Cricut cutting mats can be confusing when you’re a beginner. Even for the seasoned user, there are little tips and tricks that you might not be aware of. In this guide I will talk about the different Cricut mats, their characteristics, uses, some do’s and don’t and how to clean them. In the end you should have a good understanding of which mat to use for your project and how to take care of them. Keep reading for some extra frequently asked questions at the end.
What are Cricut Cutting Mats?
Cricut cutting mats hold the materials that are cut by our Cricut machines. They are square and rectangular in shape and come in different sizes, varieties and colors. With different amounts of adhesive, they are used for different materials. Sometimes, for some Cricut machines, they do not even need to be used. We will explore that in a bit.
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There are five varieties of Cricut cutting mats in four different sizes for five current machines. The five varieties are:
- Cricut LightGrip Mat
- Cricut StandardGrip Mat
- Cricut StrongGrip Mat
- Cricut FabricGrip Mat
- Cricut Joy Card Mat
The 5 machines that Cricut currently sells are the Cricut Maker 3, Maker, Explore 3, Explore Air 2 and Cricut Joy.
The Cricut cutting mats come in 4 different sizes, plus one special size*:
- 12″ x 12″
- 12″ x 24″
- 4.5″ x 12″
- 4.5″ x 6″
- 4.5″ x 6.25″ (*Joy Card Mat)
Anatomy of a Cricut Cutting Mat
There are a number of areas to pay attention to on a Cricut cutting mat. They have a grid design, and measurements in inches and centimeters on the top, bottom and the sides. There is a label in the corner on the top and the bottom of the mat, and a hole for hanging them.
In another corner the type of mat is printed, and they are color-coded. The interior portion of the cutting mat is sticky, while the border area by the numbers and to the edge is not. There is a crosshair in the middle of the mat, although the Joy mats do not have one.
The top and bottom, which are fed into the Cricut machine, are the sides with the Cricut labels.
Cricut has designed a special vinyl called Smart Materials that allow for the Maker 3, Explore 3 and Joy to cut without a mat. These materials are thicker than their regular vinyl, and supports matless cutting. Only the Maker 3, Explore 3 and Joy can cut without a mat, and only with Smart Materials. You will still need mats to cut all other materials, such as cardstock, faux leather and vellum, so if you plan on cutting anything other than vinyl, Cricut cutting mats are necessary.
Cricut Cutting Mats and Materials
Each of the Cricut cutting mats is designed to handle specific materials. Each one has a specific stickiness to it. The LightGrip mat (blue) is the least sticky of the mats. The StandardGrip mat (green) is the medium level mat, and StrongGrip mat (purple) is really sticky. The FabricGrip mat has a special adhesive with a few different rules than the others. It’s important to use the right mat for the material you are cutting. It can mean the difference between a poor or failed cut and a successful project.
Cricut doesn’t match an exhaustive list of all the materials it can cut with their respective mats. They give a small sample of materials for each mat. Therefore, if you are working on a project with a material not listed, you will need to do one or more of the following:
- Compare your material to the listed ones and find a comparable material
- Google for similar projects to see which mat is recommended for those projects
- Test your material on the mats
If you need to google for a similar project, I recommend also doing a test. It’s frustrating to ruin a whole project’s worth of material for the wrong mat or wrong cut settings, and it’s expensive too! (For what it’s worth, I typically use white cardstock or copy paper, and run test cuts when I am making a project for the first time so I can get the process down before running with the expensive materials.)
Cricut LightGrip Mat
The blue LightGrip mat is designed to cut light materials. It has the weakest adhesive, and thus the lightest bond. It is designed for:
- Printer paper
- Light cardstock paper
- Thin scrapbook paper
- Washi sheets
- Wrapping paper
- Construction paper
and other materials that are in the same weight category. For example, let’s say you are going to create a flower that is constructed from crepe paper. It’s not specifically listed here or for any other mat. So how do you know which mat to use? Well, crepe paper is quite delicate and thin, so using a best guess, it would probably go with the LightGrip mat as it’s designed for delicate and light materials.
Cricut StandardGrip Mat
This green mat is probably the one you will use the most. It’s your regular cardstock and adhesive vinyl and heat transfer (iron-on) vinyl mat. The StandardGrip mat is used for:
- Textured paper
- Embossed cardstock
- Iron-on (commonly known as HTV)
- Pattern paper
- Infusible Ink transfer sheets
So, for example, if you wanted to make a t-shirt with a layered rainbow and a cute saying, you would use the StandardGrip mat to cut your Cricut Iron-on (or other heat transfer) vinyl.
Also, when I’m in doubt about which mat to use for a material, I can’t find anything online and it’s not obvious which mat to use, I tend to start with the StandardGrip to see if it works best.
Cricut StrongGrip Mat
The purple StrongGrip mat is really sticky. It is intended to hold the heavy stuff like balsa wood and chipboard. If you will work with glitter cardstock and glitter HTV (iron-on) much, plan on using the StrongGrip mats. A list of some of the materials includes:
- Thick cardstock
- Glitter cardstock
- Magnet material
- Poster board
- Mat board
- Fabric with stiffener
- Corrugated cardboard
- (Faux) leather and suede
If you find that the StrongGrip mat is too sticky when you first start out with it, try “priming” it. Using a clean t-shirt (or the one you happen to be wearing), press it against the mat so that the mat retains some of its fibers. This will reduce the stickiness. In a pinch, you can stick your hands to the mat several times to reduce the stickiness as well.
Notice that the mat includes “fabric with stiffener.” This information is directly from the Cricut website (see sources listed). That’s because you can use the StrongGrip mat for fabric, but now there is the FabricGrip mat.
