Note: this post is updated to reflect updates in both products as of 11/9/2015
There has been a deluge of biased information out lately comparing the Cricut Explore vs the Silhouette Cameo but the truth is the systems are very different, each with strengths and weaknesses and neither is a slam dunk for everyone. As the holiday rapidly approaches, which should be on your wish list? Let me try my best to give you some objective guidance.
First let me get the similarities out of the way. Both can cut vinyl or card stock to the level of precision and accuracy quite suitable for the typical to advanced crafter. (Cricut-commissioned tests do show the Explore with a slight lead in accuracy.) Both can cut the fonts on your computer or downloadable in TTF or OTF format as well as images in their own native formats. Both allow you to import and vectorize your own images from jpg or png format. Neither allows their proprietary digital content to be exported to another vector format.
It’s difficult to compare the digital subscriptions head to head because they are quite different. Keep in mind that with a Silhouette subscription you are *purchasing* image licenses, whereas with a Cricut subscription you are *renting* them. When your subscription ends (or if a company goes out of business), you walk away with nothing from Cricut, whereas the Silhouette image licenses are yours to keep.
It is also difficult to compare individual image purchases. You can purchase some image sets or individual images from Cricut, as well as purchasing/linking cartridges available at varying prices. The actual amount you pay for a Silhouette image varies widely depending on how much you pay for your subscription or download card, but is usually much less than advertised if you shop wisely.
As far as ease of use, I’m unimpressed with both companies’ current options. Cricut’s carefully designed user interface is marred by frequent errors, freezes and crashes brought about by their unfortunate choice to make Design Space browser based and built on Flash. You won’t have to learn many design options, but you will have to learn to install multiple browsers, to delve into their detailed settings, and to clear their caches, sometimes multiple times daily.
I thought Silhouette Studio v2 had a great balance of power and ease of use, but then came V3, and a lot of disappointment. It added meager new features but disproportionately more confusion, making it not so easy to use any more (V2 is still available but not fully compatible with the newest Cameos). Cricut Design Space and Silhouette Studio are free, so I encourage you to load them both and try your hand at some design and printing tasks representative of your needs before you make a machine purchase.
Now, below I’ve listed some key differences you want to be aware of in light of your own specific needs…
Things you can do with a Cameo that you can’t do with an Explore
-Design or cut without an active internet and server connection
-Cut (vinyl or other backed materials) or draw/write without a mat
-Create your own designs from scratch using built in shape tools, freehand tools, line styles,
alignment, replication, etc.
-Add a fully adjustable offset (shadow) to any text or image for cutting, for print and cut or for draw/write and cut.
-Cut larger images or designs without tiling (see size chart below)
-Print and cut larger images (see size chart below)
-Cut images out of preprinted media such as fabric, giftwrap, stamped media or commercial greeting cards (requires optional PixScan mat $14.95 MSRP, street price $12.00)
-Print purchased or original designs in high resolution (for print and cut or to create printables, Silhouette default 600 dpi, Cricut estimated max 150 dpi)
-Backup all of your designs (purchased or created) to your own hard drive or other local media and/or to the cloud service of your choice
-Cut without a computer (previously saved files via SD card in the Cameo 1 or USB stick in the Cameo 2)
-Cut/draw complex paths of over 3000 nodes
-Import SVG sets at their correct relative size (requires software upgrade MSRP $49.99, street price $30) Update: Cricut Design Space 2.0 seems to be importing SVGs from Adobe Illustrator at the correct size, but not others.
-Cut directly from 3rd party software such as Make the Cut, Sure Cuts a Lot, Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw (3rd party software must be purchased, AI and CD require the Silhouette Connect module as well MSRP $49.99, street price $30)
-Roll feed vinyl (optional feeder MSRP $39.95, street price $35)
-Precisely place cuts with respect to the page or mat
-Fill shapes with a seamless pattern without the seams showing, or with a gradient.
-Cut or write on media that is up to 15 inches wide
-Combine elements from existing files via copy and paste
-Easily draw, cut or score the same file with different settings for each layer or pass
-Retain the proper spacing between letters in text you type or paste in
-Perform updates at your convenience
-Trust the system requirements on the box
Things you can do with an Explore that you can’t do with a Cameo
-Write and cut without pausing to exchange pen with blade (except for the Explore One)
-Adjust all material settings including blade depth with a single dial (Update: in several months of using my machine, I find the presets do not work, and it is cumbersome to find an alternative, not sure that this is really an advantage)
-Cut thick/dense/tough media like shrink plastic, craft foam and aluminum (may require optional deep cut blade/housing MSRP $29.99, street price $18 and strong grip mat MSRP $14.99 street price $9)
-Cut wirelessly (requires Explore Air or optional bluetooth adapter MSRP $49.99, street price $30 and Bluetooth compatible computer, iPad or iPhone)
-Cut and score without pausing to exchange blade with scoring tool (optional scoring tool MSRP $8.99, street price $5.40) or to adjust blade depth. (I list this reluctantly, because the score pressure can not be controlled independently of the cut and you can not set up a separate file of just the score lines to work around this. Cut and score is somewhat disappointing as it stands now).
-Legally cut Disney images for personal use (purchase of cartridge/image set or individual images required, price varies)
-Cut SVG files out of the box (I list this reluctantly, as Design Space’s SVG support is spotty at best. I’ve been unable to use many of the SVGs I had hoped to)
-Use non-licensed content on items you sell without purchasing an additional license (all items in the Cricut subscription are included in Cricut’s generous angel policy)
-Cut ready-made projects with just a few clicks (some projects are free, most must be purchased)
-Cut from an iPad 2 or later, or iPhone (requires Explore Air or optional bluetooth adapter MSRP $49.99, street price $30).
-Automatically add a bleed zone to a print and cut image
-Quickly turn a layered OEM cut file into a print then cut
-Design with all library images from any internet connected computer without having to purchase the images first
-Edit an existing file of yours from any internet connected computer
There are few cases where the choice is obvious
If you prefer to cut ready-made designs with as little effort as possible, then the Explore is for you
If you want to be able to cut metal, shrink plastic or other heavy materials, the Explore has the higher pressure you will need. (However, if pressure is your main consideration and you can afford to pay more, there are other options, such as the Pazzles Vue, that have even more pressure as well as better software and cutting size options)
If you have a ton of Cricut cartridges, you will probably want to stick with Cricut. Likewise, if you own a lot of Silhouette store files, you will likely want to stick with Silhouette
If you want a machine for print and cut invitations, the Cameo is the clear choice because of the size and resolution limitations of Explore’s print then cut
If you do primarily vinyl projects, the Cameo is better suited for vinyl work for a number reasons. (ability to cut without a mat, cutting length up to ten feet, optional roll feeder, ability to more easily add weed lines, better typographic support including text wrap, etc.)
If noise is a concern, the Explore is a significantly quieter machine.
If you rely on your cutter for a business, the Explore simply can not be your only machine because internet or server interruptions will bring you to a halt. I would also consider the lack of content control to be a major concern for business owners.
If you already have one, ask for the other. Then you will have the best of both worlds. 🙂