Cricut versus Silhouette versus Reality
November 26, 2018 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I really, really, really want a die-cut machine to facilitate hobbies that aren't staring at my phone, angrily reading uspolitics threads. Is it even a good idea? Please help me not get Crafter's Regret.

I'd use it a maximum of once a month and more realistically three or four times a year for making paper crafts, like the paper flower-making that's happening in a couple weeks for a friend's baby shower. It seems like it cuts down heavily on the drudgery/carving into your fingers with an exacto knife. I also have visions of craft glory on the overachieving daughter-in-law gift-giving circuit and/or whipping-out-something-cool-in-the-morning-before-my-kid-goes-to-yet-another-birthday-party. By and large, I'd just be downloading SVG files from the Internet, running them through the machine, and then assembling.

Both the Cricut and the Silhouette Cricut software have all kinds of horror show comments, but it's hard to tell how much of it is from reasonable people. I also think the Cricut is usable without the software subscription, but it's hard to tell. And so many of the reviews are sponsored.

Pricewise, I'm inclined towards the Cricut Explore One for $140 or the Cricut Air for $160. But I also have a history of getting really into a crafting hobby and then dropping it six months later. Just ask me about the [censored for decency's sake] dollars worth of candle-making and perfumery supplies in the basement.

Is this even a good idea?????? Help??????????
posted by joyceanmachine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Both the Cricut and the Silhouette Cricut software

should be

Both the Cricut and the Silhouette software
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:59 PM on November 26, 2018

I was lucky to get a barely used Cricut from a friend and probably use it 5-6 times per year, but you are right that it helps so much speed-wise. Have you checked out the used market for them? Older machines might only cut while newer ones will score and draw as well. As for the software, the new version is better than the old version to design stuff, but my machine won't connect to my PC, so I can't tell you how the cutting goes.

I have 5 cartridges that either came with the machine or I got on sale from Michael's. I know JoAnn sells them, but both exempt them from the really big coupons so you have to wait for a sale or find one on clearance. There are themes for 2-D stuff but there are also some nice ones for 3-D objects. I'd get one of each at minimum.
posted by soelo at 2:05 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

You have a basement? How are you even asking this!? If I had a basement it would be so packed right now with old glorious craftcrap to make room for the new glorious craftcrap winging its way to me... And what a happy vision, a basement packed with trusty craft stuff! Don't worry about the candle and perfume supplies. That was six months you spent happily engaged! Those little luminaries from the link were lovely. My god, you could be making luminaries and paper flowers while drinking tea and listening to Jane Austen novels. Then when you tire of it... spit spot, down to the basement so that you can get a spinning wheel and bunch of knitting needles and a few plush, warm, drowsy angora rabbits to help you finish listening to all of Jane Austen while making very small very soft knitted items! O, please get the freakyfresh papercraft item. The only thing you need to get rid of is that crafter's regret you mentioned. No time for that! Crafting to be done!
posted by Don Pepino at 2:22 PM on November 26, 2018 [45 favorites]

I was in a super similar boat, then bit the bullet and bought a Cricut Explore Air that just arrived this weekend (it was on sale in a supplies bundle through Cricut directly for less than the cost of the machine alone at JoAnn or Michaels).

I haven't actually made anything yet, just set it up, but I can already see the use for speedier/neater cutting out for the 3-4 times a year I make batches of custom iron-on shirts. I was already buying the cut files from Etsy to do these, and just printing them on regular iron-on paper at home, then painstakingly cutting them more of that for me!

One thing to consider is that with the Explore Air, you no longer need cartridges (although I think you can use them). You can make your own designs in the design space, but you don't need that, or the membership to it, to use the machine with cut files that you buy elsewhere.

(my plan is to re-sell it and the tools if it turns out I really don't use them; there seems to be a pretty good ebay demand at the moment)
posted by assenav at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been longing for one of these for ages, so do you mind if I piggy-back on your question to ask:

Can you make your own cut files in something other than their subscription-only design software? I assume they're basically vector graphics, so wondering if you can generate them in other vector software programs?
posted by jacquilynne at 2:39 PM on November 26, 2018

Dear God do not buy a new one, the used ones are for sale because the original buyer never uses them and they are generally in great shape!

