Cricut and vinyl are a match made by crafters—the perfect marriage between machine and material. Using fine point blades and your computer-generated design, the Cricut can cut intricate designs and filigreed text—or sans serif, depending on the project—to make wall clings, appliqués for canvas art, and more. Before you start any vinyl-based project, however, you need to figure out what kind of vinyl you want to use.
Let’s assume that you’re opting for Cricut’s brand of vinyl. The best way to figure out what type—not brand—you should buy, then, is to decide on what kind of material you’ll be placing your vinyl cut out. If you are creating an iron on design for a t-shirt, tote bag, pillowcase, shoes, etc.—if what you’re placing the vinyl on is a fabric—you need to use iron-on vinyl.
In this Cricut tutorial, we will cover everything you’d need to know about how to use Cricut iron-on vinyl, setting up your Cricut Maker to cut vinyl, and applying your iron on design to your base material.
How Do You Use Cricut Heat Transfer Vinyl?
Iron-on vinyl—professionally referred to as Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV), casually as t-shirt vinyl—is one of two types of vinyl. The other type is adhesive vinyl (permanent and removable). You would use removable adhesive vinyl for things like window or wall clings.
One of the more popular reasons why crafters use HTV is to create iron-on appliques for fabric. The best fabric to use with HTV is cotton, polyester, or a blend of the two. You can also use HTV for mugs and other ceramics. Other fabric, like acrylic, will melt under the heat of the press.
Working between adhesive vinyl and HTV, you’ll see that there are noticeable differences in how you’d want to calibrate your Cricut Maker. You also do not need transfer tape with HTV; it comes with its own carrier sheet.
Carrier sheets are the hard plastic sheets on the back of HTV. You see them on iron-on patches. The heat and pressure of an everyday iron activate the adhesive nature of the carrier sheet so it can stick to a t-shirt, jacket, canvas bag, etc.
Now, if you’re applying iron ons for yourself and your friends—even a small event—using an everyday iron is fine. However, if you want to sell your items or are a serious hobbyist, you’ll receive the best results with a heat press.
How Do I Use Cricut Iron on Vinyl?
Owners of Cricut can buy vinyl made by the company specifically for its machines. The Cricut brand sells different colors, metallics, premade iron-on designs, and more.
Make sure you’re purchasing the vinyl that is compatible with your Cricut Maker. Some vinyl is compatible with all five machines—but don’t assume; always check. For instance, if you’re using Cricut Joy, which is much smaller compared to other machines, you’ll notice that your options for Cricut brand iron-on vinyl significantly decrease. Do not try to make an incompatible vinyl work!
Once you have selected the correct vinyl for your machine, make sure you have everything else you need to finish the project:
- Cricut Maker machine and Design Space
- Design loaded into Cricut Design Space
- Heat press or everyday iron
- Fine point blade
- Item you’re customizing
- Machine mat
- Weeder, in whatever form it takes
- Cricut HeatTransfer Guide—this guide gives you specific instructions on how to apply your specific type of iron on vinyl to your base material.
Preparing your base material for Cricut’s iron-on vinyl is as easy as making sure your fabric is clean and dry. You may also want to do a test cut on your vinyl to make sure everything is working as it should.
Be sure that you have mirrored your mats on Design Space and that you are placing your iron-on vinyl on the correct side down on the mat.
Which Side of Iron-On Vinyl Goes Down?
We are calling out this particular part of the process because it is so important. If you do not place your vinyl on the mat correctly, your design won’t cut right, nor will it be oriented the way you want it to. You could also break your machine if you let things pull and gather.
Place your iron-on vinyl shiny side—carrier sheet side—down on the gripping mat. Smooth out the vinyl and apply pressure as you do so. This ensures that the vinyl material is secure and wrinkle-free.
Setting Up Your Blades
Before you do any cutting, set up your Cricut Maker. You only need a fine point blade in Clamp B for iron-on vinyl. Fine Point blades come with the traditional Cricut Maker and the Explore Air 2 and are compatible with every Cricut machine.
The blade works on medium-weight materials, like iron on vinyl, and is angled at 45 degrees. This allows the blade to cut intricate designs.
The fine point blade works well with most common cutting needs, but you must use this blade on iron on vinyl as Cricut made it specifically made for this type of material.
Changing the Blades
If your fine point blade is not cutting properly, it may be dull. You’ll have to switch it out.
- To do this, first unclamp Clamp B.
- Remove the blade housing unit.
- Press down on the balde housing unit’s plunger. Keep your fingers safe by avoiding the bottom of the blade housing, as once you press down, the blade will protrude from the bottom.
- Watching that you do not accidentally cut yourself, pull the blade down and out of the blade housing.
- Remove the protective covering from the new blade.
