Saturday, September 27, 2014

Silhouette Cameo vs. Cricut Explore

A few years ago, I wrote this review “Silhouette Cameo Vs.Cricut Expression”.  At that time, I had just gotten rid of all of my Cricut products and purchased a Sihouette Cameo.  I was happy.  The Silhouette did everything I wanted it to do and better than the Expression.  Fast forward to a few months ago.  The Cricut Explore entered my world.  My first thought was “Cricut?, yeah right, been there, done that”.  However, being the investigator that I am and out of curiosity I gave it a try, fully expecting to be unimpressed.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Not only has Cricut totally revamped the digital cutter itself, but the entire Cricut experience is a whole new ballgame and a whole “New Cricut”.

Let me explain.  Please note, the following is my opinion based on actual use, research and various tests which I personally performed with both machines.  I am in no way a paid employee or compensated for my opinion by either Silhouette or Cricut.

First and foremost, a digital cutter must cut well.  I thought my Silhouette did UNTIL I cut the exact same files, in the exact same size with the Explore.  Here are some of the comparisons.  I used a new blade and new mat for both machines as well as the same media to perform the comparisons.  In most every cut, The Explore cut with more precision, sharper edges and through more materials than the Silhouette.  A few of the simple cuts were equally good cuts, but in no case did the Silhouette cut better than the Explore. I should also note I used .png and svg files so that the comparisons would be fair.  No Silhouette or Cricut Files or materials, with the exception of the french fry boxes which illustrate score lines - I used a Cricut store file for the Explore and a Silhouette file for the Silhouette.  I should also note that weeding the files was almost non-existent on the Cricut Explore.  The Silhouette did require punching out many of the holes, especially the smaller holes.

Now, let’s talk about what the Explore can cut vs the Cameo.  Cricut offers a deep blade accessory (additional cost), which opens up a world of possibilities that the Cameo simply cannot match.  Both machines have the ability cut through the traditional cardstock, vellum, acetate,  vinyl and cereal box weight chipboard.  The Explore goes beyond.  The Cricut Explore has enough power to cut through leather, stencil material, chipboard, fun foam, balsa wood, Graffix plastic sheets.  The Silhouette simply cannot handle thicker materials with the same precision and, in most cases, not at all.

The first photo is a thicker chipboard.  I do not have a means of measuring it, but it's about the thickness of two cereal boxes glued together in my estimate.  I did Double cut on the Silhouette and the Explore, both with regular blades.

This Grafix .007 was cut on both machines double cut, regular blades.  The Silhouette blade was on 8 (I've read several who can cut it set on lower numbers, however, I have only been able to cut basic shapes with the Silhouette using Grafix)

This is a very thick plastic.  I had doubts the Cricut could even cut it.  The Explore cut it beautifully with the deep blade and 5 passes.  I used the deepest blade setting on the Silhouette (10), the highest pressure 33 and I cut it with 6 passes.  It only etched the surface.  

Let’s discuss the software.   My first reaction to the Explore software was not positive.  I am very proficient in Photoshop and tend to understand the technical side of software easily.  I was used to the Silhouette software, which has a lot of similar ways to accomplish tasks that Photoshop does, but in a much more simplified manner.  However, the Silhouette software updates from the Legacy Version 2 were a complete disaster.  I have 3 versions of Silhouette software running on my Macs because as each version was released it was filled with bugs such as misaligned cuts, missing font families and tools which would randomly freeze up, just to mention a few. I was constantly reverting back to the Legacy version if it had to be done in one shot and correctly.   The Explore software grew on me the more I used it.  It is very user friendly and most tasks are very simple to accomplish.  There are a few features I hope to see added in future updates and from the way the New Cricut team is listening to their customers, I am confident most of these features will be added in the near future. 
Speaking of software, Cricut recently added a few new features which included the “Print then Cut”, slice and flatten/unflatten abilities  The update happened over the course of two different evenings and worked without any hiccups.  The updates were apparently well prepared and beta tested saving a lot of users unnecessary headaches and lost production time.

The Explore software, known as Design Space,  has a few features which are worth mentioning.  Layered images from the Cricut store/subscription come in stacked as they would be assembled and  fully colored ( you can change the colors) and it is a nice feature when you’re trying to paper piece.   The color of the layers also correlate to the layering system, which in turns lays out each mat by color.  Design Space determines the best layout for the images on the cutting mat, however, you are given the opportunity to change the layout based on your paper size, preference, etc.  You can also “attach” a group of images should you prefer to have them cut in the exact way that you have them laid out.

