In this article, I'm going to compare Cricut versus Silhouette in order to help you decide which machine is best for you!
Comparing the top two personal die cutting machines is the ultimate decision point for a maker wanting to take their craft skills to the next level. So which is better? I've owned both, and I'm going to share with you which is better. Hint: It depends on the user! Cricut and Silhouette are the two big players in the die cutting niche.
As a maker and a crafter, I can attest that getting either of these machines will undoubtedly increase your creativity and ideas on projects you can make.
The other question is: should you have both machines? I would answer no because in general, both machines can pretty much do very similar things.
This is a very HONEST review and while I try to share my real opinions in sponsored conversations, this post is NOT sponsored at all. No company is compensating me to write this particular post and I wanted to make sure you have the best information to make an informed decision.
The biggest takeaway from this comparison is ultimately the SOFTWARE. This is so important. As you read through this comparison, please then watch some YouTube videos on each of the machine's software to get a feel of how it works because this is where you'll be doing all of your designs.
Modern Cutting Machines for Crafting
Before diving into the comparisons, I wanted to introduce to you what these machines are. These are modern, smart computer guided cutting machines that could be compared to big CNC machines that make tools. They are a smaller-scale version of CNC machines and one of the best consumer products around for modern day crafters and makers of all experiences!
Fun fact: I had the Craft Robo (which was then renamed Silhouette) before these die cutting machines were a thing. Unfortunately, as an early adopter, I purchased a product that died and was replaced by better machines that were rebranded and made more consumer friendly. #earlyadopterproblems
Ready to dive into the detailed comparison?
The Longstanding Debate: Should I get a Cricut or Silhouette machine?
The debate over whether to get a Cricut or Silhouette can be compared to photographers choosing whether to go with Nikon or Canon. It's the same debate, but with different brands. This debate sparks a lot of online and offline discussions. In reality, whether you choose Cricut or Silhouette, each brand has both positives and negatives. It really depends on what you're going to be using it for the most often as well as your own experience with technology.
About This Review
This review compares the flagship machines of the two brands: Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Silhouette Cameo 3 (the newest model is the Silhouette Cameo 4). These are the common base models that entry level users will purchase.
- Cricut Explore Air 2 - This machine can cut everything from cardstock, vinyl, and thin leather and is great for any beginning crafter.
- Cricut Maker - Cricut Maker can do everything that the Cricut Explore Air 2, but also cuts 100 additional materials like tough leather and wood. It can also emboss, engrave, and do a few other tricks! This machine has the ability to produce intricate designs that makes it an amazing all around cutter.
- Silhouette Portrait - This is a low cost, and great for beginners. It can only cut 8 inches by 12 inches and works with 100+ materials. Great for those that are just making small designs and have small spaces.
- Silhouette Curio - It's cutting size is 8.5 inches x 6 inches and can cut materials up to 2mm thick. It can cut a huge number of materials, which is the biggest benefit since you are trading it in for a smaller cutting size. Things you can do with this include etching, stipple, embossing, and debossing. You'll have to buy additional accessories in order to get the best bang for your buck with this machine.
- Silhouette Cameo 4 - This is the flagship of the Silhouette brand. It can cut from 12 inches by 10 FEET. It has an AutoBlade that adjusts based on materials and is Bluetooth enabled.
Overall, this review will deal with the Cricut Explore Air series and the Silhouette Cameo series because they are the two most popular machines for smart cutting machines right now.
What is the difference between the Cricut and Silhouette machine?
Cricut is great for crafters who are wanting a machine that is user friendly and boasts a large product line that works well and integrates with the machine. Silhouette is great for crafters who are a little more tech savvy and need flexibility during the design process. Both the Cricut and Silhouette brand of consumer craft plotter machines hold the spot as the top consumer die cutting machines on the market.
Which is easier to use Cricut or Silhouette?
Cricut's software is more intuitive to use. New users will find Cricut's software easier to use and faster to get up and running with the machine. If you prefer ease of use, Cricut Explore Air series is a great option.
Silhouette's software requires a little more technical knowledge, but offers a lot of flexibility in terms of design without a lot of work arounds. If you are a user that likes to have a lot of control and be able to change settings with flexibility, Silhouette Cameo series is a great option.