- Making sure the blade is pointing outwards, drop the new blade into the blade housing.
- Put the blade housing back into your machine and clamp it shut.
- To discard the old blade safely, put the protective covering from the new blade onto the old blade.
Without your blade, you can’t cut your designs. If you need more, you can order them from Cricut’s website.
Cutting Your Design
Vinyl, check. Carrier side down, check. Blades in place, check. Now it’s time to open Cricut Design Space and cut out your design.
- First thing’s first, select your design and resize it accordingly.
- Make sure you mirror your mats. If you don’t do this, your design will come out backward.
- Go to your list of materials. Select Everyday Iron-On.
- Place your vinyl on the mat—if you haven’t done so already—and load it into your Cricut Maker.
- Cut your design. Depending on the design, it could take a few minutes to an hour.
Mirroring Your Design on Cricut Design Space
To mirror your design, go to Cricut Design Space.
Desktop/Laptop (PC or Mac)
- After you’ve completed your design, click “Make It.” This will bring you to the project overview.
- For each heat transfer load (whatever is on your mat that’s heat transfer), click the “Mirror” toggle on. The program will remind you to mirror the design if you have an iron on and you didn’t turn it on.
- Click “Continue” to complete the cut.
- If you do need to go back and turn the mirror setting on from the Continue page, select Edit.
- Edit will take you back to the previous screen where you can toggle “Mirror.” Turn it on and click Done.
Smartphone (iOS or Android)
- On the smartphone app, after you finished your design, tap “Make It.”
- Turn on the Mirror feature for each load type identified as an everyday iron-on and tap Continue. As with the desktop version of Cricut Design Space, the software will remind you to turn on the feature if you didn’t on the previous screen.
- To exit the Continue screen and turn Mirror on, select Cancel (red ‘X’ in a circle at the bottom left hand corner).
- Tap the square icon in the top left hand corner. The icon will reflect how many different loads you have ready to cut.
- Choose which load you want to turn on the Mirror setting for. Do this for as many loads as you need to.
- To exit out of the Edit screen, tap the icon in the upper left hand corner once more.
- Select Continue to cut.
How Do I Use My Cricut Explore Air 2 Iron on Vinyl?
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is a smaller version of the Cricut Maker with significantly less cutting force. The Cricut Maker has eight pounds of force. The Air 2 only has 0.8 pounds of force. This makes the Air 2 good for smaller jobs that require medium-weight materials.
The Cricut Explore series can share blades between the four machines in the series. The Explore Air 2 also shares blades with the Cricut Maker. Unlike the Maker, however, the Air 2 cannot use the rotary blade, quick-swap tools, or knife blade.
Using iron-on vinyl with the Explore machines is similar to the general directions above. Users of the Air 2 can still cut up to 12″ x 24′ sheets of iron on vinyl. But because of the Air 2’s smart dial features, you’ll need one extra step in the cutting process. When you select Everyday Iron-On from the materials list, turn the knob on the Cricut Explore to “Custom.”
Specifics for Other Machines
There aren’t too many differences between the general HTV cutting process from machine to machine, but there are, like the Cricut Explore Air 2, some quirks for the Cricut Joy.
Cricut Joy Specs
As it is the smallest, most portable machine of all the Cricuts, it will naturally have different requirements.
- You do not load the vinyl on the mat for the Cricut Joy. You can do without.
- Designs are automatically mirrored when you use the Cricut Joy app.
- Hand feed the vinyl into the machine and gently guide it out from the back of the machine as the Cricut cuts your design.
- Can only take material that measures 5.5″ x 20′.
Remember, the Cricut Joy is tiny. Compared to the Cricut Maker, it’s only compatible with 50+ materials as opposed to 300+ materials.
Weeding Your Everyday Iron-On
After the Cricut Maker completes the cut, you’ll need to weed your design. Weeding means taking out all the cut parts of the vinyl you don’t want. You can do this using a weeding hook, X-acto knife, or, if the parts are big enough, carefully peel them away.
Not all weeds are created equal. Sometimes, the process will be seamless. Other times, you’ll have to navigate slowly. No matter how “easy” your weeding appears, the trick is to go methodically and carefully. If you pull up your design too quickly, you could end up losing crucial parts of your iron on vinyl. Don’t be afraid to cut off large parts of vinyl you don’t need, however. This will help keep unwanted heat transfer vinyl out of the way.
Always double-check your weeding, too. In designs that involve intricate patterns, you could understandably leave something behind the first pass.
Applying Your Design
To apply your design to your base material, you should first refer to the Cricut Heat Transfer Guide. This guide will tell you at what temperature you need to preheat your heat press and other specifications that result in a successful transfer.
- If you are using Cricut’s vinyl material, go to the website linked above.
