Last Updated on September 1, 2022
Silhouette vs. Cricut? Learn the pros & cons of the Silhouette Cameo vs. Cricut Explore and decide once and for all which cutting machine is best for you!
*This post was originally published in 2017, but it has been fully updated as of March 2022.*
Hey friends! Today I am doing something a little bit different because I've gotten a lot of questions about cutting machines lately. I'm going to give you my 100% unbiased review of Silhouette vs. Cricut cutting machines. Now, I always share my honest opinions even in sponsored posts, but to eliminate ANY DOUBT, I have chosen to write this post as an unsponsored post. Neither company is compensating me in any way to write this post, nor would I want them to. I want everyone to be able to read this completely unbiased post and decide which cutting machine is best for them, because the answer may not be the same for everyone!
It is important to note that I have not used the newest version of any of the machines that were recently released–I have not used a Silhouette Cameo 4 (which was released in September 2019), the Cricut Explore Air 3 or the Cricut Maker 3 (both of which were released in June of 2021). This post is based on my experience with a Silhouette Cameo and the Cricut Explore Air 2 (I also have the Cricut Maker which you can read about here). If you already know you want a Cricut but aren't sure which one, check out my post Which Cricut Machine is Right For You?
As you read this post keep in mind that you need to consider both the cutting machine itself AND the design software that you will use with the machine. Both are important!
Table of Contents
This post does include affiliate links to both machines for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission which helps keep my blog up and running but it won't cost you a penny more)! Click here to read my full disclosure policy. But by including affiliate links to both products, I again have no financial motivation for encouraging you to buy one or the other.
Silhouette vs. Cricut: Which Cutting Machine is Right for You?
My Review of The Silhouette CAMEO
I have to admit, I fell in love with it immediately because it could do things SO much faster than I could with scissors or an exacto knife, and it was just generally an exciting new DIY tool that I had never had access to before. I was able to make signs, vinyl decals, cards, gift tags and more. I was PUMPED.
Now, my Silhouette Cameo often resulted in project FAILS and I've wasted more vinyl than I care to add up because I would be appalled by how much money I have wasted as a result, but I really, truly thought that was just the nature of cutting machines. I shrugged it off and accepted that all cutting machines probably have glitches and slip sometimes, but it was still super frustrating.
Now, let me answer some specific questions that I get a lot:
How easy is the Silhouette design software to use?
Silhouette Studio is software that you download to your device in order to use. I was surprised that I found the Silhouette Studio software easy to use, because a lot of people think it's super confusing. I found it to be a powerful software that allowed me to either buy or create my own designs from scratch. But note, if you want to use your own .svg files, you will have to pay to upgrade the software to the “Designer” version (I believe it costs $50 to upgrade). That said, most people will be just fine with the free software and will find that there are tons of great images in the library to purchase at very low prices.
I personally find that the images available in Silhouette Studio are a bit more professional looking than those in the Cricut Design Space, though I think Cricut is definitely catching up to Silhouette Studio in that regard. You can also easily type on a curved path in Silhouette Studio–at the time of writing this post, that feature is lacking in Cricut Design Space.
Bottom line… If you have graphic design experience, then you will love the freedom that comes with this software. If you aren’t experienced in graphic design and are not interested in starting designs from scratch, you will likely find the software frustrating. Everyone I know who has used both Silhouette Studio and Cricut Design Space agrees that Cricut Design Space is easier to use, especially for beginners.
You can watch the video below for a peek inside the Silhouette Studio.
How well does the Silhouette Cameo machine cut?
Depends on what kind of mood your machine is in :) All kidding aside, I found that I got unpredictable results when cutting with my Silhouette Cameo.
I encountered most of my issues when cutting long lengths of vinyl, which is supposed to be one of the BEST features of a Silhouette. You see, Silhouette encourages users to load vinyl up to 10 feet long into their cutting machine without a cutting mat–it's called “matless cutting.” And that is a super, super cool idea in theory, right? I mean, you can create a huge design and produce it by only loading your vinyl once and sending through one cut job?! Sounds great, but it just doesn't work that way.
First of all, it's darn near impossible to easily load vinyl directly into the Silhouette Cameo. Because the vinyl comes in a roll, the end that you need to load is by definition curled under, which causes it to easily and repeatedly jam while you are trying to load it. Even if you can manage to get it loaded on the first try, you almost always have to manually straighten it.
