How to Use a Cricut Machine
Cricuts solve a very common issue in arts and crafts: cutting.
Cutting takes time, it’s tricky, fiddly, or sometimes just not even possible!
Cricuts, fundamentally, are cutting machines. But that is by no means the extent of their capabilities.
Cricuts can be used to cut all manner of materials ranging from vinyl to cardboard and rubber. They can be used to create transfers for clothing, stickers, and can even draw, deboss or engrave.
So, whilst a Cricut is a cutting machine, this is certainly not the limit of its powers. It’d be best to describe Cricuts as multi-use arts and craft machines.
Many people wonder how to use a Cricut and how to get the most out of their Cricut machine – this is what we’re going to discuss in this article.
Cricuts are not the hardest devices to use by any stretch and their user-friendly nature has helped push them ahead of cutting machines by other brands. Still, they do take some getting used to and squeezing the most out of your machine will likely take time and practice.
That said, getting started is easy and once you’ve got the ball rolling, there’ll be no stopping you!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how to use a Cricut.
Which Cricut Do You Own?
The current most popular Cricut models are the Cricut Maker, Cricut Explore Air 2, and Cricut Joy.
The Cricut Joy is a simple, smaller-sized cutting machine for more entry and mid-level projects. The Explore Air 2 is the middle-tier product, offering the majority of the features of the most expensive model, the Cricut Maker. The Cricut Maker is much more flexible, though, and can cut a much wider variety of materials. It also lacks debossing or engraving features and is slower than the Maker.
On the Cricut Explore Air 2, you’ll see the following features:
- Lid opening button
- Smart Dial
- Power button
- Blade housing and carriage
- Accessory cup
- Accessory drawers
- Cartridge port – Cricut Cartridges have now been phased out
The Cricut Maker is similar:
- Lid opening
- Tablet/phone port
- Tool container
- Control panel
The Cricut Maker is more minimalist than the Explore Air 2, but of course, it possesses all the same functions and more.
If you’ve already chosen your Cricut then great! Let’s get it set up.
Setting Up Your Cricut
Setting up the Cricut is really easy. You plug it into the mains and connect your device via either Bluetooth or USB cable. Bluetooth works really well and means you can place your Cricut somewhere beyond your workstation or desk.
The first time you use your Cricut, you’ll need to connect to the internet to download Design Space.
Design Space is the software that lets you control your projects. It’s not as complex as something like say, Photoshop, but it does take some getting used to and those who aren’t tech-confident will have to take things slowly and follow the tutorials. Cricut provides tons of assistance with Design Space – they understand that many people haven’t used a tool like this before as it is quite unique.
The Cricut walkthrough will take you through the required steps to set up your device, either via Bluetooth or USB. After you’ve set up Design Space, you won’t need to be online to use it, so long as you have your necessary project files downloaded already.
Design Space 101
When you follow the Design Space tutorial, you’ll have to turn your Cricut on and connect via USB or Bluetooth. You might need a password to connect to the Cricut; use 0000 if you see that message.
Design Space will link to your Cricut. You’ll then be taken into a beginner’s tutorial where you’ll make your first cut. Don’t worry about Design Space – it’s well-made for beginners. In fact, its received criticism for being too basic and confining for very technical or experienced users!
Your first project will be the ‘Enjoy Card’ tutorial supplied with your Cricut machine (if you bought it new). This tutorial project is super easy to follow – Design Space tells you exactly what to do and what you need. You’ll need the materials contained within the Cricut box, including the cardstock, the cutting mat, and pen.
Design Space is both your control center and your project store. You can find all types of projects directly within the app. Some are free, some are paid. Paid projects aren’t pricey and once you’ve bought a few, you should be set for a while.
Most people are pleasantly surprised about how easy Design Space is to use.
We’ll break down some different common projects shortly, but let’s take an in-depth look at the controls and settings of the Maker and Explore Air 2. We’ll give the Joy a miss, not because it’s bad, but because it’s very simple and the advice here will apply to it as well.
The Cricut Explore Air 2: Guide to Settings and Features
The main feature to be aware of is the Smart Set Dial.
This allows you to quickly dial in the material you’re using. So, when you load up your designs in Design Space, you simply turn the dial to the material you’re cutting.
