Cricut Explore vs Silhouette Cameo: Which is Right for You?

Created on:

March 8, 2024

Updated on:

March 15, 2024

Written by Kelsey Sergi

Should you invest in a Silhouette Cameo or a Cricut Explore Air for your craft space?

A cricut explore air 2 in turquoise.

As someone who now owns four different cutting machines, two from the Silhouette family and two from the Cricut family and almost four years of machine use, I have definitely come to love each one for a different reason.

Overall, I tend to use my Cricut machine more often than my Silhouette machine but honestly, the reason is because I just haven't spent as much time learning my Silhouette, and its almost like a habit. Both family of machines have their pros and cons so let's review those so you can decide which cutting machine is right for you. In my eyes, a Cricut machine has the ease of use and is beginner friendly while a Silhouette machine is going to have your power but a learning curve.

The clear winner for me is: literally any cutting machine as long as it gets you crafting, makes you happy, and gets your creative juices flowing. Each one has its good and its bad - it's really about what will be the better option for you and your crafting needs.

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What is a cutting machine?

A silhouette cameo 5 in white.

A cutting machine is a plotter that you can use to help you craft for a hobby or for small business purposes. You can create your own designs or use pre-made SVG files (scalable vector graphics) that your machine will then cut into various materials. The most common materials used in a cutting machine are going to be vinyl, heat-transfer vinyl, cardstock, and some fabrics but some of the cutting plotters can cut hundreds of different materials for your craft projects and really open up your creativity.

In 2024, there are SO many companies not releasing new cutting machines but the two that are usually competing are going to be Silhouette Inc and Cricut, with Cricut being the most popular and well-known machine today.

These machines can be small but powerful and some people run six-figure businesses with them, it's incredible! So, if you are in the market for a new machine or for a second machine, let's look at these two options which are similar in the two companies: the Cricut Explore Air and the Silhouette Cameo.

The Cricut Explore Air

There are two versions still out on the market today of this cutting machine: the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Explore Air 3. I personally own the Explore Air 2 and between my Cricut maker and the Air, I tend to use the Air more. The main reason is I think it is faster but I also could be making this up in my head (I have never actually tested the two against each other).

An angeled photo of a Cricut Explore Air 2 in a light blueish color.

What can it cut?

The Explore series is going to be limited in terms of materials compared to its counterpart the Cricut Maker but it's also more powerful than the smaller Cricut Joy and Joy X-tra. The Cricut Explore Air (and 3) are going to be able to cut a lot of your basic materials such as cardstock paper, vinyl, and HTV but you are going to be limited with blades. The Cricut Maker can take all the blades Cricut offers such as the knife blade, rotary wheel, and scoring wheel however, the Explore series do not. So, if you plan on using a Cricut to cut thicker materials like balsa wood (which takes a long time) then you might want to upgrade to a Cricut Maker. The max thickness you can cut on an Explore machine is going to be 2.0 mm.

The difference between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Explore Air 3 is going to be the speed and the use of Cricut Smart Materials which is a vinyl that does not require you to use a mat.  I have not upgraded to the 3 series mainly because I probably wouldn't be using Cricut Smart Materials and my 2 Series works beautifully. I like to think of the Explores as the base model for Cricut and the Makers are their more advanced. If you are dead set on getting a Cricut, the price point of an Air 2 is great (around $179 to $199) and it might be the better choice for you if you don't need the thicker materials. You can do a lot with an Explore, like score with the scoring stylus, use the foil transfer tool, and for a lot of materials on the 2 series you can opt for fast mode which helps speed cutting along.

The Cricut Foiling Tool.

Now, in terms of blades and cutting mats - I stick with off brand blades to save money but I do like the Cricut cutting mats, I have found they last longer than off-brand versions. But this is a personal preference. This hobby can start to add up so I like to cut costs where I can. The only thing here is that supposedly if they find out you used anything off brand (i.e. blades) they will void your one year warranty. I haven't figured out how they would know yet but that is what I have seen.

Cricut Design Space

Cricut's Design Space is definitely more user friend than the Silhouette software but I have my grievances with both. Let's start with the good. Cricut's software is great for beginners, you upload an SVG file or pick one of theirs, size it, pick a material and Cricut sorts everything by color.

They have a lot of basic tools within the design software such as offset, basic text options like kerning, welding, and more. Cricut Design Space is like the Apple of cutting machines, very user forward and you can be unboxing and cutting within an hour easily. A lot of people are intimidated by their machines but it truly is a smooth experience once you get started. I only use the free version of Cricut design space and so far it has been fine but I also have taken the time to learn an outside program called Inkscape to make my own designs and upload them.

