I love using Cricut or a laser cutter to make die cut greeting cards. In this tutorial, I’ll describe how to design a simple, modern die cut Valentine card in Illustrator that you can cut with a Cricut machine or a laser cutter. I’ll also show you some options for transforming it into something special with different types of backing.
Let’s get to work.
Here are the requirements for the die cut Valentine card:
- Adobe Illustrator (I used Illustrator 2019 but any version will work)
- A cutting machine like Cricut or access to a laser cutter
- Cardstock or similar material for the card
- Backing insert material of your choice, e.g. hand painted watercolor paper, colored foil, scrapbook paper, fabric, be creative
Note: For this tutorial, I’ve used Illustrator 2019 where you can choose between an Advanced and a Basic Toolbar. I’ve used the Advanced toolbar. To change toolbars, select Top Menu –> Window –> Toolbars and choose Advanced. If you have an older version, you may have to search for the tool on your toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut provided in the instructions.
Launch Illustrator and draw a heart
Note: There are many techniques for drawing hearts in Illustrator. The one I’ve used here is for a very subtle heart because I wanted a very graphic look. For other heart-drawing techniques, access my article entitled 5 Easy Ways to Draw a Heart in Adobe Illustrator.
1 Launch Adobe Illustrator and click Create New. I set document height and width to 12 inches by 12 inches for cutting in Cricut. If you plan to use a laser cutter, set the dimensions to be the same as your laser cutter bed. The one I use is 16 inches by 12 inches.
2 Select the Ellipse Tool from the toolbar. (Keyboard shortcut: L)
3 Hold down your Shift key as you drag out a circle. Any size is fine. We’ll resize it later.
4 Choose the Direct Selection tool from the toolbar (the white arrow or keyboard shortcut: A). Select the circle. Click the top anchor point and notice the control handles.
5 Hold down your Option key (Mac) or alt key (PC) and select the tip of the right control handle. Move it up to create a curve. Do the same for the left control handle. Try to keep them at the same angle and distance from the circle. This creates the top of the heart. (Note: don’t try to create really deep curves for this heart.)
6 Select the anchor point at the bottom of the shape. Hold down your Shift key, select the right anchor, and drag it back into the anchor point. Do the same with the left anchor.
7 Still using your white arrow tool, select the anchor point on the far left of the shape, hold down the Shift key and select the anchor point on the right to select them both. Then use your up arrow key on your keyboard to move them up.
8 Excellent. You’re almost there. Now use the Direct Selection tool (white arrow, Shortcut:A) to select the bottom anchor on the heart. Use the up arrow on your keyboard to move it up until you like the shape of your heart. You can re-edit the anchors and the control handles until you get just what you want.
Set up a 5 x 7 inch card
1 If it’s not already open, access your Layers panel by choosing Top Menu –> Window –> Layers (Shortcut: F7) You created your heart on Layer 1 in the Layers panel. Change the name of Layer 1 to Hearts. Then create a new layer and name it Card. Create one more layer, and name it Score. Drag the Card layer underneath the Hearts layer. Your Layers panel should now look something like this.
2 We’re creating a 5 X 7 inch card, so we need a rectangle that is 10 X 7 inches to account for the folded card.
Make sure you’re on the Card layer. On the toolbar, select the Rectangle tool (Shortcut: M) and tap your cursor on the page. The Rectangle dialog box appears. Enter the 10 X 7 inches dimensions, then click OK.
3 In the Layers panel, click the Score layer. From the toolbar, select the Line Segment tool (Shortcut: \). Hold down your Shift key and draw a vertical line though the center of the card.
4 Use the Selection tool (Shortcut: V) to select both the rectangle and the line. (marquee around them or click one at a time while holding down your Shift key.)
Access the Align panel, Top Menu –> Window –> Align. Click the Horizontal Align Center icon.
5 The right half of the rectangle represents the front of the card. This is where you’ll create your design.
6 Since you’re finished for now with the card and the score line, lock those layers and select the Hearts layer.
Design the rows of hearts section of your card
Here’s what the final file will look like. It has four rows of three hearts and the word Love at the bottom. All of these shapes will be cut out of the card.
1 Since you’ve already created one heart, it will be easy to copy and paste eleven more of them. First, however, you’ll resize your heart keeping in mind how large the hearts need to be to fit the design. My heart ended up being an inch wide. Since that worked well, let’s make your heart an inch wide also.
Use the Selection tool (Shortcut: V) to select your heart. Access the Transform panel. (Top Menu –> Window –> Transform.) On the Transform panel, click the chain-looking icon. It will constrain the proportions of your heart so when you change the width, the heart won’t become distorted. In the width field (W), type 1. Notice how the height field changes automatically.
2 With your heart still selected, copy it (Mac: command C, PC: ctrl C) and paste it twice (Mac: command V; PC: ctrl V).
3 Drag one of your hearts to the top left of your design area leaving a margin on the left as shown in the design. Drag a second heart to the top right leaving a margin from the right side. Hold down your shift key and select all three hearts. In the Align panel, A) click the Vertical Align Top icon, then B) click the Horizontal Distribute Center icon.
