If you are confused or overwhelmed by the idea of how to create layers with images you upload to Cricut Design Space then you are in the right place. I will break down the steps and help you with this Cricut layer guide!
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We will talk about what layers are, and towards the end of the article I will direct you to other pages I have that will show you how you can create layers in Cricut Design Space if you are using the right type of image.
There are basically two main ways to create a layered image. One is to start with a coloring book style image, and then use duplicate and contour to create the layers. I go into this process in depth HERE. The second way is to use a clip art style image that already has colors in it. The trick with this method to create layered images is to make sure there are crisp clearly defined colors. I walk you through that process HERE.
Images and SVG Files
First off, images and SVG files are not the same thing.
This is a common misconception with people just starting to learn to use the Cricut. Images are typically PNG or JPG files. These files are flat, and do not have layers in them, no matter how many colors are in them. If you upload something to Design Space and the software asks you if you want to remove portions or make adjustments to the image, that is the best way to know you are using an image and not a SVG file.
SVG files, when created the right way, have their own layer for each color. That is because a SVG file contains data that tells it what color each section of the design will be. That is why when you upload a TRUE SVG file, the Cricut layer information is already defined. The Cricut will know what color to make each section. I have more information about SVG files HERE.
Start with a GOOD image for Layering
For this tutorial, I am going use my Cricut and a multi color image that I found online. This process works best when you use a crisp clear clip art style image and not something that looks more realistic or like a photograph. Let me show you what I mean with the images below.
The image on the left will work well for the Cricut Layer Process I am going to show you here, because each color is clearly defined. There is a hard, crisp line where the colors change. There is no shading in the image. If this image were a puzzle, we would easily be able to break it apart and define where each color starts.
The image on the right would NOT work well and you would not be able to create a layered image in Cricut Design Space. This image has too much shading in it so it will be hard to create separate layers in Cricut Design Space. There are a lot of shadows and shading in this image. This image would be better used for a Print then Cut or Sublimation project.
So, when you are looking online I suggest you start with a coloring book style image or even clip art. If you can see a definite color, you will have an easier time making that into a Cricut layer. To make this work, you will have to create a layer for each color in the image.
Each Color is it’s own Cricut Layer
Remember, each color in the image will be it’s own layer. For this example I am going to use a multi color image that has three colors, so there are three Cricut layers.
Those layers would be
- Black layer
- Red layer
- Yellow layer
If I use this image from the Images button in Cricut Design Space, the three colors will already be set up on their own Cricut layer. That is the beauty of using the images already found in Cricut Design Space.
If you were to use a SVG file of this image, as long as it was made correctly, that should also upload into Design Space with the correct Cricut layer information applied to the design.
Can you create a Cricut Layer?
The answer is yes. Let’s look at this Superman image, specifically the one that I used in my comparison above and said would be good for layering. If I wanted to create that same image with three colors in it from a flat PNG or JPG image, I would have to upload the image three times, because the image has three colors in it.
The first time I upload this image, I am going to only remove the background. Then I will save that as the black layer. Upload the same image, and remove the background, all of the yellow and black parts. This will be your red layer. Upload the same image a third time and remove the background, all of the red and the black parts. This will be your yellow layer.
Now add all three of those layers you just created to Cricut Design Space. All of them will come into Cricut Design Space black, but look at each piece and just change the color to be the correct color for that layer.
Since you know you want your image to have three colors or layers then you want to look at the layers panel in Cricut Design Space and make sure that all of the parts for each color is on one line in the right side Cricut layer panel.
The number of rows/lines in an image on the Cricut layers panel should match the number of colors/layers in your image.
Now you just stack those layers that you created!
Finding Layered Images for Cricut Projects
There are basically three ways to get a layered image to use for your Cricut projects. They would be
1) Find them in Design Space
2) Use a SVG file
3) Upload a png/jpg and turn it into a Cricut Cutting file
Layered Images in Cricut Design Space
For a beginner Cricut owner, I feel that the best place to find your images to use is in Cricut Design Space. All of the images in Cricut Design Space are already broken into layers by color for you. Design Space has filters that you can use, so when you click on Images go to the Layers section and select Multi. I have this shown in the image below. Now you will only see the Cricut multi color or multl layered images that are in Design Space.
