Silhouette, Silhouette Projects, Uncategorized

3 ways to distress the edges of a photo

Have you ever wanted to soften the edges of a photo or distress the edges of a photo so it’s not such a sharp edge?

Blue words in this tutorial are linked to more information on that particular topic. Click on the word and it will open a new window with a tutorial on that subject.

Let’s look at 3 ways we can do this in the Silhouette Studio software.

#1 Softening edges with a svg file
#2 Softening edges with a .studio file from the Design Store
#3 Softening edges with a png file

There are 2 things I want to mention first

The first thing is that when you are working with photo files or distressed files as we will be, they can be large files and they can be data heavy. You may need to be patient with your computer as it processes the data and makes the changes. This will vary for each user and for some users it may cause your software to crash because it’s a lot of data that is being changed.

If you experience a crash on the software, close all other programs on the computer and close all tabs in the Silhouette Studio software and try again.

The second thing is if you are cutting the design out, keep in mind that it will cut around the distressed areas. Depending on what material you are cutting it from, you may have a bit of weeding to do.

Let’s get started!

I started in Photoshop Elements with digital scrapbooking before I was a Silhouette user and in the graphics programs we worked with “clipping masks”. Which basically means, a mask (design) that you are clipping (combining) to a photo or image. This means the photo takes on the shape of the “mask”.

A lot has changed in the past 9 years and a “clipping mask” can be called many different things today. It is still basically the same thing, just new words & new file formats to be recognized for the same technique. When working in the graphic programs such as Photoshop, we used png files mostly as the clipping mask, but other file types can be used as well.

Let’s take a look at how to do it in Silhouette Studio

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#1 Softening edges with a svg file

A svg file is a ready to cut file, which means it already has a cut line around the design.
For more information on svg files check out these posts:
File Formats for Silhouette Studio

Open a photo image that you would like to work with.
Resize the photo if needed using the Scale Tools and center it to the page using the Align Tools.
These tools can be found in the Panels on the right side or in the QAT Toolbar at the top.

*Photo images can be large files and open large. Each photo will vary in size according to the original photo file. Keep in mind image quality if you are printing the photo. If a yellow triangle appears in the top left of Silhouette Studio, the image may be low resolution to print at the size you currently have on the design page.

Open the svg file that you want to use by File > Open in the Silhouette software.
To open a svg file in Silhouette Studio, you do need the Designer Edition upgrade or higher. Find out more details on opening svg files HERE.

I am opening a file from Design Bundles called Bleach Effect Background svgs by Little Type Factory.

Bleach Effect Background SVG by Little Type Factory

This file is great because you have several file type options!
A few keywords to search for are: bleach effect svg, clipping mask svg, or photo mask svg. For this technique, make sure of the file types you are receiving with the file and that svg is an option.

By opening using File > Open the svg file opens on a new design mat. Since this is a large file, I prefer it opens on a new design mat so I can make any changes needed on that design mat before the next step.

Copy and paste the svg file to the design mat with the photo and close the original svg.

Resize the svg file to the desired size for your photo. I use the corner bounding box unless I need a specific size. If I need a specific size, then I would use the Scale tools.

Select both the photo and the svg file at the same time.
This can be done by left clicking and holding the left mouse button down and dragging across both objects or by holding the Shift key down on the keyboard and clicking on each object you would like to select.

Open the Modify Panel and with both objects selected, choose Crop.
Be patient with your computer! This is where the data is changing.

Ta-da! The photo now has a distressed look around the edges that match the svg file chosen.

As I mentioned at the beginning, if you are cutting a distressed object, it will now cut that distressed shape.

Click the Send tab in the top right corner.
Select the design by clicking on it (very important!) and choose Cut.
Bold red cut lines will appear around the design.

The Silhouette machine will cut everywhere you see those bold red cut lines.

#2 Softening edges with a .studio file

Files you get from the Silhouette Design Store automatically download to your Silhouette library. These are .studio file types.
A .studio is a proprietary file to Silhouette and is a ready to go cut file.

*If files from the Silhouette Design Store are not downloading directly to your library, follow the tutorial HERE step-by-step to correct that.

*If a .studio file from the Silhouette Design Store does not have bold red cut lines around it when you go to the Send tab when cutting, check out the tutorial on how to fix it HERE.
Hint: it is NOT by tracing it

In the Silhouette Design Store you can search for design such as:



Mixed Media

Other search options are: paint, splatter, distressed, or inkpen

If you want to narrow the search down even more try using quotation marks around the specific terms. For instance, type “grunge” in the search bar.
Another way to narrow the search is in the filters on the left side, uncheck the printable patterns, print and cut, 3D crafts, sketch, and rhinestone. This means the search will bring up regular cut files and fonts.

