Just not Cricut – Update

UPDATE 2021-03-19: A further statement from Cricut’s CEO Ashish Arora was released on March 18, 2021, stating:

So, we’ve made the decision to reverse our previously shared plans. Right now, every member can upload an unlimited number of images and patterns to Design Space for free, and we have no intention to change this policy. This is true whether you’re a current Cricut member or are thinking about joining the Cricut family before or after December 31, 2021.

Ashish Arora (Cricut CEO)

This follows an announcement made in the previous week that uploads to Cricut’s Design Space that exceeded 20 per month would require a Cricut Access subscription. What followed on social media was an angry backlash of its user base, leading to the article that was previously posted below. I will leave the article for posterity, but in the interests of transparency, the article has since been reflected to post the March 18 statement.

There has been a development since the last article concerning Cricut’s decision to limit free uploads to its Design Space to 20 per month before requiring a Cricut Access subscription. In short, the CEO has released a statement that backs away from this decision… for now. Read the Cricut CEO’s statement on their site.

While this can be perceived as a win for Cricut users for the moment, it is worth noting the language of the second-to-last paragraph of the statement, that reads as follows:

We will continue to explore affordable ways for our future users who register machines after December 31, 2021 to allow an unlimited number of personal image and pattern uploads.

Ashish Arora (Cricut CEO)

Note the word “affordable”, and not “free”. Also, why set a date of the end of the year?

Where to from here?

Until this event, the Cricut maker community was arguably at peace and was happily using their Cricut plotting cutters. Since this event, the trust in the company has now been shaken… and the language used by the CEO in their statement does not rule out that they won’t try something like this to new users beyond next year.

The Cricut’s main competitor in this space – Silhouette – has been quick to capitalise on Cricut’s PR disaster releasing their own statement, of which one paragraph sums up their position:

There is no limit to the number of designs you are able to open and use with our software program. Silhouette has no obligation to sign up for any paid service in order to use the Silhouette cutting system or software, including your own files and designs (such as JPG, PNG, BMP, and TTF font files).

Silhouette spokesperson

The event has also spurred the community to looking into alternatives to the Cricut Design Space to interface with the plotter itself. Attempts to do this nearly a decade ago were met with legal action that was ultimately settled. But that will not necessarily stop everyone in the community from attempting to “Jailbreak” their Cricut so that the plotters can be run on other CNC software, whether a competitor or open-source.

Unfortunately, the whole event has tarnished the Cricut brand that makes arguably good hardware and consumables. Members of the Cricut community were vocal on social media, with the Reddit’s Cricut subreddit briefly pinning a note describing what action could be done – everything from cancelling Cricut Access, joining a class action lawsuit, brigading social media platforms such as Cricut’s Instagram and Facebook pages, buying competitor consumables such as vinyls and tools, etc.

I would personally like to interface the Cricut with any other software than the Cricut Design Space as described in the previous article. Releasing an API to the community so that plug-ins could be made for software such as Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Affinity Designer and Inkscape would go a long way to not only restoring faith in the Cricut brand, but make people use their Cricuts more as making designs for it would be in software that users would be familiar with already. If the Cricut Design Space is a good enough application, it should be able to stand on its own two feet without forcing its users to use it because there isn’t another application… and right now it is nowhere near that level.

Ultimately, it’s a win for existing Cricut users that has exposed the thoughts of what the company is prepared to do; and it is also a wake-up call to other software developers that software relies on happy users, and that it doesn’t take much to turn happy users into the Reddit army.

In sporting terms, that’s just not Cricut

For the last year or so, I’ve been using a Cricut Maker as a cutting plotter to prepare bespoke labels, and in recent months, have been using it to mock up box and carton prototypes.

What is a Cricut?

For those unfamiliar with Cricut, it is a brand that makes several models of cutting plotters aimed not at my industry of printing, but of the maker space community. Along with the cutting plotters, the company also retails consumables associated with the plotters such as various vinyls and substrates; tools such as additional blades or adapters for other functionality such as scoring or perfing; and additional hardware such as a mug press and heat press of sorts.

Originally, I was going to write a piece about the Cricut on what I’ve been doing with it and what uses others may have for it, but a recent development has spurred me to write a different take on the article.

How does it work?

However, unlike a printer that can be printed to from any software, the Cricut Maker is interfaced directly from companion software called the Cricut Design Space.

When the Design Space is opened, it shows the recent projects, tutorials, and then dozens of projects that are available via a one-off payment or via Cricut Access – a subscription service that provides access to thousands of premade projects and fonts.

