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Learning to Make 3d Layered Designs on a Cricut


Paige's craft issues started young, when nonstop begging earned her first supplies, which were as protected -unused- as a dragon's hoard.


Intimidated by a Cricut

I'd bought the Cricut cutter on Black Friday last year and took a few quick stabs at it, but it was intimidating, and not at all intuitive. My first attempts were a mess- trained in Photoshop, I hadn't realized how accustomed to their controls I was, and nothing works the same way at all.

Still, I'd coveted this thing for literal years. I knew there was so much it could do, and it could for sure help me get rid of some of this unbelievably huge paper stash...

Plus a very good friend was going in for major surgery. I wanted to figure out how to make something wonderful for her.

Properly motivated, I plunged in, having seen pins and photos of lots of 3d layering techniques with mandalas and other fun shapes. Determined to work out some of these kinks, I downloaded some designs and leapt in!

The video is tempting...

First Attempt- A Glittery Unicorn

Because "unicorn" just isn't girlie enough, I opted to go big because it was going to a 5 year old girl, and in such instances, there's no such thing as too much sparkle...

After some searching around, I found something cute and not too fancy to try out, downloaded it, and uploaded the .svg files to the Cricut Design Space. So far so good.

Following the instructions, you choose your image, and hit the "Make It" button, which brings you to a ton of options to choose the material you're going to cut, including one that was "glitter cardstock," so that seemed like an easy choice.Then it's just feed the mat into the machine and wait for it to do its magic.

And wait.

And wait.

The cut would get partway through, and just vapor lock. There were also parts where the paper would just tear right through, but other than the very bottom, basic layer, the cut simply would not complete.

Searching ever more desperately for a solution, it seems the chunky glitter, which is basically cut up mylar, may have been building up static electricity and making it stop. Or possibly just too much for my regular 'fine' blade to contend with and would've needed the 'heavy duty' blade instead.

After several failed attempts, I switched to a finer, standard glitter paper, and that worked right away.

The Completed Glitter Unicorn

Closeup of the middle layers. I wish they had a little more contrast, but I was working with the available glitter papers. I may go back and recut if/when I get more.

Closeup of the middle layers. I wish they had a little more contrast, but I was working with the available glitter papers. I may go back and recut if/when I get more.

Harry Potter's Diagon Alley

My daughter is a fan of all things Harry Potter and loved visiting Universal Studio's version of it. Plans to visit this year were scrapped because of Covid, but when I came across this miniature version of it, I knew I had to give it a try.

Despite the fact that it looks complicated, it really wasn't. That it was all white cardstock made it much simpler to run through the Cricut using basic settings. Then, strips of foamboard were glued along the back edges of each layer to give them separation and the illusion of distance. I did not go to great lengths to make them perfect, because no one was going to see them anyway, and they did the job.

The light was another surprise- LED strip lights with sticky strips to tape where ever you need them are surprisingly inexpensive, and come with the color changing remote. They're easily trimable to any size and connect with a standard usb phone plug- and it makes your project look so much more impressive!

My one quibble is that it looks a bit squished. I used the size suggested by the seller, but if I were to re-do it, I'd resize it from the 8x8 to maybe 10x10.

Lessons So Far- Choosing the Right Mat is Critical

Aside from the choice of what materials you're going to cut, you'll need to decide while mat to put them on. I thought I had a decent understanding of which to use in a given situation, but I ended up ruining quite a bit of expensive cardstock.

Cricut provides the following recommendations for each mat:

LightGrip (blue):

  • White Printer Paper
  • Vellum
  • Light Cardstock
  • Thin Scrapbook Paper
  • Washi Tape Sheets
  • Wrapping Paper

StandardGrip (Green):

  • Cardstock
  • Textured Paper
  • Embossed Cardstock
  • Iron-On Vinyl
  • Vinyl

HeavyGrip (purple):

  • Thick Cardstock
  • Glitter Cardstock
  • Magnet Material
  • Chipboard
  • Poster Board
  • Fabric with Stiffener
  • Corrugated Cardboard
  • Faux Leather
  • Faux Suede

What I took away from that list was that the heavier the material, the stronger the adhesive required, and while that might be true, generally speaking, I had much better luck stepping down one level of adhesion on the papers used.

On unsealed cardstock, the StandardGrip mat did not want to release, and you can see how much was left behind. While the design itself came off the mat largely intact, looking closely you can see fraying and pulling, but since that was the underside, it wasn't visible.

On the glitter cardstock, the HeavyGrip was recommended, and it cut the design, but did not want to release, and ripped in several places trying too remove it, even using the spatula tool to try to lift it off.

In both cases, re-cutting with the mat just below the recommended one did the job perfectly.

Practice Over, Time For the Big Kahuna

Feeling pretty confident, I went in search of the perfect design for my recovering friend.

She's an Earthy soul, bohemian, free spirit with a heart as big as the world but a series of accidents had put her in a lot of pain to the point it was almost impossible to function. About to have a surgery to hopefully repair that damage and put her (literally) back on her feet, I wanted something symbolic of her inner strength and power.

Eventually, a sort of Tree of Life with a mandala behind it spoke to me. At nine layers, it was the most complicated of the designs, but I thought I had a pretty good grip on the process now.

I did get to learn about the art of "weeding-" poking teeny pieces out the smaller cuts that didn't pull away completely, but otherwise it wasn't difficult as long as I didn't rush the process.

In the end, this was the result:

The Verdict- Comparing the Experience to the Video

Did the video give an accurate representation of the project?

Yes. I expected there to be a learning curve, and there was, although not nearly as steep as I feared. I lost some paper along the way, and other than the fancy glittery stuff, which is pricey, no big deal- after all, the idea is using up the stash, right? And once I got the hang of it, by the time I started the second project, I had a pretty good handle on it.

Verdict? Absolute success. I'm starting to understand the Cricut more, and hope to soon move on to more complicated projects where I'm actually creating the graphics instead of just buying them.

Was the project worthwhile? Absolutely. Everyone who's seen them has loved them, and although I can see flaws, I'm told that's just me being picky. The patterns are inexpensive- you can find some free online, these cost between $3-$6 on Etsy for immediately downloadable files. They're a lot of visual bang for the buck- easy to make, but very impressive if you don't know how the trick is done.

PS: my friend came through her surgery with flying colors, and is very nearly pain free for the first time in a long time. I couldn't be happier for her!

This is Part of an Ongoing Series About Finding Ways to Actually Use These Craft Supplies:


Ashleigh Nicole from Florida on September 15, 2020:

This looks amazing. Some art worth trying out for sure. I really like your tree of life.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 09, 2020:

An amazing detailed hub. All looks pretty and well-planned.