Here are some tips on how to use the different types of cut files to craft using your Cricut, Silhouette, or another cutting machine and design software.
What is a cut file?
A cut file is a digital image that was designed to be used with a cutting machine like a Cricut, Silhouette, Brother Scan n Cut or even a Glowforge.
What types of file formats are there?
There are different file formats that a cut file will come in that are used for various applications and with various materials including adhesive vinyl, heat transfer vinyl, paper, and fabric.
Typically you'll see an SVG, PNG, EPS and DXF files. The file format you use depends on the cutting machine and design software you have.
Sometime you'll also see a PDF included and that's for crafters that don't have a cutting machine and cut out the design by hand. Bless those crafters!
What cutting machine and design software uses which file formats?
SVG files may be used with Silhouette Designer Edition, Cricut Design Space, Sure Cuts a Lot, and Make the Cut.
DXF files may be used with Silhouette Basic Edition, Silhouette Designer Edition, Cricut Design Space.
Note: DXF may be identified as AutoCad by your computer file manager.
EPS files may be used with Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Photoshop, and InDesign.
PNG files are provided as an example of the design but can be opened in most design software. This file type is also used for the Print then Cut feature on some cutters and for sublimation printers.
What's the difference between SVG, EPS, DXF and PNG files?
The file formats appear differently when opened on the design screen.
SVG and EPS Files
These file formats maintain colors and solid shapes as well as maintain the layers of the design if multiple layers exist.
The cutting lines may not appear until you select cutting preferences in your software or hover the cursor over the design.
Before resizing the design or moving it on the screen, “select all” to see if it opened as one group or multiple groups.
Make sure all of the layers are selected on your screen before you manipulate the design or you won't be able to scale proportionally.
For designs with more than one element, elements may be ungrouped for editing with your software’s “ungroup” command. You may then regroup by color for efficiency cutting different colors of media.
This file format appears as a black outline of the design’s cutting lines. There are no colors or layers.
In designs with more than one element, you may be able to ungroup elements with the “release compound path” command.
You can then regroup by color for efficiency cutting different colors of media and “make compound path” again to retain all formatting.
Please note that DXF files are very node-intense and cutting can be noisy and take longer than your own designs or SVG files. I recommend a test cut.
PNG files are a full-color static image without cutting lines. None of the elements can be ungrouped.
PNG files are mainly used for sublimation, (the process of transferring a design into a material or fabric using ink and heat) or when using the Print then Cut feature (to make stickers, tattoos, decals and more).
While PNGs can be traced, you may find that one of the other formats works on your machine and will provide cleaner cutting lines.
How do you design cut files?
This type of software allows you to create logos, icons, drawings, typography, illustrations and more using vector graphics instead of a pixel based format.
What's the difference between Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape?
Inkscape and Adobe Illustrator are both vector graphic softwares that allow you to design logos, illustrations, sketches, icons, and what we’re interested in designing, vector graphics (or cut files as we call them).
Inkscape has come along way in providing similar features to Adobe Illustrator but there are some differences that should be noted.
- Cost: It’s hard to beat free, especially when you’re just starting out.
- Support: Inkscape is run by volunteers and you’re joining a community which means there’s no dedicated support staff.
- Features: Inkscape has the same capabilities as Adobe Illustrator when it comes to designing cut files but you’re limited if you want to branch out into other types of design.
- Credibility: Inkscape is great for new designers but if you’re serious about designing, this isn’t the design software you’ll be adding to your resume.
- Cost: At $20+/month the price can be a deterent for some but worth it if you’re using it everyday.
- Support: Adobe Illustrator has a customer support team to help troubleshoot and provides eductation and tutorials.
- Features: Adobe Illustrator offers all of the bells and whistles when it comes to design with additional tools and features that will make your workflow more efficient.
- Credibility: Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard software used by graphic designers, web designers, illustrators and visual artists.
What's a pixel? What's a vector graphic? And why does it matter?
A Pixel is short for ‘picture elements’ which are small dots that make up an image, video or text.
You typically can’t see the individual pixels until you increase the size of that image and it becomes pixelated, meaning you start seeing the dots in the picture.
Illustrator uses Vector Graphics which are actually mathematical equations that draw the design.
These equations are translated into points that are connected by lines or curves that make up the shape of the vector image. This allows the vector graphics to scale to any size (even billboard size) and not lose their quality.
Let’s look at the difference between a pixel image and a vector image.
In the pixel image (JPG), you can see the dots that make up the image starting to form, making the image look blurry.
In the vector image (SVG), the lines are clean and crisp, which make it much easier for cutting machines to cut.
The image below shows how vector images can be scaled and never lose the resolution of the object, whether it be a shape or text.
Vector Graphic Software vs Cutting Machine Design Software
While vector graphic softwares can be intimidating and overwhelming, the design opportunities are far greater than designing within cutting machine softwares like Cricut Design Space or Silhouette Studio.
There are certain design elements you aren't able to do in the cutting machine softwares. For example, you can't create outlines and shadows of text or an object and you can't increase the stroke or border of an object.
These are two key functionalities I use to design my layered mandalas.
Additionally, if you want to share or sell your cut files you'll need a vector graphic software so you can save them in the standard file formats: SVG, EPS, DXF and PNG.
So if you want to create your own designs, then vector graphic software is an essential tool to make high quality files that can easily be cut on any cutting machine.