But if I make a new project, I’m taken to the Cricut Design Space where I can make a project from scratch…

…Well I could if there were any useful tools. The templates button puts a picture in the background that can be traced over but can’t be manipulated; the projects and images buttons take you to assets that can be purchased or accessed via Cricut Access; so the only drawing tools available to me in the software itself are Text and Shapes. These are limited too, with many fonts having to be purchased for use (or again available via Cricut Access) unless they are already on my system.

The shapes tool is also rather limited, not even allowing for a freeform line.

In order to make anything that I’ve prepared in other software such as Adobe Illustrator, I can import it using the Upload button. It can’t accept my PDF or AI file but can take SVG or DXF files.

From here, I can then effectively determine if the import took the graphic in correctly, and if so, I can save the project and proceed to sending it to the Maker to cut the shape as required.

Here is the rub

In an update on March 12, Cricut announced that uploads to the Cricut Design Space will be limited to 20 per calendar month unless you subscribe to Cricut Access for USD$10/month (it’s hidden right down the bottom of the page, but this link will take you there).

What that effectively means is that each graphic file that is uploaded using the Upload button counts as an upload. As implied earlier, the Design Space’s drawing tools are rather lacking and it is unimaginable that anyone making their own unique design would do so using the shape and text tools alone, but would instead create their design in Adobe Illustrator or alternatives such as Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, or Inkscape; and then use the Upload button as an effective import tool.

No workarounds (yet)

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to simply cut and paste the design from Adobe Illustrator into the Design Space as that would save a lot of issues. Similarly, it isn’t possible to print directly to the Maker as a cutting plotter – the only way to interface it is to use the Design Space.

My thoughts

I purchased my Cricut with an aim to sell my own branded merchandise that I would design myself, as well as gifts for friends and relatives. My recent use of my Cricut for prototyping cartons and boxes is an added benefit.

That said, I didn’t expect to have to pay a subscription service for what I consider to be a cutting plotter that I had – in good faith – purchased outright. For me to create any workable design, there’s no way on earth I could design an entire project using the Design Space’s own tools and therefore must rely on the Upload button to do nothing more than import a design I’ve already to created to a cutting plotter I’ve already bought. It’s the equivalent of buying a car and then the manufacturer saying “you can turn right 20 times a month but if you want to turn right more than that you have to subscribe to our turn-right service”.

I can’t begin to describe how frustrated this makes me feel. It is up there with bad ideas such as the Juicero (a subscription juice service best described by Youtuber Critikal – language warning), or the Fine Bros attempt to trademark the word “React”.

Cricut’s own shot in the foot is also a perfect opportunity for rivals in the space such as the Silhouette Cameo will take advantage of this situation and use it as a unique selling proposition (i.e. we won’t make you pay to use this software).

If the idea of the subscription for uploading art is to fund the servers where the art is stored, perhaps give users the opportunity to save files locally, provide better import options or better overall tools that are available on services such as Chili Publisher or Canva.

Designers in my space are already paying subscriptions such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Office 365, Dropbox and the like… and this is a tool aimed at a home-based maker community that do this as a hobby.

I hope that Cricut realises it has made a terrible mistake and reconsiders its decision; and in the meantime there is a petition on Change.org to let Cricut know the opinions out there.

Why are food labels hard to read?

During an overseas holiday, I was asked by a fellow traveller what I did for a living. Because the term “prepress operator” is esoteric, my response was to say that I make food labelling and other printing. However, I was caught quite off-guard by the traveller’s response, which was “why do you have to make labels so darn hard to read?”.

That moment has stuck with me for some time now, and in this article I’d like to answer that traveller’s question comprehensively in an Australian setting.

In short: Limited real-estate vs too much information

That’s it in a nutshell – labels tend to be small in size, usually because the product that they contain is small in volume. Despite the small size, there’s also a lot of information to include within that size.

Details that have to be displayed by law

As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not constituting legal advice on all specifications for a label.

If retailing food, the code developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) details what should appear on food labelling. More information can be found on their site, but in short a food label should have:

  • A Nutritional Information Panel;
  • The ingredients and additives by ingoing weight, and in some circumstances the percentage of ingredients. For example, if the label is identified as strawberry jam in the branding, then the percentage of strawberries actually used in the product has to be given.
  • Allergen information
  • Directions for use or storage
  • What the food is (e.g. is it strawberry jam, cookies, kombucha, etc)
  • The contact address of the manufacturer
  • The measurement of the weight or volume of the product
  • Country of Origin label

Some information can be presented on the label but may be presented elsewhere on the container, such as:

  • Batch or run of the product being produced
  • Best before or Use-By dates

In addition, the position of where the measurement of the weight or volume of the product can appear on the label is rather rigid and structured.

