Using A Cricut Cutting Machine & Learning Adobe Illustrator

Using A Cricut Cutting Machine & Learning Adobe Illustrator

If you love to make things, then there is a chance that you like to try all of the new things you can.

Maybe not; maybe you are monogamous in your craft. You may knit, or crochet, and find such sublime pleasure in that particular process of making that this buoys you through every moment of your creative time. Or, maybe you are like me; a tired but excited squirrel, moving from one project and technique to the next, 30 works of creation on the go, but looking for a 31st. I present to you 31 and 32.

Adobe Illustrator and a Cricut cutting machine. These are not-new, new things. I’ve had Adobe illustrator for, pffft, ten years, perhaps? I have never learned to use it. I have had my Cricut machine for about four years. I actually use it quite often, but almost always for personal little projects, cards and gifts that I rarely or never share by way of pictures, but recently I have been enjoying expanding what I use it for, so I thought it was about time I introduced people to my cutting machine.

I have a Cricut Explore. It is not the newest model. In fact, I believe the generations of Explore machines go something like; Explore, Explore One, Explore Air, Explore Air 2, so she’s a great-grandmother already, but honestly, I have had a look at the other machine, and apart from the introduction of built-in wireless in the Air (you can get a wireless dongle for the non-air models) and the 2x cut speed in the Air 2, they are all much of a muchness. The cutting software remains the same, and the blades, etc are identical. If you are cutting in volume (maybe a teacher cutting craft materials on a regular basis, for use by a whole class) then the double speed might be useful, but otherwise, I’m not that bothered if a cut takes two minutes or four.

Anyway, old Grandma Cricut is a great little machine. Looking quite a lot like a desktop printer, instead of a print head it has a blade, and it cuts stuff out. Exciting, no? YEAH IT IS! Cutting machines have been around a fairly long time, but they always used to rely on overpriced cartridges of preset images that you were limited to cutting. When the Explore came out it allowed you to cut form purchased or self created image files, and suddenly this opened up a whole new avenue for creativity.

I have, until recently, used a few shortcuts to converting my own images to cut files. With a good working knowledge of drawing in Photoshop, it’s only a bit of extra work to live trace these in Illustrator to convert them, layer by layer, into .svg files. It works fine, and is how I created the cut file for The Betty Sweater, among other projects, but I lacked the ability to work in Illustrator cleanly to create even better files. So I decided to follow a few Illustrator tutorials.

I’ve done two or three tutorials now, either in whole or in part, to get a feel for some of the (many) tools that the software contains. Though I feel I have only just touched the surface with what I have learned, I have gone from starting at a blank workspace to drawing a very pretty unicorn in the space of under two hours of playing. And it is playing, because it is fun.

If you have access to Adobe Illustrator and fancy a go at drawing your own unicorn, the tutorial is here.

But it doesn’t stop at unicorns. The long term aim is to create my own cut files, after all. So now I am slowly trying to apply those drawing techniques to working out how to layer papercuts to form images, and I am slowly getting the hang of working with Illustrator and the Cricut cutter.

I saw some very round and circular bird illustrations online once. I can’t remember now which birds they were, perhaps robins, but I thought I would make some of my own in the form of my own favourite garden birds. The geometric shapes made a fantastic first project to map out in Illustrator and cut, too. If you haven’t seen a Cricut machine in action and are curious, I put together a little 60 second video of the process from pen sketch to cutting and assembling these birds.

Feeling relatively comfortable with creating circles I decided to make a very stylised image of the roundest animal of them all. My absolute favourite – the manatee.

manatee illustration and papercut

The first few files that I have made in illustrator for the purposes of cutting are undoubtably very basic in shape and layering. I am still getting to grips with making sure that all of my layers stay the same size and trying to determine which order the layers should go in and which should have the cut-out areas. I’ve got so much more that I want to learn, but I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in a few moments snatched over a few days.

I hope to be able to create a few more files for customising some more of Darwin’s polo shirts, though these will take another tactic to design as the vinyl should only be one or two layers thick to remain flexible. For the moment, these paper cuts will make a few special greetings cards, or small works of art.

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