Updated: 3 days ago
Cricut Design Space prevents you from using the Print Then Cut feature with 8.5" x 11" sheets. Unless you know some tricks.
What You Will Find Here
One of the four areas I focus on in my small business consulting is evaliuating systems and helping find the right tools for you to do you work with more ease, less time, and less money. That's what this post is about.
Some of you may know I am starting a second eCommerce business. Deer Heart Solutions is a new creative outlet for me - I make health and beauty care products with aromatherapy that compliemnts the treatments. This is why I've been so quiet the past several months. I've been busy, building this from the ground up, entirely by myself. I have gotten to work with my hands and help calm my own anxiety and trauma. I've provided valuable tools to people. I've learned a ridiculous amount of biochemistry and how to manage a cosmetics lab space at home. I created some complex databases on Airtable, where I compile my research on ingredients, create formulas, track inventory, check safe dilution levels, reference a catalog of chemical constiuents, and manage my budgets. And, I've made huge strides in my graphic design and website design skills.
Here's my logo and a couple of product graphics.
Over the past 6 months, I've been working on figuring out my packaging. This is one of the main marketing components and it needs to be intentionally designed to appeal to customers, protect the product, promote my brand, and follow FDA guidelines. Also, at least for HBC products, packaging is one of the most expensive items in the Cost of Goods. Because I have quite a few different products that each require different labels, it was cost prohibitive and demanded too much space for storage. Because my business goals are not for this to be a huge enterprise, it made sense for me to look for alternatives.
It turns out that I could purchase a good (not great) ink jet printer and a craft cutting machine for less than it would cost to order rolls of mediocre labels for a few products.
So, I bought a Canon Pixma G6020 Mega Tank Ink Jet printer that I'm fairly happy with. How could I not be, when the product labels I printed were so much nicer than the ones I ordered from Avery and Vista Print (which had a combined cost that was about 1/3 the cost of the printer)??
I hesitated in purchasing a Cricut, for a few reasons.
It's an awesome machine with horrible software.
The company has terrible customer service and has some policies that appear to be attempts at restricting users in ways that force them to buy into their monthly paid service.
When I did my research, there were very few results that linked to trainings or troubleshootong on the Cricut website
The Cricut trainings and How Tos that I read were inadequate. (You should not have to search blog posts to find answers regarding issues that are very common.)
But I did it. I bought a Cricut Maker. And, I can tell it is beyond awesome. But the first weeks have been insanely frustrating.
I purchased the printer and cutting machine specifically so I could have control over the production and materilas used for labels, packaging, and info sheets. I.e: Print Then Cut. With an approaching launch date, I had to quickly learn how to use the machine and software. But, no matter what I did, every single practice project failed. (I call cut lines being consistently off by 1/4" or more a failure.)
Then, I submitted a support request to Cricut when something wasn't working. I never received a response.
And then, the cherry on top - Cricut hass a restriction on the paper size you can use with the Print Then Cut function. It is highly wasteful and I could not, in good conscious, create labels this way when sustainability is a core value.
Cricut limits the print area to 9.25" x 6.75". You can use letter sized paper, but the designs must be within a set area. When I tried designing my labels using half of a sheet, because 8.5" x 5.5" is well within their size requiremets, the software automatically flipped the design so the un-used paper remained inusable.
Some people said the decision for Cricut to restrict printing area is because they can't be sure how your printer will deal with margins. I say bullshit. Cricut (and everyone else) sells printable vinyl sheets that are 8.5" x 11". And, when you calibrate your machine, Design Space prints the test on 8.5" x 11" paper, using more than its restricted size, and it cuts just fine. Any printer out there has a margin on all sides that is .25" or less - the same margin as Cricut. Seems like something Cricut could figure out.
I searched for workarounds. And, I found a few. None of them worked perfectly for me. Every single thing I tried resulted in cut lines that were WAY off. I wasted a lot of paper and vinyl. It was either dump the machine or commit to developing a solution. I chose the latter and came up with the following process, thanks to ideas shared by a handfull of people online. This method has had consistent results producing well-aligned cut lines with designs printed on 8.5" X 11" paper and vinyl. There is no need to take time and resources taping the matt. And, while it looks like a lot off steps, it's really not. I'm just trying to be thorough in explaining the how and why of each step.
