Adventures in Using a Die Cutter in the Pottery Studio

i am the happy owner of a Silhouette Portrait 3 die cutting machine. What does a Silhouette Portrait do? It cuts materials like vinyl and sticker paper into any shape you can think of. I am not interested in making stickers or greeting cards. I want to design and cut shapes to use for ceramic surface decoration with slips and glazes. and to make templates for polymer clay shapes.

Here’s my first foray into decorating pottery.

I started with some greenware terracotta mugs I threw on a pottery wheel.

That’s my Silhouette Portrait 3. It’s the smallest of the Silhouette die cutting machines and the least expensive. I work small and didn’t want a big machine. I bought it on Poshmark, of all places. You can find more than clothes on Poshmark and I have been very happy with my purchases there so far. My Portrait 3 was new in the box and my savings were considerable. Another great resource is videos by Design Bundles on YouTube. From there, I learned about sources for less expensive supplies and accessories to use with the Silhouette. Plus a lot of tips and tricks for using my die cutting machine.

I am interested in making my own designs rather than buying them. So I have been fooling around with Vectornator, which is a vector-based graphic design software. Vectornator is free and I use it on a iPad. (Procreate, which is a raster-based program, is another option.)

I’m totally new to the software but I’ve been having fun with it, drawing simple shapes which I save as png files and send to my computer which is connected to the Portrait 3. One of the problems I have found with learning to use Vectornator and the Portrait 3 is that most of the written explanations start in the middle, and assume a lot of knowledge. But if you are patient and watch a lot of videos, you will get the hang of it. And watch Design Bundles’ videos.

Above is a flower motif I drew on my iPad and loaded into the Silhouette software. I am using the basic software that comes with the machine because it accepts png files without the need to upgrade.

To use the Silhouette, you line a cutting mat with whatever material you will be cutting ( I used copier paper above), and the machine cuts out your design. The beauty is that you don’t have to be good with scissors and that you can cut as many flowers, circles, shapes, stencils, or what have you as you need. You can save your designs in computer files and access them whenever you need.

Here’s my first few projects. I painted and screen printed greenware with underglaze. (I made my silkscreens previously with a photo bulb and emulsion, but you can make screens for printing with the Silhouette. )

I wet the shapes with water, adhered them to the mug after the underglaze had dried, painted over them with a contrasting color of underglaze and carefully peeled them off.

Here’s the same thing on a different mug. Note that I am using scrap paper to make the cutouts. it works fine. Newsprint is too thin and a nightmare to peel off the cutting mat.

After bisque firing, I coated the mugs with glossy clear for the glaze fire. Some interesting results. I will definitely be trying more surface designs with this technique.