Create Custom Vinyl Stickers with a Cricut Expression and the Cricut Craft Room Design Software

The Cricut Expression cutting machine is a versatile hobby and business tool.
The Cricut Expression cutting machine is a versatile hobby and business tool. | Source

What is Cricut, and why use them?

The current Wikipedia description of Cricut is:

Cricut is the brand-name of a product range of home die-cutting machines (or cutting plotters) used for scrapbooking and various projects, made by Provo Craft & Novelty, Inc. (also known as "Provo Craft") of Spanish Fork, Utah.The machines are used for cutting paper, felt, vinyl, fabric and other products such as fondant. Cricut is among several electronic die cutters used by paper crafters, card makers and scrapbookers.

When I began exploring the purchase of a vinyl sticker cutting machine, I found the Cricut company to be useful because they offered numerous models, but more importantly, that their cartridges to be useable across most of the machines. So, if you buy a cartridge for one, it can be used for any.

This is really good for numerous reasons. Perhaps after you buy one machine, you'll find the need/desire to buy another. I bought mine for business purposes, but, as one of the children in the house has taken a liking, she may find her own model wrapped up as a gift. The second reason is that people opt to sell the cartridges, regardless of the machines of which they purchased it, of which can be found readily on eBay, Amazon, and/or Craigslist.

I bought an Expression for $75, and got 5 cartridges and a couple of mats for another $55. This is dirt cheap when you compare it to the retail prices. I don't know why people decide to sell them, but if you're looking to start a new hobby that requires a cutter, then this one is not a bad choice.

Now, about these cartridges. I grew up playing Atari, Nintendo, and other various video game consoles that required a physical cartridge to play anything. I understand the business model, and the desire to protect intellectual property. That said, I absolutely despise that in this day and age, 2013, that the cartridge is used to hold you hostage as to the products output. So, let's say you want to cut an image of a horse, then you must have a cartridge that contains the image of the horse. There are ways to find which cartridge is required to cut said horse, but in the immortal words of [Insert Name Here] ... Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!

As you read in the title, this article will discuss the Cricut Craft Room, which is software that helps you to design a mat full of cuts. Using only the device by itself is very tedious and often wasteful of the material you're cutting, so kudos to Cricut for creating this digital environment. That said, it is very frustrating when you place an image from a cartridge that you don't own, and then they prompt you to buy it.

I would gladly pay a one-time fee to have access to everything ever created, a subscription, or anything other than the "Pay the Toll Taker" at the time of cutting. Even if I just paid $0.50 for the use of the one cut, I still don't need to buy an entire cartridge. It's just an outdated business model that needs to catch up to this immediate gratification world of which has been created by the free app world.

Also, as of the time of this writing, nobody is able to create their own images for use of cutting by any Cricut machine. There were other vendors that offered this ability, but after all the lawyers got finished, that ability is no longer there, and it is unknown when it will be available from Cricut through the use of the Craft Room. This is infuriating, as this was one of the major reasons that I bought the machine. I am waiting patiently for this functionality, but that doesn't mean I won't voice my displeasure in this, and other online locations.

Ok, so, that's the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Cricut world.

Why did I buy the Cricut Expression?

When I did the research about the possible choice of a vinyl letter cutting device, I found that, as with everything, you can spend a range of dollars from $0 to $Unobtanium. And, I'm sure that if my needs required the Bugatti Veyron of cutters, that I would get it, but I was really only in the Ford Pinto of needs and budget.

How I got to my price point, is that I went to numerous online vinyl cutting websites and entered a sample of what I needed. As the owner of a Roll-off Dumpster Rental Company in Northern VA, I needed to put some warning stickers on many of my containers. Upon clicking the checkout button on many of those sites, I found that I would pay roughly $200 for a single run that would satisfy the needs of all of my bins. With that, I researched the cutting devices and found that a refurbished Expression retails for around $150, and if you look on eBay, Amazon, or Craigslist, there are plenty of people willing to part with it, and plenty of accessories, for less than that. So, price was the first reason I chose the Expression.

Next, I examined the different sizes of the different Cricut machines. My personal needs required the creation of up to 8" vinyl letters, and the Expression allows for 12" wide mats. There are 12" x 12" and 12" x 24" mats, so there's plenty of room to grow... for me.

I had the opportunity to purchase an Expression 2, but after reading the review's on Cricut's own website, this device appears to have fallen short of the desired mark. The complaints ranged from slow production, un-friendly user experience, and decreased functionality. I will admit that it didn't take much to sway me back to the regular expression, but given the availability of cheap equipment and endless YouTube videos about the care, feeding, and use, the Expression got the immediate purchase.

Finally, if you ever saw me, and compared me to all of the well-known Cricut users, you'd find that there is a significant discrepancy in our modus operandi. I am not a scrapbooker, knick-knacker, or frilly-nilly. Nothing against the glamerous ladies of Cricut, aka GLOCs, but they're aiming at a far different target than I am. (Yes, I have watched most of their YouTube videos to learn what I needed about cartridges, mat re-gluing, and vinyl cutting, so thank you GLOCs!) That said, I do have a couple Art & Craft lovers in my life that would enjoy the same pursuits of the GLOCs, so as I considered which machine to get, I knew that there would be more people in the house than just me giving the machine a workout.

So, if you're on the fence about getting onboard with the Cricut revolution, just know that your needs with get met, and that others around you, when they figure out how versatile (aka "That's so cool!") it is, you'll have to stand in line to use your machine.