There is a paid version called Cricut Access which is a monthly fee of $10 or a discounted yearly amount but I have been using my Cricut machines for 4 years and I have only paid for one month by accident because I forgot to cancel.

The Cricut Design space Canvas.

Cricut Access is going to give you the option to use more of the features within Cricut Design Space such as the monogram maker, the sticker maker, and the newest release of the auto-layering function. If you are a hobby crafter and you don't want to spend time making SVG files, paying for Access might be worth it for you, I do prefer Creative Fabricas subscription just because at the end of the day, they just offer more in terms of graphics and fonts. So, I opt for the free software and pay externally mostly for fonts and the fact that they are all commercial use.

Now, what are the down sides of Cricut Design Space. In my opinion, paying for extra features like sticker maker is kind of nonsensical to me, I can understand paying for the intricate designs they offer but having the fee tacked on to use Monogram seems like a stretch.

There are also a lot of glitches during updates where they add on a new PAID feature only to mess up something that was working perfectly fine before. It may not seem like a big deal but when material (which isn't cheap) starts to get wasted because your print then cut keeps cutting wrong and your Design Space won't calibrate it, you find you want to throw the machine in the trash. The Cricut Design Space software isn't the worst and again, is very user friendly but in terms of graphic design, you are limited.

One other thing to keep in mind is you do need an internet connection to cut, the software depends on it, unfortunately!

Using the Machine

Like I said, Cricut Design Space does a lot of the work in terms of layers, and sorting out mats, and all you have to do is pick the type of material, feed in your cutting mat, and hit the C button. The Cricut Explore Air series even has a smart set dial so you can choose materials right from the machine (I usually opt for custom settings and do everything from my desktop). So, my honest option is making a project (even larger projects) a breeze because you just set up some cutting mats and just allow the machine to do the work. Remember when working with a new material to test it out so that you know your cut is perfect!

Here is the bottom line: Cricut is a great product with some flaws in the design part of it, but they make good machines. I would say for a hobby crafter a Cricut is an excellent choice. You can find great deals on the Cricut online store and if I were to purchase another new machine today, I would go for a certified refurbished machine. Honestly, once you use your Cricut machine for the first time, it's a breeze and the main problems I run into are in the software program.

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Now let's talk about the Silhouette Cameo

There are now two versions available of the Cameo on the Silhouette website, the Cameo 4 and the Cameo 5 which honestly, look so different you wouldn't know they were the same machine. I have now been working with my Cameo 5 for over a month and it is a powerful cutting machine. I also have a Silhouette Portrait which is the smaller of their machine family but still is such a great addition to have in my cutting machine army and a great option for those limited on space.

The silhouette cameo 5 in white with the electrostatic mat.

So, just like we went through different aspects of the Explore, let's look at the Silhouette Cameo.

What can it cut?

The Cameo family is going to give you the option for more materials because you can opt for more blade types such as the knife blade or rotary blade and the max thickness is going to be an extra 1.0 mm over the Cricut Explore with 3.0 mm! So, in terms of materials - this is going to give you a wide range of materials to choose from and that is amazing!

They also have a roll feeder option and the electrostatic mat which means you can cut without a cutting mat and cut really long pieces of vinyl up to 16 feet! The Cameo series also gives you wider abilities up to 24 inches while Cricut maxes at 12 (really 11.5 inches). So if you plan on making larger projects (long and wide) then the better machine might be a Cameo! Now in terms of speed, Cameo is a fast-cutting machine and precise. I love using my Cameo 5 because I know the job will be accurate and quick. The biggest downside I have found is that regularly I adjust the force and pressure of my blades. Now, this is why I mentioned before that you should be testing materials with a small cut rather than hoping the setting your machine has decided are correct. I will say that Silhouette's software does have a built I test feature which is super nice to have and with the press of a button we are able to see how a material cuts.

A silhouette auto blade.

New blades are a downside here and I just don't know how else to say that... The extra blades I buy for my Silhouette machines are brand name and they do cost a bit. I haven't tried any off brand yet and it's simply because I am a little afraid to because you have to replace the entire housing not just the blade.

Silhouette Studio Software

This is where I feel most people are intimidated and I am not going to disagree, the Silhouette Studio software is overwhelming and definitely less beginner-friendly than Cricut Design Space. However, with that being said, Silhouette Design Studio is much more advanced versus the Cricut software.