But the biggest problem is that the vinyl slips during cutting even when your rollers are correctly positioned and you have followed all directions perfectly. Y'all, I can't tell you how disappointing it is to unload a 6 foot length of vinyl only to discover that it slipped during cutting. When it slips, your cut lines get all wonky and your cut job is ruined. Wasted time. Wasted vinyl. Wasted money. It's not fun.
When I created this huge quote wall for my twin girls' old room, I wasted at least 3 entire rolls of vinyl because of the slipping issue. I was nearly in tears at one point.
In fairness, I never had issues cutting card stock with the Silhouette Cameo, but my experience with cutting vinyl with it was not great. Now, I don't have the Silhouette Cameo 4 (the current version), so maybe there are likely some improvements that have been made, but from talking with other friends who do have the latest versions of the Cameo, it sounds like the slipping and trouble loading that I had are issues that persist.
How strong is the Silhouette Cameo and what kind of materials can it cut?
There has been independent testing done on the prior versions of the Silhouette Cameo vs the Cricut Explore. You can view the strength test results by clicking here. Bottom line… the Silhouette Cameo wasn't nearly as strong as the Cricut Explore . Here is a quick summary of the results (it's a screenshot from the testing report):
The Silhouette Cameo 4 is reportedly stronger than the earlier versions. And it can reportedly cut basswood and fabric. But like I said at the outset of this post, I have not personally used the latest version of the machine.
What is the cost of a Silhouette Cameo?
The Silhouette Cameo currently retails for around $299. You can sometimes find it on sale.
My Review of Cricut Explore
Next up is the Cricut Explore, which I've now used for over 5 years! I have the Cricut Explore Air 2, but there are several different Cricut Explore machines to choose from. I also now own a Cricut Maker and you can see my full review of the Cricut Maker here. And while I absolutely LOVE my Cricut Maker, I don't use it nearly as often as my Cricut Explore Air 2 because I'm rarely cutting things like wood and fabric. I have used (and continue to use) my Explore machine frequently because I use it for my everyday “normal” projects (like cutting labels out of vinyl, cutting cardstock, etc.). I have never had a single issue or problem with it since I got it back in September 2016. That's over 5 years of frequent use with no issues!
I had NEVER used a Cricut before and since I entered the wonderful world of cutting machines with a Silhouette, I figured I would never be converted. That's just kind of my personality when it comes to technology and cars. I get super comfortable with what I am using and really, really, really resist change.
So, to say I was skeptical when I opened up my Cricut Explore machine is an understatement. But y'all, I was immediately intrigued. For starters, the Cricut Explore itself felt much more substantial and sturdier than the Silhouette Cameo. The lid on the Cameo wasn't secure, so it kind of flopped around whenever I moved it. But more importantly, the machine belts that are so crucial to the operation of the Silhouette Cameo were almost impossible not to touch whenever I picked my machine up to move it. So I was ALWAYS worried about breaking my Silhouette Cameo. I immediately felt less paranoid about my Cricut Explore.
Now, let me answer the most common questions I get about Cricut cutting machines.
Don't you have to have cartridges that are sold separately to cut with a Cricut?
No, no, no! I thought that, too, which is one of the reasons I went with a Silhouette machine to begin with. But no, that was true like 8 years ago, but is no longer the case. You can create your own designs, upload images, purchase design components, etc. in Cricut Design Space, so in that regard, it works just like a Silhouette.
Is it true you can't upload your own images to the Cricut Design Space?
Nope! Apparently this is a nasty rumor that was really never true. You can upload your custom designs and images into Cricut Design Space. It's easy, and unlike Silhouette Studio, you don't have to pay to upgrade your software to have the capability of uploading your own .svg files.
How well does the Cricut Explore machine cut?
Like. A. Dream. Seriously, y'all. The Cricut Explore shocked me. The cuts are quieter, faster and so much cleaner. I didn't realize how often I had to clean up the edges of my Silhouette cuts until I used my Cricut Explore. I find the cuts on all materials I have used it on so far (card stock, vinyl and chipboard) to be perfect. I really was shocked by the difference in the precision of the cuts between my Cricut vs. Silhouette.
