Cricut Tips for Beginners

Now that I shared a few of the pros and cons of the Cricut Explore Air, I thought I might as well share some tips for getting started with Cricut!

I would imagine a lot of you got a machine for Christmas, so hopefully these Cricut Tips for Beginners will be helpful.

I really do love the machine, and it’s something that has so many uses – it’s more than just something to cut paper with. Cricut has really created an amazing system for designing and creating so many different projects. I love it!

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Be sure to join our newly-created Cricut support group on Facebook for ideas and inspiration!

This post has been updated since the Cricut Maker has made it’s debut. All information regarding the Explore Air can be applied to the Maker! 

What’s in the Box?

So, what comes in the Cricut Explore Air box (if you are looking for details on the Cricut Maker, click here).  Well, that depends. If you check out the Cricut website, they have different packages available, and the more money you pay, the more you get (obviously).  However, if you were to buy the most basic option from the Cricut website right now, you will most likely find in your box:

  • Cricut Machine
  • Storage Bag
  • Power and USB Cord
  • Blade
  • Standard Grip Cutting Mats
  • Getting Started Guide
  • Silver Pen
  • Samples

So, you don’t get a ton of things, but it’s enough to get started. However, I do recommend buying one of the starter sets, as they do include more of accessories that I feel are necessary for success.


Here are a few items I think everyone should make sure they have when using a Cricut Machine:

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What Machine Should I get? 

If you are reading this, you likely already have a machine – but you may also be trying to decide which one is best for you.

There are a ton of different Cricut machines out there, but the two lines that they still actively update and promote are the Explore Air line and the Cricut Maker.

I am fortunate to own both, and really, they are both amazing machines. There are things I like about the Air more than the Maker, but overall, I like the power and possibilities of the Maker.

I wrote this post – Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air: Which Cricut Machine Should You Buy? which I think will be helpful in determining the best machine for your needs.

Read the instructions

Maybe you all are great at reading instructions, but I am not. I’m the type of person that just jumps into something without reading all the information first.

Sometimes it works, other times, not so much.

I did that with the Cricut Explore Air when I first got it, and let’s just say, I struggled.

So, save yourself some time and frustration and read EVERYTHING that comes with your machine.

I go over a lot of information in this post, but if you are still needing some help, Craftsy has some excellent Cricut-related courses – including Craft and Create with your Cricut Explore! They may be worth taking.

Cricut Mat Care

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The cutting mat is essential to success with the Cricut machine. You really need it to make sure you get a cut on just about all the materials you will use.

Without proper care, they can get messed up pretty quickly. I’ll talk about this more later but you should ALWAYS make sure you do a test cut. I’ve ruined a mat because I had the cut setting too high.

Beyond that, one tip I learned is to wipe it down with non-alcoholic baby wipes (water wipes would be perfect) after each cut. This can help keep it cleaner, stay sticky for longer, and just increase the longevity of it.

You can use a paper clip to pick up tiny pieces of leftovers that are hard to get, as well as a lint roller.

If you are hoping to make your mat sticky again, here are two pieces of advice:

    • Good ol’ soap and water: This really does seem to work! My mat was starting to feel a little less sticky, so I just gave it a good cleaning with soap and water, and it seemed to revive itself.
    • Krylon Repositionable Adhesive: I have not actually used this, but I’ve heard that it can help make a mat sticky again.
    • If you are using the pink FabricGrip mats, here is a tutorial that I did on how to clean it

What Cricut Mat Should I Use? 

There are currently four different Cricut Mats:

The pink mat is specifically designed for the Cricut Maker and is to be used with fabric. The blue is for materials that stick rather easily and won’t slide around. The purple is for thicker materials that have a harder time staying put (such as balsa wood, chipboard, etc.) In general, my rule of them is this – the thicker the material, the stronger the grip.

What Materials Does The Cricut Explore Air Cut?

The Cricut cuts SO many things – the sky is really the limit. The first thing that probably comes to mind is vinyl – which is definitely a big one (and there are TONS of different kinds of vinyl as well). However, that’s just barely scraping the surface. There are over 100 different materials you can use, but here are some of the top materials listed on the Cricut website:

  • Paper – Standard, Cardstock, Vellum, Poster Board
  • Vinyl – Standard, Premium, Dry Erase, Chalkboard
  • Iron-On – Heat-Transfer Vinyl (HTV)
  • Craft Materials – Washi Tape, Craft Foam, Glitter Paper
  • Upcycled Materials – Chipboard, Cereal Boxes, Aluminum Cans
  • Fabric – Felt, Denim, Polyester, Burlap, Canvas
  • Plastic – Stencil, Window Acetate, Silicone
  • Thick Materials – Leather, Balsa Wood, Magnet Materials (check out this tutorial on how to cut wood with your Cricut machine)



You can purchase many Cricut-compatible cutting materials straight from their website. You can use things that aren’t Cricut branded, but I always know that if I use something from the site, it will definitely work.

