Are you a fan of shirts with unique or catchy sayings? I am. And now since I’ve gotten my Cricut Explore Air 2, I can create my own! So can you! I’m going to go over the steps for designing shirts with cricut and heat transfer vinyl. If you own a different cutting machine, like a Silhouette Cameo, the designing steps might be different. But the process of actually applying the vinyl to your shirt, is probably similar.
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First of course, you will need to obtain a blank shirt from somewhere. For my latest shirt project for my two year old, I purchased a 4T raglan shirt from Hobby Lobby. Michaels also sells t-shirts. Other crafters might purchase theirs at Walmart, Amazon, or other places. Checking clearance at the stores is a way to save a little money.
You will also need heat transfer vinyl or iron-on vinyl. My understanding is that they are the same thing. The vinyl can come in various colors, or there is even a vinyl, that you can print a design onto and then cut. I am currently using *Siser EasyWeed Heat Transfer Vinyl, which is a popular vinyl to use for these type of projects. I have the basic colors. I bought mine on Amazon, but there are online stores that sell vinyl that may give you a better price.
I also recommend a *Cricut Basic Tool Set, which can be purchased from a craft store or online. I bought mine at JoAnn Fabrics. This is helpful because it has a scraper to smooth the vinyl and remove air bubbles. The scissors are for trimming the vinyl as needed. And most importantly, you will need a weeding tool to remove unwanted vinyl after the design has been cut.
Lastly of course, you will be using your cricut machine and the special mats to hold the vinyl you will be cutting.
Beginning Your Shirt Design
My youngest son has a thing for dinosaurs right now, and I promised to make him a second dinosaur shirt. If you are a member of Cricut Access, you can look for dino images on there or whatever else you want to include. I’m not a member, so if I want to use one of Cricut’s designs, I have to purchase it. However, it is possible to get images, fonts, and designs for free! One thing to keep in mind. Check that the image is ok to use and not copyrighted. Also see whether it has a personal use license or a commercial one.
A personal use license allows you to use that image in a product for yourself or something you give away. A commercial use license will allow you to use that particular item in a product you sell.
I obtained the particular dinosaur images I used from Pixabay for free.They stated they were ok for commercial use. To download these images, you do have to set up a Pixaby account. I searched for “dinosaurs” using the search bar, and once I found the ones that suited me, I then needed to download them with the SVG option. An SVG file, is a file that is designed for cutting. Choose that option instead of the PNG files.
Now open Cricut Design Space. If you’ve already made designs, you may know it’s the software program that Cricut users use to customize their designs for cutting. It’s free, you just have to have an account. Once in Design Space, choose “New Project”. From here, you can then select “upload” to add the images you want. Or of course if you are using those images already available in Cricut, just choose “images” and search there.
For my son’s dino shirt, I ended up uploading several dinosaur images I got from Pixabay. The first image seemed to be too complicated, so I choose two others for the final design. I used the basic circle from “shapes” to give them each an eye and I changed their colors. You can change the colors in the Layers panel on the right side if using a computer. I also made a couple circles to give my one dino some spots.
Fonts For Writing
Now let’s talk about fonts. Personally, I think $4.99 for a font from Cricut is a bit salty. But who doesn’t want lots of cool fonts when designing? I sure do! You should have access to your own computers fonts automatically thru Design Space, but that’s still kinda limiting. Plus, here again, if selling items, the personal and commercial licenses come into play.
For freebie fonts for personal use, I recommend checking out Dafont.com. Each font should tell you what type of usage it allows. If you find one you like, simply download it to your computer. It will automatically add to your Design Space the next time you open it.
As far as commercial licensed fonts go, I have purchased the *Delightful Font Bundle II from Fontbundles.net. Another source I bought a font bundle from, back in December, was Craftbundles.com. That particular bundle has expired, but you can check out *their latest font bundle deal. To make my shirt, I chose a font called Amastery Hand, that came in the Delightful Font Bundle.
