Electronic Cutting Machines in the Library

Cutting and crafting machines are all the rage in crafting circles. But can they be used effectively in a library? Library displays, decoration, events, marketing, makerspaces – the library is ripe with perfect opportunities to utilise such a machine.

Our library has been very fortunate to have had the use of a personal Cricut machine and has now purchased a new Cricut machine for use in the library (thank you, employer!!!).

So, is it worth it?

I have been asked a number of times now if the cost of such a machine is worth it. This post will attempt to outlay the benefits and costs of purchasing a cutting machine for a library. In the effort of full disclosure, the machine referenced was purchased in full by my employer, I have not received any benefit, financial or otherwise, from this post, and this post doesn’t not include any affiliate links.

What is a cutting machine?

Okay, it’s kind of hard to write this without sounding like an advertisement. The Cricut Explore Air 2 cutting machine can cut a range of materials – from paper, card, and vinyl to iron-on and bonded fabric – in any shape or style you can imagine. Using the Cricut Design Space software or app, you can create your design using uploaded images, free or paid images, text, and shapes, as well as customise colours, groupings of images and fonts, and layering cutting, writing, scoring and printing.

Lettering created with both cutting and writing tools. Font: KR Little Buzz

Other models and brands do similar things, but vary in terms of cutable materials, tools, and features. There are plenty of reviews that compare models, so read widely before purchasing. We chose a Cricut due to familiarity with the brand and the features it offered.

Cost

The range and models of cutting machines available vary in price.

Cricut Pens and Accessories.

As well as paying for the machine itself, you also need to consider the cost of cutting blades and future replacement blades, cutting mats, accessories such as scrapers or weeding tools, pens, deep housing blades or special cutting tools (the new Cricut Maker can be fitted with a rotary cutting blade or a cutting knife for fabric and wood respectively.)

Once you have the ability to cut a range of materials, you also need to consider the cost of these, such as iron on, vinyl or glitter paper. Another cost to consider is optional subscription fees. While you can use uploaded images and a range of free images, access to the full range of Cricut images, fonts, and projects can be paid for individually or through a subscription. So far, I have not purchased a subscription or paid images, instead relying on uploaded images, but I can certainly see the appeal of being able to access the full range of images, fonts, and projects.

Uses

Okay, on to the fun part. What can you do with these machines? Plenty. There are millions of crafting and creating ideas on blogs, Pinterest and even Cricut’s Design Space project gallery. But what can you do with a cutting machine in a library?

Displays

Library displays are a colourful and fun form of marketing. A cutting machine can be used to cut shapes for a display, create lettering, draw posters, and make banners and bunting.

This Winter Wonderland display was created using an older model Cricut Expression machine, cutting the snowflakes, polar bear and trees using cartridge templates.

The great thing about the Cricut Design Space is the ability to upload images, so you can create anything you need to tie into your display theme.  No longer are you restricted to cartridge designs,  but they can be uploaded to the Design Space. The Cricut also has a print and cut feature, so you can print your chosen image, pattern or text and then cut the shape. While you are restricted to A4 size print+cut, and a 12x24in max cutting size, you can create larger images using the slice tool and then piece together the image once it is cut.

Lettering, either specific to the displays or a full alphabet set which can be pulled out over and over again for different signs, are easy to create with the cutting machine. You can use both Circuit fonts (there are a few free ones, the rest are available through individual purchasing or subscription) or system fonts (on your computer or downloaded from sites such as dafont.com). I have found that without a Cricut Access subscription, I am limited in terms of writing fonts (for the pens) and multi-layer fonts. For example, the “Find Connections” font is one of the few free Cricut multi-layer fonts. It cuts a front, detailed letter as well as a matching background, which is slightly larger and without cutouts in the letters. If you want to create a background for a systems font then I have found I have to stick the letters into card and personally cut around the letters or cut simple shapes (circles, bunting triangles) and use these as the letters’ background.

Interactive displays, such as giant Scrabble-like letter boards or displays where library  patrons can contribute to a display by writing on supplied shapes (like this love your library display)
are easy to create with a cutting machine.

sIGNAGE

I don’t know about your library, but in ours, we are always changing something. Signage is so important for students to be able to find the collections and resources they need, but it can be expensive to have to continually buy updated signage that looks professional. The Cricut has really helped us with that. We have used the Cricut to cut adhesive vinyl to add to acrylic dividers for each of our collections. See this post for more information.  

Adhesive vinyl can also be used to make wall signage, end panel signage, displays, storage labels and anything you could think of. We purchase our vinyl from Vinyl Loft, but there are heaps of sellers of high quality materials that don’t come with the branded materials price tag.

Makerspace

Cricut book corner

The cutting machine offers many possibilities for a library makerspace. Simple cards, book corners, paper templates and elements for paper craft are all easily produced on the Cricut. The Design Space app is available on iPads, so my plan is to use the Cricut with the library iPads in the makerspace, where students can design and then create their own work. The Cricut is also useful for prep work for other makerspace activities. The Cricut writing function can also create original colouring pages.