Make sure that you read our post on 50+ Unique Cricut Projects to find out all the different ways you can use your machine!

Test cut

Always, always do a test cut. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I’m lazy in this, and I almost always regret it when I see my material isn’t being cut all the way through.

It takes just a few seconds for a test cut to be done, and it can help to ensure that you won’t have to do extra cuts or that the pressure of the cut is so much that it will cut into the mat.

Cutting with fabrics

I’ve found cutting with fabrics to be somewhat tricky – there’s some trial in error involved. For instance, for Oliver’s birthday, I made him a shirt with fabric that I cut from the machine. It worked pretty well.

However, I tried to cut some flannel the other day, and it was a disaster. It was pulling all over the place, and it cut fine in some areas but horribly in the others.

I’ve found that the secret is to use something like heat and bond to make the fabric a little thicker. If you aren’t going to be bonding it to something, you can at least attach it to some interfacing.

The flannel, I had chosen to use a spray adhesive, but I wish I had just used Heat’nBond I feel that it would have made it a stiffer surface, and it wouldn’t have gotten pulled around as much. Test cuts are super important when cutting with fabric!

UPDATE: The Cricut Maker cuts fabric BEAUTIFULLY – make sure you check out our post about the Cricut Maker and Fabric for more details 🙂

Drawing

One of the fun features of a Cricut machine is that you can draw with it – this can be fun for signs, cards, etc.

Cricut has their own markers that work well with the machine, so I do recommend picking up a set of those. However, don’t feel like you can’t use anything else. Anything else that will fit can work. Sharpies are a popular option.

Be sure to read this post on how to write with Cricut Explore Air to get you started!

How to clean your machine

As with any kind of machine, it’s crucial that you clean it to keep it working in tip top condition. This a great video that shows you how to clean your machine:

Non-alcoholic Baby wipes are a great option for cleaning both the machine and the wipes

Double check your settings

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Always make sure you have your machine set to cut the right kind of material! You can do this by changing the knob on the machine, or you can do it manually within the Cricut software.

Within the Cricut Design Space software, it will give you settings for TONS of different cutting materials – far more than are on the knob on the machine. It gets pretty specific with the material. I also like that you can adjust the settings in there, just in case the machine isn’t cutting the material exactly the way you want it to. a

Keeping blades sharp

Blades will dull overtime – and it’s usually a slow transition. I remember when I finally replaced my blade on my old machine, and I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten.

I recommend having different blades for different kinds of materials that you cut frequently – so one that is only for fabric, one for vinyl, etc. Then you could have another blade for materials that you don’t use as frequently. Here are the different blades that are available:

You should also clean out the housing for the blade after each use. This can get gunky very easily. I’ve found that using compressed air is pretty easy to use.

Transfer paper

Transfer Paper is essential for many projects – specifically for use with vinyl. However, you can use transfer paper more than once – so make sure you don’t throw it out!

Make sure you cut the transfer paper down to the size you need to eliminate excess waste. If you don’t want to pay for the Cricut Transfer Paper, you can actually just use regular ol’ contact paper. It might save you a few bucks!


Vinyl Tips and Where to Find Vinyl

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I think when people think of cutting machines like Cricut, they think of vinyl. I know that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me! So, I figure it’s worth mentioning a few tips for cutting with vinyl.

First off, it’s important to understand that there are MANY different kinds of vinyl – interior, exterior, heat transfer, matte, gloss, glittered…SO many. It’s important to look at what kind you are using in order to cut it correctly. For instance, when I first started using heat transfer vinyl, it took me FOREVER to figure out what side was supposed to be cut (haha, pathetic, I know!).

When you are getting ready to cut the vinyl, make sure you line it up with the edge of the mat and fills the entire mat. I always have issues when I try to cut out the exact size and place it in the exact right spot on the mat. Just fill up the whole space!

