This is an overview of how to make SVG cut files for the Cricut covering a few of the most common use cases.
Let’s start with some basics…
What is an SVG file?
SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. It is a type of vector file that most cutting machines use to determine what direction to send the blade.
There are other vector file formats but SVG is the most common and is the one that Cricut uses for all its machines.
Why can’t you use regular JPG or PNG images to cut?
Most digital images you see are bitmap images. Bitmap images are composed of pixels (or dots). The image file records the image with information on each pixel.
This is useful for most printers because that is how it processes information to print. It wants to know what color to use for each dot in the image.
Unfortunately, the blade in the Cricut needs additional information. It needs directional (or vector) information. It wants to know what path to take to make the cut.
SVG files are image files that contain directional information or paths information about the image.
How to Convert JPG and PNG to SVG files
So what’s the big deal, why can’t we just convert a bitmap image to a vector image easily?
Well, the simple answer is it takes a lot of math. It is an extremely difficult math problem to figure out how to convert dots to directions.
It is also subjective what a good conversion means in different contexts.
Some times you want to vectorize the entire image. Other times you want to preserve the details of the image and just create a cut path around the outline of the image. And then there are times when you want to group certain elements of the image together but not others.
Let’s go through some of the most popular scenarios.
Simple Approximation Vectorization
This first example, you might have seen on various platforms. It is the vectorization of photos or detailed images.
The end results like a paint by number version of the original image. The blobs of color can be smaller or larger depending on the settings and software used to perform the vectorization.
This version of the vectorized image contains fewer paths. It is simpler and creates a certain aesthetic you may or may not want.
I find most Cricut crafters only want to do this for vinyl projects. I have a detailed tutorial on how to vectorize photographs within Design Space here.
SVG of Simple Graphic
Here is another example of a simple graphic from a visual perspective, that is text. In this scenario, you just want the vectorization to most accurately describe the outline of the image.
It actually is the same process that you would use in both scenarios. In both these scenarios, you can actually do the vectorization within Cricut Design Space.
Cricut Design Space does have some native vectorization capabilities. They are not great, but I find it covers a lot of use cases for Cricut crafters.
Here is one way to use the vectorization capabilities within Cricut Design Space.
Cutting Around a Photo in Cricut Design Space
There may be other times when you just want to preserve the details of a photo and just cut around the photo.
Or maybe you want to just import it and then cut it in a different shape. This is the process to do both.
To cut around a photo in Cricut Design Space, start with Upload Image.
After selecting your image, select “complex” so Design Space knows to preserve the resolution of the image.
Then do nothing on the next page when it asks you what you want to keep and erase.
On the following screen, “Save as a Cut image”.
It’s not too bad. Cricut Design Space just makes it not very intuitive when they use imprecise terms like simple, moderate and complex.
If you are interested in cutting different shapes around a photo, check out my Cricut Design Space for Beginners Full tutorial here.
This Paw Patrol example is one I know many parents might be interested in. But before I say anymore, please don’t go do this for commercial purposes, that would be violating copyright laws.
So my kids have many many Paw Patrol items. I actually just took a photo of a page in one of their books and used the print and cut function to make a bunch of stickers to entertain them. Please don’t go taking screenshots of Paw Patrol images online and then start selling t-shirts with the image.
This photo example didn’t actually involve vectorizing the internals of the image, it just created a vector path around the image and preserved the pixel information inside the photo.
Let’s move on to a few more complicated scenarios.
How to turn images into cut files in Design Space
Best for… quick conversion of simple graphics and when you want to preserve the photo details and just want to cut around it.
Cons: Has limited actual vectorization capabilities and is terrible for virtually every other use case.
Cricut Design Space does have some native vectorization capabilities. You might have noticed when trying to upload files.
The basic premise for turning images to cut files in Design Space is helping it decide the “background” and the part you want to keep. You do this by manually labeling the “foreground” and the “background”.
Let’s take this Harry Potter Inspired graphics set. I have saved it with high resolution.
To turn this into an SVG file in Design Space, you need to first upload the image using the “Upload” tool.
Then select your file. Using the “Select & Erase” tool in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Then mark the background.