I have a Silhouette I bought it 2nd hand literally by handing money to a man in a supermarket parking lot, who handed me an opened but barely used giant box of blory. I use it less than I thought I would but more than anyone else would have guessed. It made 150 wedding invitations, including the calligraphy, for my BFF this year. I made all the signage stencils for my store. I made the vinyl letters for our windows. I make cake toppers with it on the regular.

What I will say is the following:

* It is loud. You cannot cut and also watch TV for instance.
* Buy the sticky boards from China on Ebay and order them now. They will take 6 weeks to get to you but you'll save loads off the local prices.
* Those fuckers are so, so sticky and nobody told me you have to blot them with a cotton t-shirt over and over until they are merely tacky. Otherwise what you're cutting will stick and you will cry and also it will never actually come off. Also I commonly tape paper to dead sticky boards and cheat and it is fine. There is also a spray-mount for the boards.
* Buy four blades and you'll be good for ages.

Buy a used one, start with paper crafts, and then if you actually take this up as a hobby, you can get into the stuff for t-shirts and everything. It's fun but it isn't easy and it is slightly tedious, to be honest, but the results are very satisfying when you work out the mechanics and get it all right.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on November 26, 2018 [10 favorites]

I'm a font designer who specializes in smooth and cuttable fonts, so I wanted to get one or the other to test-cut things. They both have their pros and cons, but I ended up going with the Silhouette Cameo 3.

It really came down to the software for me. You can try both programs out without having the machine itself, and the Cricut Design Space program fills my heart with raging fire - it's exceptionally crap when dealing with fonts, plus it operates in your web browser, so if your internet is down, no crafting for you. Silhouette Studio has made some good advances in how it works with fonts recently, and is a standalone program on your computer.

Besides test-cutting my own work, I use it to make car window decals and t-shirts for friends and family.
posted by themissy at 2:57 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have the original Pazzles and it's such a workhorse. My vote is for the Silhouette. Cricut Design Space can be sluggish.

The main thing to remember is that there is a learning curve with these machines as different paper requires different pressure. Cheap paper will tear too easily and thick materials will quickly dull the blade. Keep a notebook by the computer to jot down notes and be prepared to waste some paper.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:41 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding buy one used. There are A LOT of people who buy one and then it sits in the box in a closet.

I have used Cricut devices a lot more than the Silhouette Cameo so that is where my experience lies.


Cricut Design Space is a more basic design tool but you can use it for free and you can upload and cut SVG files for free. Cons their servers can be unstable. Web-based online design on the computer, can be used offline to a degree with some prep ahead of time online with an iOS device (I don't know the current state of the Android app personally). It's not wildly so but it can feel like it's down right when you NEED to get a project done.

Silhouette Studio is a fairly more feature rich design application. Using SVG files requires upgrading to Designer Edition at least, a $49 one time fee. This also unlocks a number of additional design features I find valuable. SS can be used offline no problems. A friend is a Silhouette user and technically apt, she has shared that reason versions have been a bit buggy.

Not going in to all the features in detail. Just speaking of SVGs as they are the most common cut file used.

I really only use Design Space for cutting. I do most of my design and image creation in Inkscape for free and bring the SVGs in to Design Space.

We chose Cricut because at the time the Explore family felt like a better machine. I'm generally happy with the hardware. If you choose Cricut I would strongly recommend a used Explore Air, this is the sweet spot of functionality, quality, and price. We do have a Silhouette Cameo 3 but I don't use it as much. It comes down to tools and basic swapping. I personally just find it more comfortable to use the Cricut. A lot is experience, but a small aspect is that I find the tool experience more straight forward with the Cricut.

Even for casual use, the single holder in the Explore One leads to a lot of swapping of blade and tools. I really wouldn't underestimate how quickly that can get real old. I only recommend the Explore One if you think you will only ever be doing vinyl projects.

The Explore Air 2 only really brings Fast Cut on some materials. The thing is you usually want to use fast cut on more complicated cuts that are going to take a longer time, which it's really not appropriate for. I thought it would be great but rarely use that feature.

The Cricut Maker is probably too much machine for most users, especially casual users. What it brings is specialized tools for fabric and heavier materials. Fabric works great, heavier materials are hit or miss. Is it worth it just for fabric gains? Maybe if you're doing a lot of applique. I can't see using it for basic quilting cuts or pattern pieces, not worth the hassle. There is also a limitation similar to the Explore One. The Maker has a great scoring tool that uses the driven accessory arm shared with the blade. I love the quality of the scores that tool makes. I was making 32 copied of a project for a class and it got old real quick swapping the blade and that scoring tool. I ended up switching over to the basic scoring tool which doesn't do as great a job just to make it less of a chore to do so many copies of the same project.