Once the vinyl is cut, I recommend cutting away excess vinyl before you remove it from the mat. If you don’t do this, you risk pulling up vinyl that hasn’t been cut.

When you do the transfer to the transfer paper, it’s easiest to do this while it’s still on the mat.

Start simple – vinyl does have a learning curve, and it can be easy to become frustrated with.

You can find vinyl a lot of different places. I bought a huge pack of vinyl from Amazon for cheap, and while it did the job, I didn’t feel like it was the highest quality. I really love using the Vinyl straight from the Cricut website or from Expressions Vinyl.


Be careful with the fonts you use. I feel like using thicker fonts makes for an easier time transferring and you don’t risk breaking the design as much. Pretty much any font you buy directly from Cricut is a great option.

Here is a tutorial I’ve done on using Iron on Vinyl (read more details here):

Cricut Design Space

This is where all the magic happens. Cricut Design Space is available to use through their web-based program or through a mobile app. You do need Internet access to use it, but it’s where you’ll create all your designs.

You can come up with your own designs, or you can use pre-designed templates. I love that you can use the mobile app anywhere – it’s so convenient when you are laying in bed or sitting in the car.

I recommend signing in and getting to know the system first before you get started. There is a learning curve, but I don’t feel like it’s too difficult to pick up fairly quickly.  Here is a screen shot of the screen on the web platform:

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Set Canvas in Cricut Design Space

This is one of my favorite features of Design Space – it has tons of templates for SO many different projects. You just select the project, and then it overlays it in your design screen so you can make sure you get the sizing correctly. For instance, when I made Oliver’s birthday onesie, I went under pajamas, and it pulled up a onesie so I could design right over the top of it. It’s very helpful for visual learners.

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 Cricut Access

If you are a serious Cricut user and you want to have access to their entire library or images and fonts, I think that this is well-worth the investment. They have several different plans ranging from $4.99-$9.99. You can find out which Cricut Access Plan is right for you in this post!

You get access to over 30,000 images, 370 fonts, thousands of project ideas, and you get 10% off all purchases from Cricut.com.

Your Own Images and Fonts

You can use your own images and fonts in Cricut Design Space. To use your own font, just install a font that you’ve purchased or downloaded online to your computer. Restart Design Space, and it should show up in your fonts.

With images, on the left side of the Design Space platform, there is an option that says “Upload Images.” You use this to upload the image that you want to cut – super easy. You can upload most .jpg, .bmp, .png, .gif, .svg, and .dxf files and convert them into cuttable files. Etsy has lots of really great cut files that are inexpensive and great for any occasions!

I recommend Fotor as a great place to create your own designs. They have a free and paid account, and they are both great resources!

You can check out this post on how to uploade images to Cricut Design Space for more help!

Cricut Mystery Box

This is one of my favorite things that Cricut does! Each month, they create a “mystery box” of products – it’s usually $29.99 to 39.99, and it’s filled with supplies and cartridges that are valued well beyond that. If you are someone who just loves to create and you aren’t looking for specific materials, this is a great value. It makes for a great gift, too!.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine.

 