(if you want this FREE set of Harry Potter Inspired graphics, they are available in my resource library)
This works well for high-resolution images that don’t have a lot of small sharp corners and has high contrast with the colors used. This is why when you try to vectorize a “v” in a small image, the points are not sharp and the labeling tool seems too chubby. At the end of the day, the original image just didn’t have enough pixels to describe the “v” so that Design Space can estimate the path.
This is what I mean by limited capabilities. Other more dedicated image process software has more “smarts” to estimate the “correct” path with limited pixels.
If you are interested in making these intricate vinyl decals of a photo like, this is totally doable within Cricut Design Space. I have a full tutorial on how I turned this photo into a cut file with Cricut Design Space here.
Say you want to make individual cutouts in vinyl of Chase from Paw Patrol. That requires a lot more accurate detailed path approximation than Cricut Design Space can handle. You will have to use more dedicated software outside of Design Space.
How to make SVG files in Illustrator
Best for...complex SVG files that have multiple layers (colors) and require post vectorization editing.
Cons: It is not super easy to use, there’s a learning curve and it actually is not the “smartest” at finding the path meaning it will require some manual editing.
Probably the most well-known software for making SVG files is Adobe Illustrator.
The function to make SVG files out of bitmap images is “Image Trace”. You can access the tool panel by going to Window > Image Trace.
I can write a whole book on other editing functions to do after tracing the image so I will stop here on Adobe Illustrator.
How to make SVG files in Inkscape
Best for...medium complexity images that require editing and for when you just want something free.
Cons: It sucks at finding the path and has terrible usability. But it’s free.
Of all the times I have used Inkscape, there is only one scenario where I will recommend it. It is to make an Archimedean Spiral.
A what?! Why would I ever need this?!
Allow me to finally use a tiny bit my double Masters for once on a crafts subject… there are some types of rolled flower templates that require a tight circular spiral.
A tight circular spiral is called an Archimedean Spiral. The base spiral template in Inkscape this an Archimedean Spiral. The base spiral template in Adobe Illustrator is a Logarithmic Spiral. These two differ by the decay rate. A Logarithmic Spiral has….logarithmic decay, it “spirals out” much faster.
Thank you for indulging me in this rant…
Back on path to tracing paths Inkscape. (heehee, sorry, I couldn’t help myself)
So Inkscape does have uses outside its Archimedean Spiral.
If you want step by step instructions on how to vectorize an image in Inkscape, check out my Inkscape Tutorial Article.
Best paid SVG converter – Vector Magic
Best For… fastest, easiest and most accurate SVG converter for simple to complex images
Cons: limited editing functionality post vectorization.
I use Vector Magic about 90% of the time because it requires no manual labeling on my part and no tutorial to use.
I can vectorize an image… a screenshot, a photo, any digital image in about less time it takes me to type this sentence.
Let just use my Harry Potter inspired graphics for example. I took a screenshot of the image (Ctrl+Alt+PrintScreen).
I then went to vectormagic.com
I pasted the image into the browser (Ctrl + v).
It automatically starts vectorizing. I then download.
THAT IS IT!!! I used 4 keys on my keyboard. It required about 3 seconds of work on my part.
There are options to tweak the settings to get different results. The default setting is automated to make things easier for everyone.
Now, I’m not encouraging everyone to go out and violate copyright laws and start taking screenshots of everything. Please don’t go do that.
Free SVG converters
Best for… no scenario, it’s just free
Cons: it sucks on all fronts. Just use Design Space if it is a simple image.
This is really the bottom of the pit when it comes to vectorization. If I was to create a software product, I would hope the only thing going for it isn’t that it is free.
Making your own SVG files
There are a couple of options if you want to get into making your own SVG files.
The first is to purchase Adobe Illustrator and learn how to use it.
If your intention is not to start a second career in graphic design, then I suggest using Google Slides. It is free, it is available online so no need to download anything. It is the Google version of Microsoft PowerPoint (which is not free).
After making your design, you can then use one of the options above to convert it to an SVG file.
Note: there is an option to save Google Slides as an SVG format but don’t be fooled. It is not a true SVG file. It might be if you had only a couple of simple elements (like 1 circle and 1 triangle) but even then, it does not reliability save it as an SVG file.
Just getting started with the Cricut?
If all of this seems overwhelming, check out my quick reference ebook Cracking the Cricut. I provide a comprehensive overview of Cricut Design Space for all devices: