Material Choices for DIY Frames and Insets

If you’ve spent even 5 minutes on this blog, you’ll know that I make most of our Montessori materials myself. I have a new product in my store – the Montessori Equivalence Materials SVG Files – and I thought I’d compare and contrast (with specific Cricut settings) four different material choices when making your own frames. I should note at all settings are for a Cricut Explore Air machine.

Clockwise from top left: 2, 1, 3, 4
  1. Chipboard and cardstock
  2. Magnet sheets and vinyl
  3. Craft foam
  4. Plastic file folders

Chipboard and Cardstock

I’ve listed this combination first because it is my current favorite for making the Equivalence Material. I’m using 30pt chipboard sheets in a 9×12″ size and 65lb cardstock. My personal choice is to use the chipboard only for any frames (so that they are brown in color, rather than green), and then glue the cardstock to the chipboard to create the inset pieces. I simply use a glue stick to cover the chipboard in glue, and then lay the cardstock on top and really press down well. I’ve even stuck the glued sheets in a larger book and sat on them to keep them flat while the glue dries! I do not bother to make the base of the frame white as they traditionally would be. If you wanted to you could just include that as another layer.

Cricut Settings for 30pt chipboard:
– Cut Pressure – 350
– Multi-Cut: 2x
– Blade Type: Deep-Point Blade

When cutting chipboard alone, I use this with a default cut pressure and it cuts perfectly. When I’m cutting chipboard laminated with cardstock, I set the pressure to More. It doesn’t always cut all the way through, but cuts enough to fold the pieces back and forth and they snap out just fine.

Pros: Cheap and easy – it’s basically cardboard and glue. I can glue a pony bead to the cardstock easily to create a handle, using Aleene’s Tacky Glue (One tube has lasted me years). When cutting frames and insets the pieces are thick enough that they do not slide over one another, and they have some friction so the fit very satisfyingly in the frame. When making the “laminate” I don’t hesitate to glue different colors of cardstock to one piece of chipboard (middle image).
Cons: The pieces do warp if they get warm. I try to press the glued sheets in a book as they dry to keep them flat.

Magnet Sheets and Vinyl

This combination uses 60mil magnetic sheets and adhesive vinyl. This combination is great because the colors are so vivid – they really almost look like the real thing. They can be used on whiteboards or cookie sheets. I used these to make the Pythagoran frames, and purchased electrical panel covers so that each frame had it’s own base! I taped the edges with washi tape to prevent metal splinters. I also had adhesive corkboard leftover from another project, so I cut squares to fit on the back of the metal square. Patience is the most important ingredient here: apply the vinyl to the magnet sheet on a diagonal with a credit card or other flat object pressing out air bubbles as you go. If are left with any air bubbles, a beading needle makes a very tiny hole in the vinyl and you can press any additional air out.

Cricut Settings for 60 mil magnet sheet + vinyl:
– Cut Pressure – 350
– Multi-Cut: 5x
– Blade Type: Deep-Point Blade

The Cricut cannot cut all the way through the 60mil magnet sheet, but it breaks cleanly with a fold or two.

Pros: The pieces are thick, could be drawn around easily, the colors are vibrant and they magnetism stops any slipping frustration.
Cons: 60mil magnet is actually really strong! I decided I needed a piece of cotton fabric between my metal plate and magnets to dampen the strength a little. Handles are hard – I used 3/4in paper fasteners which are great on the larger pieces, but just don’t let the smaller pieces lie quite flat. Smaller scrapbooking paper fasteners do help. Also, the combination of metal and magnet is quite heavy. 60mil magnet is thick enough for magnets that stick to a car. I think 30mil might be a good weight to try another time. 20mil is flimsy and too thin. I do not think gluing a pony bead onto the vinyl would be strong enough to hold.

Craft Foam

I’ll be honest, I don’t love craft foam for this application. While it does press together nicely, I feel that it needs an adult hand to do the pressing. In a child’s hand the pieces jump out of their places too much and they are not easy to draw around. However, I did make the square and triangular equivalence frames. I chose to glue them onto plastic file folders as a base, because I had yellow folders in the same color going spare, but you could glue onto cardstock, chipboard, or another sheet of foam. I also love Zig 2-Way Glue for tasks like this.

Cricut Settings for craft foam:
– Cut Pressure – 125
– Multi-Cut: 4x
– Blade Type: Deep-Point Blade

Pros: Umm…I’m not thrilled with this option. The colors are good? I would not choose this combination again. I think a pony bead would glue to these fine for a handle. They are lightweight and easy to store.
Cons: The pieces are subject to static electricity and can jump about. They also aren’t very eco-friendly.

Plastic File Folders

Originally I simply used plastic file folders because I had them. They were left over from when I converted a bunch of papers to digital copies. I used these to make the fraction insets, and I do like them for this purpose. I’ve sized mine slightly smaller to fit multiple sets into a tackle box – you can read about them in more detail here. I made my frames from chipboard with the method described above. The do slide over each other occasionally, but not enough to be annoying. My girls can draw around them without worry of marking them of denting them. I would make these in the same way again.

Cricut Settings for plastic file folders:
– Cut Pressure – 350
– Multi-Cut: 2x
– Blade Type: Deep-Point Blade

Pros: The pieces don’t warp, they are cheap and light weight to make multiple copies for fraction work. They are easy to draw around and any pencil markings come off easily.
Cons: The pieces do slip over each other sometimes. We haven’t found it to be too much of a problem. I do not think any kind of handle would attach well to these pieces.

You can pick up copies of the SVG files in my store, and get crafting your own set!

I hope this helps you consider what type of material to use when making inset frames. If you have any other material you love and think I should try please share in the comments!

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