The software for both machines allow the use of SVG files, however with the Silhouette Software this requires an additional upgrade purchase.  The free edition of the Silhouette Software does not allow the use of SVGs, and it has a lighter set of tools than the full designer edition.  Design  Space software is free and all tools and available to all users.

A major difference between the two software packages is the fact that the Explore Design Space is web-based, the Silhouette is computer based.  What does that mean?  It means that with the Design Space you are able to work in the software anywhere you have access to a computer and internet.  You also have access to your files.  Silhouette Designer Software is allowed only on two computers, after which you must purchase additional licenses.  Silhouette software does not allow you to work on one computer and finish on another unless you transmit your file via email or some other method to another computer.   I, personally, don’t mind the internet connection and love the fact that at any given time I can pull up a work in progress and work on it, save it and when I return home or travel, I can open the same file and continue where I left off.  The Silhouette software does require an internet connection to download images from their online store, which will have to be downloaded to any additional computer you may use.  It does not download to all of your computers at one time.

The Design Space software for the Explore allows for a true score line in lieu of the dashed cut line offered with Silhouette Software.  This does require an additional accessory purchase of the scoring tool, which is placed in the accessory pen/scoring carriage holder.

Both software packages offer the ability to trace an image such as a jpg, png or other type of outside image.  The Design Space does it with a little less effort, but I think the Silhouette Software offers a bit more control. 

I want to expand on the Print Then Cut feature of the Explore vs. the Print and Cut feature of the Silhouette.  I can honestly say, the Explore Print then Cut images are by far the best Print/Cut images I’ve seen on any machine.   They really took the time to get this one right.  There are literally no white edges on the image.  Silhouette Print and Cut images are pretty good, but I have never been able to get a PERFECT no white edge with the Silhouette.  Again, I used a 3rd party digital image for the compaison, I did not use a Silhouette Store file, nor a Cricut store file.

I’ve mentioned a few of the accessories available such as the scoring tool and the deep blade which are additional purchase items with the Explore. In addition, the Explore offers a blue tooth connection which allows wireless connection to your computer, as well as access to the Make it Now projects via a Cricut Application on your IPAD.  The Explore also offers a variety of sizes and mats with different “stickiness” levels for a wider variety of material use.  Silhouette does not offer a scoring tool, nor do they offer a deep blade.  Both machines offer a set of markers/pens. 

I bet you’re wondering about the subscriptions.  There are lots of comparisons out there, but, in my opinion, it’s a pretty tight race.  The biggest difference in subscriptions is with the Silhouette online store, you own every image you purchase with your subscription credits.  It’s yours to use as long as you want even if you do not renew your year-long subscription.  Cricut subscription works a bit differently.  You have use of over 25,000 images, but only as long as you are subscribed.  There is the option of purchasing most images for $0.99 which would then belong to you even if you are not subscribed.  Beyond that, I think the packages are fairly comparable.  You can check out Cricut Cartridges and the Silhouette online store to get a better idea of the exact content.

One last subject I wanted to touch on since my last review and that is customer service.  The New Cricut customer service is a far cry from the old.  I belong to a facebook group for both the Silhouette Cameo users as well as a Design Space facebook group.  I see comments all the time from both sides as far as customer service.  I, know, that I am not alone in saying the New Cricut customer service is efficient, they know their machine and they are quick to help.  I have personally had very good interactions with the Cricut team.  Silhouette customer service has never let me down either, however, with the update disaster, there was nothing they could do to help.  I can’t hold Silhouette customer service responsible for the update failure.

Oh, and one more thing.  The Explore is QUIET!  It's nothing like the screeching irritating sound of the Cameo.  My "better half" hated it when I ran the Cameo, he always said something is wrong with that, it shouldn't sound like that.  First time I used the Explore, he said, "wow! that's quiet!".

In summary, I’m sure you can tell.  I think the Explore is a better machine than the Silhouette.  Even as I write this, I can’t believe I’m saying it.  It truly is a New Cricut and, I can say in all honesty, I haven’t touched my Cameo since I got the Explore.  

I also wanted to add, I have been an avid user of the Silhouette Cameo.  I used the best settings and in many cases several different tries to get the best cut possible for the above comparisons.  The Cricut Explore cuts were cut on the recommended Cricut Explore settings with the exception of the Bazzill Acrylic paper which was not available in the presets.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed above are my own opinions, I am in no way compensated by Cricut, nor SIlhouette for my opinion.
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