Let's dive in, shall we?
Tools & Supplies You Need & What I've Used
Ink jets are recommended for projects like this. Which is awesome, because now there are several ink jet printers with refillable ink. Mad props to Epson for creating the EcoTank and breaking the trend of printer ink costing too much and running out too soon. Now you can find refillable ink jet printers from Canon, HP, Brother, and more. These things can get thousands of pages out before you need to refill. And the refills are WAY less expensive than cartridges for laser printers.
I was going to get an Epson, but ended up choosing the Canon Pixma G6020 Mega Tank Ink Jet printer because of the need to balance price and quality.
Cricut Cutting Machine
I went with the Cricut Maker. You can also use Explore Air 2, Explore 2, or Maker 3 for the Print Then Cut feature.
You'll also need tools to use with the machine, such as a 12 x 12 Standard Grip Mat, some tweezers, an Xacto knife or similar, some sharp crafting scissors, and good paper cutter, etc. Cricut often has sales on bundle packages that include all of these basic tools.
Cricut Design Space
The required software for use with Cricut.
Regular old 8.5" x 11" copy paper to print a test page.
Printable Sticker Paper or Printable Vinyl
There a lot out there. Because my products need labels that are somewhat waterproof and clear, I use printable vinyl. My favorite brand, so far, is Buttercrafts. They are a small, family-owned business whose claim is their sheets won't jam. And, in all of my prints so far, I have not had a single page jam up. You don't have to think too hard when deciding what to buy because they only sell 5 products. They are all sticker sheets for ink jet printers and all of them have tons of positive reviews. Specifically, they sell:
Kraft Paper Sticker Paper
Matte Clear Printable Vinyl
Glossy White Printable Vinyl
Matte White Printable Vinyl
Holographic Printable Vinyl
I wish they had a glossy clear...
UV-Resistant Clear Finish Spray
This will add a layer of protection to your stickers/labels. The best I've found so far is Krylon 1305 Gallery Series Artist and Clear Coatings Aerosol. This keeps your label from feeling tacky and prevents color fading. Also, even though my suggested labels are "waterproof," ink jet printer ink is water-based, so they will never be 100% waterproof. This coating makes them almost entirely waterproof.
Step 1 - Find Your Printer's Print Area Specs
Every printer has a buffer zone at the outer edge on all sides. If you think you can bypass this by using your printer's borderless printing function, it won't work for this purpose. When using broderless printing, your printer will automatically enlarge the size of what you are printing so the image is sure to be at the border of the page. This makes it VERY difficult to get your labels the right size or aligned with the file you upload to Cricut Design space.
So, do a Google search for [Your printer Brand and Model #] Best Margins to Use. I found this page with the specs for print area for the Pixma G6020. And thank goodness I did, because the print area and buffer area are not consistent sizes nor intuitive.
Step 2 - Create Templates & Design Your Labels
Put in some extra time, now, to create templates with the margins for the different sizes of paper. This will save you time, again and again. Here's how I do mine:
I also recommend creating templates for all of the labels you need for your small business. If you use a vector design program, you can get PDFs of templates for various shapes and sizes from sites such as Online Labels.
If you are starting with the templates with Printer Margins, then you first want to make a copy, then create your labels in that copied file. This way, you are using a new file and your template stays pristine for the next use. (After you create templates for your actual stickers or labels, you'll want to do the same thing: copy the file with the template and make your changes in the copied file.)
When creating your labels, keep the layers that show the print area / buffer zone so you know where to place your designs. You can delete them once everything is laid out.
A - Add Shapes for the Cricut Cut-Lines
First, add your label shape, but make them 1/4 inch (.25") wider and 1/4 inch (.25") taller. This adds a 1/8" buffer on all sides. If you want a sticker or label that is a 3" circle, then make these Cricut cut line shapes a 3.25" circle.
