Frak Sticker on iPad Cover

Print Then Cut with a Laser Printer?

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Yes, you can!

I keep reading that you needed an inkjet printer to do print then cut with a Cricut Smart Cutter. Problem is…I don’t have one. I have a color laser printer. A Brother HL-3180CDW to be exact. I knew that there had to be a way to use the equipment I had and still make full-color stickers. Challenge accepted!

I knew that I couldn’t print on vinyl because laser printers use too much heat in the printing process. I figured I must be able to print on paper at the very least and use a little bit of ingenuity to make stickers that are full color until such time as I found an inkjet that I liked, was compatible with my Mac, and didn’t break the bank when it came to supplies. Ink can be expensive and I’m frugal–I like to make my dollars count.

Plain paper can rip or get scratched. A clear film placed over the paper will protect it. I bought some Quick Cover Con-Tact Paper at Dollar Tree for other projects and I figured that would work for our purposes.

How do we make it sticky so that it can be an actual sticker? I already had a solution for that too. When I first started doing conventions, I purchased a Xyron Create-a-Sticker Max so that I could make stickers and it works great! Cutting the stickers by hand was time consuming so I abandoned that route and decided to wait for the day when I finally decided to make my dream of a smart cutter a reality.

Now that I have the smart cutter, it’s time to see how these two things can work together!

I created a variation in Adobe Illustrator of a vinyl sticker I sell in my shop that has a box with the corners cut like all the books and papers had on Battlestar Galactica. Sure, I can print then cut this out by hand. It’s not that difficult, but it is time-consuming. It’s not something I could mass produce for cons that easily. Why not use the tools I have to cut in less than half the time?

Frak Sticker Screen Shot
Screenshot of the sticker image created in Adobe Illustrator. Look at those beautiful Caprican corners!

Cricut to the rescue! I exported it as a PNG with a transparent background to pull into Cricut Design Space. An SVG won’t work for this sort of thing because Design Space will see the layers as discrete items and will not upload them the way you intend them to. The best thing to do is flatten the image in Illustrator if it’s a vector graphic and then export that as a PNG with a transparent background. Another reason not to use SVG for Print Then Cut is to make sure you’re getting the right result and you can only do that by uploading a PNG for this process. Be sure when making your image you allow for about .125” to be lost in the cutting process. The machine does this on purpose to get a full bleed edge.

My first attempt was not awesome. I tried to do two at a time. Unmitigated disaster. The machine got confused and cut my stickers smaller. So, I did a single one. Still didn’t work but I wasn’t super careful when I placed the clear film and I covered a bit of the black line. I remembered that I did the same thing the first time. I tried again and this time I made sure my clear film didn’t cover the line. BINGO: perfect cut.

Then I retried my double print, being careful of the black lines once again. Voila! That was the issue. The Cricut uses the black line to orient itself on the mat and the clear film probably interrupted the scanning process by refraction. Sometimes these things take trial and error to figure out, but I’m a problem solver and I prevail. 😉

Print Then Cut Tutorial Time!

Materials List:

  • Mac or Windows machine (I use a Mac so the screenshots are using MacOS Big Sur)
  • Graphics editing software such as Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer
  • Cricut Explore Air 2 or Cricut Maker smart cutter (Cricut Joy doesn’t support Print Then Cut, unfortunately)
  • Laser printer
  • Paper
  • Xyron Create-a-Sticker Max or equivalent
  • Quick Cover Con-Tact Paper or any clear adhesive will do. Michael’s and Joann have some cool transparent glittery and iridescent 12×12 sheets you can get and that adds a fun element too!
  • Cutting mat, preferably self-healing
  • X-Acto knife or sharp box cutter
  • Straight-edge ruler, metal is better, but plastic will work too
  • Washi tape or masking tape
  • Large Cricut burnishing tool or equivalent