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60 Comments

  • This may not be the place to ask, but, how well would Cricut Air 2 cut leather. My hobby is leathercraft and I am trying figure out if this machine would be a worthwhile purchase. Your information above suggests that you are bit of an expert with these machines. Thankyou David Wiesner
    • Hi, David! Thanks for commenting. These machines are definitely designed to cut with leather, though I don't have any personal experience. This is a great article on how to use the original Explore, but it would be a similar approach. http://damasklove.com/how-to-cut-leather-cricut-explore/ Doing some test cuts will help you figure out the best setting for your l leather, but there should be a preset setting to get you started. There are some great YouTube videos to show a demo of the leather cutting as well. And this is Katie responding (I'm logged into my husband's account :)
    • Not sure which one to buy. I am wanting simple but latest. I want to use it mainly for leather and fabric. Could use your advice
  • This article really helped me. I was considering returning the Cricut I received for Christmas. All the blogs, etc., just seemed more complicated than I could handle. I also thought I would end falling into an internet black hole. After reading this, it seems so much simpler. Thank you.
    • Hi! Thank you for your comment - it means so much to me. I hope you'll check back or subscribe my cricut newsletter - I will be sharing more tutorials and tips soon. I'm so glad that this was so helpful to you :) I found the same thing when I first got my Cricut. Not a lot of helpful posts, especially with a machine that has so many options.
  • I am have having some trouble with the iron on. The machines cuts it and all, but when I put the item on a shirt and iron it on only some of the letter stick. Is there something I may be doing wrong? I have watched several videos and it seems super easy and I can't see why I am having so much trouble.
    • Hi, Denise! I'm sorry you are having this trouble. I've encountered this before. Are you using some kind of cloth between the vinyl and the iron? I"ve found that sometimes if it's too thick, it will cause troubles with it sticking all the way. Sometimes I will just take the cloth between off all the way and iron directly on to the vinyl for a few seconds. Feel free to join our FB group and I can help you troubleshoot more - https://www.facebook.com/groups/711777112325006/.
      • Hi Katie, My husband bought me a cricut explore air wireless for Christmas! I haven't even opened it because it seems SO complicated! I have an embroidering machine that I was able to teach myself how to use! Just feel overwhelmed with everything I am reading online about the cricut. I tried to join the facebook page to see if I could get more information, although it said it was a closed group. Does that mean I can't join the group?
        • Hi, Lisa! you can definitely join :) Does it not let you request to join? If not, send me an email with your Facebook emaiil address and I'll invite you :) Katie@clarkscondensed.com
        • There's a video on YouTube by Melody Lane that is really helpful! It's 2 hours but worth the watch, especially if you are feeling intimidated. I didn't touch my expressions for a year I was so afraid of it! Lol. My husband bought me the air for Christmas this year and that video helped me with the transition. Good Luck!
  • I am having trouble using my slice, I can' t seem to get it to light up to use it. I am trying to slice a letter and it is not working for me.
  • My husband purchased me a Cricut Explorer Air2 for Christmas. I've done a couple vinyl stickers with the pictures provided on the design space. I've downloaded a picture and tried to cut it. However it keeps showing as a print and not a cut. Then when I send it to see what happens it says the cut marks can't be seen. How can I make this just a cut? Also what is your facebook page? Reading your tips are a lot easier to understand than others I've read. Thanks for your help.
    • Hi, Beverly! Please accepted my apologies for not responding until now. I had a bunch of comments buried that hadn't hadn't been answered. In order to change to cut instead of print, you have to click on the image in the layers panel on the right hand side of Design Space, and a little panel should open. At the top will be something that has different symbols - a print, scissors, a pen, etc. Choose the scissors to cut!
  • Hi! I only have one place where I can put a blade, but not a second where I can put a sharpie! , it looks like all machines come with 2 of these, but mine came with one. can I add one? Annann
    • Hi, Ann! What kind of machine do you have? Feel free to send me an email at katie@clarkscondensed.com and I can help troubleshoot :)
  • I got a Cricut Explore Air for Christmas last year and messed up on cutting, so I boxed it back up promising myself I'd try again "later" and moved on. Now I'm wanting to make Valentine's Day gifts and this post helped me tremendously. Thank you!
    • Oh I'm so happy to hear this! I'd love to see how your Valentine's Day gifts turn out (if you are on Facebook, feel free to share them in the group or on my Facebook page!).
  • I am having trouble with the sticker paper going through my printer properly. It gets stuck and doesn't print out properly so I can't cut it out. Is there a printer anyone out there has been successful printing with the Cricut sticker paper?
  • HI Katie My wife and I are thinking of getting a Cricut air 2 we just want to know how the iron on vinyl stands up to the wash and normal wear and tear. Thank you John
    • What do you mean? You can try resizing an image in a free program like PicMonkey if it is saying the size is too large :)
    • So in Cricut, there isn't a button that says "test cut" (in total honesty, when I wrote that test cut, I was thinking back to my Silhouette days!). However, in Cricut, all you need to do is just open up a separate canvas, make a basic shape, and cut it using the settings you plan to use on your other canvas.