The following compatible materials are available on the dial:
- Light Cardstock
- Poster Board
You can actually set half-way between each material too, which is great if you’re aware that your material doesn’t quite fit into these categories. Just because these materials are listed on the dial doesn’t mean you have to use them. There are hundreds of materials selectable within Design Space. That’s why there’s a ‘custom’ dial setting. Set the dial to ‘custom’ and you’ll be able to set your cutting material from a huge list within Design Space. The dial is just a convenient feature – it’s not the only way to select and control your Cricut’s cutting features.
Fast Mode does what it says on the tin, pretty much halving cutting times. However, it’s only available with some materials, such as:
- Light Cardstock
Fast Mode is set in design space under the Set, Load, Go screen.
Changing the Blade
If you buy a new Cricut then a standard all-purpose blade will be already set up inside the device. Changing it is pretty easy, you remove the blade housing and can then remove the blade itself. The housing next to the blade is the accessory cartridge that holds pens, scoring tools, and other accessories. These can be changed in a similar way. See the Cricut website for more information on changing the blade.
The Cricut Maker: Guide to Settings and Features
The higher-end Cricut Maker is very similar in design and structure to the Explore Air 2, but it’s basically just better and more powerful in pretty much every way.
There’s no dial on the Maker. Whilst the dial is convenient, it’s really not required when you can set the material in Design Space. The Maker is compatible with a huge variety of materials anyway – you’re better off browsing in Design Space.
The Adaptive Tool System is another key feature exclusive to the Maker that makes inserting and swapping tools really easy. There’s a QuickSwap housing that allows you to swap tools in no time. The Maker is also compatible with a rotary blade that allows you to cut fabrics without a backing. It’s very smart!
Apart from that, both the Cricut Maker and Explore Air 2 work in the same way.
Cricut Accessories: Cutting Mats
Cutting mats are the most important Cricut accessory. You use them to load material into the cutting machine. They have a grippy surface to hold materials in place whilst they’re being cut or otherwise marked by the machine.
There are 3 main Cricut cutting mats:
The blue light grip cutting mat is suitable for:
- Light cardstock
- Standard printer paper
- Scrapbook paper
The green standard grip cutting mat is suitable for:
- Regular cardstock
- Iron-on heat transfers and standard vinyl
- Window clings
The purple strong grip cutting mat is suitable for:
- Backed fabric (Maker only)
- Thin chipboard
- Corrugated card
- Leather and suede
This is by no means an exhaustive list of compatible materials. If you’re unsure what cutting mat to use then you can find plenty of resources on the Cricut website.
Secondly, it’s wise to grab the Cricut Starter Accessory Bundle. It contains several excellent tools that you’ll pretty much need certain – improvising won’t be easy. The tools contained in the accessory set are:
- Tweezers with an inverted action, so you squeeze to open
- Scraper, for scraping cutting mats and vinyl
- Spatula, for lifting materials off of the cutting mat
- Weeder, to pull tiny cuts away from their material
What Can I Make With a Cricut Machine?
There’s a huge range of projects you can start with a Cricut. One of the most popular projects is cardmaking, which is probably the most popular type of Cricut project overall. But, that’s by no means all a Cricut can do – cutting is just the tip of the iceberg!
Fonts and Stickers from Vinyl
Cutting out all manner of signs, graphics, stickers and more with a Cricut is very simple and it makes light work of ornate lettering and other intricate designs. To do this, you’ll need adhesive vinyl. You can choose pre-colored vinyl, or you can print your own designs. The Cricut doesn’t print (but it can draw), so you’ll need to print the design onto the vinyl and then cut it out with the Cricut.
To do this, you can use the Cricut feature ‘Print Then Cut’. Design space will sync to your home printer, sending an image file to print out. The image file is ready-made for your Cricut – you load it in and cut it out without needing to reconfigure your Cricut! Head to the ‘Printables’ area of the Cricut image library to find these sorts of projects.
There’s a very good guide to using Print Then Cut on the Cricut website here.
Cutting Fabric with a Cricut
Cricuts can cut fabric, making applique projects very easy. Only the Maker can cut fabric without a backing, but bonded fabrics are easy to get hold of and can be used with the Explore Air 2. You’ll need the rotary blade to cut fabric with the Maker. This allows you to quickly cut out a range of shapes and designs for sewing and fabric projects.
