How to Make Car Decals with a Cricut Explore Air 2

Created on:

February 2, 2024

Updated on:

February 2, 2024

Written by Kelsey Sergi

People love decals on their cars these days - let’s learn to make our own!

a DIY car decal made on a Cricut Explore Air 2.

Having a Cricut machine means we have the endless possibility to make custom car decals with vinyl. We will go over all the Cricut machines, including my favorite: the Cricut Explore Air 2, and different types of vinyls and materials we can use to make our own car decal. I have had my Cricut Explore Air 2 for over 2 years and it is the second machine I bought but surpassed my liking over the Cricut Maker. The Cricut Explore Air 2 is a fast cutting machine that is great for vinyl work for beginner crafters and seasoned alike. Let’s get crafty!

Getting Started with Cricut Explore Air 2

There are now seven different Cricut machines on the market as of 2024: The Maker, Maker 3, Explore Air 2, Explore Air 3, Joy and Joy Xtra, and the Venture - so what makes the Explore Air 2 stand out.

A Cricut explore air 2.

I am focusing on my Explore air 2 because it is a quick little machine that is great for vinyl projects. I say this because unlike the Maker, you can only swap the fine point blade for a few other options making this machine a little bit limited but also I have found its cutting to be quicker and more precise. Now, is this in my imagination, maybe but also I run my machines simultaneously on the regular. If you are in the market for buying a machine on the intent of only using vinyl or mainly using vinyl then I highly suggest a Cricut Explore Air 2.

The price point as also come down on the Cricut Explore Air 2 over the past year due to the release of the Explore Air 3, Maker 3, Venture, Cricut Joy and Joy Xtra. This makes the Air a great cost effective cutting machine!

At the end of the day, you can cut vinyl on all of the Cricut machines, so this tutorial is for all Cricut users alike!

Vinyl in a Cricut Explore Air 2.

Essential Materials for Car Decals

Permanent vinyl vs Removable Vinyl

When making a window decal, most will be made with permanent vinyl. This is because most cars are going to be up against the elements. Permanent vinyl is meant to withstand more and securely stay on outside windows and objects. Since cars aren’t always parked in the garage, a lot of people opt for outdoor use permanent vinyls.

In terms of brands for vinyl, Cricut makes their own but I tend to lean away from all Cricut brand materials because there are so many other amazing brands on the market. My favorite vinyl brand, both permanent and removable, is Teckwrap.

Removable vinyl is just like you would think - removable. This type of vinyl isn’t meant to last a long time or go up against the elements like rain or wind or dirt. It’s going to peel off easier and its durability is much less. I am not saying to not use removable vinyl, but keep in mind that it’s not going to last as long.

You may WANT to opt for removable vinyl. I like to think that removable vinyl might be good for temporary situations like having a baby on board car decal or even upcoming elections. There’s nothing like seeing a bumper sticker from 2004!

Three different rolls of vinyl, metallic, white matte, and patterned removeable.

There are also different types of vinyl in terms of color and texture. You will be able to customize your decal with glitter, matte vs shine, and even patterns.

The vinyl you DON’T want to use: iron-on vinyl. We are not going to heat press a car decal on so make sure you are using the right material.

When it comes to the newer models of Cricut machines (the Maker 3 and Air 3), you can opt for the Smart vinyl which means you don’t need a mat to cut them. This is totally a preferential thing! I don’t mind using a mat and being honest I have to since I only have an Explore Air 2 and original Cricut Maker.

Three different rolls of vinyl, metallic, white matte, and patterned removeable.

Tools for Vinyl Decals

On top of vinyl, you will need a few other things to create your car decal.

