Those who know me know I like to engage from time to time in various crafty endeavors. Just last year I learned how to do loom knitting and have made several knit caps that I have given away to friends and coworkers (most of whom graciously accepted, whether they wanted them or not). Recently I completed my first (and potentially only since I didn’t enjoy making it very much) pair of knitted socks.
So, I dabble.
I had, in the distant past, had a cutting machine that I utilized to make things for various tabletop gaming endeavors — status indicators or enemy markers for Dungeons and Dragons, for example. But, once I stopped playing, I stopped using my machine. It was a Silhouette Portrait (not even the Portrait 2, the original), and it did a good job at cutting things I had printed out on cardstock and such. I just didn’t see much need for it beyond that. I ultimately sold the machine to a fellow crafter.
Lately I find myself wishing to engage in some papercraft, making some decorations, T-shirt designs, and possibly venturing into using balsa wood to be even ‘fancier’ with things. So I began to explore and research into the wonderful world of crafting machines again all these years later.
It turns out, there are several machines on the market now that can do all those things and more. Silhouette has the new Cameo 4 line; Cricut has their Explore Air 2 and Maker lines, and Brother has their ScanNCut line, among others. I did a lot of web surfing to come to a decision, so maybe if you or someone you know is also searching for one of these personal cutting machines this info can help (pricing in US Dollars).
Do note that the opinions are my own — if you have one of the products I decided against, or a product I didn’t even list here, and it works well for you, great! Feel free to comment, just keep it civilized! No brand wars! Any of these machines will do several things, and would be a great addition to anyone’s crafting toolbelt…not that they fit on a belt, but you get the idea.
All the machines mentioned have online stores to buy premade designs, including licensed properties. Brother and Cricut have Disney designs, for example. Cricut probably has the most licensed designs of the three, but that is just from observation. I’m not sure if Silhouette has any licensed properties, but they do partner with various graphic designers and artists that can be searched. Silhouette’s online store lets you download SVG files, which is a standard format that the Brother and Cricut machines can also use. The Cricut and Brother stores seem to limit the designs for use in their proprietary software only. I don’t know, to be honest, if I will purchase premade designs, but if that is important to you, keep it in mind.
All the machines offer multiple tools to cut various materials, and do other tasks, such as “drawing” onto a design. (Put a pen into the machine via a special holder, it will trace out a design to embellish your work.) They can all cut fabric for sewing projects. And so on. Physical materials made by one manufacturer should work in another’s machine for cutting, though each machine uses its own material mats to hold things in place while cutting. Because of all this, the rest of this piece will deal with the differences and standouts for me on each machine. By no means is this all-inclusive of everything these machines can help you accomplish.
These machines intrigue me. The ability to take your own printed design, put it into the machine to scan it, then use the touch screen on the device to indicate how you want it cut is just fantastic. The other machines by Cricut and Silhouette require special registration marks be printed with your design (Silhouette Print & Cut or Cricut Print then Cut), or you can take a photo of the design on a specially designed mat with registration marks (Silhouette PixScan or Cricut SnapMat) to import and cut.
Problem is, I’ve never seen one of these Brother machines in person. Or know someone who has one. Or can easily find them online…the list goes on. It seems Brother chooses to sell these mostly through their authorized local sewing machine shops (all these machines will cut fabrics). Even when I utilized the “find a dealer” tool on the website, I got shops that didn’t even list the ScanNCut machines, even though I clearly indicated in the dealer search that’s what I wanted.
Maybe these shops carry the machines or could at least order them? I don’t know. It also makes finding out the cost of the machines damn near impossible. Even sites that list them only show the pricing for the current intro model, the SDX125, at a retail of $399. Amazon even sells that one. The more “deluxe” models include the SDX225 and the Disney Limited Edition. As a Disney fan, I was definitely interested in that Limited Edition. I found some info online that said the SDX225 retails for $999, and the Disney version is 200 more for $1199. I don’t know the accuracy of that info, but considering the lower end model is $399, I decided the higher models were out of my price range anyway. Cool as they are, I decided to pass on the Brother machines.
Cricut has been around for some time now making crafting machines. Their first cutting machines required you to buy cartridges that would snap into a slot on the machine and would give you access to a set of designs you could then use with the machine. Obviously this was very limiting, but soon they introduced machines that would work with just about any design you could find, as long as it has the right file type. They even make cartridge adapters for their newer machines, should some users still have a collection of them at home and want to upgrade to the new devices.
Cricut currently sells two primary machines: the Explore Air 2 ($249) and the Maker ($399). Both are very versatile, with the Explore Air 2 boasting the ability to cut up to “100 popular craft materials” (per the website), while the Maker boasts 300+. Mind you, they don’t list those materials on the site, but some web searching can give you a decent idea. The catch being that Cricut reserves some tools/blades/materials only for the Maker — even if the Explore Air 2 would be capable of utilizing them. While there are some physical differences that will limit what the Explore can do such as cutting depth (the Maker can cut materials up to 2.5mm thick, the Explore cannot go that thick), the Explore does, in theory, still have the power to cut heftier materials, just not by using official Cricut tools.
