A few years ago on Black Friday, I splurged on a Cricut Explore Air. In my studio, I was making tedious hand cut collages from photographs, so I thought the print to cut feature would help. Cricut also advertised the ability cut chipboard, leather, and balsa. I envisioned making clean-cut models and Christmas ornaments, but I discovered it wasn’t that simple or inexpensive. The restrictions of the Cricut made space for creative problem-solving. With some experimentation, I discovered the Cricut could hold my favorite pens and brushes to paint my design files rather than cut.
As follows is a tutorial that uses an old Crayola Fine Line Marker to create watercolor drawings on a Cricut Explore Air! I used a simple vector line drawing created in SketchUp for the sample material. However, I encourage you to explore with your own designs or even lettering!
Step 1: Supply List
1. Cricut Explore Air
2. Cricut Standard Grip Mat
3. 3M General Purpose Spray Adhesive (if your mat needs some sticky assistance)
4. Size 0 Watercolor Brush
5. One Crayola Fine Line Marker (preferably an old dried out one)
6. Needle Nose Pliers
7. Watercolor/ India Ink
8. Watercolor Paper-- In this tutorial I used Strathmore Mixed Media Paper. Smooth paper is best.
9. A Vector Design Ready To Go
10. Cricut Design Space
Step 2: Disassemble the Crayola Marker
So the Cricut's Pen Clamp labeled A on the machine is strictly intended for only markers and pens made by Cricut. I discovered many ways around this by experimenting with dozens of pens to see what 'clicks' into place. Crayola Fine Line Makers were a definite win and exponentially cheaper than Cricut Markers. An 8 pack of Crayola Fine Liners costs around $4 while a 5 Pack of Cricut Pens costs about $15. I thought I could tinker with some old Crayola Markers I found in my studio. My line of thought was that if I used the plastic of the Crayola Marker as a container, I could fit a small paint brush inside.
Use the needle nose pliers to pull off the end cap and remove the ink well. Then, remove the tip from the other side and discard.
Step 3: Insert Watercolor Brush
Next, insert a size 0 paintbrush into the Crayola Maker's shell. Some of the hairs will splinter, but that's okay.
Step 4: Place Brush/ Marker Into Cricut
Now 'click' the marker into place on the Cricut.
Step 5: Prep File in Cricut Design Space
For this tutorial I used a design from a previous collage I traced in SketchUp and exported as a .DXF file.
Use a vector file with space between the lines and without repetitive paths. My design is fairly rectilinear with both loose and tight areas within the composition.
Step 6: Resize and Attach
Next resize your file to fit the paper size of your choice. After, select and highlight all layers in the Layers Toolbar on the right hand side. Finally, toggle the Attach/Detach button at the bottom of the panel. This ensures all layers stay continuous on the mat.
Step 7: Change Layers to Pen Setting
When a project is placed in the Cricut Design Space, all layers default to the Cut Setting indicated by the scissors in the Layer Attribute Panel. To change the setting so the Cricut uses Write, click the scissors and select Pen Black 0.3 Tip. Continue this step until all layers have been converted to Pen.
Step 8: Add Paper to Grip Mat
Two Standard Grip Mats were included with my Cricut Explore Air. After about a month they were virtually useless. I read in other blogs how to salvage them. One even explained how to clean the mats with soap and water for a more sticky surface (don't do that). I then found a solution that used repositionable spray adhesive to revive the tacky surface. General Purpose Spray Adhesive works great too, but leaves more residue.
Align your paper with the upper left hand corner of the mat and press down firmly.
Step 9: Prep Brush and Ink
Next either wet the watercolor palette or dilute a small amount of India Ink with water.
Coat the brushes's bristles thoroughly and return to Crayola Marker.
I prefer using India Ink because I can suck up the diluted ink in the eye dropper to place inside the Crayola Marker shell while the Cricut runs to replenish the brush. Otherwise when using watercolor palettes, I pause the machine, recoat my brush and continue until the file is complete.
Step 10: Load Mat and Adjust Settings
In the Cricut Design Space, Select Make and load the mat into the Cricut Machine.
Check that the dial on the machine is set to Cardstock and press Start as soon as the Cricut Logo illuminates.
Step 11: Watch It Go!
As the Cricut runs replenish the brush as necessary. Don't be afraid to let the watercolor dry a bit and run the file again without removing the mat for bolder marks. I also enjoyed running partial files and rotating the paper for a mirrored effect.