If you have any graphic design experience at all, you'll find Silhouette's software much easier to use.
Both machines can support over 100+ materials that include vellum, cardstock, heat transfer vinyl, crafting foam, leather, regular plastic vinyl.
In the area of materials, they both do a great job of supporting the same variety of mediums as well as thickness of those mediums.
For those that are looking to cut thicker items, an upgrade to the Cricut Maker ($100 more) or the Silhouette Curio ($50 less, but less cutting space) will be the ticket for more coverage in depth.
Price Difference Between the Cutting Machines
Now that you know the main difference, let's talk about price points. In general, the MSRP for both the Cameo and Explore Air series retail at $300.
MSRP for Cricut Machines:
- Cricut Explore Air 2 – $299
- Cricut Maker – $399
MSRP for Silhouette Machines:
Cricut and Silhouette Machines Best Sale Price
When the Cricut Explore Air series is on sale, it's normally about $199 around Christmas time. You can sometimes find them on a super sale for about $149, which typically only includes the machine itself.
The Silhouette Cameo series hardly goes on sale. However, the best deals for Cameo can be had when you purchase a bundle that includes vinyl, cardstock, tools, and pens. This is how I purchased my cameo and got a heck of a steal for around $250.
My favorite bundle for the best deals for each machine is below:
Initial Setup of the Machines
The Silhouette Cameo 3 was hard to set up for me. There was a TON of information overload to figure out how to install the software as well as what buttons to push.
Cricut Explore Air 2 had some simple cards that showed you how to set it up as well as one easy craft project to get you going as the instructions walked you through it within 20 minutes of getting it out of the box.
Hands down, Cricut Explore Air series wins this round.
Cartridges and Images
If you have Cricut cartridges from back in the day, the Cricut Explore Air series can handle these. Note that if you upgrade to the Cricut Maker, you'll need to buy a special adapter to use these legacy catridges. Cricut also has an online store that you can purchase digital images at a nominal fee per image.
Silhouette series never had cartridges and doesn't really have a way to use Cricut cartridges inside of Silhouette Studio.
Both have a robust online store similar to the Cricut online store that you can purchase from. In my own review, I think that their online store has more options. With that said, I rarely buy images because most of the time I can Google images and convert the with Silhouette Studio and adapt it to make it my own.
If you want to purchase your own images off of Etsy (which I have done), you'll need to upgrade your Silhouette Studio to the Designer Version and that costs about $50 to upgrade. This will allow you to use files that have the .svg extension. For most newbies are hardcore designers, the free version will be just fine because you'll either use the available images or you'll want to completely design your own images. Cricut's Design Space allows you to use .svg extensions for free, which is a plus on their side.
Image Downloads and Online Market Place
Both Cricut and Silhouette offer additional resources by way of an online store where users can download free images and/or images for a nominal fee.
Cricut Design Space offers 50 free templates. Silhouette Studio offers limited access to 50 designs as well. You can purchase images in their store and also purchase a subscription that will allow you to purchase images at a discounted rate than without a subscription.
The measurements from my machines were completely different than what was stated on each brand's website. The Cricut Explore Air 2 measured at 21.5 inches long. The Silhouette Cameo 3 measured at 22.5 inches long. As you can see, here are the images of both machines side by side.
Here's a side view of both machines:
Below are the measurements from each brand's website listed side by side:
Cricut Explore Air 2 Measurements
- Width: 21.5 inches
- Height: 9.5 inches
- Depth: 9.5 inches
- Weight: 16 lbs
Silhouette Cameo 3 Measurements
- Width: 22.5 inches
- Height: 8.5 inches
- Depth: 6 inches
- Weight: 8 lbs 15 oz
In my own opinion, I think that Cricut Explore Air series are more portable as it is more compact in person. However, both machines are quite heavy. It's similar to lugging a sewing machine around for both products.
I wouldn't necessarily call them mobile crafting machines, but if you need to move it, it isn't too particularly difficult to move around.
Supported Cutting Sizes
Cricut supports a cutting area of 12 inches by 24 inches whereas the Silhouette Cameo supports cutting 12 inches by 10 feet in length.
Silhouette Cameo series support cutting material without a mat, whereas Cricut Explore Air series does not support this feature.
