5 Little Monsters: How to Make a Cricut Project- Step by Step for Beginners

How to Make a Cricut Project- Step by Step for Beginners

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I have talked with a few people recently, both in person and online, who have mentioned how intimidating a Cricut is. They don't know how or where to start and it just seems overwhelming. So, I thought I would share a step by step tutorial on making a project on your Cricut. This is mostly going to be geared towards beginners, and hopefully will make getting started with a Cricut easier.

6 Steps to Making a Cricut Project

Step 1: The Design

The first step in making your project is going to be choosing, uploading, or creating your design. There are a few ways this can be done, but with any Cricut machine (Maker, Explore, or Joy models) this process will begin in Design Space

Design Space is the program used to create and cut with your Cricut. I am not going to go into specific details about the tools and functions of Design Space here, but you can read more about using Design Space in my post, Everything You Need to Know About Cricut Design Space. 

Once you are in Design Space and have opened a new canvas you have a few options for finding or creating the design that you want to make. 

Option 1: Ready-to-Make Projects

In Design Space there is a collection of ready-to-make projects that you can choose from. Click the projects tab (on a computer this tab is found on the left sidebar) to see these projects. There are a lot of designs to choose from, some specific to a machine like Maker specific projects using Maker tools, or Joy specific projects like insert cards, and others that you can make on any of the machines. These designs are ready to cut so all you need to do is click on the project to see the details, then click make it!

Option 2: Upload a Design

Another option is to create, purchase, or otherwise obtain designs outside of Design Space and upload them. You can purchase SVG files, or there are even sites that have free designs. I have created my own designs on other sites, or even drawn something on my iPad and uploaded that. You can upload .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp, .svg, or .dxf files, although depending on the design some of those will work better than others. For example, an .svg file will have layers and be pretty much ready to go when you upload it, a .jpg will probably need the background removed and only be one color/layer if using it as a cut file. You can clean up and remove backgrounds and unwanted parts of a design in the uploading process, but which file type works best will depend on the type of design and project you are wanting to make. 

Option 3: Use Images and Fonts to Create Your Own Design

The next option is to use the images and fonts available in Design Space to create my designs. Most of these are included in Cricut Access, a paid subscription that gives you access to tons of fonts and images as well as some other perks like discounts on Cricut purchases. There are also a few that are free for everyone, and you can purchase the images and fonts individually to use. You can also use your own system fonts. This may mean just finding an image that you like and want to use, maybe resizing it and using it as is for your project. It could mean combining several images and/or fonts to create the design you want, or even editing the images and fonts using the tools available in design space to make them your own (see Everything You Need to Know About Design Space for more detail info on the tools available in Design Space).

Once your design is chosen or uploaded and ready make sure it is the size that you want it to cut out and everything is the way that you want it to be when you cut.

Step 2: Preparing to Cut

Now that your design is ready to go it is time to get ready to cut the design. You will move from the design canvas, to the cut screen by clicking the Make It button (top right corner on a computer). This will take you to a new screen where you will see your project laid out by color on mats. 

The number of mats you will see will depend on the number of colors and mats needed to cut your project. There will be one mat for each color you are using, and if you have several pieces that are the same color you will have as many mats of that color as needed to fit the designs. 

In this section you will be able to choose the material size that you are using, 12x12, 12x24, 8 1/2x11, etc., so that the the designs can be correctly placed on the mat. 

You can also choose the number of copies of your design you want cut. So if you need to cut 3 of the same thing rather than making 3 copies of your design on your design canvas, you can just make 1, then select 3 copies, apply, and it will add 3 copies of the design to the mat. 

This is also where you will select if you want to mirror your design. You will almost always want to do this when working with iron on. 

You can move the design around on the mat so it is exactly where you want it to be. This is especially helpful if you want a little more space between pieces so that you can cut them apart more easily, or if you are working with a scrap of material and you need it moved to a specific part of the mat. You can turn the images so that you can get the best use out of your material. You can also move items from one mat to another using the three little dots in the corner of the box around the image. 

Once your mat looks good and you are ready to continue, you will get to the screen where you will connect your machine and then select your materials and the tools you will be using. Selecting the right material will help your design cut out exactly the way you want it to, for example if you cut glitter iron on on the iron on setting it will not cut well because it is quite a bit thicker, so you want to be sure to select glitter iron on. 

The default tools that you will need will show on the screen, this will let you know which tools you need to have in the machine, and/or ready to change out. This may be pens that you need, blades, scoring tools, foiling tool, etc. If you are using something like a blade and a pen it will tell you to put one in on tool holder and one in the other. If you are using 2 different blades or quick swap tools, like a fine point blade and a scoring wheel, it will tell you which one you need first, and then during the cut process it will tell you when to switch. If the default is not the tool you want to use you may be able to change it, like if you are making score lines and it says that you need the scoring wheel, but you are using a stylus, but most of the time the tools it gives you will need and want to use as long as the linetypes in your design were correct. 

Step 3: The Mat

Now it is time to get your material and mat ready to load. 

There are 4 different types of mats, as well as different sizes, and even some materials that don't require a mat if you are using one of the newest machines. 

Light Grip Mat (Blue)

The light grip mat has the lightest adhesive grip. It is great for lighter weight materials, just enough stick to hold them in place, but still remove them easily without tearing. Use this mat for things like most types and weights of paper, light cardstock, vellum, and I even like to use it for regular vinyl and iron on. 

The light grip mat is available in both 12"x12" and 12"x24" sizes for the Maker and Explore machines, and in 4.5"x12" size for Cricut Joy. 

