Cricut, Designs

How to Use Cricut Cartridges: 2020 Guide

If you have started crafting and designing with the current models of Cricut machines, you are probably not familiar with the Cricut cartridges. In this article, you will get to know exactly what they are, whether you need them or how you can use the cartridges even with the newer machines. 

Existing types of cartridges will also be made clear and how they can be linked to the Cricut account of the designer/crafter as well as finding the images on them using the computer.

What are Cricut cartridges?

Before we look at the cartridges, let us briefly get to know the Cricut Machines in which these cartridges are installed. 

The Cricut machines have been in existence since the early 2000s, and they are used by designers and crafters of various items to carry out branding of things and cutting design shapes from light materials like paper, vinyl, fabric for sowing, leather, and light wood. 

After the shapes have been cut out on paper using the machine, the crafter peels them off and sticks them on the item to be designed for example a mug, personalized wedding invitations, T-Shirt, kids’ toys, and many more.

Over the years, the models have evolved from legacy models like Cricut Expression, Cricut Imagine, and Cricut cake (which was designed for specific cutting food materials). Current models include; Cricut joy, Cricut Maker, and Cricut Explore Air 2.


Cricut cartridges

These are sets of images and fonts made by Cricut® that are related to themes like the beach, Halloween, festive season among others. They are in most cases used as Templates for crafters with no idea or inspiration for their crafts.

Each image set can contain a variety of images, fonts, or projects. The physical cartridges are plastic storage devices that were plugged in the earlier machines and may cost about five dollars.

In the newer machines, these cartridges can be linked with your Cricut ID and accessed online through a computer program(software) like Cricut Design Space and Cricut craft room for the legacy cutting machines. Or digital cartridges that give a user access to sets of images online can be purchase in place of the plastic storage devices earlier used.


Physical and Digital Cricut cartridges explained

A physical Cricut cartridge contains themed sets of images in a plastic container/storage device which is inserted in the slot on the cutting machine by the user. For the legacy machines that entirely dependent on Cricut cartridges as standalones, images are selected and edited by using the keyboard on the cutter. 

These plastic containers that don’t cost much can as well be linked to the designer’s Cricut account through Design Space or Craft Room, where access to digital versions of the contents of the cartridges is guaranteed.    

However, you should still keep the physical cartridge, or at least snap a couple of photos of the front and back. If you ever have trouble accessing your linked cartridges and need to resync them, Cricut support may ask for these photos as proof that you own the cartridges.

Digital cartridges are themed sets of images bought online and are immediately available through Cricut Design Space. They have no physical component, so nothing will be shipped to you, and nothing needs to be plugged into your Cricut cutter. You can use these with all the recent Cricut machines when you are connected to the internet and logged into Cricut Design Space.


Do I need to use cartridges for a Cricut Explore Air?

Cricut Explore Air is one of the models of the cutting machine that was introduced after the original Cricut cutter and expression series (legacy models) that majorly depended on Cricut cartridges.

The Cricut Explore Air does not require cartridges and can also be connected to a computer wirelessly. However, they can still be used by inserting the cartridge on the slot on the machine and be accessed through software called Cricut Design Space on the computer.

The legacy models of the cutting machines entirely depended on Cricut cartridges as standalone and did not need to be connected to the internet or computer. These models support a free computer design software called Cricut Craft Room, where the content of the Cricut Cartridges can be assessed. 

All of the current cutter machine models sold by Cricut do not require Cricut cartridges. However, some of them have slots for these old cartridge technology meaning they can be used but be limited to only the images in that Cricut Cartridge as opposed to using online digital Cricut Cartridges.

Cricut cartridges from your old library can still be used with the new Cricut machines

You can use all your old cartridges with any of the electronic Cricut machines. The legacy machines (no longer sold by Cricut), such as the Expression series, can use the cartridges as they always have, by physically inserting them into the machine and using the keyboard overlay, or connecting them to Cricut Craft Room to edit on a computer.

The newer machines, the Cricut Explore series, and the Cricut Maker can still use any cartridges you have purchased from Cricut. However, first, you have to link them to your Cricut account, so that you access them online through Cricut Design Space.


Here is how one can use cartridges with the Cricut Explore Air 2

To use cartridges with the Cricut Explore Air 2, they have to be linked to your Cricut account so you can access them online with Design Space.

Take note that you can only link a Cricut cartridge to a single Cricut account, and it cannot be reversed.  