Clubs and Groups

Does your library have a scrapbooking club? What about a card-making club? Teacher or student focused, these clubs are can be popular. A group of our teachers enjoy gathering after school hours to create cards that are then sent to school parents when the occasions calls. Again using the library iPads, the Cricut will give this group so much more scope with which to play.

Collaboration

The Cricut has many uses within and outside of the library space for collaborating with other faculties. Our Head of Fashion, Design and Textiles was interested in how the Cricut could complement their units, particularly with the new Cricut Maker. Prepare to field numerous requests for cutting and design projects when passing teachers and teacher aides see the Cricut at work. Our library Cricut has also previously cut thousands of shapes for school-wide treasure hunts. We have also been approached to cut the heat transfer vinyl for the school musical t-shirts.

Materials

Same shape cut using card (yellow) and paper (blue).

So far I have mainly used the Cricut Explore for cutting paper and cardboard for displays, and vinyl for signage. I have found that using cardboard is quicker and easier than paper. On a new, sticky mat the paper is harder to remove and curls, while on an older mat the paper can move while being cut. Tip: when using a new mat, press a towel over the mat, leaving some of the fluff behind. This makes the mat slightly less sticky and it is easier to remove paper and more delicate materials. Card is much easier,  to remove from the mats, especially with detailed cuts, and the remains are easier to reuse.

You do not need to stick to Cricut brand materials. It is much cheaper to buy high quality paper, card, vinyl, HTV, etc from other suppliers and skip the Cricut brand price tag. Same goes for Cricut tools. While I do use the scraper, I use a pair of tweezers I “borrowed” from the first aid kit and a squeegee from our book covering kit.

There are also plenty of hacks out there to save you money – adapters you can buy so you can fit any pen into the Cricut pen holder, stabbing your blade into a ball of aluminium foil to resharpen it, reusing transfer tape over and over until it looses it’s stickiness.  There are lots of YouTubers and bloggers out there that specialise in Cricut SVGs (cutting files), tutorials, and tips that will save you time and money.

Cleaning

Mats that become dirty with use and lose their stickiness can be ‘re-stickied’. First, try cleaning the mat with soapy water. I didn’t believe this when I first heard it, but it does work. Simply gently wipe the mat with a cloth soaked in soapy water (I used kitchen detergent) and leave the mat to dry. It regains it’s stickiness once it dries.

Re-sticky your old mats with a glue pen. Left: glue has dried to clear and is now safe to replace the transparent cover. Right: Glue is still blue. Leave to dry before using or replacing the cover.

If after cleaning, the mat is still not sticky you can use a 2-way, wet/dry glue pen. After thoroughly cleaning the mat with soapy water, using the scraper tool to remove any paper scraps and dirt, I lightly applied a layer of the glue. While wet, the glue is blue. Do not replace the transparent cover or use the mat while the glue is blue. Leave it to dry. When the glue has dried to clear, it is safe to use and replace the cover. Before using the mat, especially with paper or a lighter material, prep your mat by patting with cloth (some of the fibres attach to the mat, making it easier to remove your projects from the newly very sticky mat). There are plenty of tutorials and discussions on the web about this process if you need more information.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Saves time. (Maybe not at first, as you get to know what you are doing and the features, but over time it makes cutting shapes and lettering so much faster.)
  • Allows for more detailed and creative displays and projects I simply would not have attempted without a cutting machine.
  • Allows for additional displays to be created.
  • Allows for additional interactive displays and programs.
  • Saves materials. The Design Space program has a number of features that enable it to be particularly good at allowing for the use of material scraps.
  • Flexibility in design with uploaded images and system fonts.
  • Flexibility in materials and actions (cut, write, score, print+cut).
  • Use both with USB connect to computer or Bluetooth to iPad or iPhone.
  • Easy to use.
  • Can create designs larger than the 12″x24″ mat size with a bit of clever arranging using the slice tool.
Cons
  • Cost.
  • Takes time to learn the programs and features. (I found that at first I wasn’t saving time as I had to learn all the tricks, features and ins and outs of the Cricut. I also attempted to jump into detailed projects too quickly, which meant I was taking more time.)
  • Restricted to max cutting size of 12x24in.
  • Restricted to max A4 print+cut.
  •  Everyone will want to use/borrow/steal it. (Or is that a pro?)

Final say.

I love our library’s Cricut. I am so grateful to my employer for seeing the value in funding its purchase. It has allowed our library so much extra scope in designing and creating displays and activities. As I experiment with it more, try new materials, I find that it is flexible to suit our library’s needs.

So is it right for you? Well, only you can decide. If you would like more information, please leave a comment below.

Do you have a cutting machine for your library or workspace? Let me know in the comments.

For more ideas on how to use the Cricut in the library, check out my Display ideas