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A Beginner's Guide to the Cricut Explore Air 2

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Tawnya loves arts and crafts projects. Her Cricut Explore 2 is by far her most expensive craft tool, but is definitely worth it.

Cricut Explore Air 2 in Black

Cricut Explore Air 2 in Black

How to Use Your Cricut Air Explore 2

When I decided I wanted to buy a Cricut, I was overwhelmed with the choices. I opted to buy the Explore Air 2 version because it offered the most versatility for the best price. Features of the Explore Air 2 that made me choose it include:

  • Precision cutting
  • "Make it now" options
  • Smart dial to choose cutting material
  • Bluetooth technology
  • Access to Cricut's DesignSpace program
  • Adjustable cutting and writing speed

I also loved that the Cricut was available in a variety of fun colors. I chose a black Cricut so I could customize it. I've since covered it in a few different stickers and will add more as I go.

In This Article

  • Supplies You'll Need to Get Started
  • What Comes in a Cricut Tool Kit
  • How to Choose the Right Type of Vinyl
  • How to Choose the Right Brand of Vinyl
  • How to Choose and Use Transfer Tape
  • How to Choose the Right Paper and Markers

Supplies You'll Need to Get Started

When you order your Cricut online, it's important to note what comes with the machine. I purchased my machine online, and it came with the machine, two mats (a light grip mat and a strong grip mat), and a sample of Cricut transfer paper.

I was disappointed to find out the machine didn't come with everything I needed to get started the day I opened the box. Before I could get creative with my machine, I had to buy the following supplies:

  • A Cricut tool kit
  • Vinyl
  • Transfer paper
  • Paperstock
  • Cricut marker

But before you starting buying supplies to start using your Cricut, you need to research the supplies above to make sure you are buying the things you need. Cricut has several machines and not all machines need or use the same items. To help you save money and get exactly what you need to get started, we will go over all of these items individually below.

What Comes in a Cricut Tool Kit?

Cricut sells several tool kits for different types of projects. We will get into more complicated tool kits later, but for now, we will go over the basic tool kit for Cricut machines. This kit includes:

  • Tweezers
  • Weeder
  • Small, sharp scissors with a blade cover
  • Spatula
  • Scraper
  • Scoring stylus

When the Cricut Explore Air 2 is open, there is a small storage area under the tray that folds down. I keep all of my tools in this area except the scoring stylus. I keep the scoring stylus in the cubby at the top left of the machine.

There are several off-brand tool kits that offer the same materials. I was gifted a Cricut tool kit for my Explore Air 2, but I also bought this off-brand kit. I opted for this kit because if came with a soft, felt case to keep the extra supplies in. I already had my Cricut tool kit in the storage area of the tray, so the felt case made it easy to keep track of everything else I had in a safe place.

After a few uses, I bent the tip of my weeder, which is the tool I use most often and wanted to buy a new one to make weeding vinyl easier.

How to Choose the Right Vinyl for Your Cricut Cutting Machine

The Explore Air 2 cutting machine can cut a variety of materials like leather, cardstock, and different types of vinyl. When I first got my Cricut, I was most excited to make t-shirts, but I was immediately confused by the various types of vinyl on the market and their different price points. To help you avoid buying the wrong type of vinyl, I've created a short guide below. The most commonly used types of vinyl are:

  • Heat transfer vinyl (HTV)
  • Permanent vinyl (also known as 651)
  • Removable vinyl

Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is the type of vinyl you need to use for making t-shirts. When cutting HTV vinyl, you need to mirror your image in DesignSpace, the Cricut app used to send cuts to your machine, and place the vinyl on the mat with the shiny side up. You don't need to use transfer tape with HTV.

Permanent Vinyl

Permanent vinyl is great for making Christmas ornaments, labeling shelves, creating wall art, and much more. If you are creating something with permanent vinyl, and it might get wet, you'll need to seal the item, or it can get ruined.

If you are making signs for your bathroom or putting names on ornaments, you can simply use permanent vinyl. There is a setting on the machine for permanent vinyl. When cutting this type of material, you need to place it on the mat with the shiny side up. You do need to use transfer tape to transfer your cut design to the object you are placing it on.

Removable Vinyl

I haven't experimented much with removable vinyl, but I know this type of vinyl is used for projects where the vinyl won't be permanent—for instance, making holiday decals for windows, chalkboards, or something else that will be changed often. Removable vinyl is cut exactly the same way as permanent vinyl.