Drawing with a Cricut
Cricuts can house pens, allowing you to draw on multiple materials. This is excellent for drawing on transfers, stickers, signs, and greeting cards. You’ll need to select ‘Writing’ from inside the image layer. Cricut writing is precision-perfect every time – perfect for cards!
T-Shirts and Clothing with a Cricut
You can make custom clothing with a Cricut, either with regular heat transfers (iron-on) or Cricut’s own Infusible Ink. Heat transfers are the standard option and generally work well. You’ll need either a Cricut heat-press, like the EasyPress, or standard household iron. The EasyPress makes it much easier to execute a good transfer.
You simply cut your design out, choosing the ‘t-shirt’ template, or other clothing templates within Design Space, and then iron it on. Infusible Ink ‘soaks’ into the fabric rather than sitting on the surface, kind of like direct-to-garment printing rather than screen printing.
Debossing with a Cricut
Cricuts can deboss, meaning pushing inwards on a material to mark it. You’ll need to head into ‘Linetype’, choose Deboss and then Apply. You’ll be able to find these options in the Design Space Canvas view. This is where Design Space becomes a little tricky, as you’ll need to edit some designs to make them debossable, or drawable too. The Linetype tool essentially turns designs into singular lines rather than blocks of color or shade.
I’m Stuck with Design Space, What Do I Do?
Whilst Design Space is intuitive to use while you stick to the projects available in the library (of which there are thousands), difficulty sometimes arises when someone is trying to perform custom actions.
Design Space does have some advanced features, but the help available online is phenomenal. Searching for whatever specific problem you’ve encountered is bound to return lots of useful results.
Lots of them will have YouTube video tutorials too. And then, the Cricut website is also excellent. A starting point would be this Cricut 101 guide that contains links to many common Cricut project videos.
Materials for Cricut
You can cut tons of different materials with a Cricut. The most common are paper, cardstock, cardboard, and vinyl. Rarer materials you can cut with a Cricut include wood, leather, and foil.
Here’s a shortlist of the main cuttable Cricut materials (for the Maker):
- Most types of paper and cardboard including artboard
- Iron-on transfers
- Paper-thin faux leather
- Acetate film
- Sticker paper
- Felt and many other fabrics
- Wood (basswood and balsa wood)
Wood is an interesting one, particularly balsa wood, which makes the Cricut an excellent tool for cutting and building models. You can find 3D projects within the library that enable you to cut and build everything from paper flowers to awesome 3D cards, dinosaur models, model buildings, and more. Check out some Pinterest pins on 3D SVG projects for the Cricut.
Cricut has an excellent set of tutorials on how to build 3D designs here.
Where to Find Cricut Projects
As we just touched upon, SVG files are the main files you’ll be using with your Cricut. SVG files are cuttable files you can load and cut pretty much immediately, if the design is created for your Cricut.
When you’re starting out, it’s best to stick to the Design Space ecosystem and search for projects in Design Space. You know that they’re all built and ready to go out-of-the-box, which means minimal stress and hassle with importing an SVG file from elsewhere and preparing it for cutting.
Consider signing up to Cricut Access that provides many thousands of project files. There are some 100,000 non-licensed images ready for the Cricut, thousands of ready-to-make projects, and some 500+ cuttable fonts.
You can also import other image files types into Design Space, but they’ll need to be edited and prepared for cutting. This is something you can tackle later on when you’ve had some practice with the Cricut’s main features.
Check out Printable Cuttable Creatables, this excellent Cricut Pinterest board, and Design Bundles for many more free Cricut-ready projects.
Summary: How to use a Cricut
Cricuts are brilliantly well-made and are suitable for those of all technical skill levels. That’s why they’re the most successful cutting machines around.
Whilst Design Space might intimidate some, so long as you don’t go too far off-piste whilst you’re still learning, it’s easy to get to grips with. Stick to projects listed in the library. Cricut Access also provides a huge range of projects – more than any one person could complete in a whole lifetime, probably!
Once you get your teeth into a few projects, it’s only up from there! Cricuts might dazzle with the many options you have at your disposal, especially with the Maker, but if you work logically through the different types of projects available then you’re bound to get tons of use out of your Cricut device.