  • Thank you Katie, this will be very helpful. I've just purchased the Explorer Air 2 Rose bundle. Looks complicated, but I'm willing to take on the challenge even more with your helpful hints.
  • Hi! This is very helpful. My cricut is on its way! I'm wondering if you have a favorite hp printer. I need to replace my old one and participate in the instant ink program. Thanks!!!
    • Hi! I'm glad you found it helpful :) I have the HP Envy 7640 http://amzn.to/2qKWDCS (affiliate). I love it! Totally compatible with the Instant ink!
  • I have been searching since January for someplace to give me simple instructions to make a vinyl tshirt design and I just found it! Thank you so much for making your video so easy to understand for those who are intimidated by this machine! After watching you make your shirt, I feel confident that I am ready and can do this! Whew. Finally, a place that gave me the confidence to fire up this machine and get the dust off it! Thank you so much! I have already requested to join your Facebook group!
    • Thanks so much for your comment Sharon - it means so much! I'm glad that you found the video helpful. I can't wait to see what your final project looks like!
  • I am so-o-o thankful I found your website! I've had my Cricut Explore Air for a number of months & haven't done much with it. The learning curve seems to be straight up! I've been reading the manual & watching the videos & then trying to re-create projects demonstrated. For the past 24 hours I've been trying to create a card with writing. No go & major frustration. I watched the video numerous times, stopping it every few seconds to review every step. Then I went to the Help & Chat areas. Chat was totally unhelpful. I decided to search for Cricut for Dummies & located your site. Eureka!! In a few minutes my issue was resolved & I successfully created the card. The Cricut instructions were not specific enough & the person on Chat seemed unable to respond to my questions. "Select All" & R click Attach was the simple solution. Thank you, thank you!! Now, I'm going back to get more words of wisdom. I'm feeling hopeful that I'll conquer this new learning experience!!
    • Oh thank you for your sweet comment - it means so much to me, and it makes it feel like writing these posts are worth it :) I hope you'll stick around for more. I try and do a couple Cricut posts a month :)
  • I'm so intimidated by this machine. have had it for almost 2 years and its barely been out of the box. Please help or advise where best place to go for help is. I'm a very visual person and not very computer literate.
    • Hi, Donna! I would love to help you understand your machine a little bit more. Feel free to shoot me an email or comment back here with some videos you'd like to see me make to help you out!
    • Hi, Kathy: I don't have a lot of experience with the older machines, but I'm happy to help you trouble shoot any issues you have. Our Cricut Facebook group has users of older machines that are very helpful!
  • Thanks for such an informative site. I bought a Cricut Explore 2 for myself and have been reading the last three weeks to get started. After reading this I am ready to try something. I am hoping to make our Christmas cards using the machine.
  • I'm contemplating between getting an air 3 of a maker, I still don't really understand what the difference is?? The air 2 cuts fabric and leather as well??
    • Hi, Cassie! While you can cut fabric and leather with the Air 2, the Maker cuts them much easier. You need backing for the fabric with the Air 2, and the cuts aren't quite as smooth. The rotary blade was designed specifically for fabric and other flexible materials (such as felt and soft leather) to cut much more smoothly and precisely. As far as leather, the main selling point is the ability to cut it more easily and thicker pieces. The knife blade isn't released yet but will be sometime this year. It can cut much thicker materials, and I can't wait. I hope that helps!
  • Enjoy your site. I am brand new to the Cricut scene and I have the new Cricut Maker. I have one major problem I do not know what I am doing wrong but I cannot get the vinyl to transfer to tape. I have bought Oracle and Cricut transfer tape. I am making smaller fonts for mugs and frames. But even the larger projects I still cannot get to fully transfer. PLEASE HELP! I have emailed Cricut and the company I bought the transfer tape and they just apologize. I have googled and youtube and they never show problems, they make it look easy. Am I rubbing wrong or what??? I have used the rubbing tools and other things...Frustrated.
    • I'm so sorry, Tracey! I will tell you that I, too, have HUGE issues with transferring over the vinyl. The only time I don't seem to have issues with Expressions Vinyl's products and their transfer tape. I have had a lot more luck with the strong hold transfer tape from Cricut -https://shop.cricut.com/en_us/stronggrip-transfer-tape.html. You may also just try regular contact paper - I know a lot of people who use that. I LOVE the Cricut company, but their transfer tape definitely leaves something to be desired.
  • Hi Katie, I just got a new Cricut Explorer Air 2 and I am trying to read everything I can before starting. Question: I will be cutting felt, pleather, and denim. Should I have a designated blade for these materials? Loved your tutorial and your site. I will be back to learn all I can.
    • Hi, Sandra! So glad you enjoy the site :) You don't technically need different blades for each one, but I think it can help if you have a separate blade for those materials...but if I'm being honest, I just use the same blades for everything :)
    • Hi! Either the Cricut Maker or the Cricut Explore would be great - beginners can definitely use both. What are you wanting to do with your machine?
  • I want to cut papers for various size hexagons and other paper piecing shapes. Once I learn how to use the design space and actually cut something. LOL Does Cricut have quilt piecing patterns?

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