Prepping your image in Design Space

  1. Open Design Space and click the “New” button (looks like a circle with a plus sign in the center) to get a fresh Canvas.
  2. Click the “Upload” button (looks like a cloud with an up arrow).
Design Space - Upload Image
Uploading an image in Cricut Design Space.
  1. On the Upload screen, click the “Upload Image” button.
  2. You can drag and drop your file inside the dotted line to upload it or click the “Browse” button to find it in your file system.
Design Space - Upload Image Browse
Drag and drop a file or click the Browse button in Design Space to upload your image.
  1. Design Space will then ask you to define your image type. Try to match up your image with the description as closely as possible. Design Space uses this information to configure the canvas for what you need. The image I’m working with is simple so I will select that option.
  2. Click the green “Continue” button.
Design Space - Upload Image Type
Select the complexity of the PNG image you are uploading into Design Space.
  1. At this point, you have the option to remove any areas of the image you don’t want. If I hadn’t saved my PNG with a transparent background I would have the option to remove the white portions here. There is a magic wand tool similar to Adobe Photoshop and it works pretty well. If you click the “Preview” button you can see what will actually be cut. This is a good idea for any Print Then Cut project you do to make sure you get the results you want.
  2. When you’re satisfied with your image, click “Continue”.
Design Space - Select and Erase Preview
During the Select and Erase upload you can Preview what will cut.
  1. You now need to select an Upload Type. Click to select the “Print Then Cut Image” option.
  2. Click the green “Upload” button.
Design Space - Upload Image Type
Selecting the type of image you are uploading is important. Be sure to select “Print Then Cut Image”.
  1. You will now see your image in the “Recent Uploads” list. Click to select the image then click the “Insert Images” button.
Design Space - Select Image to Upload
From the Recent Uploads select the image you uploaded to place it on the Canvas. I’ve blurred out customer orders for privacy in the screenshot.
  1. Your image will now appear on the Canvas. To make things easier on yourself, click the “Shapes” icon and place a square on the canvas. You’re going to use this as a bounding box so you can make sure your print will be the right size.
  2. Click the lock icon on the square’s bottom left-hand corner to allow for resizing so you can make a rectangle that is 6.75″ wide x 9.25″ tall. I like to use the size fields in the toolbar for precision. That is the maximum image size for Print Then Cut as defined in Cricut’s help documentation.
Design Space - Add Square Shape
Add a square from the Shapes tool to help with sizing your image.
  1. Now move the rectangle’s X and Y-axis to .5 and .5 using the fields in the toolbar. This makes sure you have enough margin when you print. Your setting will should like this:
Design Space - Size, Rotate, and Position Toolbar
The Size and Position features are your friend!
  1. Select the rectangle and use the Arrange drop-down to “Send to Back”. Your rectangle should be behind your image.
  2. I need to resize my image so its width isn’t too much for the Xyron. You can make stickers up to 5” wide with the Create-A-Sticker. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the sticker straight as you’re putting it through the rollers so I want a little wiggle room. A ¼ inch is good. I will make my image 4.75” wide, again by using the handy-dandy “Size” field for width.
Design Space - Rectangle Positioning
Now that you’ve made your square a rectangle you’ll want to position it on the Canvas for sizing your image.
  1. I can easily fit another sticker on there so I will click the “Duplicate” icon in the upper right to make another one (looks like two overlapping pages with stars). You can put as many stickers as you want in there as long as they remain within the 6.75″ wide x 9.25″ tall bounding box.
  2. Move your new sticker below the other one and then select both of them by holding down the Shift key on your keyboard and then clicking on the other sticker with your mouse. Now we’re going to align them so they’re easier to work with when we place the QuickCover on top of the paper.
  3. In the “Align” drop-down, select “Center Horizontally”.
Design Space - Stickers Placed on Rectangle
Center the stickers on the rectangle to ensure they will fit within the bounding box.
  1. Next, save your work by clicking the “Save” button in the dark gray bar at the top (it’s between “My Projects” and your device name). Give it a name and select a Collection to save it to if so desired. I love the new Collections feature!
  2. If you haven’t already done so select your device name too!
  3. Now delete the rectangle because you don’t need it anymore ☺️.
Design Space - Save Project
Save your project so you don’t lose it!