This exact same Superman image is in Cricut Design Space. Just click on the Images button on the left hand side of the Design space screen and type in superman to the search bar and you can find it.
You can see that it costs $1.99 to purchase this image. That is because it is owned by Warner Brothers but Cricut has a deal/contract with them that allows them to sell this image to you for personal use, like I did with the finished shirt that I made for a Halloween costume.
Layered or Multi Colored SVG Files
Now let’s talk about the next way to get a multi color or layered image, which is to use a svg file. This is where I think that most people get confused with the whole topic of Cricut layers and the layering process.
A svg file is a Scalable Vector Graphics that is an XML-based vector image format for two-dimensional graphics with support for interactivity and animation. If you had a svg file, you would be able to just upload that to Design Space and it would be ready to cut, just like how the image in Design Space are all ready to cut.
In order to use s svg in Cricut Design Space you download it, unzip the downloaded folder and then upload the svg file to Design Space. If you have never used a svg file before, I would recommend reading the information I have on svg files HERE. If you would prefer to watch a video I have those on my YouTube channel. If you use Design Space on the computer, click HERE. If you use the mobile app, click HERE.
You can also buy svg files from a lot of places, including Etsy. Here is the problem. If you find a svg for sale of this exact same Superman logo image there is a 99% chance that seller is selling it illegally. It costs a LOT of money to legally acquire the rights to images from movies, tv, and other pop culture items. I go into this in detail in an article on the rules around copyright.
Even if we take the legality piece out of this conversation, if you have to purchase the svg from a seller on Etsy or you have to buy the image from Cricut personally to me it is a no brainer . . . buy it from Cricut. That way you know for sure it was made to be compatible with their software and cutting machines.
But let’s say you wanted to go the route of buying the svg from someone on Etsy. When you buy the file most times they are going to send you multiple files in one folder, called a zip folder. You will have to download that folder and unzip it. The process for unzipping a zipped folder is different depending on the device you are using.
I use a HP and have a Windows operating system on my computer, so for me I just right click on the zipped folder and select the option to unzip it and extract the files. Once you have the zip folder open, or the contents extracted you will see all of the different files that were inside the zip folder. Each one of these files are probably the same image in a different format. Each format works for a different program. You want to be sure to upload the one that is a svg file. The icon for it will normally look like an internet browser icon, like I show in the image below.
Think of those downloaded zip folders as a box from Amazon. You have to open that box (unzip that folder) to get inside of it to access the items (files). The zip folder is just the shipping container. That is NOT the file you want to try to upload into Design Space. You want the svg file, which will have an icon that looks like the one that I am pointing to in the image above. Remember, this process is different for every operating system out there. I have a video about how to work with a svg file on an iPad for you HERE.
The other way to get a svg file is to make your own. That is a long process and I have detailed that out in an article HERE.
Create Cricut multi color cutting file from PNG Files
NOTE: An image (png/jpg file) is different then a svg file. A svg file contains data to tell the Cricut software which areas are already assigned to a color and where those areas start a stop.
There are a lot of social media groups that will allow people to share things, and people in those groups will call these things SVG files. but the truth is, they are not svg files. They are just images. And that is why you have to take extra steps to make them into a Cricut multi color cutting file in Design Space. If they were really svg files you would just upload them and they would be ready to use.
For this Superman logo image, if you found this image on the internet and saved it to your computer you can then upload that image to Design Space. Again, I am not talking about the legality of doing this, just simply the fact that there is a Design Space process that would allow you to do this. The first screen you will see will ask you if it is a simple, moderately complex or complex image. For an image like this Superman image I would consider it simple since it is mostly straight lines, only three colors and there is not shading in the image.
After you pick Simple the next screen is where you remove what you do not want the Cricut to cut, so things like the white background. Before you remove anything look on the left hand side and you will see an Advanced button. This changes the color tolerance. In other words, this is where you can tell the Cricut how many colors you want it to look for in the image. If you have never uploaded an image like this, you can check out my tutorial on that process HERE.
Now, if this image had a light yellow and a light cream right next to each other, the Cricut might not detect the color difference between those two colors. This is where you might have to go back and change it to a complex image or play around with the settings in the Advanced options until you get something to work. There is no perfect magic number to use for each and every image. This is where you have to play around with Design Space and the image you are using..
