Borrowing Your Spouse’s Stuff: Using the Silhouette Cameo
I am sure it’s no secret that there is a great deal of overlap in the tools and techniques used by various hobbies. For instance, scenery and weathering techniques and tools designed for model railroading work equally well for our models. With this in mind, I wanted to share my “discovery” of a new tool that has proven very useful in my modeling. My wife creates very detailed greeting cards using a variety of techniques and tools. We share a hobby room, so I often get the chance to watch what she is doing. I am always looking over her shoulder to see if she is using a tool or technique that might be useful in my hobbies. There are a variety of glues, inks, pigments, and tools that I borrowed from her that I now use in building models or working on my HO scale railroad. I have recently started to take note of the variety of electronic machines she has that will cut out various components used to create her cards. One of these machines, the Cameo by Silhouette, allows you to design patterns on your computer and then cut them out using a variety of different media. As I watched her use this machine, I began to think about how I might also be able to use it for my hobbies.
I have now used the Cameo several times and have found it quite useful for my projects. The Cameo is basically an electronic cutter whose blade is guided by software that comes with the machine. Although there are a wide variety of pre-made patterns available for the machine, I have found the design features of the software the most useful. Using their software, you can create an unlimited number of designs and patterns, and then cut them out using a wide variety of materials. I have successfully used the design software to cut components for two projects.
The first project was inspired by an article in the IPMS-USA magazine in which the author scratch-built a steampunk submarine using do-it-yourself Christmas balls. I wondered if I could create the ribs needed to create the body of the submarine using the Cameo. I used a thin cardboard, called chip board by crafters, to create the ribs. It took just a few minutes to create the pattern and adjust the size to match the diameter of my Christmas ball. Because the chipboard is just a little too thin to be completely rigid, I plan to glue two of the cardboard patterns together to create each rib used in the model.
The second project I tried was to create self-stick painting masks for a Revell 1/32 P-47 that I was building. I didn’t really have a paint scheme in mind, so I created a fictitious scheme for a war-weary plane that was used for training. I created the identification numbers I needed using the lettering feature of the software. Once I found a font that I liked, it was simply a matter of sizing the lettering to fit my model and then use the Cameo to cut out the masks. The font I used isn’t quite appropriate for the plane, but I am still trying to figure out how to import fonts into the Silhouette software. Once I do that I can import the actual fonts I need. The material I used for the stencil was 8.5” x 11” removable label material designed for office use. When you send the design to the Cameo, you must first tell it what type of material you will be cutting and then set the depth of the blade for the material. It was a simple matter to find something from their onboard list of materials that I thought was similar in thickness to my labels, and before long I had self-stick masks. The masks worked perfectly on my models, although it might have been easier if I had sanded the very tall rivets on the model to create a smoother surface for my masks. Even with Mt. Everest-sized rivets, the masks worked perfectly with no overspray or bleed. I used thinned Tamiya paint in my airbrush and set the compressor to about 12 psi.
There are a number of different machines by a number of manufacturers that will do the same thing that the Cameo does. They all have different capabilities and uses. My wife tells me that there is a machine that can simply scan a design you provide (or draw) and then it will cut it for you. I can see a lot of uses for these cutting machines in our hobbies. I haven’t explored how small and detailed you can be with these machines, but I have seen my wife cut some very small and intricate designs for her cards. Since the Cameo is designed for card makers, its cutting capability is limited paper products and other fairly thin materials. If you want to cut plastic, metal, or wood, then you should start saving for a laser cutter. I was interested to see that the current MicroMark (micromark.com) catalog has the Cameo for sale, and also has a large number of tools and supplies that you can use with the machine. I should warn you there is a learning curve associated with the Cameo and its software, but there is nothing the average modeler can’t overcome. YouTube has a number of videos that will show you just about anything you want to know. And if that doesn’t work, you can always ask your spouse.