I got my first Cricut machine a year ago and I've made numerous crafts in that time. I've also gotten this question on occasion: what IS a Cricut machine, anyway?
I think the first time was on Instagram. I was showing off one of my projects and a friend asked about this “sticker machine” that I used to make it. STICKER MACHINE!? I corrected – slightly aghast – that a Cricut machine was used to make this. Totally different.
And then I realized that while they are totally different, there's definitely some overlap. A Cricut machine can make stickers. I used it as sort of a sticker for my crayon box. But a Cricut machine can also make figurines, wooden signs, shirts with the EasyPress, hand-drawn coasters and fabric designs, durable garden stakes, a zillion types of ornaments, functional gifts and more.
Sooo What IS a Cricut Machine?
A Cricut Machine is a cutting machine with a moveable arm that glides back and forth, kind of like a printer. The difference is that this machine's “arm” has slots for different tools. Not only can it print with pens, it can also use various blades and scoring tools to cut and bend materials in varying depths and patterns.
Are there special Cricut materials?
The machine “prints” (or cuts, bends, etc) onto specialty materials from Cricut such as vinyl, kraftwood, basswood, chipboard, clings, faux leather, fabric, foil, iron-on, aluminum and more. People also use everyday household materials such as printer paper, cardstock, cereal boxes, construction paper and more. I've seen people cut denim, felt, grocery bags, watercolor paper, magnetic sheets, washi tape, wrapping paper, and even DVD inserts.
A Cricut machine obviously can't cut anything thicker than its blades. They're amazing, but they can't deny physics. Within reason, though, you can get a Cricut machine to slice through a pretty awesome amount of stuff. If you Google “what can I cut with a Cricut” you'll wind up going down an endless rabbit hole, TRUST ME.
Tell me about Cricut mats
The Cricut material (or whatever you choose) is laid onto mats which are then fed through the Cricut machine. The machine connects to a computer to transfer a design from Cricut Design Space onto the mat. Mats come in varying sizes and functionalities, just like Cricut materials. I've seen them in 12×12″ (most common), 6×12″ and 12×24″. They come in StandardGrip, StrongGrip, LightGrip and FabricGrip for various uses.
Wait. Cricut Design Space?
This is just the place on the internet where you create the designs that you want to transfer onto your materials. It's FREE to use to cut your own image designs. There is a paid option for $9.99 monthly that gets you into “Cricut Access” where you can find thousands of designs, fonts, images and projects. I pay this fee myself because Cricut Access increases functionality and ease of use. Ultimately, it saves me money with the ability to quickly look up giftable projects, so I spend less on party decorations and favors.
Are there different types of Cricut machines?
Ah. This is where things get complicated when people ask, “What is a Cricut machine?” There ARE different types. The Cricut Maker is the top of the line, most expensive machine. It can handle the widest variance of materials, from thin tracing paper to fabric and wood. The next most common machines still being sold are the Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Explore Air 2. The Explore line can tackle anything from paper to posterboard, but cannot handle thicker materials like wood, fabric or magnetic sheets.
The Cricut Maker knows what type of material it's cutting based on the settings in Design Space, whereas the Cricut Explore Air uses a dial to determine material being cut. On the Explore Air series, you must turn the dial to make sure it cuts to the appropriate thickness.
Are there Cricut accessories I should know about?
Uh, yeah. How much time do you have? I could go on endlessly. We've already addressed various blades, pens and mats. There is also something called a brayer to help roll your material evenly onto the mat. Then there are weeding tools that help pull the vinyl or other material off of the mat once it's been cut. A BrightPad can be placed underneath intricate designs to see better while you're weeding.
Various tools to help with application include a spatula to lift materials off of the mat, scissors and scrapers to help apply the vinyl firmly.
The EasyPresses are various-sized heat plates that run hotter and more precise than an iron to ensure that your heat transfer materials are properly applied – and they have accompanying mats to place your materials on so your surfaces are protected while pressing.
This is overwhelming. Please sum up for me, again, what is a Cricut Machine and WHY should I get one?
The Cricut Machine is one of the best tools for crafters. While it has infinite possibilities in terms of growth and functionality, you can start with just the basics: any Cricut machine, a 12×12″ StandardGrip mat, and a fine point blade. More than half the time, those are the only items I'm using.
ETA: Cricut has now released their Cricut Joy, which is a phenomenal way to get into the Cricut machine space with a fairly low investment that packs a super-fun punch. And it's totally portable!
All of the extra Cricut accessories, bells and whistles, and Infusible Ink stuff? Icing on the cake. The machines come with everything you need to get started, and it really doesn't matter which machine you start with. Most crafters will be thrilled with any Cricut machine, and if they wind up advancing to a higher-end model later they won't be sad about the intro to the tools or about having an extra.
This coming from someone who now has four Cricut machines.
Do you have more questions? Did we at least clear up what is a Cricut machine? Anything else I can help with?