- Once there, select your Cricut heat press. You have four choices:
- Cricut EasyPress 2
- Cricut EasyPress
- Cricut EasyPress Mini
- Cricut Mug Press
- Next, select your heat transfer material. You’ll want to select your material under the Iron On category in the drop-down.
- After, select your base material. Again, stay within the Iron On category.
- The last selection you’ll have to make is whether you are using the EasyPress mat or a towel underneath your base material.
As you scroll down the results page, you’ll see step-by-step application instructions. These include preheat instructions, total application pressure time, the supplies you’ll need, and prep.
Selecting the Right Heat Press
If you want to go more commercial quality with your applications, you’ll want to invest in a decent heat press. You should specifically look for a heat press that is practical for iron on vinyl. Cricut sells four different heat presses, all acceptable for iron on vinyl.
The Cricut EasyPress is the first iteration of the company’s heat press. It does most things, but it is not as advanced as the EasyPress 2. It can press designs of any material thickness that are up to 9″ x 9″.
Cricut EasyPress 2
With all the features of the EasyPress, the Cricut EasyPress 2 goes a step beyond. Its largest model has an impressive 12″ x 10″ pressing area, making it a convenient heat press for home use. The press also has precise temperature control up to 400 degrees F. You can register past temperature settings with this heat press and download firmware updates directly to the machine.
In addition to technological and design capacity updates, the EasyPress 2 also has improved safety features.
Cricut EasyPress Mini
If you want to heat transfer on shoes, hats, or other unusually small items, the EasyPress Mini is the better choice. It even has a precision tip to work around sleeves, collars, and buttons. If you’re using Foil Iron on, keep the setting at Low. Otherwise, Medium heat is suitable for most HTV.
Cricut Mug Press
If you’re like me, you love mugs. You love witty quotes on mugs, fun illustrations, and hipster trending patterns. The Cricut Mug Press makes all of these designs possible. This heat press can accommodate mugs up to 16 oz, with a diameter between 3.2″ – 3.4″ and a maximum height of 4.72″.
Cricut designed its own blank mugs for heat transfer. If you aren’t using the company’s blanks, your mugs need to be:
- Sublimation compatible
- Straight-walled (no textures or odd curves)
If you are a serious Cricut user and make heat transfer iron ons for several products, it wouldn’t hurt to invest in one or two different heat presses. It may make your product move faster.
Using the Heat Press
Now that you have the proper application information, you can start applying your cut heat transfer vinyl onto your base material.
- Place your cut everyday iron on on your base material, shiny side (liner) up.
- Apply heat with the heat press for the recommended amount of time.
- Now, with the design still on the base material, flip the base material over. If you’re using a t-shirt or anything partially enclosed, you’ll want to make sure you go inside the shirt to get to the back of the design.
- Apply heat to the design from the back of the base material.
- Depending on your iron on vinyl material, you’ll either do a cool peel or a warm peel.
These peels are incredibly important to follow so do not overlook what the guide says.
Allow the vinyl design to cool completely before removing the shiny liner. If you are working with a HTV material that requires this process, you could interfere with the adhesive if you remove the liner while still warm. The Cricut HTV that require cool peel are:
- Cricut Foil Iron On
- Cricut Glitter Iron On
- Cricut Patterned Iron On
- Cricut Iron On Design
Take the liner off your design while it is still warm—not hot. Similar to a cool peel, if you take the liner off at the wrong temperature, it could prevent your design from sticking to your base material successfully. The Cricut HTV that require warm peel are:
- Cricut Iron On Lite
- Cricut Everyday Iron On
- Cricut Metallic Iron On
- Cricut Holographic Sparkle Iron On
- Cricut SportFlex
Washing Your Embellished Item
Wait at least 24 hours to launder your material. Wash and dry your item inside out to protect the iron on. If after you wash your item the decal comes off, simply follow the application process again.
And you’ve officially customized your base material! Wear that decaled t-shirt with pride. Show off your cool tote bag. Express yourself in that personalized jean jacket.
When learning how to use Cricut iron on vinyl, there are basic things you need to remember going on—other specifics you can look up on the Cricut website or refer back here for more information. But the top three you should commit to memory are the following:
- Place or insert your iron on vinyl shiny side down on the gripping mat.
- Mirror your design on Design Space or else your design will come out backward.
- Use a fine point blade in your Cricut Maker, Air 2, etc.
As you produce more iron ons, you’ll get used to the rhythm of working with the material. Yes, heat transfer does require a bit more attention than regular adhesive vinyl, but the result is well worth it. Adding it to your repertoire means you can now customize textiles—and that’s pretty cool…peel—or warm peel? Well, one thing’s for sure. The Cricut Maker can’t cut out HTV puns—or can it?