Cricut 101 – What is a Cricut Maker?

What do I need to know to use a Cricut? How do I use my Cricut Maker? Where do I start?

How do you know what to make if you don’t know what is possible with your Cricut Maker?

A great place for Cricut newbies is to start with the demonstration Smile Card project. In fact, doing that one project a couple of times is a great way to get a handle on the ins and outs of a Cricut Maker. What? Doing the same project repeatedly is boring? Well then, let’s make it un-boring. Simple changes to that one simple project can open the door to making amazing creations.

What is remarkable about the Smile Card project is that it guides you through the Cricut workflow and features:

  • Create your Design Space account
  • Configure your machine
  • Load a project into Design Space
  • Learn to swap tools
  • Load and swap mats
  • Watch the Cricut Maker draw a design on a piece of paper, cut out shapes, and then cut the card

What’s not so great about the Smile Card project? The instructions don’t fully explain the tools and software you are using. It doesn’t prepare you for your next project. You don’t learn about Design Space and you don’t have a clue how to design or modify an existing project. Plus, you only have enough materials to make one card.

Now I don’t know about you, but I enjoy inventing my own designs, or at least make modifications to existing projects. I really like how the clouds in the Smile card are also the slots for the inserted liner paper. But, maybe I want a card that says Baby! instead of Smile!, or I want a stork carrying a bundle instead of a kite, how do I do that?

The folks at Cricut are awesome. I’ve had a chance to work with some of them during one of their Make‑A‑Thons. It’s a big challenge, create a tool that is so amazing in the range of things that it can cut. There is the obvious machine, but also the software, the website, and the different tools. Did you know there are currently seven tool options that you can use as well as a variety of pen types? That doesn’t include any aftermarket tools.

Let’s dig in to the design process and learn more about the Cricut Maker.

First, we’ll break apart the process. You don’t just “Make” something, there is a process involved.

The process can be broken in to essentially 3 steps:

Workflow (diagram)

Design – by hand or with software, something you want to make, or use a purchased project

Manufacture – by hand or with a tool, in this case the tool is a Cricut Maker

Assembly – usually done by hand

In fact, this process doesn’t require a Cricut Maker. You could do everything by hand. In fact, sometimes I need to remember this. There are times when a pair of scissors or a pen is more efficient than using the Cricut Maker to make a simple cut.

Plenty of makers design as they create, making design decisions as they cut out materials or even during the assembly process. Their workflow looks more like:

(Short iteration workflow diagram)

One of the challenges of working with a Cricut Maker is that you need to understand your personal workflow and make adjustments. When using a Cricut Maker, you need to make many design decisions in Design Space before you turn on the machine.

What is a Cricut Maker?

Functionally, a Cricut Maker is a collection of hardware, software, accessories that work together to help you cut a variety of materials quickly and precisely.

Design Space – software to design and control the machine

Cricut Maker – machine to manipulate tools and materials

Tools and accessories – cutting mats, various cutting tools, and accessories to help you produce professional looking results

You could think of a Cricut Maker somewhat like a turbo charged printer. With a printer, you need some kind of word processing software to create the document you want to print. You need ink cartridges and paper to allow the printer to “make” the document.

The problem with this analogy is we’re accustomed to printers, where you open a file, click Print and the printed-paper comes out. We usually don’t have to load the paper one sheet at a time, or peel the paper off a sticky mat, or change printer parts in the middle of project. Mechanically speaking, there is quite a bit more going on with a Cricut Maker to do its magic.

A Typical Cricut Maker Setup

<diagram> Person, Design Space, Cricut, finished project.

So, if you haven’t done it already, unbox your Cricut Maker and set it up. In fact, go through the entire setup process and enjoy the experience of making your very first project. Then come back here to have your questions answered and learn the power of a Cricut Maker.

Ready? Let’s go!

Did you find this post helpful? Send me a message and tell me about yourself, your experience with the Cricut Maker, and how I can help you tackle your next big project.

Author: Gwen Zierdt

Writer, artist, maker