Today we are going to talk about etching with the Silhouette machines.
I am seeing a lot of questions regarding which Silhouette machines can etch and we are going to get into some of the nitty gritty details about it.
Which Silhouette machine is designed for etching?
The Silhouette Curio is designed for etching.
It is the only machine that is designed by Silhouette for etching.
We will go into more details farther down on why.
Can I etch with my Silhouette Cameo or Portrait?
First, the Cameo or Portrait machines were not designed for etching.
This means that if you do decide to etch with the machine it can void the warranty on the machine and my biggest concern for you is it may decrease the lifespan on the machine.
How will it decrease the lifespan of my machine if I etch?
Etching is much more taxing on the housing than if you were just cutting.
Why? When you are etching, you are scratching away the surface of a harder material such as metal or acrylic. This is more taxing on the machine as it moves back and forth.
As an example, let’s take a look at this heart design. On the left side you can see the cut lines of a regular cut file. On the right side is the same file that I have etched on my Curio.
Now, I’ll zoom in on the etch file and you will see that this file has hundreds or thousands more lines in it that need to “etch” to fill the design in. Again, keep in mind that etching takes more force to scrap away the surface of the harder material vs just cutting through a material such as vinyl or cardstock.
It is a completely different action.
While some users will say they tried it and it worked, the Cameo or Portrait machines were not designed for this purpose. Which means that the machines were not tested for etching and the additional wear and tear it may have on your machine.
Yes, while it may work ok. What are the long term effects of that etching on your machine?
Let’s take a look at the Cameo 4 as an example.
To etch with it, users are squishing a 3rd-party tool into the adapter (if needed) and then squishing the tool into the housing. Over time, if you stretch that housing or put additional force on the tool holder, it could break or stretch. Third-party tools are often heavier than a normal Silhouette blade and could affect the tool housing with long term use.
Silhouette does not have an etching tool designed for the Cameo or Portrait because it is not something the machine was designed or tested for.
Click HERE for official information on 3rd-party tools in the Silhouette machine.
The clearance of the machine.
This will all depend on the machine you are using and how much clearance it has.
Most often I see tool marks in the materials that are etched on a Cameo 4 or a Portrait because it just does not have the proper clearance needed to not only fit the blank under the roller bar and under the tool tip once it’s installed.
A Cameo 4 has a clearance of 3 mm.
Bottom line – the lifespan of your machine.
How is the etching going to affect the lifespan of your machine?
On the Cameo 4, Tool 1 housing is the only housing for using a regular cutting blade in it and Tool 2 housing is for specialty blades. This is due to the 2 different motor types in the machine. They are designed for different purposes.
If your Tool 1 housing gets broken or is not functioning properly, you are toast!
You now have a Cameo 4 machine that can only utilize Tool 2 tools.
This is my biggest concern for users who are seeing that etching can be done with a Cameo or Portrait! I don’t want you to decrease the lifespan on your machine or encounter future issues because you have chosen to etch with it.
If something happens to your machine, who is responsible for replacing it? You!
Not the person who encouraged you to etch with it.
Not Silhouette because the machine was not designed for etching in the first place.
I know this is not what you want to hear, but my biggest concern is for YOU, your machine, and your success!
If you etch with your Cameo or Portrait it is a DO AT YOUR OWN RISK.
What I don’t want is someone doing it without knowing the risks and then being totally devastated when their machine no longer works properly.
For more details on the warranty on a Silhouette machine, click HERE.
The Silhouette Curio
Now, let’s talk about the Silhouette Curio and why it is the machine designed for etching.
The Curio has a solid, stable base that must be used when cutting or etching. There are 2 sizes. A small base which has a cutting mat space of 6″ x 8.5″ and a large base which has a cutting mat space of 8.5″ x 12″. The Curio cannot be used without a base and you cannot “trick” the Curio to use a large cutting mat on a small base or vice versa.
Adjustable platforms to accommodate thicker materials
The Curio base comes with several adjustable platforms which allow for up to 5 mm clearance. The platforms are stacked on the base and the embossed number plus the material thickness should add up to a 6, which is equal to 6 mm.