Any cut file or dingbat font would work for this technique. We will be using a cut file as an example.

Since a .studio file is a cut file, the steps are pretty much the same as the svg file.

Open a photo image that you would like to work with.
Resize the photo if needed using the Scale Tools and center it to the page using the Align Tools.

Open the file you want to crop the image to.
If the file contains multiple objects, I open it on a new design mat as it can be easier to work with.

I am using Mixed Media Brush Stroke Shapes by Faith & Grace – Design #405377

Copy and paste the design to the photo design mat.
You may need to ungroup the design to only copy 1 part of it. All designs will vary and it is dependent on how the Designer saved the file.

Adjust the design to your liking. In this case, I scaled the design up and rotated it.

Select the photo and the design at the same time.

Open the Modify Panel and with both objects selected, choose Crop.

Pay close attention to the file after you crop. On distressed images, you can end up with smaller bits and “artifacts” that you don’t necessarily need or want. However, each design is going to vary. You will be able to see these if you look close at your design and watch for the selection boxes around small areas. In this case, these are “artifacts” and are not needed for the image.

I can move the original main image off, draw a wide selection box around the design mat area where the original was and you will see those “artifacts” show up with the selection boxes indicating where they are. Press delete on the keyboard to remove them.

Move the original design back on the mat, click the Send tab in the top, select the design by clicking on it (very important!), and then choose Cut. Bold red cut lines should turn on around your image.

Ta da! You did it!

#3 Softening the edges with a png file

The 3rd way in this tutorial is to use a png file. A png file is not typically a cut file, which means it will require additional steps to turn it into a cut file. A png is a flattened photo file and does not contain pieces or cut lines (typically).

I will also state right off the top that this method is going to take longer, because of the data processing time and your computer. But, if your only option is a png image, grab a cup of coffee and check your email while the computer is processing the data. You will see what I mean in a few minutes.

There are 2 ways you can turn a png into a cut file.
1. In versions of the Silhouette Studio software of v4.4 software there is now a feature called Autotrace. Autotrace is defaulted ON and when a transparent png file is opened, it should automatically trace around the outer edge of the transparent png file.
However, there are still bugs in the Autotrace feature and it can vary by software version.
The only way to know if you are affected or if a particular design is affected will be to test it.

Keep in mind that when you trace a png file, that is adding more data to your file exponentially. That means A LOT of data! This can be a lot for your computer to handle and each user may experience something different.

If you experience crashing following along with this same file I use, try a simpler file and see if your computer can handle that. This file used even taxed my computer and I had to be patient.

A few of the things that you might experience with Autotrace are:
– png files opening very large
– opening a png file takes longer (sometimes a lot longer)
– the software crashes
– working with the png to resize after it opens is jumpy or takes a lot longer

If you experience any of that, I would recommend turning the Autotrace off and go to the 2nd way to work with png files.

Check out the tutorial on Autotrace for more details HERE.

2. Trace a png file to get cut lines.
Check out the tutorial on the Basic Trace Panel HERE.
The basic trace is all you should need for #3, so let’s take a look at how to do that.

Open a photo image that you would like to work with.
Resize the photo if needed using the Scale Tools and center it to the page using the Align Tools.

Open the png file. This should open onto a new design mat.
A png file can be opened in all versions of the Silhouette Studio software.

I am using the Photo Clipping Mask Bundle by Digitail Designs from Design Bundles.

If the png file opens large, scale it down as desired. If the png file opens small, do not resize it. This will affect how it traces. A png file is an image file, which means it’s made up of pixels. If you increase the size of a photo file, this can pixelate the image. This means that a trace will trace all of those pixels.

I opened DD2024 Clipping Mask 4 and it opened large than my mat, so I scaled it down a bit.

Open the Trace Panel.
Click Select Trace Area.
Draw a box around the area to be traced.

Tracing an object will vary by the object.
This is something that is affected by color, gradients, design, etc.
Black always traces the best!
White does not trace without “tricking” the software in some way.

The Trace Panel can have different adjustment options depending on what software version is being used.

If needed, I adjust the Threshold up or down to get the yellow as solid around the area I want to be traced.

In this case, we are wanting the distressed look. So I am tracing it exactly as it is showing on the screen.

After all adjustments are made that you want, then click the Trace button at the bottom of the Trace Panel.