Software: Cricut Design Space vs Silhouette Studio
I think this is the BIGGEST factor when choosing these machines to weigh and compare. In short, Silhouette Design Studio is far more powerful and advanced than that of it's counterpart, Cricut Design Space. The downside is that there is a steeper learning curve to Silhouette Design Studio. Once you take the time to learn it, the control that comes with it provides a lot more freedom to create your own designs especially from scratch.
Intuitiveness & User Experience
Cricut's Design Space is very friendly and easy to use. In terms of the application itself, everything is very intuitive. The only thing I struggled understanding when using Cricut for the first time is how to set the page to "cut in place" which is learning how to use the "attach" button. From a speed perspective, I find that it is sometimes laggy which may be due to internet connection and bandwidth on my own network. Design Space also has scheduled maintenance and downtimes that are scheduled. With that said, Cricut Design Space is well thought out and well presented with a very interactive and friendly layout.
Silhouette Studio feels a little more setup like Adobe Photoshop to me. For users that know the software, they'll be up and running in no time. Once I got the hang of what the various icons meant in general, the software was pretty easy to use and provided me with a lot more flexibility to create and design fast. Since it's software that is directly installed on your laptop, I didn't have to worry about having an internet connection to design.
Cricut uses Design Space which is a browser and cloud based software which requires internet. Silhouette uses Studio which is an application that does not require internet, but it is installed on your computer.
The Silhouette Cameo provides much better control of your design. I've had the Cricut Explore Air series give me a little trouble when trying to design a few items due to some lag as well as the ability to modify and create adjustments on the fly.
The Cricut software, unlike the Silhouette software, embeds the ability to conserve material. When you design your graphic, Cricut Design Space will try to position your designs so that you are conserving as much material as possible. With Silhouette Studio, you'll need to position your designs yourself.
I prefer the latter because it allows me control on how I want to space out my designs and cuts.
Using Your Own Images in the Software
I've had a much easier time googling the images I want and allowing Silhouette Studio to trace it as compared to Cricut Design Space. I really think that if you are wanting ease of use and being able to find free images to mimic, Silhouette Studio is the way to go.
Between the Cricut Explore Air series and the Silhouette Cameo series, both seem on par with each other in terms of the material it can cut as well as the pressure it can cut with.
If you are looking for superior performance in terms of being a workhorse, I would upgrade to the Cricut Maker if you are wanting to do a ton of designs in batch (like for a small business).
When comparing the Explore Air series and the Cameo series, Cricut Explore Air consistently delivers accurate and precise cutting which can be attributed to its German carbide blades.
How does the blade work in Cricut vs Silhouette?
In both machines, there is a track that the blade runs along and there is a wheel that moves your sheet and material back and forth to allow the blade to cut the pattern you sent from your computer to the machine.
The blades in both machines are generally very similar. The method in which you choose the setting for the blade is different. On the Cricut Explore Air series, you need to change the dial on the machine itself. On the Silhouette Cameo series, all of the modifications are done in the software.
Every review I've read says that the Smart Dial on the Cricut machine makes it easier to use, but I say that it doesn't. It makes it more confusing and I hate the fact that I have to remember to go over and change the dial. The problem is when I purchase vinyl that is not from the Cricut family and the instructions for that specific vinyl are listed, but then I have to change the Smart Dial to custom then figure out how to change it in the software. In the Silhouette Studio, it's always the same without me having to remember the dial and the setting.
From a deeper cut perspective, Cricut Explore Air series offers a deep blade for thicker material. Silhouette does not have this option available.
I do prefer the ability to set the settings in the software because I find that I often forget to set the setting (which then the Cricut software reminds me), which just means another trip back to the machine.
Support & Troubleshooting
Support from the Company
I have not had the need to call support for either of the brands. In most cases, any issue I had I could always find a YouTube video from other bloggers to walk me through what I needed to troubleshoot.
Having said that, here's the consensus summarized from the various forums and Facebook groups for each of these brands: Cricut has a great support line and their community managers are very helpful. Silhouette support is non-existent and not very helpful.