Vinyl Letters on a Cricut Expression

Ok, fair reader, if you've waded through the drivel, then you're ready to know just how in the world does one create custom vinyl letters with a Cricut Expression? Ok, those are all SEO fodder, but here's the reality:

Custom Cricut Vinyl Letter Equipment and Costs

#
Step
$Cost
1
Buy a Cricut Expression
$75 - 200
2
Buy a Cricut Cartridge with your desired font
$0 - 25
3
Buy a Cricut compatible sticky mat
$0 - 5
4
Buy a roll of vinyl
$20
5
Get a computer
$0-5000
6
Download Cricut Craft Room
$0
7
Design your own needs and click CUT!
$0
8
Total:
$Priceless
A breakdown of the equipment and costs required to crank out your own custom vinyl letters from a Cricut Expression.

Custom Cricut Vinyl Letter Equipment and Costs Breakdown

After reviewing the tongue in cheek chart above, hopefully you can glean that this will be a lost cost affair. But, for the sake of exercise, let's cover each step-by-step, and I'll add my satirical and sarcastic comments... (That's why you're here, right?)

1. Buy a Cricut Expression - You don't have to buy an Expression, but you'll need to buy some form of cutting machine. (I don't make a nickel unless you click one of the Amazon Ads that I planted. I spent $75, you could spend less, or more, depending on where you buy it. No matter where you buy it, feel free to send me a $5 Amazon card for all the good advice.

2. Buy a Cricut Cartridge with your desired font - This is a sore spot for me. If you're a company with an existing branding initiative, then trying to find a font that matches a cartridge is probably an impossible task. Fortunately, my company has yet to settle on a font, so I did the "First in wins" concept. Cartridges are cheap on the used market, and many may come with a used unit. So, the cost can be negligible. If you buy everything brand new from a craft store, then beat yourself about the head with the nearest deadblow hammer.

3. Buy a Cricut compatible sticky mat - Without a sticky mat, nothing will stay in place during the cutting process. Please note that the only thing worse than a mat that is no longer sticky, is a mat that is too sticky. I had a brand new mat that bonded to a piece of heavy cardstock that required an hour of scraping. The problem is that you won't know until you know, but be prepared to spend an hour rectifying. Also, improper loading and abuse will cause a mat to self-destruct... just let one of your kids use it, and start the stopwatch.

Try to find someone selling a machine with mats. Else, mats are pretty cheap, and can be cleaned and re-glued multiple times.

4. Buy a roll of vinyl - Rolls of vinyl exist everywhere, like your local craft shop or favorite website. They come in multiple width, lengths, colors, and depths. If you're just starting, then drive to your favorite dollar store and pick up a few rolls of self-sticking shelf liner. They come in ridiculous colors and patterns, but they're $1 each. With these, you can test your skill, styles, and patience. You can go through a roll of this junk at learn lots of good stuff. When you think you're a vinyl badass, then gear up with some permanent 3mm rolls and get to work. (Or discover that this is not for you and sell everything you've bought to this point.)

5. Get a computer - Perhaps you're browsing from a phone you found on a bus, but in order to use the Cricut Craft Room, you'll need a full fledged computer. See their website for system requirements, but it ain't much. (For the record, you don't HAVE to get Craft Room, but the UI on the machines themselves is pretty old-school. So, unless you have a computer science degree where you're familiar with submitting jobs to a mainframe, then you'll want to get it.)

6. Download Cricut Craft Room - It's on their website. The first time you run it, it will try to update your firmware. If you desire the ability to create your own images, then don't let it do it. You can read more at any of the 3rd party vendor sites that makes .ccr files, but once you update the firmware, then the option is lost.

7. Design your own needs and click CUT! - With the correct cartridges, physical or virtual, and using all of your design skill (aka Let your kids do it.), you're now creating awesome designs to be cut by the machine. Again, test using the cheap rolls, and when you're ready, move on to the more expensive stuff.





Vinyl Sticker Examples from a Cricut

Welding

One of the many great reasons to use the Cricut Craft Room is that it gives you the ability to "Weld" your cuts, such that you can overlap images or characters. This concept works really great when cutting paper, but can be rather trying when using vinyl. The hard part comes when you go to apply the final product to the surface. If so much as the wind blows, you may find yourself 1mm out of spec, which could translate to disaster, depending on how intricate your design is. In the Welding example pick, I forged many of the letters together to give a little pizzaz to the letters. You can see that the E and B are welded at the bottom, and the E and A welded at the feet. Unfortunately, during application, things started to go bad, so I had to make a cut between the E and A to keep it in line. You can see the same between the S and Y (at the top)

All in all, I'm happy with the final product, but unfortunately, when you're applying stickers to old dumpsters, all the prep work in the world doesn't help much. I had paint chipping, some rust, and a probably a couple of gnats stuck into the mix.

Welding Example

Creating "Welded" vinyl stickers is easy, but applying them is VERY difficult.
Creating "Welded" vinyl stickers is easy, but applying them is VERY difficult. | Source

Regular Vinyl Sticker Example

6" Letters from the Cricut adds flare to the truck.  Installation was quick and easy.
6" Letters from the Cricut adds flare to the truck. Installation was quick and easy. | Source

Vinyl Letter Creation

Will you try to create your own vinyl letters after reading this?

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