Be patient with your computer!
Remember when I said above that tracing adds more data exponentially to the file. Using the Trace Panel does not seem to require as much processing time as the Autotrace option, but this will vary by user’s computer.

Just look at all those red cut lines around the design now.

Move the png file off the design mat.

Look at all those red lines. Those are cut lines. This is a distressed image.
Keep that in mind if you are cutting the image. It will cut all of those.

For this tutorial, that is the effect we are going for.

If you want to eliminate some of those areas, I won’t go step-by-step with photos now, but here is how to do it. Right click on the trace and choose Release Compound Path. Be PATIENT – like really patient – this will depend on the design completely but it can take awhile – do NOT continue clicking or the software may crash. It could crash the software still if it’s too complex. When the compound path is released, all the little pieces will show with individual selection boxes. Click off and click back on each piece to select it and delete. When finished editing, select the entire image, right click and choose Make Compound Path.

Fill the design with color to see how it looks using the Fill Color Tools. It should look like the png file that was traced.

Now, that we have the cut lines we can follow the same steps as we did for the first 2 methods.

If you want to keep this file after you’ve traced it, save it as your template file to use in the future.


As a side note here – I accidentally double clicked on the traced image and the Edit Points popped up. Remember when I said a trace adds more data?

Wow! Check out those gray dots!
Each one of those is a data point the Silhouette machine has to hit in order to complete a cut. If you are cutting this design or any design with a lot of edit points, you might want to try clicking the Simplify option in the Edit Points window that pops up.
Just make sure you do not simplify too much and get red dots. Red dots mean open points and the cuts will not connect.
Check out more on Edit Points HERE. It is a great tool to understand and play with!

This is why your computer may need time to process the steps you are doing. When you are making changes, the software has to recalculate all those edit points every single change. This is also why some designs do not cut well when they are scaled down because you are squishing those edit points into a smaller space.


Copy and paste the traced design to the original photo design mat.

If it helps to change the Fill Color to Transparent so you can see where to place the image, use the Fill Color Panels and choose the cross-hatched (transparent) option.

Adjust the mask design as desired on top of the photo.

Select the photo & design together.
Open the Modify Panel, choose Crop with both objects selected.

Be patient with your computer!
I know I keep saying that, but even for my computer this is a lot of data to process and change! The more distressed the image is, the more edit points it has, the quality of the trace are all factors in the data of the file.

After the computer processes and crops, you may notice that it has a lot of gray boxes and in my example, it is so many that it looks black around it. These are those distressed bits. Immediately after the crop is finished, while all these parts are selected, Group the design together. Either press Ctrl+G (Command+G on Mac) or right click and choose Group.

Now, I will say, for this example that I choose, I probably will not cut it as it’s too complex and will probably just tear up the material. But, I can print it and use it for sublimation or other projects.

I grabbed a towel blank and just did a test print with my Epson F-170 printer. Then heat pressed it onto the towel.

Guess what? If you are printing, be patient with your computer and printer as this is a large file and data to send from one device to another.
Did you think you’d already heard it enough? I know you may not want to hear it again, but I see it mentioned often on groups when we are troubleshooting.
It can take some time to process and I want to prepare you for that.

This is a blank I received in my Vapor Apparel Foam Decoration Kit, so I thought why not do another test?
When pressing sublimation onto colored blanks, the color of the blank will affect the final outcome of the pressed colors. In this design, it turned out pretty well.

And I’ll share one more, even though it didn’t turn out perfect – although in the photo you cannot tell. But, in real life this looks a bit green, which means it’s undercooked. I followed the instructions I found online for pressing for 30 seconds and I do not think it was long enough.

For more tips on Sublimation with Silhouette, check out the Sublimation section on the blog HERE.


If you find your computer is running slow after working with all this data or with larger files, make sure you are closing everything and doing a full system shut down and/or a restart on the computer. Both never hurts to clear out things in the computer and should be done on a regular basis.

Even just closing the Silhouette software can help to reset things.
I would also recommend that if you have any Recovered Documents showing up, clear those out. The Recovered Documents section is not designed as a file storage and it has to remember all the data for every single file when you open the software.
Check out more on Recovered Documents HERE.

I hope you learned something new in this post! It is packed with a lot of information. Make sure to save it to come back to later!

I would love to see what you are creating with your Silhouette software or machines!
Feel free to post on my Facebook group at 
Silhouette Secrets with EllyMae.

Save this for future reference by pinning the image below.

Enjoy !

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**This post may contain affiliate links. What that means is that I may receive compensation if you purchase through the links I have provided. The price you pay for the product or service is not higher but I may get compensated for sharing.

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