Country of Origin

From 1 July 2018, food products sold in Australia must display a Country of Origin label. This label has a specific appearance that must be adhered to, along with guidelines of how the label must be phrased.

An example of the Country of Origin label

This is enforceable at law by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – the Federal Government’s consumer watchdog which can – and does – give hefty fines to corporations and individuals for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

There is an online generator to create such labels, so having to maintain an array of assets for this task isn’t required – simply generate a label as and when they are needed.

Details that may also be required

Barcodes

Note that in the above code, that a barcode isn’t required by law. However, if the product is to be stocked on a large scale through distributors in a logistics chain, then it will usually need a barcode. In Australia this will usually be an EAN-13 barcode but in North America a UPC barcode is more likely.

Barcodes also have limited scaling, and GS1 (a provider of barcodes and related logistic products and services) indicates that a barcode should be placed at no less than 80% of its recommended size.

Specifications from GS1 relating to EAN-13 barcodes at 100% size

In GS1’s more detailed instructions on their website, they also recommend specific locations and orientations for the barcode, so can’t just go anywhere at any size.

These recommendations sound strict, but are done with the best of intentions so that a barcode will scan first time, every time, regardless of where the product was purchased. Remember, it’s a retailer’s aim to get that product from their shelf to your pantry or refrigerator with the least amount of fuss.

The size of the barcode can also be influenced by the retail chain that is selling the product and may recommend not proportionally scaling the barcode at all but leaving it at 100% size. It is best to check with the retail chain’s specifications first.

Container Deposit Scheme

As at the time of writing, all states and territories in Australia (except for Victoria and Tasmania) have some form of container deposit scheme, usually for soft drink containers. These schemes encourage consumers to return the containers to a collection facility in exchange for a refund for each item returned.

There are no national guidelines as to how the deposit notification should appear, so check with the relevant authority in each state.

Three items commonly seen on flavoured milk cartons (from top clockwise): The Country of Origin label; The Australasian Recycling Label; and The Container Deposit Scheme.

Alcoholic drinks

While a Nutrition Information Panel is not required for alcoholic drinks, other information is required, such as:

  • Alcoholic content (ALC/VOL)
  • Standard drinks statement. This can either be a written statement i.e. CONTAINS APPROX. X.X STANDARD DRINKS or in the form of a graphic with its own requirements.
  • As of 31 July 2020 and to be phased in over three years – a pregnancy warning label.
Pregnancy warning label, phasing in began on 31 July 2020.

Additional voluntary icons or graphics for marketing purposes

Health star rating

This is a voluntary system to aid customers in making healthier choices.

Third party endorsements

Endorsements from third parties that require an audit trail to guarantee the claims made about the product or its packaging, such as:

  • Organic certification, such as NASAA or Australia Certified Organic to certify that a product is organic;
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to certify the product or its packaging is from a sustainable source;
  • Cultural preparation certifications such as Halal or Kosher.

These types of logos won’t use a generic logo, but will usually contain a unique identifier such as a number that can be tied to the particular supplier.

These logos usually have strict stylesheets that have to be adhered to such as size, color, position in relation to other elements etc, and these guidelines have to be taken into consideration when juxtaposing the artwork for the label. The third party (or its auditing agency) usually requests to see the artwork prior to approval for print to ensure that the logo is used appropriately and within its guidelines.

Australasian Recycling Label

This is a private initiative to reduce landfill by informing consumers how the packaging can be disposed of once the product is used. The logos aren’t in the public domain and permission must be sought for use of this artwork.

And of course, our own branding

With all of the other details now on the label as required, it’s time to add the branding and design to the label… if it will fit!

This is just for food!

The details listed in this article are only describing what goes on a food label in Australia and aren’t exhaustive – this article doesn’t even mention regulations that concern pharmaceuticals or industrial products that may contain harmful chemicals.

Don’t even try being creative for cigarettes

While cigarette cartons aren’t labels, it is worth mentioning this as it is currently unique to Australia. Since 1 December 2012, any tobacco product (including labels on loose tobacco such as roll your own cigarettes) in Australia must follow the plain packaging guide, which – on a regular pack of 25 cigarettes – features such marketing gems as:

  • The brand and variant must be in Lucida Sans font in PANTONE Cool Gray 2C;
  • The pack surface must be in PANTONE 448C (a greenish-brown color);
  • A warning statement and graphic that covers at least 75% of the front surface without spaces separating the statement or graphic; and 90% of the back surface.

And this is just for Australia!

This article has focused on Australian food labels as they are the ones I am most familiar with and see on a daily basis at work. However, after spending time living in Canada, I recall seeing products that were sold nationwide (with exceptions of course) having to be in both English and French – good luck with getting all that information to fit now!

Can’t the label be bigger?

