How Does the Cricut Machine Work? What is a Cricut? The Cricut is an electronic die-cutting machine used to cut, write and score over 100 materials.

Have you heard of the Cricut machine and wondered how does it work? Today, I am continuing my informational series on the Cricut Explore. If you have been on the fence about purchasing one, this will give you the insight you need to make an informed decision about whether or not a Cricut is right for you.

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How Does a Cricut Machine Work?

I now own the Cricut Explore Air™ 2 machine. However, I started with a Cricut Expression a long time ago before I was even a blogger. You had to use cartridges – there wasn’t even Cricut Craft Room or Cricut Design Space™. I was still able to do so much with my older machine, but Cricut has evolved by leaps and bounds since my first machine over 10 years ago. These tips I am about to share work with all the Cricut Explore machines.

What is a Cricut Machine?

First of all, you may be asking, what even is a Cricut? Basically, it is an electronic cutting machine that you use to cut out shapes from various materials like paper, vinyl, fabric, and iron-on to name a few. You can also use it to write and score.

For those of you who are familiar with scrapbooking and paper crafting, it is similar to a traditional die cutting system like Sizzix or the We R Memory Keepers Evolution Advanced. Instead of purchasing lots of separate dies to cut out shapes, you use your computer and special software to create your designs.

The beauty of an electronic die-cutting system is that you have more options for customization. Instead of being limited to a size of a particular pre-made die, you can easily choose the size, weld items together, add different elements to create a new unique design,  print then cut, and so much more.

What Do You Need to Get Started with Cricut?

When you purchase a Cricut Explore it is almost ready to use to create right out of the box. You need to plug it in, open up Cricut Design Space™ using an internet connection on your computer or iPad, create a Cricut account, and link your new machine.

Note: If you have the older Cricut Explore without the built-in Bluetooth, you will need to either purchase the Bluetooth Adapter separately or connect your machine using the included USB cord. You can compare Cricut Explore machines here.

The machine comes with a few supplies to create a project right out of the box. You will be prompted to create this Make it Now project after you link your machine.

How Do You Create a Project in Cricut Design Space Software?

With the new Explore machines, you no longer need to purchase cartridges. However, if you have them from an older machine (like I did), it is easy to link them to your account and have all of those images available in the software. The Cricut Design Space™ software contains over 60,000 images starting at only $0.99 each. You can also purchase a subscription to Cricut Access.

Every project begins by opening Cricut Design Space. Be sure you log in, then you can create your own project or a Make it Now. With Make it Now projects the design work is done for you.

How to Cut with Cricut Explore Air 2

Let’s say you want to cut out some flowers to add to a card you are making. Start by clicking Insert Images on the left. Then type flowers into the search bar. Scroll through the images and choose the one you want by clicking on it and then click the green Insert Images button.

Once you have the flower inserted into your design, you can change the size by dragging the little arrow in the lower right corner of the image. Or you can click the Edit tab and choose exactly the size you want.

You can also select any layer of the design and change the color. When cutting, this can be helpful to know which color paper or vinyl to load on the mat. Any matching colors in your design will be cut from the same material.

Helpful tip: This is also a creative way to create your own designs to print then cut. By selecting your colors and then clicking Flatten in the layers tab, you are essentially creating your own design towill be printed out on the material of your choice and then cut. This allows you to customize design elements to match your project. I love to do this to create custom stickers for my planner.

Once you have your shape how you want it, click Go. If you want to cut more than one flower, you can adjust the Project Copies number to however many you need.

Then, click Go again.

Cricut Smart Set Dial

Once you have created your project and are ready to cut, score, or write, you will need to set the Smart Set Dial to the type of material you have loaded on your mat. The dial has easy settings for paper, vinyl, iron-on, light cardstock, cardstock, bonded fabric, and poster board.  This takes all the guess-work out of what individual settings you need for cut pressure, the number of cuts, and type of blade needed.

You can also set the dial to Custom to choose from a variety of less common materials – adhesive foil, magnets, felt, glitter cardstock, and washi tape to name a few.


Place your material right side up on your cutting mat. In this case, I want to cut out cardstock flowers for my cards.

Place the mat in the machine, click on the flashing arrow button and the mat will be loaded into the machine ready to cut. Be sure your Smart Set Dial is set on the cardstock setting, and click the C button. This will tell the machine to cut out your shape.

How to Write with Cricut Explore Air 2

If you want to add writing to your shapes, it is so easy! Click on the Add Text button on the left. A box will open for you to add your text. Press enter to start a new line of text. Under the Edit tab on the right, you can change the font.

You can choose the option Has a Writing Style to select Cricut Fonts that work best with the pens. I chose the font Simple Celebrations. In the Edit menu, you can also center your text, choose how far apart to space the letters and words, the size of the letters, and the rotation.

To center the words on the rectangle, choose Select All at the top. Under the Align tab at the top click Center.

Before you cut out your design be sure to choose Select All and then Attach in the layers tab. This will tell the machine to write your text on the shape rather than somewhere else on the mat.

Insert your desired pen into the Accessory Slot A and the machine will automatically write the words and then cut out the shape, as you can see in my Thanksgiving Menus I created.

How to Score with Cricut Explore Air 2

When you are creating cards, boxes, or 3D shapes, it is helpful to score the fold lines. You can create a score line by clicking Insert Shapes on the left, and then Score Line.

This tells the machine that you are using the scoring tool in Accessory slot A.

Now that you know the basics of how to cut, write, and score with the Cricut machine, the possibilities are endless. You can find helpful video tutorials on the Cricut here. Check out my Cricut Project page with all my Cricut tutorials in one convenient place.

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Laura Silva

6 Comments on How Does the Cricut Machine Work?

    • Joan,
      Each Cricut machine comes with free images. To find them, login to your Design Space account, click on New Project > Images > Filter. Then, under Ownership choose Free. If you have cartridges from the older Cricut machines, you can link those to your account and will have access to all those images. If you do not have cartridges, you can purchase individual images through Cricut Design Space. You can often save money by purchasing the entire cartridge if you think you will use a lot of the images. You can also sign up for a Cricut Access subscription. You are charged a monthly fee (starting at $4.99) and have the ability to use over 30,000+ images. Find more information: Cricut Access Membership Plans. You can also use any font you have on your computer for free. Plus, you can upload your own designs. I have a tutorial on how to do that: If you have any more questions, please let me know!

  1. love this post ! i was thinking getting one but have no clue where to start. now with this machine, we only have to purchase images and type of papers for your projects, right? this is not like a printer where you have to replace the ink every so often?

    • Vicky,
      The Cricut machines are cutting machines. They don’t print anything. The only things you need to replace occasionally are your cutting mats and cutting blades. You can purchase images individually, as a cartridge set, or you can purchase an Access subscription. You also have the option to print then cut using your home printer and then cutting out your printed image with the machine. I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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