For example, Cricut offers an engraving tool for the Maker, but not the Explore. There are, if you search the web, several non-Cricut branded engraving tools that work with the Explore. While Cricut doesn’t expressly forbid using third party tools in its machines (that I could find), the warranty does indicate that if anything goes wrong and they determine you improperly used it by pushing it beyond what they say it can do, they won’t cover the damage. So, if you want to use some fancier tools, you can throw caution to the wind and just use a third party tool, or you can buy the more expensive machine and the official Cricut tools. Thus, if I was going to get a full featured machine, I was going to go for the Maker at it’s higher price.
And I almost did.
The biggest problems I had with the Maker revolve around the Cricut Design Space software used to control the machine. This also seems to be the number one complaint by owners of the Cricut devices, too, if my Internet searching is to be believed. There is a web version of the software, and it seems the “desktop” software is just the web version run locally in an application wrapper. The software requires you to be online at all times — although there is currently a beta version that offers an offline mode, so hopefully this will be rectified soon. The software also seems simplistic. Not necessarily a bad thing for some users, but I enjoy having more control over things. You can use your own designs/images, but you must upload them to your account…not sure how or if this works with the offline mode.
I searched to see if there were any other applications I could use for the Cricut Maker. Turns out there used to be, but for various reasons none of the generic cutting machine software supports Cricut machines any more. (The word on the net is Cricut issued cease and desist orders, but that could just be a rumor.) The web is full of stories of people telling you to use other software to design your projects, export them into the appropriate file format(s), then import them into the Cricut software for sending to the machine. Not an ideal workflow, but not a particularly egregious one either.
Also the Cricut Snap Mat for using your own photos or printed designs by taking a picture of them? It only works with the Cricut iOS application at present (according to their own website). Personally, I don’t want to use my iPad or iPhone to control a cutting machine. It’s cool that you can, but it isn’t my primary use case.
The other issue I had with Cricut is price. That aforementioned engraving tool? $25 by itself if you already have the Cricut Quickswap Housing, or $50 if you need both the tool and the adapter. It appears you only need one Quickswap, then you can just buy the tools without it. Debossing tip? $25. Scoring tip? $30. Double line scoring tip? Also $30. While it’s cool that Cricut offers all these options via official accessories, that’s a lot of money. (Obviously, you can find these items for cheaper on the web than the retail pricing, but I’m going to stick to these retail prices for comparison’s sake).
All that said, I do like the Cricut innovations, and the myriad of colors of their machines.
As I mentioned, I would love to do some T-shirt designing. While all the machines can cut various heat transferable materials to fabric, those materials (usually vinyl) will age poorly after being washed and dried in a machine several times. But Cricut has introduced a product it calls “Infusible Ink” that you can cut into your designs. Then using a heat press/iron/Cricut EasyPress, you can transfer the design into your fabric. Yes, into, not onto. Hence the word infusible. The catch being you have to use polyester blends to get it to work. It is a rather nifty way to do dye sublimation transfers. You can, in fact, still buy printers specifically to do dye sublimation transfers and such — they just cost a lot of money, particularly in replacement materials and inks. For occasional use, I see myself investing in some Cricut Infusible Ink sheets, even though they, too, are kinda pricey (and in the US, currently only available at Michaels or directly through Cricut).
Which means I chose the…
Silhouette Cameo 4
I pre-ordered a bundle from Swing Design that includes a black Silhouette Cameo 4 (retail is $299), some sample vinyl to cut, and some discounts to use towards future purchases of additional blades. It’s a pre-order because the Cameo was announced to come in white, black, and pink versions, but currently only the white is readily available, with the other two colors starting to roll out in November 2019. So by the time you read this, I might actually have the machine.
My decision was not made lightly, if you couldn’t tell from the wall of text above. I liked my Portrait back in the day, but most of the Silhouette machines have been rather underpowered to cut some heftier materials. Not anymore. The Cameo 4 will cut materials up to 3mm thick with an optional purchase of the Cameo 4 Kraft Blade. Which, I might add, retails for $15. For a two pack. Yes, some of these blades are still to be released, but again, should be due out in November.
While the Cricut machines are very popular and widely used, and have lots of support in the marketplace, the Cameo is cheaper than the Cricut Maker (or the Brother ScanNCut) and can do as much. It will just take Silhouette or third parties to make the extra tools, but for right now, they have announced everything I could want.
Their PixScan technology requires you purchase a separate PixScan mat for around $15, but works with their desktop software.
While they don’t appear to offer their own mobile app, the desktop software has tons of features available to use to design your projects directly in it. Need more features than the free software provides? They have paid versions of the software (at 3 different tiers/feature sets) to get the most out of it and allow even more design options. Some people find the software a bit overwhelming at first, it seems, but I’d rather have a learning curve than not have all these options! And it works offline by default.
While the machine may be brand new at the time of my writing this, and thus, untested for the long haul, it is cheaper than the competition in both machine and accessories, and is able to do just as much as the competition. Silhouette has a long history of making cutting machines, so I’m not worried about the machine not doing what it claims. It should cut everything I have a mind to use it for, and do it without too much hassle, cost, or restriction.
Thus, this was the machine for me.