They offer a lot for you to create your own intricate designs and have incredible features like the pop-up card feature, the duplicate panel, and nesting (my favorite for maximizing your space on your cutting mats). There is a free version of Silhouette Studio but to access the most out of this they have a once time fee upgrade. It is totally worth it to me, in my honest opinion, because it's a true design software similar to Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. You are able to download your own designs as well and can share them or sell them.

The Silhouette Studio design software.

The SVGs they offer from the Silhouette Design Store are optional additional purchases which is nice because you truly get all the features of the design space without having to pay every single month. They also run sales on the upgrades regularly and I believe I got my business edition of the Silhouette Studio Software for under $50. So if you are looking to make your own cut files, then I might lean towards you getting a Silhouette on this reason alone. You can create, test, and save all from one software.

Ease of Cutting

The Cameo series as mentioned before allows matless cutting, the electrostatic mat, and mat cutting which is so awesome because you just have such a variety. The ease of set up though, isn't as simple as Cricut's. They do not auto-sort the mats by color. You basically have to toggle on and off what you want cut on your mat each time you send in through. Once you know what you are doing, it does become easier. I tend to use my electrostatic mat with lighter weight card stock paper and vinyl and my sticky mat for things like textured card stock and heat transfer vinyl. I haven't used my roll feeder yet, but maybe by the time you read this I will have mastered it.

What do both machines do:

To simplify this as much as possible both machines are cutting plotters that offer cutting to a variety of materials that you can use to launch your creativity. The price points for the Cameo 4 and Explore 2 are both around $199 and the Cameo 5 and Explore 3 are around $329 so they come in similar there as well.

They both offer dual carriage cutting meaning they have an A side and a B side for different types of tools like blades and pens. They also can both use these to make precise cuts of intricate designs and simple projects.

A cricut explore air 2 up close to see the A and B side cutting features.

Both have a free version of their software but those free versions are both limited in what you can do in terms of designing.

The Explore Air 3 and both Cameos offer mat free cutting for some materials which I guess is a bonus but also you will still end up needing mats for most materials.

Both are reliable machines and have Bluetooth connectivity to your devices so you don't have to use wires which is a bonus as I keep my machines across the room from my desk and can set up my craft projects from anywhere. Also with that, both Cricut and Silhouette software are available for desktop and iPad/iPhone.

So Cricut vs Silhouette.... who is the winner

As you can see from this, there are significant differences between the two families of machines and it can really be a tough decision. If I could go back in time, I would start with a Silhouette and make myself master the Silhouette studio software because it's more advanced and I feel like it really would have pushed me to learn more upfront. They are great powerful machines and I feel like it's like a level up for professionals. This doesn't mean I hate my Cricut machines because I definitely don't. I use them regularly and can set up a project and cut in minutes and it's just habit at this point. I craft almost every single day with my cutting machines so I am always looking for the best way to work time wise. If I had learned Silhouette first, I probably would go there first.

A silhouette cameo 5 up close to show the A & B cutting sides.

So can I truly say which is the best cutting machine? No, I cannot tell you flat out which one is better, Cricut Explore Air or the Silhouette Cameo. It's such a hard choice. If you need me to help you make a choice here is my honest opinion: if you are a hobby crafter go with a Cricut machine and if you are a small business go with a Silhouette machine. That might seem like too simple of an answer for you but it's really the one I have. Power and size are going to be found in the Cameo and if you have a small business, it's not going to let you down. If you are a hobby crafter who wants ease then go with a Cricut, you will not be disappointed I promise.

I hope I made your choice between a Cricut Explore Air and a Silhouette Cameo a little bit easier today even though I know they both have so many pros and each has their cons. If this is your first cutting machine, make sure you take the time to look at all aspects before you dive in! If you have any additional questions or feel like I missed anything, don't hesitate to send me an email so we can open up a conversation about Cricut vs Silhouette and possibly help you make your decision even easier. I know buying a cutting machine is a big purchase and you don't want to regret spending over $200 on something you hate or don't like using. Just know that whichever machine you decide to go with you are opening up your creativity and creating a little outlet for you to shine in! Buying my first machine was the best thing I have done for my mental health and has helped me grow and find myself so much.

Stay crafty!

Kelsey Sergi - the owner and crafter at Dinosaur Mama.

Hi crafters! I'm Kelsey and I am here to bring you new original craft projects and free SVG files for your cutting machines every week!

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