How Does A Cricut Machine Work?

Pinterest is full of photos of awesome projects made with a Cricut machine, but have you ever wondered how to actually make all those cool things with your Cricut? If you’ve ever wondered “How does a Cricut machine work?”, you’re in the right place; today I’m going to tell you all about how the Cricut Explore Air machine works!

how does a cricut machine work

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I’ve been using my Cricut Explore Air for a long time now, and I’m always discovering new things it can do! My favorite thing about Cricut machines is that they’re easy enough for total beginners to use, but powerful enough for super advanced crafters to make really awesome things!

(I have a Cricut Explore Air so that’s what I’ll be talking about in this post. There is a newer model out called the Cricut Explore Air 2 which has all the same features as the original Explore Air, except that it can also cut at 2x speed!)

How Does A Cricut Machine Work?

Well, the simple answer is that the Cricut Explore Air works like a printer, except that instead of printing, it cuts a design out of whatever material you want!

how does a cricut machine work

In reality, it’s a little more complicated than that, because the Cricut can also “print” by drawing out your design using Cricut pens, or it can score your design or emboss it; it all depends on what tool or accessory you mount in the dual carriage head of the machine.

But let’s start from the beginning…first you have to have a design!

Basically there are three steps to using a Cricut machine:

  1. Create a design on your computer, smart phone, or iPad (or buy a pre-made design from the huge library)
  2. Prepare the Cricut machine
  3. Send your design to the Cricut machine to be cut/drawn/scored/embossed

1. Create your design

To create your design, you need to use Cricut Design Space, which is a free web app available for your PC or Mac. You can also use Design Space for iOS if you want to use your iPhone or iPad to design, or there is a beta version of Design Space for Android available now.

Design Space is the software that connects your computer to your Cricut machine. The Cricut Design Space library is full of thousands of pre-designed projects that you can download and create yourself.

how does a cricut machine work

You can make the project exactly as designed, or you can customize it if you wish. When you click on a project from the Design Space library, you’ll see options to Customize It (so you can resize it, change text, etc.) or Make It Now (if you want to recreate it exactly as originally designed).

how does a cricut machine work

Or you can create a brand new design from scratch within Design Space using their design tools. You can add text, images, upload your own images, resize, modify shapes, etc. to create your perfect design.

how does a cricut machine work

Once your design looks exactly how you want it, it’s time to prep your Cricut machine.

2. Prepare your Cricut machine

This step is super simple. Turn the machine on.


how does a cricut machine work

Seriously though, it’s that simple! You don’t need to load your materials or mess with the dial or anything at this point; the software will give you detailed instructions for all of that in Step 3.

If it’s your very first time using your Cricut machine, the instruction manual will walk you through pairing your Cricut Explore Air with your computer via bluetooth. But after you pair the machine with your computer (or smartphone or tablet) for the first time, all you need to do to use your machine in the future is turn it on; it will remember the pairing and be ready to go!

3. Send your design to your Cricut machine

The last step is to send the project to the Cricut machine. Once you’re happy with your design and your machine is powered on, just press the big green MAKE IT button in the top right corner of Cricut Design Space.

how does a cricut machine work

The software starts by previewing all of your different mats. Each mat is one sheet of material, so if you have three different colors in your project, you will have three different mats. If you’re using paper and fabric for a project, you will have one mat for each material.

On this screen the first thing you need to do is set the quantity you want to cut (if you’re making two cards, tell it to make 2 Project Copies in the top left). 12″ x 12″ is the standard size for most materials you’ll be cutting, but if your material is a different size, change the Material Size drop down to reflect that. And if you’re planning to make an iron-on design, flip the Mirror switch to mirror your design so that it appears correctly on your finished project.

Click Continue at the bottom right corner when you’ve set those settings and are ready to send the design to your Cricut. The next piece will walk you through setting the dial and loading your materials.

how does a cricut machine work

The software will walk you through all the steps from there. No matter how complicated your project is, or how many different colors, materials, or pieces it has, you can just follow the on screen instructions at every step and your project will come out perfect!