How to Choose the Right Brand of Vinyl for Your Cricut Machine

Now that you understand the different types of vinyl for your Cricut projects, it's time to decide what brand of vinyl is best for you. There are a few well-known brands in the market and several off-brands too. I've used them all, and I'm ready to give you my honest opinion of each.

Cricut-Branded, Siser, and Oracal

The biggest brand names in the vinyl business are Cricut, Siser, and Oracal. The price points are rather similar, but I've found Cricut-branded vinyl to be the most expensive. I like to peel my HTV vinyl when it's still hot, and most Cricut HTV vinyl I've used requires a cold peel, which I find annoying.

The best part about Cricut vinyl is you there are a variety of trademarked characters created by Cricut vinyl. Characters in my vinyl storage include Star Wars, Mickey Mouse, and Disney villains.

I've used all Siser vinyls, and really like this brand, but it is a bit expensive. I find Siser vinyl easy to weed and love the availability of bright, neon colors.

Next up is Oracal vinyl. Oracal vinyl has been around for a very long time and is trusted by thousands of crafters. Like Cricut and Siser, there are many colors, themes, and designs available from this brand. For HTV designs, I don't invest in Oracal. But for permanent vinyl, called 651, Oracal is my go-to brand.

I suggest investing in large rolls of Oracal 651 vinyl in black, white, and any other color you plan to use on a regular basis. For instance, I'm making holiday wine glasses for Christmas. To complete these projects, I bought 15-yard rolls of bright red, gold, and hunter green.

Don't Be Afraid of Off-Brand Vinyl (I Love It)

While I love the vinyl brands mentioned above, I'd be doing my fellow crafters a disservice if I didn't talk about the benefits of off-brand vinyl. When looking for gold HTV last year, I stumbled across vinyl packages on Amazon. I ordered a cheap package to get started, and as soon as I started using it, I fell in love. Now, most of my vinyl on-hand is purchased here.

I love off-brand vinyl for my Cricut Explore Air 2 because it's shipped flat in a handy storage bag. Packs like this are my favorite because they include flat 12x12 sheets—the perfect size for cutting mats—that are easy to peel and apply.

There are a variety of colors to choose from (including pastels, darks, and black or white), and all vinyl types (including HTV, permanent, and removable) are available. The packages are easy to store and use.

How to Choose the Right Transfer Tape for Cricut Cutting Machines

As I said above, you don't need transfer paper for HTV, but you do need it when using permanent or removable vinyl. When I first purchased transfer tape, I went with the Cricut-branded tape. However, I was quickly overwhelmed with how sticky the tape was. I followed the directions and couldn't get my cut off of the transfer tape.

How to Use Cricut-Branded Transfer Tape

If you've already bought the Cricut-branded transfer tape and need to figure out how to use it, I'll let you in on a secret. Before applying the tape to the vinyl, stick it on your shirt or a fuzzy blanket. It makes the tape a bit less sticky and makes it easier to use.

Once you've learned how to manage transfer tape, however, you can use any brand. To get the most bang for my buck, I get huge rolls of off-brand transfer tape. It lasts forever and comes in a box that makes storage easy. This is the transfer tape I use for all of my permanent vinyl decorations and projects. The grid helps me cut straight lines and the tape is sticky but not too sticky.

Cricut markers are available in a variety of colors. Buy the colors you use the most or create a collection so you're always ready to create personalized projects.

Cricut markers are available in a variety of colors. Buy the colors you use the most or create a collection so you're always ready to create personalized projects.

How to Choose the Right Paperstock and Cricut Markers

If you want to make cute gift boxes, rolled roses, or 3-D framed projects, you'll want to get a good supply of paperstock. I recommend paperstock that is 6X12 or 12X12 because it is easiest to place on cutting mats. Make sure to use the scraper to get all the wrinkles out so you don't get a paper jam.

I don't love everything Cricut-branded, but I do love the Cricut markers. The Explore Air 2 has a marker holder built-in and allows you to make great personalized cards and art projects. The scoring stylus comes in handy with these project types as well.

Happy Crafting!

Now you know exactly what you need to start crafting with your Cricut Explore Air 2. Have fun, get creative, and feel free to ask me questions in the comments below. Before you know it, you'll go from Cricut beginner to Cricut novice, and eventually, you'll be a Cricut expert!

© 2020 Tawnya