Print your stickers

  1. In Design Space, click the green “Make It” button in the dark gray bar at the top.
  2. You’ll see a preview of your project as it will need to be placed on the Cricut Mat. You can see it moved my cuts so that they are closer together which is totally fine.
Design Space - Prepare the Mat
Design Space will give you a preview of how to prepare the mat for Print Then Cut.
  1. Click the green “Continue” button.
  2. Turn on your Cricut and your printer if necessary.
  3. Click the green “Send to Printer” button.
  4. Select your printer in the drop-down. Your default printer will be selected automagically.
  5. If you want more than one copy, click the up arrow to select the correct number or just type the number in the field.
  6. Leave “Add Bleed” as selected.
  7. Click the green “Print” button to send it to the printer you selected.
Design Space - Print Setup
Setup the print by selecting your printer.

Prep your clear film

  1. Measure the box that printed around your stickers. This will be the size of the clear adhesive you need to cut. Be sure to cut a piece that will cover all the images but not the black lines.
  2. Now trim the clear adhesive. With the Quick Cover Con-Tact Paper, each square is a half inch, just like Cricut Transfer Tape. I cut my piece so that I had enough room to trim the jagged edge off from the new roll. Remember to measure twice and cut once!
  3. Now comes the tricky part. You need to place the clear film on the paper.

Pro-tip: Save your scraps because you can use them for a future project

Place your film

  1. Use washi tape or masking tape to secure your paper to your cutting mat. This will make it easier to work with when placing the clear film.
  2. Time for the hinge method! Peel only a half-inch or so of the backing off the film on the shortest side and put a crease in the film backing so that you can line up the film on the paper. This makes it easier to place.
Placing the Film on your Printout
Use the hinge method to place the film on your printout. Be sure to not cover the black lines.
  1. Line the exposed film at the top covering your sticker.
  2. Start SLOWLY peeling the backing downwards and guiding the film down on the paper with your hand or a large burnishing tool.
  3. Burnish it well and good. I noticed there were some bubbles I couldn’t get out. This adds to the “charm” of the sticker and makes it look vintage.  Just like with anything, you will get better at placing the film the more you do so.

Pro-tip: You can reuse that washi tape so don’t throw it out!

Design Space - Set Cut Material and Load Mat
Now that you have printed your sticker, time to select a material and load your mat for cutting.

Cut your stickers with your Cricut

  1. Place your paper on a LightGrip Cricut mat (the blue one). Be sure to line it up as straight as possible.
  2. Go back to Design Space.
  3. If you have an Explore Air 2, select between “Paper” and “Vinyl” on your dial. You’ll see a “+” next to Paper. With a Cricut Maker, select Paper from the material drop-down and set your pressure to “More”.
  4. Place your mat on the machine and click the flashing double-ended arrow button to Load the mat. Make sure it loads firmly!
  5. Now click the Go button (the flashing C).
  6. The machine will analyze the image and then perform the cut.
  7. Be sure to check your cut BEFORE removing your mat from the cutter. I had to send it through a second time. As long as you don’t remove the mat by clicking the Unload button and just click the Go button again it will perform a perfect second cut.
  8. Click the green “Finish” button once your cut is to your satisfaction.
  9. Save your project in Design Space.
  10. Remove your paper from the mat by flipping it upside down and slowly pulling the mat from the paper. This helps to prevent tearing.
Removing the paper from the mat
Removing your material from the mat in the face-down position is a best practice.

Now make them sticky

  1. Dust off your sticker maker just in case. Dust makes things not as sticky. Boo, dust!
  2. Line up the first sticker as evenly as possible on the tray then slide it forward until the roller resists.
Place sticker in Xyron
Place your sticker in the sticker maker as straight as you can.
  1. Turn the dial until you see the end of your sticker. Help the sticker stay as straight as possible.
  2. Tear off your sticker sheet!
  3. Repeat this process until your stickers are done.
Finished Frak Sticker
All done! Your sticker is ready for placement.

And there you have it! You can print and cut stickers inexpensively with your Cricut even if you don’t have an inkjet printer.

Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you make with this tutorial in the comments. I’d love to see what you create.

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