This platform system is what enables you to be able to place a 3 mm acrylic blank or a piece of tooling leather in the Curio and still have the clearance to work with the material.
Silhouette etching tool
The Silhouette etching tool is the only one designed by Silhouette for the Curio machine. I have used other 3rd party tools to test and I find that I get the best, most consistent etch with the Silhouette etching tool.
Yes, you do have to replace it as it wears down. Keep in mind you are scratching away at a hard surface when you are etching. It is just like replacing a blade. For me, the results are better with the Silhouette etching tool than any other, so it is well worth the cost of a replacement versus blanks with areas missing an etch.
Emboss Panel unlocked
When a Curio is plugged in and recognized by the software, the Emboss Panel is unlocked.
I feel this is the best method for the etch fills.
Each user will vary in what they prefer, but I like a tight cross-hatched etch fill to give me the best filled in look. Each design will vary in what is going to look the best and often you do not know how it will look until you’ve tested it.
In the Silhouette software, there are different “actions” for the different functions.
For instance, cut vs sketch vs etch vs Kraft cut vs Rotary cut, etc.
Each of these actions tells the software/machine to send the data in a different way.
When you choose the etch action you are telling the software exactly what you are doing with the tool and machine.
In my experience, the Emboss Panel with the etch action is much less data intensive on the Silhouette software and takes less time to etch vs using the Sketch Action or the Line Effects Panel.
Exact placement due to tool orientation to the same location
One of the best features of the Silhouette Curio is that if you have loaded the base properly, the tool housing aligns to the EXACT same place every single time!
This is awesome for placing your blanks on the cutting mat as the Silhouette design screen matches the cutting mat exactly.
Yes, on a Silhouette or Portrait the cutting mat on screen and physically match as well, but you also have user input when you load the cutting mat that can throw the alignment off.
That is less likely to happen with the Curio as long as the base is properly loaded.
For more information on how to set up and load the base in the Curio check out this post
The Curio – Getting Started.
Now, will the machine eventually wear out. Yes!
My original Curio is starting to see some wear and tear on it. However, I etch more than the “average” user. Since I teach classes at events, online, and private lessons – I have thousands of more machine hours into my Curio than most users would have. When I am preparing for a class, I will etch or emboss the same design over and over again to test the settings, time the design, and to write/create the class. For instance, for my Leather Embossing class, I have hundreds of hours into this class from researching to recording the class and here are just a few of the samples I created during the entire 6 month process of creating the class.
When I create an acrylic etching class, I may have a stack of acrylics 30 high that I’ve done testing on. It is all a process and I test the settings over and over to get the best etch results that are reproducible by a student who would be taking or viewing the class.
I etch way more than the “average” user and my machine is still etching 2+ years later.
I do wish there was a machine hours counter on it, so I could share with you how many real machine hours I have invested in it.
Again, I am seeing a bit of wear and tear on it, but I purchased a back up Curio machine because I do use it so much.
The average user should be able to see years of etching with their Silhouette Curio machine if it’s used and cared for properly.
You have heard the saying “The right tool for the job.”, right?
Well, in this case, I could not agree more.
Again my biggest concern for you is your machine, the machine’s life-span, and your success.
The Curio is a fantastic machine!
Need help getting started with the Curio?
Check out this post
Silhouette Curio Get Started Creating Fabulous Projects
for resources no getting started with the Curio
Want to see more projects created with the Silhouette Curio?
Check out this YouTube video collection of a “demo table” I created for a Curio event this past year.
None of these can be completed on the Cameo or Portrait due to the clearance.
Now the Curio is a bit different to set up and get started with and the number one thing you will need time. This machine can do fabulous things, but you will need to learn how to set it up properly. I do believe that anyone can do these same types of projects!
Check out all of my Silhouette classes on the Curio on my Teachable site HERE.
I would love to see and hear about what you are creating on my Facebook group at
Silhouette Secrets with EllyMae. If you have questions feel free to post below or on the Facebook group too!
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Or if you are looking for more in-depth, step-by-step classes, check out all of my online Silhouette classes on my Teachable site HERE.