The machine starts with Mat #1 and moves on through the mats from there. Decide what material you’re going to use for your first mat (paper, vinyl, fabric, leather, etc.) and set the dial to the desired material, and the Cricut will automatically adjust blade depth, pressure, speed, etc. to make sure that your project comes out perfect!

Stick your material onto your Cricut cutting mat, then load the mat into the machine. (If you’re using more than one material for your project, don’t worry; the software will walk you through loading multiple materials!)

From there, all you have to do is follow the instructions on the screen and it will walk you through setting the dial, loading your mats, cutting, drawing, scoring, etc. for every piece of your project.

how does a cricut machine work

Once you’ve cut out every mat, you’re ready to go! Assemble your cut out pieces, and you’re done!

If you are looking for some great project ideas for using your Cricut machine, check out my Cricut Project Gallery!

Here are the Cricut machines I discussed in this article; click the images below to find out more about each machine. And if you’re looking to buy an awesome crafting tool, I highly recommend the Cricut Explore machines! I use mine pretty much every day, and it rocks!

Shop this project:

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Disclosure: I received compensation from Cricut in exchange for my participation in this campaign, and my honest discussion of their products. But I am IN LOVE with my Cricut and I use it pretty much every day; all opinions in this post are 100% my own. I would never write a post about something I didn’t think was useful or interesting for you guys, and Practically Functional will only publish sponsored posts for companies or products I love and believe in! 🙂

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

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. Trish says

    4 years ago

    I’m looking for something that can cut refactory fiber paper – it’s kind of like thick soft felt or very thin batting. I need something that will essential cut 1/8″ thick foam or felt without compressing it so tightly that it loses it’s ability to spring back up.

    I have tried using the hand crank machines where you sandwich the cutter template and the material being cut between 2 boards and roll it thru a press, but they compressed the material so much that it was permanently flattened, which rendered it useless.

    Will the Cricut machine do what I need?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      4 years ago

      It should be able to do it without flattening it, but only materials that are 2.4mm or thinner will fit under the rollers of the Cricut Maker, and 2.0mm or thinner for the Explore machines. So 1/8″ might be a little too thick. But if it does fit under the rollers, it will only press down in the areas where it is making the cut, leaving the other areas uncompressed.

  2. Tammy says

    5 years ago

    Hi, I want make my own iron on transfers some plain and some with bling (rhinestones). I am wondering what machine you recommend and what supplies is need. I have no clue on either…
    Thank you,

  3. Karen Manhart says

    5 years ago

    Reading “what is included” and wondered about the Cricut Access. Does this mean a monthly fee?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      5 years ago

      Yeah, new Cricut machines come with a one month free trial of Cricut Access. Cricut Access is a monthly subscription option for about $10 a month and it lets you access over 75,000 images and fonts from the Design Space library for free. You don’t need Cricut Access in order to use your Cricut, but I love having access to all those images! There are other images in the Design Space library that are free even without a subscription, and you can always upload your own photos or SVG files for free as well. It’s worth trying out during the free trial and then see how it goes and see if it’s worth it for you to have access to those graphics or not.

  4. Linda says

    5 years ago

    Can I cut tiny lettering out of transparency sheets? Like 1/8 inch tall? I want to discard the letters and make a 10 Commandments on plexiglass with light showing through the lettering openings.

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      5 years ago

      You can definitely do that! The only thing you have to be careful of is letters like O or B or anything else that has a “center”; you may want to look into using a stencil font so that the little floating centers of letters are connected to the edges rather than actually floating. Or if you cut the letters out of adhesive vinyl instead of transparency sheets then you can use transfer tape to hold all of the pieces of the letters together as you stick them onto the plexiglass.

  5. Bernice Wolen says

    7 years ago

    I’ve been trying to decide if I should get one of these for a while! I always see people make sure cool products, but right now I have a 2 year old and a second one on the way, so I’m worried there won’t be enough hours in the day to craft. Either way, I’m definitely bookmarking this overview!

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      7 years ago

      That’s the brilliant thing about a Cricut; it makes it so easy and fast to make crafts! Congratulations on your growing family!!!

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