I used 3 different text boxes to write and position my phrase, “I’m A Dinosaur”, on his shirt. I also changed the color of the text. Once I had my images and fonts positioned to my satisfaction, it’s time to cut!
Cutting Your Design
Although I have the *Cricut Explore Air 2, my laptop does not have bluetooth capability currently. So I have to attach my cricut to my computer via a USB cord. Then it can be turned on, and the cutting machine opened. Once I select the “Make it”, button, the machine is smart enough to separate my design parts into different colors on different mats. So follow your machines prompts.
Make sure the dial on the machine is turned to “Iron-on”, and then on the computer itself, you will need to turn on the “Mirror” button for each color, so the machine flips the image when it cuts.
Grab the green standard mat and your colored vinyl. Lay the vinyl smoothly on the mat, with the shiny side down. Smooth out any bubbles with your scraper. You can use a whole sheet of vinyl and cut off the extra after the machine is done, or cut only the amount needed for the cut. Next load the mat into the machine and then push the cutting button. When the machine is finished unload your mat.
Now you can remove that vinyl from the mat, to load another color, or you can weed it first. I tend to often weed each color as I go. After all the extra vinyl is removed, you will be left with the image attached to a sticky clear piece. If you have multiple pieces and colors, you may need to apply them in layers.
Tips For Applying The Design
I have been pre-washing my shirts for now. Some people don’t recommend it. Don’t use fabric softener at least, as I have read it can affect how the vinyl attaches to your shirt. I have had some trouble with my iron-on vinyl pieces wanting to pull off my shirts after being washed. Especially the first two I made. The best solution to this to get a heat press! However, for now I don’t have one, so I have to use my iron. I did find a great video to watch, that was shared by a member of a Cricut Facebook group I’m in. It offers tips for correctly applying vinyl if you only have an iron. You can watch it here.
The biggest thing to know is that consistent heat and pressure are both important to get your vinyl to attach. That’s why a heat press is the best method.
There are other tips I have picked up from Cricut teaching videos, Facebook groups, and the video mentioned above. These include using a hard surface, not an ironing board to press your shirt on. Also parchment paper, like you would use in baking can be used between your iron and the vinyl. Press the shirt before applying the design. Allow the shirt to sit for 24 hours before wearing, and also wait about two days before washing after applying your design.
How I Am Applying Iron-on Vinyl
So how am I currently putting designs on my shirts? Well, I was just doing them on my counter-top, but that was getting hot. So I tried a wooden cutting board as I have seen suggested, and this time I switched to my marble cutting board. I press my shirt, and I may fold it in half and press to get an idea of where center is. I place my design and eyeball the positioning. I also use a tape measure to try to make sure it’s straight. I have held it up to person it’s being made for too, to see if the positioning looks good. The vinyl still has the clear piece attached, but now you flip it over so that is on top. It sticks some to the shirt. Then a piece of parchment paper is placed over that.
I set my iron to somewhere between wool and cotton on the heat dial. Then I apply pressure with the iron on top of the parchment paper and count to about 10-15 seconds. The iron and parchment can be lifted, and then try to take the clear piece off the vinyl. If the vinyl tries to come off the fabric along with the clear cover, it will need more pressing.
For each color, you can follow the same procedure, although you may want to decrease time to 10 seconds if you will be re-pressing certain areas to add other colors. When all the design is complete, I re-press it all and move the iron all over the design with just the parchment paper in between. You can see those steps in the video I mentioned before.
Tada! Once all the design has been pressed onto the shirt, here’s one final tip to check. Look at the vinyl to see if it has taken on the texture of the shirt. This is a helpful way to determine if it has attached well. Take a look at this picture to see what I mean.
Once you are satisfied with your crafting, take an admiring look or several at your finished work. Your kids will think you are great. You probably will too. Don’t forget to let it sit 24 hours before wearing. Enjoy your creation!