Now, as we discussed above, you can cut lengths of up to 10 feet using a Silhouette Cameo (both machines cut materials up to 12″ wide). But with the Cricut, you can only cut materials up to 2 feet long. AND you have to use a cutting mat to cut vinyl. Initially, I was super bummed and viewed this as a huge drawback. *Note: The Cricut Explore 3 now has a greater cutting capacity of up to 13″ x 12′ when using Cricut Smart Materials.
But then I cut my first large vinyl project using my Cricut Explore and now I get it. I get why you should only WANT to cut vinyl with a mat and in sections only 2 feet long at a time.
Here's a photo of the wall decals I made for what is now my daughter Attley's room (we separated our twin girls' bedrooms a few months ago). Yep, it's the same wall where the other wall decal was, but this time I cut it with my Cricut Explore. I didn't waste even one inch of vinyl this time around! Woo hoo! Better yet, I used my Cricut to cut the word “colors” out of chipboard and then coated them with fabric and mod podge and am so happy with how they turned out (you can find the tutorial here).
How easy is the Cricut design software to use?
I'll admit… It was really hard for me to get used to the Cricut design software. I'm not sure if it's because I was so used to the Silhouette Studio, but I did get a little frustrated when I first started using Cricut Design Space. One of the frustrations came from the fact that it relied on Adobe Flash, but fortunately the brand new Cricut Design Space has eliminated that issue! YAY!
That said, as I mentioned earlier in this post MOST PEOPLE find the Cricut Design Space software is easier and more simple to use compared to Silhouette Studio software. And I think if I had started in Cricut Design Space, I wouldn't have struggled with it at all. But I was so used to Silhouette Studio (and you know the saying… It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks) I found that it had a bit of a learning curved that I didn't totally expect.
Now that I've gotten used to Cricut Design Space, I find it incredibly easy to use and think it's perfect for people who want to create simple designs and won’t be creating custom designs from scratch.
Don't get me wrong, you can create custom designs using the Cricut software, but your options are much more limited than they are in Silhouette Studio. But bear in mind that the Cricut Design Space was designed for importing existing designs created in other graphic design programs into the Cricut software. In other words, Cricut Design Space wasn't really created for graphic designers. It was created for creative consumers. So, I have no issue creating my custom designs in Adobe Illustrator and importing them into Cricut Design Space (that's what I did when I created the graphics for my DIY Santa Sacks).
Cricut Design Space used to require an internet connection since it was a web-based program, but now it is software that you download (so it's the same as Silhouette Studio in that regard).
Take a look at the video below for a peek into the Cricut Design Space.
What is the cost of a Cricut Explore?
Which machine wins? Cricut Explore or Silhouette Cameo?
For me, the clear winner is the Cricut, especially now that I have gotten used to the Cricut Design Space. The machine is sturdier, stronger and performs better. And for the vast majority of users, Cricut Design Space is far more user friendly and will fit their needs perfectly. Even if the machines were totally equal in performance (which I don't feel they are), I would STILL choose and recommend Cricut over Silhouette to 99% of people because of the design software.
The only time I can imagine I would recommend a Silhouette to someone over a Cricut is if they want to create custom designs AND do not have access to external design software (like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc.). That is going to be a teeny, tiny percentage of users and they may have to settle for a sub-par cutting machine in order to meet their design software needs.
If you are thinking a Cricut is the right brand for you, but get stuck after that, fear not! Check out my post on which Cricut machine is right for you–it will help you choose between the Cricut Explore, Cricut Maker and Cricut Joy!
That said, I find that most people who like to design graphics (myself included) already use external software (I use Illustrator), making the best option Cricut Design Space since you can upload custom .svg files without having to pay to upgrade software. So if you really want to be able to create designs from scratch AND you want the best machine, I'd recommend using an external design software so that you can upload your custom designs into the Cricut Design Space. That's really the best of all worlds!
Want to see examples of projects you can tackle with a Cricut or Silhouette?
You can check out all of my Cricut and Silhouette projects here. I have used my machines to make many awesome DIY projects over the years.
Other posts you may enjoy:
Wondering how I approach transforming rooms and spaces in our home? Check out Designer in a Binder®.
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