Arrange them however you want, as long as they are inside the print area.
Avoid having two labels share a cut line. A shared cut line increases the chance of getting a label you can't use.
B - White Fill / Black Border
Give each of your Cricut Cut-Line shapes a white fill and 1 or 2 pixel black border. This is not the border of your label and it is not necessary for the cutting process. It is there for you to check how accurate the cut was and, if they are not algined, find where things go off kilter.
Eventually, when you get used to how your design program, printer, and Cricut work together, you could remove the border from the Cricut cut shapes so they don't print on your labels.
C - Add Your Sticker / Label Design
Add your label design so it is centered on top of each of the Cricut Cut-Line shapes. The labels need to have width and height that are .25" smaller than the Cricut Cut-Line shape.
You want to avoid designing your labels with a border at the edge. If the alignment is off at any point - from the design program to the printed page to Cricut Design Space to the cut mat - then the border will get cut off. If possible, try for a design without any border. But, if you must have a border line printed, then including a buffer zone increases the likelihood of getting labels you can use.
If you want a full bleed with color to the edge of your label, then your design needs to be 1/8" larger than the cut line on all sides. The rest of this post does not include anything else about full bleed labels. That will be another post at another time.
D - Add "Anchors" At Each Corner
You must add four small squares, without a border, at each corner of your page. Each square should be 1/4" (.25 inch).* Align one square to each corner (top and left, top and right, bottom and left, bottom and right). They will mostly fall outside the print area for most printers.
(Note: I originally sized these anchors smaller, but have since realized by sizing them at 1/4 inch, they will help us in two different ways.)
These squares serve two important purposes:
1) They will allow us to get the placement correct on Design Space, just before cutting, and
2) They act as anchors for the version of your file that we upload to Cricut Design Space. Without all four of these anchors in place, Cricut will remove the "empty" transparent space outside the area that contains the Cut-Line Shapes.
For example, if you have no anchors, when you upload the image file to Cricut, the edge of the upload will only include the area that has shapes. If you try to size it 8.5 x 11, the label areas are way too large.
Here's what it would look like if you only add an anchor at the top.
And here is what you want it to look like.
By adding four small points at each corner, it will ensure that the entire print area for your 8.5" x 11" page is loaded to Cricut Design Space. This makes it easier to resize the uploaded image file so it matches with what you print and to make sure everything is aligned.
E - Add Marks to Check the Position on the Cut Mat
Add two marks at the center of the top and left sides of the page. These will be another way to double check alignment and placement on the cut mat.
One line will be vertical, 1 pixel wide, and .25" long. Change the color to a light gray. Place it at X 4.25, Y 0.
The second mark will be horizontal, 1 pixel wide, and .25" long. Place it at X 0, Y 5.5. If your printer's print zone leaves you with margin's larger than .25, then increase the lengths if these marks. You want to see them on your Test Print.
(Note: After a few trial runs, I think it is better to place a mark at the middle on all sides.)
Here's what my printed Test Page looks like:
F - PNG for Cricut Upload, PDFs to Print
Export as PNG to Upload to Design Space
Save your file and make a copy. This copy will be used to create the file for uploading to Cricut Design Space. This version includes all of the final design (with print zone margins removed).
Export/download the final design as a PNG with a transparent background.
Export as PDFs to Print a Test Page & Labels
Because I am printing on holographic printable vinyl, I designed my label/sticker with a transparent background and I don't want a border or cut line. So, I will need to make 2 versions of the PDF.
The first PDF includes the Cut-Line Shapes with their borders. This can exported/downloaded at a lower resolution. It will be used to print a Test Page.
In the second, the Cut-Line Shapes are completely removed. Export/download the PDF at 300 dpi.
Step 3 - Printing Time!
A - Test Page
Print a test page on regular copy paper, in black & white. You should not have to change many settings because this is a straightforward print. Here's an early version of my Test Page
B - Print Onto Sticker Paper or Printable Vinyl
You will likely need to adjust some print settings. And, you may need to open "Print using system dialog..." Make sure that the print settings are set to:
Highest quality / 300 dpi
Full page (NOT borderless printing)
Standard format, Fit to Page
Here's an early version of my labels on holographic printable vinyl and the Test Page.