Cricut FabricGrip Mat
The pink FabricGrip mat has a special adhesive on it. One very important thing to note is that you don’t clean your FabricGrip mat with soap and water or baby wipes and don’t use the scraper tool as all these things will remove the adhesive. In addition, try not to touch the adhesive area of your FabricGrip mat too often, as the oils from our hands will break down the adhesive. To remove debris from your FabricGrip mat, use tweezers, the spatula tool, and a lint roller. I know it’s counterintuitive to what we’re taught but the mat will still work even if it’s fuzzy. Here’s one option on how to clean it. However, it is still not recommended to do so.
Many people, including me, put a piece of transfer tape down on the mat when they are cutting messy fabric like felt, which helps keep the mat clean longer.
The FabricGrip mat is used with:
- Bonded fabrics for Cricut Explore machines
- Unbacked fabrics for Cricut Maker
Cricut Joy Mats
The Cricut Joy has several mats that are similar to the mats I’ve described so far. Two of the mats are LightGrip (blue) and StandardGrip (green), and they come in 4.5″ x 12″ and 4.5″ x 6″. The third mat is the Cricut Card Mat. This mat is used only for Cricut insert and cutaway cards which you can purchase from Cricut. It has adhesive and can be cleaned with an alcohol-free baby wipe.
If you’re interested in learning more about adhesive vinyl, check out The Different Types of Adhesive Vinyl for Cricut and The Best Permanent Vinyl for Cricut.
Cricut Cutting Mat Do’s and Don’ts
- Keep the protective film cover on your mat when you’re not using it. It will keep dust and other debris off of it and extend its life.
- Keep your mats clean. Use alcohol-free baby wipes or dawn dish soap and water to clean them. I like to use the baby wipes as maintenance (or when I’m lazy) and the dawn and water when they get really dirty, or the baby wipes can’t get it all off.
- Weed on the mat. It can serve as a third hand to keep things stuck down for you.
- Lay the mats flat or hang them when not in use instead of rolling them. I hang mine from my pegboard.
- Clean the protective film cover from time to time.
- Tape down heavy materials to the mat around the edges (e.g. balsa wood, basswood and chipboard).
- Replace them when they wear out. They do, and they will need to be replaced.
- Don’t use LA Awesome Spray to clean your mat. Dawn dish soap and water work very well, and LA Awesome Spray is anecdotally hit or miss in terms of ruining mats. Since Dawn and water solution works well and doesn’t harm mats, why take the risk?
- Don’t use soap and water or baby wipes on your FabricGrip mat.
- Don’t leave your mats dirty.
- Don’t roll your mats up.
Cleaning Your Cricut Cutting Mats
Keeping your cutting mats clean will help your Cricut cut the materials better and extend the life of your cutting mats. There are two cleaning methods I recommend:
- Alcohol-free baby wipes
- Dish soap and water
The first thing I do is remove larger bits of debris. I do this using my scraper, tweezers and spatula. Then, based upon how dirty my mat is and how much debris is left, I will choose one of the two types of cleaning methods.
When my mats aren’t too dirty and only have a small bit of debris left on them, I will pull out the baby wipes and rub them gently in a circular motion on the mat from one corner to another. The baby wipe has enough friction to take up a lot of the debris and clean the dirt off. Many times it takes more than one wipe for me, but I can get the mat pretty clean.
If my mat is really dirty, or if I’ve been using it a long time or over many sessions, I will clean it with Dawn dish soap and water. I run a little water over my mat, and squirt a small amount of Dawn dish soap on it. Using a wet paper towel, I gently rub the Dawn into the mat. This loosens the debris and dirt. Then, I run water over the mat to clean it off. I will pat it dry with a tea towel and let it air dry.
Getting the Most Out of Your Mats
There are several things you can do to get the most wear out of your mats.
The first thing is to always keep them clean. Make sure when you put them up at the end of a craft session, they are free of bits and clean them with baby wipes or do a full-on clean if necessary.
Second, always keep the protective film cover on when they are not in use.
Third, rotate your mats when you use them. For example, use the inches side one time, then turn it and use the centimeters side for the next use.
Fourth, using a brayer will help extend the life of your mat. When the vinyl is optimally anchored to the mat, it cuts better and the mat responds better. It lasts longer.
And finally, use different areas of the mat when you use your Cricut. For example, when in Cricut Design Space, during the preparation phase, you can move your project to different mats and areas of the mat before cutting. Move your project to different areas of the mat if your project doesn’t take up the whole mat. It doesn’t have to sit in the upper left-hand corner every time it cuts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use off-brand mats?
This is a question that comes up frequently. Using off-brand mats can void your machine warranty, so you may want to hold off using them until your warranty expires. That being said, I use off-brand mats, but I am not endorsing them. So you can use them; it is a personal choice.
What about re-sticking my mats?
There are tutorials around about re-sticking mats when they have lost their stickiness for good, even after a good cleaning. While technically you can do this to a mat, it can void the warranty of your machine. If done incorrectly, it can gum up your rollers. I don’t re-stick my mats because the off-brand mats are inexpensive (even though they void the warranty as well). I don’t recommend this method, but if you choose to do so, proceed at your own risk.
How long do mats last?
This will vary based upon how well you take care of them, how often they are used and the types of materials that are used on them. I have a couple that I’ve replaced inside a month and some that older than six months and are almost like new. Cutting through one with my craft knife didn’t help it last very long!
This is a lot of information to take in, but I hope it’s been helpful, and has answered some of your questions. If you have any other questions, or if there’s missing information, please let me know in the comments. I love hearing from y’all! Happy, happy crafting!
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