  • Cutting mats: These come into play during the designing and cutting on your Cricut machine. I use the standard grip mat when it comes to most of my projects and recommend this mat for vinyl work.
  • Scraper tool - you can purchase a vinyl scraper which most brands have their own, it can also be called a squeegee or you can opt for an old fashioned credit card to also do the trick!
  • Transfer tape - you want to make sure to have transfer tape available which will move your vinyl car decal from the backing paper to the window. I have many different transfer tapes in terms of stickiness, so do some research on this! Your holographic vinyl might need something different from glitter or matte.
  • Weeding tools - you will need some tweezers, a weeding tool, or a weeding pen to remove the excess vinyl after cutting. My preference is a weeding pen, especially if you have a lot of small details and pieces.

Designing Your Decal

You can use the Cricut Design Space which is the free program that comes with every Cricut machine or use an outside design software. My favorite software is Inkscape to make my own image, a free open source download.

Making a decal in Cricut design space.

Cricut Design Space is semi limited in terms of designing but if you are paying for the optional Cricut Access subscription then you might be able to find a decal you love. I prefer to create my own SVG files for free and I put them up on this blog in my free resource library for you to instantly download. You can sign up for my newsletter below to access the password to the vault for exclusives.

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To create your own cut file, you might want to start small in the Cricut Design Space app and make a simple design with some text. For example “boy mom” or “#craftlife” You can change the font style and still make it your own!

As for a cut image - if you are paying for Cricut access then do a little search on something you love. Search around for the perfect image: maybe a beach sandal or stick figures, you can also easily create these in Inkscape for free once you feel more comfortable designing. Creating custom stickers will become addicting once you start and you can even turn your hobby into a business.

Cutting and Weeding Process

Once you have your design ready to go, you will need to send it to your machine. Remember to test your materials if you are new to them. For most vinyls you will use the fine point blade (which is why the Cricut Explore Air 2 is so great for these kinds of projects). I ended up using the premium vinyl setting.

Settings used to cut some vinyls.

When ready, place your vinyl on the mat and make sure its secured down to avoid air bubbles. Then load into the machine with the arrows. Once the C button is flashing you can press it to start the cut.

Before removing from your Cricut machine, I suggest checking to make sure it cut through. If it did not, then press the C button again before unloading for it to re-cut perfectly.

Applying matte white vinyl to a cricut standard grip mat.

After it is cut, you can discard excess material by cutting around the decal. Make sure to save extra vinyl! Then weed out the rest of the decal. Weeding is the process of removing the vinyl away from your sticker to reveal the project. This process can be tedious depending on the design but some people find it very therapudic.

weeding matte white vinyl to make a car decal.

Applying the Decal

I suggest prepping your car with some rubbing alcohol to clean any dirt and debris from where you will be placing the decal.

Cleaning a car window to apply a DIY car decal.

Next, you will place your transfer tape on the decal and rub with your scraper on a hard surface. Make sure to peel slowly and make sure everything has fully transferred over. This will help with air bubbles and missing pieces like the dot over an i.  

Applying transfer tape to a custom car decal made on a Cricut machine.

Next, place your decal on the window and use your scraper or credit card to apply. Rub over with a decent amount of pressure to make sure it’s fully adhered.

Using a craft scraper to apply a personalized car decal to a car window.

Remove the transfer tape slowly and reveal your new car decal.

Peeling the tape off a car window to reveal a DIY custom car decal made on a Cricut cutting machine.

Variations in Decal Designs

I keep mentioning window clings but you can also use this technique to create unique bumper stickers as well! Your options are endless - there is also the option for printable vinyl which would need a sealer over it unless you have a waterproof ink printer or sublimation. Technology in crafting is always updating and it is amazing what you are able to make these days!

Overall, I am always impressed with the versatility of the Cricut Explore Air 2 and making car decals is a great way to get started with your machine. Its ease of use, affordability, and precision make it an ideal choice for those looking to embark on their creative journey. So, let's embrace the craftiness, explore the endless possibilities, and make our own distinctive mark on the world, one car decal at a time!

Stay Crafty!

Kelsey Sergi - the owner and crafter at Dinosaur Mama.

Hi crafters! I'm Kelsey and I am here to bring you new original craft projects and free SVG files for your cutting machines every week!

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