I start by removing the white background. Now this is where you have to make a choice about which path you want to go for creating each Cricut layer for this multi color image. I will detail out both of those options below.
Option One for Creating a Cricut multi color cutting file – Uploading Multiple Times
For this option you will create your upload your multi colored image multiple times. Count how many colors are in the image. This is the same number of times you will upload the image. Each time you upload, you will focus on cleaning up and removing all colors except for one, thus creating a Cricut layer for each color. For the Superman image I uploaded the image and only removed the white background, and save this as your Black layer. This will have one big solid shape for the black layer like we want.
Now upload the image again and remove the white, black and yellow to save that as the red layer. Then upload the image again and remove the white, black and red and save that as the yellow layer. Then once they are in Design Space you assign the right colors to each layer and stack them up to create your 3 color/layered image. I have a detailed tutorial on this full process using a different image HERE.
Option Two for Creating a Cricut multi color cutting file – Use Duplicate and Contour
The other option would be to remove the white, red and yellow layers/colors when you upload the image and just leave the black outline of the image. This will make the image look like what I call a coloring book style image. If you have a coloring book style image you can use Duplicate and Contour to create your colored Cricut layers. If you have never used Contour I would recommend checking out this tutorial HERE. If you need even more help on creating Cricut layers I have a larger project where I show that process HERE.
Mirror Iron On Vinyl
Since we are talking about cutting these layers for a shirt like I did for the finished project, make sure you have MIRROR you image for each mat, otherwise everything will come out backwards. The other option would be while you are still in Design Space you can flip your image horizontally. I do this so I do not have to remember to mirror each mat on my project. If you have never layered iron on vinyl before my biggest tips are to make sure your background has solid areas, instead of trying to puzzle piece things together.
Cricut Tip – Attach Not Weld
When you click Make It take a look at each different color cutting mat preview. Make sure that the pieces of your image are just how you want them. With some designs (usually ones with lots of tiny pieces or poorly made svg files) the Cricut will try to rearrange things to save the amount of material/HTV you are cutting. To fix this, go back to the screen where you can see all of the layers (the design canvas) and click on everything that is the same color and then click Attach. Attach holds the placement and position of things from the design canvas to the cutting mat.
Just make sure not to pick/select the WHOLE image and then click Attach since this will “force” everything to become one color and that is not what you want. If you need a reminder sheet to help you remember to use Attach, I have one that you can download for free under the Classes section of this site.
Understanding Cricut Layers
No matter which of the options you use to get your image, make sure to look at your Layers Panel in Design Space and verify that you have three separate layers. If you do, when you click Make It the Cricut will automatically sort those different color layers to go on different cutting mats, just like you see in the image below.
The Cricut will sort things by color. Then you just have to look at the order that the Cricut asks you to load the colors in. I attached an image of the mat preview screen above. First I would put the black HTV on the mat, shiny side down and make sure I have my image mirrored. I put my Cricut cut setting to iron on vinyl, load the mat and cut the black. Remove the black from the mat, and place red vinyl on the mat since that is the next color in the preview on the left hand side. of the screen.
After you have cut all of the layers you will weed each layer. Weeding is the process of removing the vinyl that you do not want as a part of the design. You can use a weeding tool and I love my weeding pen from My Craft Source. It is great for picking up those tiny pieces.
I sometimes after I have weeding my vinyl, will stack the weeded layers on top of each other just to make sure that I did not miss a piece. Since HTV comes with a clear carrier sheet on it,
Cricut Tip for Layers
I like to make the layer that will be the background layer, or the first layer that you press on the shirt a solid shape. Here is why . . . when you press HTV sometimes it shrinks. This can cause your second and third layers to not line up perfect. To help with this, if your first layer is a solid piece, even if the black shrinks a little you will not have any open gaps in your image where your shirt shows through. I talk about that in a video I call my Layering Vinyl Hack.
Remember, you just need to press each layer long enough to get it to stick to the shirt and remove the carrier sheet. After I remove the carrier sheet I let the first layer completely cool down before I place the second layer on top. Place your parchment paper over the top of the second layer, and then press it for a short amount of time. Keep going in this manner until all layers are pressed. After all of the layers are on, you can give it one press for the full time. I have a video on this HERE.
