns, images, and fonts without spending a fortune on "cartridges."

CraftEdge was forced to discontinue their current product, Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 2 ("SCAL2") and to boobytrap any installed copies into updating themselves so they would no longer communicate with Cricuts of any kind.

But SCAL continued to support a host of other craftcutters and even some signcutters. As a result, they can import and export a wide range of file types. They can open the following file types directly (though there is some compensation for bitmaps included in some of the file types):

  • .svg
  • .scut, scut2, scut3, scut4, scut5 (SCAL's file formats)
  • .ai
  • .pdf
  • .png
  • .eps
  • .wpc
  • .dst (Tagima)
  • .exp (Melco)
  • .fcm (Brother ScanNCut)
  • .gsd
  • .hus
  • .mtc
  • .pec, .pes (Brother)
  • .sew (Janome)
  • .vip (Viking)
  • .xxx (Singer)

SCAL can export:

  • .svg
  • .bmp
  • .jpg
  • .png
  • .tif
  • .fcm
  • .pdf

SCAL can also "ungroup" or separate the layers of many multilayer vector graphic files to each layer can be cut in a different pass.

In addition, SCAL can import most common bitmap graphic formats, then trace their outlines into cuttable versions.

Works With: - The machines that the current version (SCAL5) can drive directly include:

  • Black Cat Cougar/Lynx™
  • BossKut Gazelle™
  • Craftwell eCraft™
  • CraftRobo/Graphtec™
  • GCC™
  • Foison™
  • Janome Artistic Edge™
  • KNK™
  • Liyu™
  • Pazzles Inspiration/Pro/Vue™
  • Ramtin™
  • Roland™
  • Seiki™
  • Silhouette SD/CAMEO/Portrait™
  • Silver Bullet™
  • USCutter Copam/LaserPoint/MH/PCUT/SC/TC/TITAN™
  • Vinyl Express™
  • Wishblade™
  • and more!

They also offer a separate exclusive version (eCAL) that works with the Sizzix eclips™

Like Silhouette Studio, SCAL has benefitted from a decade's continuous improvement. The current version is much more powerful than the version that ProvoCraft sued them over in 2011. It also imports and exports .svg files and many others - even certain sewing machine pattern files, making it the most flexible out-of-the-box solution for most users.

What About Brother? - the Brother ScanNCut™ uses a unique file format (.fcm). SCAL can't talk directly to your ScanNCut, but it can export .fcm-compatible files, which your ScanNCut can import and use. SCAL also imports .fcm compatible files, so you can convert your work, say, to .svg files and share them with other people.

What about Cricut? - SCAL does not drive modern Cricuts directly, but you can create and save Cricut-compatible .svg files. When you port those into Design Space, they come in at the right size and at the right orientation, so cutting them is basically a matter of checking your Cricut's settings. This works with Cricut Maker, Joy, and Explore. BTW, I tried this accidentally when working on the Design Space write-up and was very pleased with the result.

About First-Gen Cricuts - Here's an irony: at the moment, it's possible to drive most first-gen Cricuts directly with SCAL4 or SCAL5. Cricuts affected are Personal Cutter, Expression (1), Create, Cake, and Cake Mini. (Expression 2, Imagine, and Mini do not work with anybody's software, not even Cricut's)

The "solution" that lets you cut on the earliest cutters with SCAL 4 or 5 involves a third-party add-on that is not supported officially by anybody, because it includes a minor copyright infringement. So far, Cricut has "let it slide," But there are no guarantees. For more information about that and related solutions, please check out our article "Using SCAL4 or 5 With Legacy Cricuts."

Useful Graphics Software

In the early days of signcutters, the programs that drove them were so limited that many users designed their cut in professional graphics programs like CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator, then saved them in file formats that the signcutter software could import.

To this day, most graphic artists who are going to do a cut on a craftcutter do the same thing. So do people like me who, as a career technical writer, used professional programs to design countless technical and business illustrations over the years.

About Vector Graphic Software - If you want to get maximum use, consider acquiring a vector graphic software package that exports files your cutter software program can read. For example, Sure Cuts-A-Lot and Design Space can import .svg files, a kind of vector graphic interchange format.

I use CorelDraw X.5 on my PC. It exports .svg files, but CorelDraw hasn't always supported them. So if you come across an older version you can afford, try to make certain that it's legal and that it's not too old. At the "shareware" end of the scale, I'm told that Inkscape and DrawPlus will both create nice vector graphic files that can be saved as "plain" .svg files (a format that most craftcutters and modern signcutters can read).

If you have an Apple, the best vector graphic software you can buy is probably Adobe Illustrator. Like CorelDraw, it's expensive and very powerful. Although I'm told that experienced Apple users can use Inkscape, I don't know how easy it is to install on an Apple. I also don't know if there's a second choice that will work for most people, so if you're an Apple user with answers, let me know what you know, and I'll post the information here.

About Bitmap Graphic Software - If you are a whiz with a paint program, you can get some use out of it with most craftcutter software. Just be sure your output is either lines ONLY or a silhouette. Most craftcutter software will "import" such a graphic, usually asking whether you want to follow the centerline on lines. Answer that question "yes." Otherwise it will try to treat the line as a solid object and cut out the edges of it - a useless complication for most purposes.

Simple graphics will generally convert well, as long as you start out with a fairly large graphic. If you try to convert a small bitmap graphic and then make it larger in your craftcutter software, you may discover weird artifacts as a result of the dots-to-line conversion process.

Our CraftCutter Resources So Far

Though we are working on a bunch more articles, three related craftcutter resources that we've done over the years are listed here. Each article includes .svg files you can download and use.

  • Using a craftcutter, adhesive vinyl and plexiglass to create a scale building front.  Click to go to article.Using a Craftcutter to Creat Building Fronts - Using a craftcutter, adhesive vinyl and plexiglass to create a scale building front. The .svg files for two different buildings are included, in Large Scale, O, and S scale.

    Even if you don't use the entire set of files, having your craftcutter cut out your windowframes is a big help in a project.



  • Click to go to article.Using Stencils to Make Buildings - Borrowing a page from "crafters," use our window and door stencil patterns, to make effective, but inexpensive "building fronts" for backgrounds, for setups where you don't want to risk expensive model buildings, etc.

    We include downloadable stencil patterns in three scales, as well as .svg files you can use with some craftcutters to make your own stencils quickly. 1:29, O scale, and S scale patterns are included.


  • Putz house windows cut out with an SVG pattern that is provided in this article.  Click to go to article.Using Your Craftcutter to Make Your Own Putz House Windowframes - This page was made for folks who build and repair those cardboard houses with the holes in the back that used to decorate mantels and encircle Christmas trees in the mid-1900s. An .svg pattern that includes all of the most common window sizes is included.

Conclusion

I realize that this article is almost all theory, with very little practical application, but it's a necessary foundation for other articles and resources I hope to provide shortly.

In addition, if you've been thinking about getting a cutter for your own or your club's purposes, I hope this helps you avoid any critical mistakes.

Watch this page: more articles are in the works.

As always, we want to hear your suggestions, criticisms, additions, etc. Enjoy your hobbies, and especially any time you can spend with your family in the coming months!

Paul


Note: Family Garden Trains™, Garden Train Store™, Big Christmas Trains™, BIG Indoor Trains™, and BIG Train Store™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
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