Just a comment on noise. I think the Explore Air machines are okay with noise, outside of the Fast Cut on the Air 2. I think Fast Cut came about because they limited the device to keep the noise down. I watch TV and video streams all the time while working on projects and don't feel the need to crank the volume.

Cricut over Silhouette, my gut level personal recommendations...

A light crafter looking to just use pre-made images, layout some projects and cut them without learning a lot of software I'd probably say Cricut.

A crafter doing a bit more, but who wants to stick with one application and have more feature above the basics I'd recommend Silhouette Cameo.

An advance crafter... It's a toss up. I think someone who is more about cutting, comfortable using different apps to make the most of the experience I'd say Cricut. If you want all that, but also want to find that community pushing the machine and the materials to the limits, wanting to play and explore new techniques I'd say Silhouette. Both of these realizing you are going to be researching online, playing and learning, it won't just happen because you turned on the machine.

Hope this stream was helpful in some way!
posted by Animus at 3:46 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

My town library has a Cricut you can use for free; perhaps yours does, too. Could you get your fix — or try it out — that way?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:49 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thanks to the advice on this thread, I just bought an explore Air.

posted by joyceanmachine at 5:38 PM on November 26, 2018 [22 favorites]

So, I guess it's a bit late for OP, but a couple of words on Cricut vs. Silhouette, as someone who has Strong Opinions on this particular topic and spent a good month+ researching them a year or so ago.

Cricut (technically Provo Craft Inc.) is a bullying, aggressively litigious company with a history of going after small businesses and abusing copyright laws (e.g. the DMCA) in order to prevent anyone else from making software that interoperates with their hardware, requires cloud-based software and an Internet connection (except, somewhat absurdly, for the iOS app), and has changed system requirements retroactively without warning. They are the petty tyrants of the crafting world, and I'd think hard about whether or not you want to support them.

Silhouette (a subsidiary, from what I can tell, of Graphtec America) does some slightly-obnoxious stuff, like charging you extra for the "Designer" version of their software if you want features like SVG import, but they don't go after people for making 3rd-party software that's compatible with their machines. From what I can tell, the G-code used by their machines is very similar, possibly identical, to that used on the big Graphtec ones, which work with a variety of software packages. There are open source plugins for Inkscape and other software if you want to go that route, and at least one Linux package.

Even setting aside the philosophical issues which may or may not matter to you, the Cricut is inevitably tied—as a result of Provo Craft's work to lock the platform down—to their software, which is itself increasingly tied to a cloud platform. You do not "own" the Cricut, in my opinion; if they decide to alter the terms of the deal—upping the system requirements, or removing functionality, or maybe making it into a subscription service—well, you better just hope they don't alter it further. It's basically like any other IoT gadget that works at the whim of someone's business model somewhere, and it will someday stop working when they pull the plug on it.

The Cricut does have some advantages in terms of specs over the Cameo; the Silhouette is designed mostly for cutting vinyl. People who want to cut paper, especially thick paper like cardstock (it's rated to 80 lb cardstock / 200 gsm and that's a pretty hard upper bound), seem to have the most issues with it. If you want to do thicker materials, I would recommend the KNK Zing Orbit, which is pricey (although there are refurbished ones available) but increases the cutting force tremendously over either the Sil or the Cricut. They actually have punted on the whole walled-garden software thing completely, and package the machine with a 3rd party software suite.

FWIW, I got a Sil Cameo 3 and enjoy it; I use it as both a vinyl cutter and also a pen plotter for digital art projects. I told myself that if I ran into materials limitations with it, I'd sell it and get a Zing, but so far I haven't had that happen. YMMV. I'm probably going to jump directly from the Sil to a laser cutter when the prices drop a bit more.

Protip: Whichever you choose, go to Home Depot and get some cheap Con-Tact brand clear shelf liner; it works great as transfer tape and costs a fraction of what Cricut or Silhouette charge for theirs. You can even use pieces multiple times. And Oracal vinyl purchased online is just as good and much cheaper than the OEM-branded vinyl.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:36 PM on November 26, 2018 [17 favorites]

Have fun OP!
posted by Calzephyr at 11:33 AM on November 27, 2018

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