Support from the Community of Crafters
There are a ton of Facebook groups for both brands that you'll find a lot of support, no matter which machine you choose. Just don't bring up the debate about machines, it's kind of like talking politics at the dinner table.
When I compare my setup for Bluetooth between the Cricut and the Silhouette, Cricut's process was much easier.
With both though, I did have a lot of problems trying to figure out how to pair the machines. It might be because I have a wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, and headphones that I have connected to my laptop's Bluetooth.
I didn't necessarily love the setup process for Bluetooth, but then again, that might just be my OS and setup, not necessarily the software itself.
The Cricut Explore series has more storage compartment areas than that of the Silhouette Cameo.
The Cricut Explore has an area to hold your tools left as well as on the bottom of the machine. The Silhouette Cameo only has the bottom area to store your tools.
This wasn't a problem for me because I use the Ikea Alex cabinets to house all of my tools next to it.
Machine Noise Volume
When comparing the noise volume between the Explore Air Series and the Cameo series, the Explore Air comes out on top on being the quietest of the two machines. This is important especially if you have babies at home and you are crafting without having to wake your kids up!
Common Misconceptions Cleared Up
I'm going to also talk about some of the common misconceptions about both machines to ensure you have an informed decision.
Do you have to use cartridges with the Cricut Explore Air 2?
No, cartridges are not required for the Cricut Explore Air series. There is an available slot so you can use these legacy cartridges, but they are not mandatory for use.
Do you have to pay extra to use your own images?
If you want to use .svg files that are purchases at any store (whether it's Etsy or some other marketplace for graphics), Silhouette Studio needs to be upgraded to Designer for approximately $50 to use these files. Cricut Design Space does not require an upgrade and can be used out of the gate with your own images.
Do you have to have internet connection to use it?
For the Cricut Design Space software, internet is required. For Silhouette Studio, internet is NOT required.
Cricut vs Silhouette Comparison of Product Line
Cricut wins this battle because of the vastness of it's product line. They have not only machines and tools that go with the machine, but an entire line up of products outside of vinyl that work well with their family of products.
Cricut Accuracy vs Silhouette Accuracy
In my experience, Cricut definitely wins this hands down. While Silhouette offers a bigger cutting space, Cricut wins it for accuracy and precision with the downside of smaller scale designs as compared to its counterpart.
Comparison Table Between Cricut and Silhouette
Common Project I Make
The most common items I make with my machines are vinyl heat transfers to make personalized shirts and bags.
Related Post: Cricut to Make Shirts Tutorial
I also make a ton of cut out for school projects like Valentine's Day boxes. Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Silhouette Cameo can definitely meet my needs if I had either.
Silhouette versus Cricut Recommendation
Why Silhouette Is Better
If you are familiar with graphic design software and want to make custom designs, consider getting the Silhouette Cameo. You'll get a lot more flexibility and freedom to create your own designs. The downside is the depth and force of which you can cut, which means less mediums as compared to the Cricut.
As a tech geek and someone who needs a lot of control, I find that there are more features in Silhouette Studio that allow me to design the way I want to without having to compromise. I also love the variety of images in their online store better than Cricut.
Why Cricut is Better
If you are newer to cutting machines, Cricut Explore Air series will be the most intuitive to quickly get you going. If you want a machine that is easy to use without a lot of complexity to setting it up and designing, Cricut Explore Air series should definitely be considered.
It is definitely easier to use and allows you to without even thinking conserve material as it cuts without you having to include this as part of your design process. My mother-in-law who is a true crafter absolutely loves this machine.
I'm concluding that the Cricut Explore Air series are great for beginners for small scale designs. However, the Silhouette Cameo series is far superior for crafters that will grow into using the machine for bigger designs and more complex projects. If you are comfortable with technology and new software, Silhouette would be my recommendation.
If you value a lineup of amazing products that all work together, I would recommend the Cricut Explore Air series because they have an amazing family of tools, materials, and machines.
However, both machines are incredible values considering their price tags on the market today. It has been one of the best purchases as a PARENT, not just a crafter. I'm able to whip up small projects for my kids for a fun project as well as school projects and allow them to use the software to design things themselves.
If you wanted to compare the Silhouette Cameo to the Cricut Maker, that's a totally different topic (and Cricut Maker wins that based on versatility and features/options).
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