That can certainly provide more real-estate for the information to be displayed, but the size is often determined by:

  • Price of label production. Larger labels usually cost more than smaller labels that have otherwise identical print specifications such as stock, inks and embellishments.
  • Size of the package itself. An A4 page simply won’t fit on a cylinder that holds 100ml of a product;
  • How the labels are applied. For example, if machine applied, there may be specifications that a larger label can’t fulfill that a smaller label can fulfill.
  • Marketing. It may be more desirable for a consumer to see more of the product in the glass jar as opposed to a label that would obscure the contents.

Your thoughts

I hope this article has explained why labels can be hard to read – put simply it is to cram all of the required information into a tiny space. I’ve tried to cover as much as I could without trying to encompass all labelling, but no doubt there are items that I’ve missed or aren’t applicable in your part of the world. Leave a comment below on anything I’ve missed or if there is anything specific to labels in your country.

Consistent spot color naming to die-forme

A pain-point I see regularly concerns inconsistencies in color names, particularly spot colors that are used for embellishments. Take for example a color that is used for representing a forme-shape. For consistency sake, the office has implemented a CC library with standard swatches for regularly used embellishments such as Dieline, Perforation and Spot UV. The concept is that anyone who requires an embellishment can simply open the CC library and choose one from the embellishment colors that have been established.

Despite creating this CC library, embellishment colors and names can still be inconsistent for reasons such as:

  • The artwork was legacy artwork prior to introducing the CC library;
  • Operator error; or
  • Art was supplied by a third party, such as a client or supplier.

Naming consistency is important with workflows that have been established with these embellishment colors. Take the color “Dieline” for example. This should be clearly visible on the native files, but not on the printed output. In this instance when printing to digital devices, the RIP will identify the color “Dieline” and assign it a white color value that will treat it as if it were transparent and not print at all, though it will appear in the PDF. This eliminates the need to toggle a dieline layer on and off in the application that made the artwork, and eliminates any errors associated with art being mapped to incorrect layers.

However, if the artwork contained a color named as “Dieforme” for example, the RIP would not identify the color as “Dieline” and the formeshape would be visible on the final print. This issue could be resolved by adding the color “Dieforme” manually to on the RIP, but the concept is to have every file the same so that operators aren’t interrupted having to make adjustments on the RIP for specific tasks.

A solution via Acrobat

My preferred solution is to use a custom fixup from Adobe Acrobat’s Preflight dialog. In this example, I’ve created a PDF that contains ten variations of Dieline spot color using different names, but the color value is identical. Here is what the separation preview looks like:

Acrobat does have pre-made fixups for similar tasks, such as Make custom spot color names consistent.

Let’s give that a go.

The fix has reduced the number of spot colors but only down to five. Names that had different casing have been merged together, and spaces or dashes have been removed and then merged together with the results.

Let’s revert that and try an alternative fixup Merge spot color name if appearance is identical.

OK, that has remapped all of these spots to one spot color.

However, this color is the wrong name. It is also unlikely that the forme-shape colors would ever be set with different names yet have the same underlying CMYK color conversion. The following would be more likely:

Let’s run the Merge spot color name if appearance is identical fixup again.

Some names have been culled but there similar names such as die and Die have not been mapped together, so this solution hasn’t worked.

Make a custom fixup in the Preflight panel

Luckily we can make our own solution from the Preflight panel by clicking on the options button at the top right of the panel and selecting Create Fixup

In the new window, the fix will be given the name Diecut Fix. Choose Color spaces, spot colors, inks from the Fixup category in the top centre dialog; and select Map spot and process colors in the Type of fixup dialog on the top right hand side.

In the options at the bottom of that dialog box, make sure the Source color name matches with RegEx and in the field to the right, type the GREP ^die.*?$ – this will look for any word that begins with die. The destination should Map or rename, and the destination color name will be Dieline, with a CMYK value of 100% magenta, overprint on, and applied to Spot color is used. The checkbox should be checked on for ignore upper/lower case. Once OK’d from the bottom right hand corner, the fixup can then be activated using the Fix button on the bottom right of the Prepress dialog.

The fixup has worked – all of the colours have been mapped to the one color with the correct name and color value. An added bonus is that the color is set to overprint so that the color beneath won’t knock out.

Other applications

In this instance, the fixup has been used to fix a one-off issue concerning an incorrectly named spot color. But this fixup can be added to a larger workflow so that artwork from external sources can be cleansed for a workflow. See this article for more information (https://colecandoo.com/2019/02/24/droplet-like-its-hot/)

This particular fixup is also used to fix artwork that – while being set in the right color and name – did not have an overprint applied to the color. This fixup will correct this issue.

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