C - Spray Coat Your Printed Labels
Handle your sheet of labels with care. Finger prints will quickly ruin some labels, especially holographic ones.
Take your labels, Krylon spray, and some scrap paper or newspaper outside. If you live in a place similar to me that has lots of wind, you might use some small weights, magnets, or clean rocks to hold down each corner of your label sheet.
1. Lay the paper on the ground or a flat surface that can handle getting some Krylon on it, like a work table.
2. Follow the instructions on your clear coat spray. Namely, shake shake shake. Shake shake shake. Shake your Krylon.
3. Hold the can about 10 inches above the label sheet. Start spraying just outside the label sheet and smoothly and somewhat quickly move your hand from left to right, right to left, as you move down the page.
4. After the first pass, reposition yourself so you can move the spray from the top of your labels to bottom, then back up. I do four rounds of spraying. First left to right as I move down. Then top to bottom as I move to the right side of the page. Then repeat. This will help ensure you get a nice event coat without any pooling or drips.
Despite my mini weights, a huge gust of wind came by and lifted the label sheet up while I was spraying. I adjusted the image so it might be easier to see that the spray caused warping in the holographic printable vinyl. Luckily, it was in a spot outside of my cut line area.
Step 4 - Working in Cricut Design Space
1. Open up Cricut Design Space.
2. Create a new Canvas.
3. Click Upload on the bottom of the left side bar.
4. Click the white and green button Upload Image then the white and green button Browse. Find the the PNG file you created in Step 2.E.
5. Select Simple and then click the green button Continue.
6. There are no changes on the next screen, so click the green button Apply & Continue.
7. Select Cut Image then click the green button Upload.
8. The screen will switch to your uploaded files. The first one is the most recent. Click on that and then click the green button Add to Canvas.
9. The uploaded image will be way too large. Select that image in the right side bar or just click on the image. Then, in the Size section of the top bar, change width to 8.5" and height to 11".
10. In the Position section of the top bar, set it to X 0, Y 0.
11. Click on Shapes on the left side bar, and choose the shape that matches your label. Drag it so it is positioned over the first label in the uploaded image. Then resize it to match the Cut-Line Shape you used in your design program.
In my case, I need a circle that is 3.5".
12. I also change the color of the shapes from black to pink or something. This makes it easier to check how things are lining up. To change the color, select the shape then click on the black square on the left side of the top bar. Then click the color you want.
13. Take the time to do minor adjustments. I zoom in to make sure the Design Space shape is aligned with the corresponding shape on the uploaded image.
You could also go back to your design program and get the exact distance from X 0, Y 0 to the shape. Then, input those lengths in Design Space.
14. Click Duplicate in the right side bar. Follow the same steps and repeat until every label in your uploaded image has a shape over it.
15. Follow the same process for adding squares over the anchors at each corner of the uploaded image. These were sized at 1/4", so enter 0.25 for width and height. The four anchor positions are:
X 0, Y 0
X 8.25, Y 0
X 0, Y 10.75
X 8.25, Y 10.75
16. When everything is lined up, select the uploaded image in the right side bar and delete it.
17. Hit Ctrl + A on your keyboard or Select All on the top bar. Then, change the color back to black on the left side of the top bar.
18. Select All again. Then click Attach at the bottom of the right side bar. This locks all of the shapes together.
19. Double check that the grouped shapes are still sized correctly with width 8.5 and height 11. Adjust the size, if necessary.
20. Click the green button on the top right Make It.
My research and limited experience indicate this is where things get really messed up for people...
In the next screen, Design Space automatically position the file to the top-most left position. The system adds a buffer of 1/4" on all sides, so we actually have a cut area of 11.5" x 11.5".
I'd also like to vent about how much easier this would have been if the cut mats had more than 1" grid lines and centimeter marks on the edges. It's confounding that a leading craft company is selling supplies that are insufficient. (Ok...it's not really confusing. The only reason they would sell/require cut mats that are inefficient and poorly designed is because they don't want you creating things outside of Design Space.
