When I first purchased my Cricut Explorer Air 2, I already had some vector graphic knowledge. It was old school, but knowledge none the less.
Years ago I worked as a graphic artist for an apparel company. I was what you would probably call a “junior” artist. I did all of the smaller jobs, repeat jobs, etc. We had a senior artist who did anything that was more intricate so I always had a backup so to speak.
When I started that job, I had played around with Photoshop and Illustrator but I wasn’t very good at it. It didn’t take me long to learn with a little bit of help and understanding a few things.
The first thing that a person needs to learn/understand, is the difference between vector and raster images. While at this job, we did mainly screen printing and embroidery but we also did some vinyl cutting. These three processes are entirely different in what they can produce as a final product and it all comes back to what type of artwork you are working with.
A raster image makes up the majority of images around us. They can come in the form of a jpg, a bitmap, or a png.
Raster images are made up of a zillion tiny dots of color. Whether it be on the screen or printed on paper, it is all of these dots that make up the image, they are called pixels. A photograph is a raster image. Raster images can be created using gradients, colors, shades, tints, shadows, etc. They are much more versatile as far as the creation goes. The issue with raster images, is that in order to keep the quality of the image, you basically can only go down in size. If you were to make a raster image larger than it’s original size, it will begin to blur.
Vector images on the other hand, can be resized up or down, without losing any quality. A vector image is a much more simple image, created using lines instead of pixels. This does however limit you in the fact that you cannot cut shades, shadows, tints or gradients. Basically you are working with solid colors. (You can apply shades, shadows and gradients in vector art but not for the purpose of cutting).
There are several vector file formats out there, including ai, eps, dxf, cdr and svg.
AI (Adobe Illustrator)
EPS (Encapsulated Post Script)
SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic)
In the past, you could only open any one of the given vector files with the corresponding program. That’s where the SVG file format comes in. I like to think of the SVG as being similar to a PDF.
Years ago, if you created a file in Microsoft Word and sent it to someone, if they did not have MS Word, they wouldn’t be able to open it. So you saved it as a PDF. A pdf was a file type that anyone could download a free pdf reader and open. It was, and still is, somewhat of a bridge between the different types of document software available.
An SVG file is similar. You can create an svg in Illustrator, or CorelDraw, (and many more programs out there) and it can be literally opened using not even software, but a browser! Yes, you can open an svg using Internet Explorer or Chrome or what have you. The svg file format has been on the scene since 1999.
As the crafting and consumer friendly cutting machines came on the market, most of them are able to open and read svg files. This is where it gets good….
Because of this, our cutting world has become wide open territory! People can create and share and cut like they never could before. It is no longer only full fledged businesses that have expensive commercial vinyl cutting machines, but basically anyone, can purchase a consumer friendly cutting machine, and learn how to create and cut vinyl designs. Once you understand the process behind it all and understand what your machine’s capabilities are, it makes everything much easier.
When using a vinyl cutting machine, the machine has to read the file to know where to cut. If you tried to make it read a raster image, it would have to cut each and every pixel and there would be so many colors and so many tiny dots….well it’s just not possible.
So when a vinyl cutting machine reads a vector file, it is following the lines in the file and cutting accordingly. See the images below. These are screenshots from within Illustrator. The first one is the image and how it looks as I work on it.
The image below is when I put it in Outline mode. When I do this, I can now see what the vinyl cutting machine sees.
If you will notice on the text, I have not yet united it. As it is, the machine will still read the lines, but it will cut ALL the lines it sees. So you will end up with parts cut up that you didn’t want cut up!
After “uniting” the text (this is the term in Ilustrator, in Cricut Design Space it is “weld”) you can see that now the words have become melded together, basically becoming a shape instead of letters.
This last image, is what it looks like after I have united the text. Remember, this is also what the machine sees. Now it can smoothly cut out the letters and the design on your vinyl.
I hope this makes things a little clearer for those of you who are new to vinyl cutting and why some files are good for cutting and some are not. If you have any questions please feel free to put them in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!