Your three hearts should now be perfectly aligned.
4 With the three hearts still selected, click Top Menu –> Object –> Group (Mac: command G; PC: ctrl G) to group them into one row. With the grouped row selected, copy/paste three more rows of hearts. (Copy – Mac: command C, PC: ctrl C. Paste – Mac: command V; PC: ctrl V.)
5 Now you have 4 rows, each with 3 hearts. (They may be stacked on top of each other.) Now you need to align them. Position the top row where you think it should go in your design. Position another row where you think the bottom of the hearts rows should go. Remember to leave room at the bottom of the card for the word LOVE.
Select all the rows. On the Align panel, A) click the Horizontal Align Center icon; then B) click the Vertical Distribute Center icon.
5 The front of your card should now look something like this. (You may need to reposition the group of hearts.)
Design the LOVE Section of your Card
You’re almost done with the design. You just need to add the word LOVE to the bottom of the card, switch out the “O” for a heart and turn the letters into shapes so they can be cut.
1 Choose the Type Tool from the toolbar (keyboard shortcut: T). Tap the canvas, and type LOVE in all caps. Click the Selection tool from the Toolbar. (You can’t use a keyboard shortcut when using the Type Tool.) Select LOVE.
2 Access the Character panel. Top Menu –> Window –> Type –> Character.
3 LOVE will be die cut so you’ll need a bold, thick, sans serif font. I used Arial Black and started the size at 72 points. Verdana Bold would work as well.
4 Tweak the size of LOVE until you like how it looks in the design. For example, if it needs to be larger, hold down your Shift key and drag from the corner to resize it so it is slightly narrower than the row of hearts above it.
5 With LOVE still selected, click Top Menu –> Type –> Create Outlines. This changes the editable text into shapes. Ungroup the letter shapes, Top Menu –> Object –> Ungroup. Click on the desktop to deselect everything, then select just the O and delete it. (Keyboard: delete)
6 You’ll need a heart to put in the deleted O position. Select one of the rows of hearts and ungroup it being careful not to disturb the alignment (Top Menu –> Object –> Ungroup). Choose a heart, copy it, paste it, and drag it into position in the word LOVE. Adjust the letters and the heart to make sure there’s plenty of space around them.
7 Your design should now look like the finished design, but we’re not quite done. We have to cut the shapes out of the rectangle on the Card layer!
Cut the shapes out of the card
1 On the Hearts layer, select all of the shapes including the letters (Mac: command A; PC : ctrl A).
2 Unlock the Card layer. With the shapes still selected, hold down the Shift key and add the rectangle to your selection.
3 Access the Pathfinder panel Top Menu –> Window –> Pathfinder. Click the Minus Front icon.
4 Your card is now a single rectangular shape with the design cut out of it. Note: I’ve “turned off” the Score layer in the screenshot. Turn off your Score layer by clicking the eye icon to the left of it.
That’s it! Your card file is complete. Now you just have to save it in a format that Cricut or your laser cutter will understand.
Save your File
Most cutting machines’ software (including laser cutting software) can import .SVG files so let’s export your file as an SVG.
1 From the Top Menu, select File –> Export –> Export As.
2 On the Export screen, choose a folder where you want to save your file, select SVG at the bottom of the Format drop-down list, and click Export.
3 Leave the default options on the SVG Options screen and click OK.
Your card is ready to cut. For Cricut Design Space, simply upload the SVG as you would any other graphic. For laser cutting, import your SVG file into your laser cutting design software.
The Really Fun Part – Experiment with Backgrounds for your Card
What’s great about this simple basic card design is that the open cut areas can be backed by lots of different types of materials to give the card different looks. For my backing, I experimented with two options: hand painted watercolor paper and colored Origami foil paper.
Option 1: Hand Painted Watercolor Backing
I thought it would add a lot of texture and color to the card to experiment with watercolor washes for the backing. I used a pencil and ruler to lightly draw four rectangles the size of the backing for a 5 x 7 inch card. I used 4 ½ inches by 6 1/5 inches rectangles.
I had a lot of fun doing a bunch of washes. I tried all red tones as well as mixed red, blue, and violet tones. I sprinkled salt on some of the wet washes to see if I could get some interesting textures. Here’s one set of washes. I wanted bright colors so they’d really make the hearts “pop.”
I cut the rectangles out and tried them behind the front of my card. Not bad.
Option 2: Foil Origami Paper Backing
This option was easier than the watercolor. The heart cutouts in my card were about 1 inch square so I cut out 1 1/8 squares of the foil paper and glued them behind the hearts. Then I cut a 4.5 by 6.5 rectangle out of white cardstock to cover the foil squares. I used double sided tape to adhere this. This is what the finished card looks like.
It’s Your Turn!
Once you’ve cut your card, you can experiment with different backings for it. Even if you’re not a master of watercolor, simple washes are easy. Using ready-made materials as backings are even easier. Some ideas are:
- Foil papers
- Colored cardstock
- Scrapbook paper
- Pages from printed books
- Music sheets
- Fabric (backed with cardstock)
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