Neither can you transfer it or link it to another account. So before linking your Cricut Cartridge to an account, you may want to make sure you are signed in to the right one. 

After a connection between the cutting machine and the computer has been established, here are some of the steps that should be taken;

1. Head on over to and log into Cricut Design Space on a Windows or Mac computer. You cannot link cartridges through the phone or tablet apps.

2. Make sure your Cricut Explore is turned on and connected to your computer.

  • Click the menu button in the top left (three horizontal bars) and select “Link Cartridges”, about halfway down the menu.
  • Select your Cricut device from the drop-down menu.
  • When prompted, insert your cartridge into the slot on the left side of the Explore cutter, above the “Open” button.
  • After Design Space has detected the cartridge, the green “Link Cartridge” button will light up. Click the button to link your cartridge.

When the cartridge is linked to your Cricut account, Design Space will confirm “Cartridge linked.” You can now keep linking the rest of your cartridges, view your cartridges, or hit the X in the top right to close the cartridge linking dialogue and return to Cricut Design Space.


Finding Cricut cartridges in Cricut Design Space

It’s easy to access your linked cartridges and purchased images in Cricut Design Space as we are to see in the following steps;

In an open canvas in Design Space, click the “Images” button on the menu bar to the left to open up the Images window.

  • On the top right corner next to the ‘Type here to search’ tab, you’ll see three options. Images Categories Cartridges. Click “Cartridges” to see a list of all the Cricut cartridges available.
  • If you want to see just the cartridges that you already own, click the “Filter” button on the top right of the Images window and select “My Cartridges.” This will include all free and purchased cartridges.
  • Make sure to check out the Images tab as well if you have purchased or uploaded individual images.


Advantages of using Cricut cartridges

For a beginner crafter, cartridges come in handy to help in thinking of how to come up with a design. Creating your designs from scratch can be amazing, but sometimes it’s a bit intimidating looking at a blank canvas and wondering where to start.

With cartridges, you can find inspiration easily, grouped by any holiday or theme you can start building up from. Cartridges are a quick and easy way to make instant and personalized homemade vinyl decals and greeting cards, saving you a lot of time of scratching your head over the design.

The cartridges consist of a variety of step-by-step tutorials one can follow to create an amazing project. These are great to use when you are first learning how to use a Cricut machine to craft. There are so many different things to learn when you are starting, and these tutorials make it easy. 

Below is an example of a fox head made from the 3D Animal Heads cartridge. The full tutorial for making this 3D fox head can be found at and many more at

The sets of images (Templates) in each cartridge are carefully selected and organized. Several talented/experienced artists have put a lot of time and effort into the creation of these cartridges. The images and fonts are of high-quality and work very well with all Cricut cutting machines.

There are almost 500 hundred cartridges in the Cricut Cartridge Library. Each cartridge contains different images and projects that can be edited, and combined with different creative features, giving a wide range of designs, shapes, patterns, and fonts to choose from.

From just a single cartridge, you can generate hundreds of different designs from the base images. And this ability makes the cartridges of great value. Spending more time to experiment with creative designs with the cartridges you already have can save you some bucks.

Having a physical collection of Cricut cartridges can be wonderful for finding inspiration for your next project. Instead of having to stare at images on a screen to find something to make, you can browse through a physical library of your cartridge collection.


The disadvantages

Before the Cricut Explore series, the main disadvantage of the cartridge system was that you were limited to what came on the cartridges. Since cartridges are now completely optional with the newer Cricut machines, this is no longer a disadvantage. Since you can always upload your designs.

One major issue is that you can only link cartridges to a single Cricut account. If you are gifted cartridges or buy some from e-bay or a thrift shop, they may already be linked to someone else’s account! Linking cartridges is irreversible, and you can’t change the account they’re linked to.

After buying a bunch of cartridges you may feel like you are locked into the Cricut brand, or maybe even with a particular machine. And as we have seen, you can’t easily share your designs with other people–which is one of the easiest ways to start new projects. 

The Cricut cartridges don’t work the same way for every cutting machine models. The Expressions can use cartridges without the internet as opposed to Cricut Explore series, where you have to link the cartridge to your Cricut account. 

Newer models like Cricut Maker don’t have a cartridge slot. This makes it hard to use images from your old Cricut cartridges however, a special Cartridge Adapter from Cricut can be used as a solution.

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