Standard Grip Mat (Green)

The standard grip mat is the perfect amount of stickiness for medium weight materials. This includes things like vinyl, iron on, cardstock, Infusible Ink, etc. This mat works for a large variety of materials. 

The standard grip mat is available in 12"x12" and 12"x24" sizes for the Maker and Explore machines, and in 4.5"x6.5" and 4.5"x12" size for Cricut Joy. 

Strong Grip Mat (Purple)

The strong grip mat has the strongest hold of all of the Cricut mats and is the mat you will want to use for any heavyweight materials. This will include things like leather, faux leather, wood, chipboard, posterboard, glitter cardstock, and other heavyweight materials. You will use this mat for anything that you are cutting with the knife blade on the Maker. 

The strong grip mat is available in 12"x12" and 12"x24" sizes for the Maker and Explore machines, it is not available for the Cricut Joy.

Fabric Mat (Pink)

The fabric mat is for specifically made for use with fabric. It can be used with a large variety of fabrics when using the rotary blade on the Maker, as well as when cutting bonded fabric with the Explore. 

The fabric grip mat is available in 12"x12" and 12"x24" sizes for the Maker and Explore machines, it is not available for the Cricut Joy.

Card Mat (Joy only)

The last mat type I want to mention is the card mat. This is a special mat made specifically to use when making insert cards with Cricut Joy. It has a unique design with a divider to protect the back of the card while cutting through only the front layer. It is available in only one size 4.5"x 6.25" for use with the Cricut Joy, however it will work with a variety of sizes of cards. 

Smart Materials

Last but not least when talking about which mat to use I want to quickly mention Smart Materials. These are materials made to work with the newest Cricut machines, including the Maker 3, Explore 3, and Joy, that do not require a mat for cutting. The Smart Materials include Smart Vinyl, Smart Iron On, and Smart Paper sticker cardstock. There are materials sized specifically to work with either the Maker 3 and Explore 3, or the Joy. With these materials you can also make longer continuous cuts than you can with regular materials when using a mat. 

You will place your material on the mat and press it down to secure, you can use a brayer to help with this or just press it with your hands. Make sure it is securely pressed onto the mat. Most materials will be put on the mat right side up, iron on is one major exception to this though and is typically put right side (shiny plastic carrier sheet) down which is why you mirror your iron on designs. 

Step 4: Cut Time

Now you are ready to actually load the mat into your machine and cut out your design. One thing that makes this step really easy is that you really just need to follow the on screen prompts. 

You will first load the mat into the machine using the arrow button (or on the screen with the Cricut Joy).

When it is loaded and ready press the cut button and let the machine do its thing. 

If there are tools that need to be switched out the machine will stop and it will prompt you on screen to change the tool. Simply unclamp the holder, remove the old tool, replace with the new one, and press the clamp closed. Do not unload the mat to do this. 

When the cutting is done and the mat is ready to be unloaded the arrow will begin to blink, press to unload. 

Step 5: After the Cut

Once your mat is unloaded you are ready to remove the project from the mat, and weed if necessary. This step seems pretty self explanatory, but there are a couple of tips that may make this easier. 

Paper or Cardstock

When removing paper or cardstock you do not really need to weed (remove the negative parts of the design) the design because the cut parts will typically pop out on their own. However, if you peel the paper or cardstock off of the mat it will tend to curl. To prevent this instead flip the mat upside down and peel the mat off of the paper/cardstock. This will help your paper or cardstock stay flatter and keep it from curling up. 

Vinyl, Iron On, Infusible Ink 

Peel the vinyl, including the backing sheet off of the mat. Cut off the excess vinyl. Weed your design, do this by removing all of the vinyl that is not part of the design, for example if you had the word hello you would peel off the background leaving just the word, then you would remove the center of the e and the o. Once your project is weeded you are ready for the next step.

Step 6: Make Your Project

Last but not least, it is time to actually finish your project. For some projects you are done pretty much as soon as you peel the material off of the mat, other times there is application or assembly left to do. Obviously this is going to vary from project to project and I can't tell you how to assemble and finish every project that you might ever make, but two of the most common materials to work with are vinyl and iron on and they both have an application process that will be similar every time. 


When making your vinyl project you will most likely need to use transfer tape to remove the vinyl from the backing and place it onto your project. The only time that I don't really use transfer tape is if the design I am transferring is a fairly simple, one piece design, for example if I cut out a heart and I am putting it something I may just peel of the heart and stick it in place. But if there are separate pieces that you need to keep together, or more intricate parts of the design that you want to keep in place, you will need transfer tape. Transfer tape is typically clear, sometimes with a grid to help you keep your design straight. You will cut a piece to the size you need to cover your design, peel off the backing (if it has one), place on the design and rub to get it to stick, I usually rub the design on the front, then flip it over and rub on the back too, just to get it stuck to the transfer tape. Then peel off the backing of the vinyl, your vinyl design should be stuck to the transfer tape. Then place the design onto the surface you are transferring it to and press and rub in place. Carefully peel off the transfer tape, leaving the design on the surface of your finished product. 

Iron On

Once you have your iron on weeded you are ready to press it onto your project. The process of pressing it will depend on a few things, like the type of iron on, the fabric or surface you are pressing onto, and whether you are using an iron, an EasyPress, or a heat press. For help figuring out the right temperature, time and process for your project check out the Cricut Heat Guide

You may need to preheat the surface, depending on the project. Then you will place the design, plastic carrier sheet side up, and press in place according to the temperature and time required for the materials you are working with. Carefully peel the carrier sheet off and you are done, if the design is not stuck down fully press again and repeat. 

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