Saturday, 10 September 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Mat Keeping

Cover Beginner's Guide to Silhouette Mats by Janet Packer for Silhouette UK Blog #silhouette #cutting #mats #matcare

Hello, Janet here.

Today's title sounds a little tongue in cheek, but seriously, some of the most frequent questions, especially from new Silhouette users, are about their mats. Hopefully this simple guide will provide some answers, saving you the need to ask.

Way too sticky!
When you first use a new mat it may well be too sticky for your media. Seasoned Silhouette users de-sticky their new mats by patting the surface a few times with a lint free cloth, clean cushion or T-shirt. Ensure that you don't bring it into contact with anything which might hold pet hair, dust, glitter, crumbs etc.   If you are regularly cutting more delicate media, you could treat yourself to a Light Hold Mat, a low-tac mat ideal for cutting thinner materials like copier paper (its pretty too). You can use it for thicker media too, when it's new.

Regular Hold Mat (Portrait, Cameo)
Light Hold Mat (PortraitCameo)

Fingers Off!
Try to touch the sticky part of your mat as little as possible. Your mat will stay sticky longer without natural oils, hand cream etc transferring from your skin. Where possible use a tool to remove pieces that are remaining on the mat. The flat-edged spatula in the tool kit is perfect for easing up cut edges and removing stray bits (and saves your finger nails).

The plastic scraper is useful too if there are many small pieces to remove.

Cover up?
Yes, don't throw away the blue paper or clear protective sheet that comes with your mat. It is already cut to the perfect size to protect the sticky area of the mat when it is not in use. Initially, it is also a good idea to remind yourself to place the shiny side of the blue sheet onto the sticky surface by marking the sheet in some way. Adopt the habit of replacing the cover on your mat promptly then, when your mat accidentally slides off your work surface, it won't become covered in whatever is on your craft room floor!

If you want to keep your mat even more pristine, try adopting the habit of re-covering portions of the mat that aren't in use, especially when removing smaller items.

Mine's Scratched!
Don't be concerned if your blade leaves some light cut marks on the mat (with un-backed media). However, if these marks are deeper, you are cutting into backing materials, or you can feel a rounded outline of your cut on the underside of your mat, you need to lighten up on your cut settings. Brian at Graphtec has produced a useful guide to adjusting your blade. Also look out for Nadine's post on Blades out later this month.

My cutout is bent/curly
If you find your cut shapes are curling as they come off the mat, try turning your mat over so that the cutting side is on a flat surface, protect the surface with your cover, and peel the mat away while keeping the cutout flat to the covered work surface. That way you don't distort the media's fibres and the cutout remains flat.

Don't mix it up!
Ideally, have at least two mats and (like blades) limit their use to certain materials. I have a mat for general use and also keep a sticky mat exclusively for vinyl which, unlike paper and card, doesn't shed any fibres. I have another for fabric and felt. If you cut fabrics, especially those stabilised with starch you'll de-sticky your mat very quickly. You'll prolong the stickiness of your mat if you utilise iron on fabric stabiliser instead (like the Silhouette Cut & Sew, or Clean Cut stabilisers.

It won't fit!
You may want to cut a larger design on your Cameo that won't fit on the regular 12" x 12" mat. Fortunately there is a larger mat available.

24" x 12' Cutting Mat

See the larger mat in use on these projects; my Marquee Letters and Sara's Large Cutouts). The 12" x 24" mat is very useful for cutting lager media, like A3 sheets of card, without having it trim them first.

Don't need a mat?
Yes, you don't need a mat when cutting materials which have their own carrier sheet such as sign vinyl, enabling you to cut large wall decals, up to 10 feet long, in one piece. Ensure that you use "Load Media" rather than "Load Mat" and are able to adjust the pinch rollers so that the media is gripped by both rollers.

Lost my sticking power!
Paper and card shed small particles onto your mat and make it less sticky over time and even the process of applying and removing media with smooth backing paper reduces a mat's stickiness.

As a temporary measure, or to give extra adhesion for springy media (like faux leather paper) use small pieces of washi, painter's tape or micropore tape at top and bottom edges.

 A good starting point to restoring stickiness is to remove residual pieces of media. Gently rinsing and thorough air drying the mat will remove stubborn paper fragments, but will in itself reduce stickiness over time.

You'll come across many methods for re-sticking your mat on the Internet, some are better than others. Bear in mind that you don't want to be applying an adhesive that could scratch off and gather inside the blade housing or on the blade, or one which leaves a residue on the back of your cutting media. Ultimately, you'll need to purchase replacement mats which are readily available from Silhouette retailers. I constantly look out for special offers and buy when the price is advantageous!

Use other Brands?
Yes there are non-Silhouette mats out there, BUT ... be aware that there are differences in dimension, thickness and quality. Use non-Silhouette brand mats at your own risk particularly during your warranty period (2 years for machines purchased from official UK suppliers).

What do I do with that? (Speciality Mats)

You'll find a multitude of uses for a PixScan™ Mat which you can use if you use version 3.1 or higher of the Silhouette Studio® software.

PixScan Mat used to make Stickers from Patterned Paper

Here is the list of uses from the Graphtec website:
• Turning hand drawn sketches and lettering into cut jobs • Digitizing fabric patterns • Adding custom-cut borders and frames to professionally printed invitations • Replicating a pattern at its original size • Saving material and time using the “nesting” feature in Silhouette Studio® • Digitizing your stamp collection into corresponding cut files • Incorporating any printed image or pattern into your custom craft projects • Turning photos and magazine clippings into cut or sketch files • Saving any scanned or photographed image into your personal digital library
Wow! You'll maybe find even more!

Stamp Cutting Mat
Finally, there is one more mat - the Stamp Making Cutting Mat. It is designed specifically for use with the Silhouette stamp material to create customised stamps with your Silhouette cutting machine. You can even buy a starter kit with both items and all the materials and instructions to make and use stamps out of the box.
Check out these projects already here on the Silhouette UK Blog (Bev's Stamp Kit Introduction and Sara's Decorative Clay Bowl).
Stamp Cutting Mat

I hope that you now know which Silhouette mat to use for your cutting jobs and will be able to extend the useable life of the mats.

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  1. Great tutorial Janet, I think lots of people will find this very useful. I have a tip that i don't think would be common, but just in case - I once cut lots of fabric on a new mat but got interrupted and left the fabric on the mat for a few days. When I removed them, they had bonded with the adhesive and left my mat with bald patches!!

    1. That was unfortunate Nadine. Those sorts of things always happen to me when I have a pristine new mat, and then I'm reminded of them for months after. I should add to my post that in general it must be better for your mat to remove your media in a timely fashion!

  2. Really useful Janet, thank you. Great for newbies and old timers alike. I have an unused 24x12 mat. Never thought of using it for A3 which I usually cut down. Obvious now you mention it. I can add more cuts now.

    1. I'm glad you have found it useful Jean.

  3. Thank you! This is the best info I have read about mats! I just discovered this blog today. Please tell me what is the Graphtec website?

    1. Thank you for your comments, I'm glad you've discovered us. The Graphtec website referred to is the GraphtecGB website which includes an online store. Graphtec are the UK importers and distributors for Silhouette machines and Silhouette products and have full descriptions for the items currently available in the UK. This is the link

    2. UPDATED LINK for Graphtec GB