‘Why buy it when you can make it?’ Smart cutters allow parents to customize items—just in time for back to school
My mother made everything from Halloween costumes to handknitted Christmas stockings to a silk gown for a fraternity ball. My specialities in that department are limited to melty beads and Shrinky Dinks.
Until recently. With our older daughter headed back to in-person class in the fall, we needed personalized items (or at least ones that didn’t look like 50 others) to minimize trips to the lost and found.
Enter Cricut. Beloved by DIY enthusiasts, North America’s lead smart cutting brand uses digital files to cut out customizable designs from hundreds of materials including paper, cardstock, adhesive vinyl, fabric, leather and iron-on decals for textiles with extreme precision. With accessories, it also draws, scores and engraves. Although the machines have been around for almost two decades, it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon.
“People are looking for ways to personalize and DIY their lives,” says Pilvi Carman, country director for Cricut Canada. During the back-to-school season, Cricut (pronounced like the insect, not “cry-cut”) becomes a “go-to tool during evenings of homework and school projects,” Carman adds. “It’s so easy to personalize and label school supplies, reimagine little ones’ school wardrobes, and create customized, unique teacher appreciation gifts all year round.”
For educators, cutting tools can be used to for classroom organization and to create decorations and activities for a fun and unique approach to learning. For home, Cricut makes labels and organization tools, as well as personalized gifts—its most popular use, says Carman. “Customized T-shirts or apparel and birthday, holiday and thank you cards are very popular, as are personalized home decor and everyday items. Rather than spending extra on shipping and custom orders, you can add the customization yourself and create items that look professionally made in the comfort of your home.” Some crafters sell their creations to supplement their incomes, becoming small-scale entrepreneurs. “The opportunities,” says Carman, “really are endless.”
“Once you get a Cricut, everything becomes a canvas,” says Angela Ly, a self-proclaimed serial crafter who runs the Facebook group Cricut Canada—For Creativity & Budgeting, which has nearly 15,000 members. “Everything—even toilet seats and the back windshield of the car—becomes something to personalize and play with.” In addition to making everything from labels for her spice containers to custom clothing for her dog (“why buy it when you can make it?” she quips) Ly, who bought her first of five Cricut machines in 2018, enjoys the stress-relief and social aspects of the craft. “I’ve made friends in the vinyl section of the craft store.”
Cricut’s online design platform, Design Space, has step-by-step, ready-to-make projects for crafters of all abilities. The company recently launched “Cricut Learn,” with resources, basic knowledge, how-tos, and live workshops. For those with more experience, there’s the ability to design and cut items with customized fonts and shapes.
“Every time I am in our Design Space app, I am blown away by the creativity shown by our community who have shared the projects that they’ve created,” says Carman. “Recently, I was at the launch of our newest and biggest cutting machine, Cricut Venture, and one of our artist partners had created a life-sized elephant out of cardstock. It took my breath away.”
Just how do you make an elephant? (One cut at a time.) Ly walks me through setting up the Cricut Maker 3 and the downloading the Design Space software. For my first projects, I select free, premade designs from the platform, cut them out on vinyl, and apply them to a water glass and a T-shirt—all the while scanning the kids’ playroom for items I can personalize next (Ly’s right—it’s addictive). I track down a couple of stainless-steel water bottles. The children come in to help, choosing their own fonts from the library and squealing with delight as the cutter whirs and carves out their names in seconds.
“Cricut makes for a great activity with your little ones,” says Carman. “Together, you can create gifts and customize any item with your kids’ favourite colours, sports, and cartoon characters. Because of the vast project and image libraries, there are projects and ideas for every age group.” Those offerings grow all the time, thanks to both regular updates by Cricut and the company’s Contributing Artist Program, where creatives can apply to work with the company to create and offer local content and earn money through the sale of their scalable vector graphic files (SVGs) to other crafters. “We have many Canadian artists already working with us,” says Carman. While my water bottle stickers aren’t likely to get much traction, at least my daughter won’t be a frequent flyer at the school’s lost and found.
In Canada, Cricut is available for purchase at various retailers including Walmart, Staples, Indigo, Amazon, and more.
Tips for new Cricut users
- Download Cricut’s free app, Design Space, for endless project ideas and inspiration. “Even if you don’t have a cutting machine yet, it’s worth checking out to see what everyone is making.” — Pilvi Carman
- The free Cricut Learn webinars are “a must-have for beginners.” — P.C.
- Check out Cricut’s official YouTube channel for inspirational and how-to videos. — P.C.
- When learning to use the design software, practice on cardstock rather than vinyl—it’s more affordable. —Angela Ly
- Keep rubbing alcohol on hand to get rid of fingerprints and to clean surfaces before applying vinyl. — A.L.
- Rescue smooth (not textured, as the vinyl won’t adhere) glass and plastic jars from the recycling bin to label and repurpose for storage containers. —A.L.
- Keep parchment paper on hand for iron-on projects. —A.L.
- Be careful when mixing brands of products. Some products may not work with Cricut’s recommendations meant for the brand’s own products. L.
- Remember to select the mirror function when working with iron-ons, so that the letters aren’t backwards. — A.L.
- If you’re working with iron-ons, consider using a Cricut EasyPress heat press, which makes projects last longer and look better. “You can’t get these same results with an iron.” — P.C.
- After heat pressing the vinyl to the fabric, flip the fabric over and heat press the other side to get a better cure. —A.L.
Old machines, new machines
In July, the company released its largest and fastest cutting machine, the Cricut Venture, which cuts up to 75 feet at a time. Although newer generation machines operate faster and more efficiently, connect via Bluetooth and cut a wider variety of materials, Cricut users can still use their older machines, with Design Space—which has new projects added every two weeks— to create “up-to-date, on-trend projects and ideas for every moment of the year,” says Pilvi Carman. “Even [if] your machine is older, the projects you can create are always evolving.”