Don't try to line up with the first line of the cut matt(X 1, Y 1). The system won't let you because that would place your bottom edge below their buffer area.
(Note: I have edited this vital section with better info.)
Because we made our anchors 1/4", we can line them up with the mat grid lines.
The bottom-right corner of our top-left anchor will align with the X 1 and Y 1 grid lines.
The bottom-left corner of the top-right anchor will align with the X 9 and Y 1 grid lines.
The mark we placed at the top-center will line up with X5.
And, if the mat had adequate grid lines, it would line up with Y 6.25.
(Note: Replaced image with one that has the correct anchor size and placement.)
Here's a close up to clarify how things will line up:
Step 5 - Cut Test Page
Add Some Measure Marks to Cut Mat
Because there are no 1/4" or 1/8" marks on the cut mat, I used a Sharpie and a ruler to add small marks at key places. They smidged terribly, so then I tried Washi tape. Better, but still not perfect. If anyone knows how to add permanent marks to a Cricut cut mat, please let me know.
Add Test Page to Cut Mat & Cut
1. Place your printed Test page onto your green cut mat, aligned exactly as we did above. The so the top left corner is at X .75, Y .75. The mark you placed at the top of your printed page lines up with X 5. And, the right corner of your page is at X 9.25, Y .75.
2. Use a ruler to double check the spacing on all sides and at all corners.
I also printed a Test Page on the holographic printable vinyl, to make sure there was no issue with glare. Measure all spots on every Test page AND the "real labels," too. Reposition, as necessary.
3. Load the cut mat onto your Cricut. Then go back to your computer to select the material you are cutting. Go back to your Cricut and press the flashing button to cut. Then hold your breath and cross your fingers.
6 - Print Perfectly Aligned Stickers & Labels on 8.5" X 11" Sticker Paper & Printable Vinyl
Once the Test Pages are cut, you can evaluate and decide if any adjustments need to be made. Normally, I would not use cut lines like this, but I was tired and the final labels would have no Cut-Line printed, so I decided these look great!
When you think you're ready, load the sheet you will use for your labels and follow the same process. Be even more meticulous and make sure all checks and balanaces are lined up. Then cut!
I am super happy with the results. My FIRST successful Cricut cut WAS WITH A HACK! Ha ha. And my second was with a refinement of this hack.
Here are a couple pics of the final result. It's the perfect sticker for the front of my Lab Notebook with my HBC formulations. And, I will use these (and similar) stickers in my custom (Cricut-made) packaging when I ship out orders.
This machine is really awesome once you figure out how to make it work for you. Moving foward, it will get easier. If I refine this process I will update this post.
Big Thanks To Those Who First Posted
I would like to give a huge thanks to the folks who posted their solutions to using Cricut's Print Then Cut feature while using a full 8.5" X 11" sheet. My newbie frustrated brain couldn't quite get it right when I first watched/read your posts, but I kept going back. If it wasn't for your taking the time to share your ideas, I would still be cursing at a machine. But, now I am super excited and I have some fantastic looking stickers and new ideas for how I will manifest my packaging viseon!
Specifically, I want to show my gratitude to the following by linking back to your sites. Because an SEO boost is a gift like no other. ;)
Thank you, Shawn Mosch!
Thank you, Crafty Julie!
Thank you, Cori at Hey Let's Make Stuff!
Big thanks to Scrappydew (on YouTube)! This video was just what I needed to get my eureka mental lightbulb to light up. Your presentation was great. And, you were the only person to provide a clear explanation as to the 'how' and 'why' for the anchor points - which is truly the key element to this puzzle. You rock.
And big gratitude and thanks to Sincere Stylish (on YouTube)! While you didn't share on this particular topic, your training videos are among the best I've seen. You are clear, concise, lack distractions, and deliver the info in a way that makes us learn the process. Your video on creating a tuck box is what made me decide to NOT sledgehammer my Cricut and to find a solution. So - thank you.