Once ALL of the colors are done I will kind of run my hand across the image to feel if there are any parts that don’t feel stuck to the shirt. I will sometimes put the parchment paper back over the whole image and press the whole thing one last time. For videos of this process you can see my Mickey Mouse project, the Layered Words on a Bag video or my Layered Shirt video.
Alignment or Registration Marks
This is where I differ from a lot of other people out there. I have seen some people say to use some sort of registration mark that is in the same place on each colored layer . . . then you line up those registration marks to make sure your finished image is all lined up. Some people use a circle or a star that is cut off to the side of each Cricut layer on the same sheet.
Here is why I personally do not like registration marks for iron on vinyl. If your vinyl shrinks on your first press, so would your registration mark . . . then you are trying to match those tiny stars up on top of each other. I would rather just look at my image and focus on making that look right instead of focusing on a registration mark.
Registration marks could help more for decals and things with regular vinyl, but with HTV you have the issue of shrinkage and the added fact that you don’t want that registration mark on your finished shirt, so you would be trying to press the main image, but not the registration mark. (and honestly if there is someone reading this that uses registration marks with HTV please comment below and explain your process if there are people that want to try it)
Glitter Vinyl and Layering
I have also been asked about how to layer images when you are using vinyl. Normally my main tip with glitter vinyl is to do the glitter layer last and have it be the top layer. Since it is often bumpy you really don’t want to try and put another color on top of that. Then Siser came out with some new glitter vinyl that is smooth on the top, so it is intended for layering! The glitter is actually inside the vinyl, so the top surface is still smooth. I used that for a shirt and you can see the colors are placed on top of each other in the tutorial HERE.
I prefer to use Siser brand vinyl for my iron on projects. I feel that is the best quality brand of iron on vinyl out there, and it weeds the easiest. For permanent vinyl I like StarCraft vinyl.
Over the years I have gotten Siser vinyl from a variety of places, including My Craft Source. When you shop at My Craft Source be sure to use code ShawnMosch to get 5% off your order!
Heat Transfer Warehouse is another great source for your vinyl needs. I also have a coupon code you an use there! Use code SHAWN5 to get 5% off your order when shopping at Heat Transfer Warehouse.
I have also ordered from Expression Vinyl. Sorry, no code for that one. All of these stores carry Siser brand vinyl and I love that I can order large rolls or small sheets. This can give you a larger variety of choices and allow to to save money on larger orders. To make sure you are getting the best price for your vinyl, make sure to check out my Vinyl Buyers Guide.
Can you Layer on the Cricut Mobile App?
The answer is yes, you can layer on the Cricut mobile app! The Cricut mobile app for tablets, iPads and phones will have a very different looking screen than the computer version of Design Space that I have been showing in this tutorial. Because of that, I created a Teach Me Cricut Design Space for iPad Handbook and videos. You will still use the same functions I talked about here, like uploading images and using Duplicate and Contour, but my handbook showing the iPad screen will help you to locate these buttons more easily.
Cricut Multi Color Projects
If you are looking for examples of projects that will help you understand the process of working with layers, and how to layer HTV or adhesive vinyl, here are links to tutorials I have done.
I do have several tutorials on the topic of Layers, but if you are reading this and feel that there is something about layers that I am missing from my information I want to hear from you! This will help me to make my Cricut Design Space Layers information even better!
To start, I talk about some basic layers information HERE
Another common way to make layers is to start with coloring book style image and use Duplicate and Contour to make your colored layers. I show that full process HERE.
If you are looking for information on how to assemble the Cricut Design Space layers for your finished project, then you should check out some of the information that I have listed below.
I have shared how to layer vinyl on a shirt HERE and cardstock. Honestly I feel that you should start with a layered cardstock project just to get the concept of how Cricut Design Space layers work, and how the Cricut will sort pieces by their colored layers for cutting.
Now, after looking at all of this information on Layers what questions do you still have? This is a honest request. I want to create the best resource on the topic of layers out there! I want to answer every question a Cricut owner could have on layers . . . to the point where when ever there is a new Cricut owner that has a question on layers everyone will say “Oh, you need to read this Cricut Design Space layers info from Shawn Mosch”