Learn how to open a new Cricut Maker or Explore machine, set it up, connect to Design Space, and complete your first test project with this easy to follow tutorial.
Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you either just got your very first Cricut Maker or Explore Air 2, or you just hit the checkout button and you’re a rockstar of a planner. Either way, take a second and happy dance with me, because you’re about to fall in love. I know you feel overwhelmed and even a little scared right now, but I promise you’ll get the hang of it quickly, and I’m right here [virtually] beside you to walk you through it. PS: If you just got a new Cricut Joy, this tutorial is where you need to be to set it up. It’s a little different, so I made a separate post for you.
I started with a Cricut Maker, which was incredibly intimidating to be honest. I let it sit in the box for quite a while because I was a little afraid to open it up. One wrong move and this $400 machine is broken. But I finally worked up the courage to open the box and take everything out…then I let it sit for another few days because I just didn’t really know what to do. Eventually I cranked up the university of YouTube and got the machine set up, failed at a few practice projects, then finally started making things that looked halfway decent.
I know you’re probably nodding your head as you’re reading this because the exact same thing is happening in your house, too. So today I want to show you how to open up a new Cricut Maker or Explore Air 2, turn it on, set it up, connect to Design Space, and do a successful test project. I won’t use any technical terms and I promise to talk you through it the way I wish someone had done for me. You ready? Go get that box!
1. Opening Your New Cricut Machine
Ok, first things first, let’s pop that bad boy open, whaddaya say? Take a breath, you’re not going to break it. You’ve GOT this.
Once you open the lid of the box, you’ll see a mat folded over the top of the machine. I’m opening a Cricut Explore Air 2 today for this tutorial and it came with a blue LightGrip mat. The Maker will come with a green StandardGrip mat. PS: Here’s an updated blog post opening and setting up the newer Cricut Maker 3.
Also inside the box is an instruction packet, power cords, a black pen, and of course, your new Crafting BFF. Go ahead and empty out that box, then take the dust jacket off the machine. Remove any other tape pieces that are on the machine.
Now let’s open the actual machine. If you have a Cricut Maker, lift the top lid open. The “front door” will automatically open at the same time.
If you have a Cricut Explore Air 2, press the button on the left side of the machine that says “open” and both doors will open on their own.
For both machines, don’t pull the doors that automatically open. Just let them slowly open on their own and listen to the angels harmonize in your head. Or you can stand back and pretend to use the force. Whatever floats your crafty little boat. Once the doors are open, remove the foam pieces from the big chunky slidey thing. Also remove any tape on the inside.
Finally, open the packet of envelopes. These hold your instruction manual, registration cards, and materials for your first test project. Yep! Cricut gives you materials to test on so you don’t even have to have any materials on hand for the setup process. No excuses, so let’s move on to the next step.
2. Turning On Your New Cricut Machine
Ok, here we go with the next step of the setup process. Open up the power cords that came in your box and plug it into the wall. Then plug in the other cord into the thing that’s plugged in the wall. Now, take the end of this little chain you’ve created and plug it into the back of your machine. Don’t turn it on yet.
Ready for the exciting part? Here we go! Open up your laptop or desktop computer (or if you’re reading this on it already, just open a new tab). Head to cricut.com/setup and you’ll see a page mentioning Design Space for your type of computer. Choose the Download option and follow the instructions to download the software to your computer.
Cricut Design Space is what you will use to create the designs you want your Cricut machine to cut. More on what it does later; for now let’s just get you logged in. You’ll see two images inside your newly downloaded Design Space software. Choose the “Smart Cutting Machine” option. Then choose the type of machine you want to set up.
Now you’ll create a Cricut ID. A Cricut ID is basically just an account. If you already have an account, you can sign in using the button at the bottom, but since you’re new, I doubt you have one. Go through the account creation process; then come back to me. I’ll wait. 🙂
Logged in? Ok, here we go! Your screen will tell you to do three things:
- Prepare your workspace. Make sure you have ten inches behind and in front of your machine. You can sit it on a table, desk, or even the floor for now.
- Plug in and power on your machine. Boom shakalaka, Cricut, my friend here already plugged in their machine! Beat ya! Since you’re ahead of the game, all you need to do is press the power button. It’s the button with a circle with a line coming through the top of it, and it’s on the top right of both the Maker and the Explore.
- Connect the included USB cord to your computer and to the back of the Cricut machine, right beside the spot your power cord is plugged in. Quick note, the Maker and Explore Air 2 do have bluetooth capability, but you’ll set that up later. For now you have to use the USB connection.
Follow the instructions on screen to register and update your machine. Once it finishes registering, we are going to make our very first cut! Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.
Your First Test Cut With Your New Cricut Maker or Explore Air 2
OMG, are you excited, because I’m excited! Here we go! Your screen will prompt you to choose an image from the six options. I’m going to choose the sunflower since I have the Sunflower Explore, but you can choose any one you want. It won’t affect your ability to follow along here.
I’m using a Cricut Explore Air 2, which has a dial on top to choose materials. The screen prompts me to choose cardstock. If you are using Cricut Maker, yours will not have the dial. All material selections are done within Design Space. Follow the instructions on screen for the machine you’re using.
You’ll be asked to “prepare for cut” and that means putting your material onto your mat. Using the included mat that was in your box, peel off the plastic protector cover from the mat. (Don’t throw it away, you’ll keep this on the mat when it’s not in use) Then put your test material that came with your welcome packet onto the mat in the top left corner of the grid, matching up with the photo in the on-screen instructions.
You’ll be asked to confirm that the blade is inserted into clamp B. Make sure it’s there (it should already be), then “load the mat.” Loading the mat means sliding it into the slots and gently pushing forward as far up as it will go. It will not go under the first rod.
While holding the mat in place with your left hand, press the blinking arrow light with your right hand. Once the machine starts to pull the mat into place you can let go.
Then press the blinking C button and your very first cut will start!
When your cut is complete, press the blinking arrow button again to release the mat.
To remove your cut from the mat, turn it over upside down on a flat surface and peel the mat away from your paper or vinyl. This method keeps your project from tearing. That’s a little secret us experienced users know but beginners don’t find out about until later. But since you hang with me, I’m letting you in on it first thing!
Some pieces (the negative space) may not fall out on their own if you’re using cardstock. You can pop those out with your fingers. And if you’re using vinyl, you can peel off the negative space pieces or use the weeding tool if you bought one already.
And just like that, your machine is set up and you just made something!
What To Do Now?
Now that Design Space is available for designing projects, you can start making things whenever you’re ready. Your new machine comes with a free trial of Cricut Access, so I highly recommend playing around with the pre-made projects that are part of that subscription until you get comfortable designing custom projects.
Want some more easy test projects before you dive into the world of Cricut crafting without your arm floaties on? I got you! I created a list of ten more super easy practice projects you can make to help you build up your confidence. All ten designs are completely free and if you pop your email address below I’ll send them straight over to you.
And make sure you check out the rest of the posts in the Cricut Beginner Series. It continues with a post covering all the words and phrases you’ll hear Cricut crafters use and what the heck they mean. In the meantime, play around with your new toy!