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Half the appeal of a Cricut is getting to make custom shirts on the fly. Have a design in your head you’re dying to try? You can bring it to life in less than an hour. Need a quick costume that looks professionally made? Fire up the Cricut. That said, the crafting machine can do so many things that getting started can feel a little overwhelming. After all, there are entire aisles devoted to its products at Michaels and JOANN’s, not to mention the pages and pages of search results.
So, what do you really need to make shirts using a Cricut? After testing a variety of gadgets—ones made by the company and by third parties—here are the steps to take and the best Cricut tools to use to create pro-quality tees, totes and hoodies at home.
RELATED: The 29 Best Cricut Projects (None of Which Involve ‘Gather’ Signs or Wine Puns)
It goes without saying you’ll need a Cricut machine. If you think you’ll only use it a couple times a year, the Joy is a great entry level cutting machine. Not only is it the most affordable, it takes up just 8 inches by 4 inches of space. (That also means your designs will need to be a bit smaller, unless you want to get creative with your vinyl cutting.)
If you plan on doing a lot of crafting—or making shirts with designs larger than 4.5 by 6.5 inches—go for the full-sized Cricut Explore Air 2. It can cut a wider range of materials, should you venture beyond tees and joggers. (You can find more in-depth reviews of the machines, including the latest Maker 3, here.)
BUY IT ($169)
Crucial and completely overlooked. Running a lint roller over your clothes before you press designs onto them can make all the difference in a crisp creation and a mottled one.
BUY IT ($1)
Next, you’ll need to choose what material you use to apply your design: iron-on vinyl (also known as heat transfer vinyl, or HTV) vs. Infusible Ink. In our tests, Infusible Ink is better for more intricately detailed designs, and since the ink is—as the name implies—infused into the fibers of the shirt, it won’t crack or peel the way vinyl does. The catch, though? Infusible Ink works best with Cricut’s own line of Infusible Ink shirts, and it only works on white or light-colored clothing.
Also, if you choose vinyl, it’s important to check the material of the clothing you’ll be using first. Cricut makes SportFlex vinyl for Nylon and polyester, and Everyday Iron-On Vinyl for cotton and polyblends.
For the most part, we stick to the Infusible Ink, though we have had some issues with it fading after the first wash. (Psst: To prevent that, stick to washing your tees inside out in cold water.)
BUY IT ($18; $8)
Once the Cricut cuts your design onto Infusible Ink or vinyl, you’ll need a weeding tool to peel away the parts of the design you don’t want on your shirt. You could use your fingers, but this little weeding tool—with an ergonomic grip and multiple heads for peeling out even the most intricate designs—makes the whole process so much easier (and faster).
BUY IT ($25; $13.50)
With your design cut out, you’re ready to adhere it to your clothes. An iron will get the job done, but it can mean a lot of trial and error, since the wrong timing and pressure levels can result in wrinkled, peeling or warped designs (mistakes we’ve made firsthand). If you’re serious about making tees (and other clothing designs), you need the HTVRONT Heat Press. It’s a fraction of the price of a similarly sized Cricut Easypress, and it works like a dream.
We’ve used it with Infusible Ink and Iron-On Vinyl, and the results were consistently pro-quality: Vinyl that wasn’t rumpled, ink that infused without smudging. Plus, it heats up quickly and evenly (up to 410 degrees F), and covers a 10-inch by 10-inch space, so you can press an entire shirt design at once.
$100 AT AMAZON
Iron-on vinyl works best on cotton and poly blend shirts. And while Gildan tees may be cheaper, you can’t beat the softness and fit of Bella + Canvas’s creations. Plus, they offer a wide range of flattering cuts, from crop tops to flowy racerbacks with just the right amount of slouch. After all, if you’re putting in the effort to make these clothes, they better be comfy enough to live in ‘em, right?
$7 AT AMAZON
RELATED: I’m Not Crafty, But the Cricut Joy Makes Me Want to Open My Own Etsy Shop
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