Should You Get a Cricut Explore Air or Silhouette Portrait?

Created on:

February 12, 2024

Updated on:

February 15, 2024

Written by Kelsey Sergi

Which machine is right for you - a Cricut or a Silhouette and even more so an Explore Air 2 or a Portrait 3.

a Silhouette portrait 3 cutting machine.

The main reason I want to compare these two cutting machines in 2024 is because they are very similar in price point and sometimes that’s your biggest factor. Right now they both hover in the price range of $150-$200 but these two craft machines come with different features, advantages, and disadvantages.

Personally, I feel like Cricut is the beginner friendly machine for crafters but Silhouette is going to bring you higher in design capabilities. As someone who owns both machines, let’s compare to help you decided which one to add to your craft space.

What is a Cutting Machine?

When I first started crafting I had no idea where to start in terms of which machine to get and what each one could do. I ended up first purchasing my first cutting machine: the Cricut Maker, followed by a Cricut Explore Air 2, and then my Silhouette Portrait 3. These machines all have one main goal and that is to cut different materials into your own designs with ease of use. You can plug in your custom designs into the software program and have the machine do all the work and truly you can create amazing crafts with them.

A cricut explore air 2 in mint.

​Cricut and Silhouette have become a huge name in the crafting community and is often a subject of controversy over which craft machine company is best. There are so many factors to take into consideration like if you are a hobby crafter vs a small business, if you plan on cutting fabric or balsa wood or just paper. Maybe you want to be a sticker crafter!

Now that I have tried both companies, I have to say I lean towards Silhouette machines more but before you decide with that one opinion take a look at some of the difference. We are going to compare design software, materials and blades, sizing for projects, and the pros and cons of both machines.

Cricut vs Silhouette

These two companies have become the competitors for the best cutting machines. In my opinion, one significant difference when it comes to these two companies you have to compare their design software. Both companies offer a free software download however the free version of each can be limiting. Both Cricut and Silhouette offer an app to use on mobile devices and iPads however, for the sake of these comparisons, I will be focusing on the Desktop versions which is what I tend to use. Understanding the differences in design software is crucial, as it determines the level of creative control and ease of use for your crafting projects.

Cricut Design Space Software:

In terms of beginner friendly use, Cricut is going to be the winner here. Cricut's Design Space is basic in terms of what it can and cannot do. You can pull shapes, use your own SVG images, and create layers and beautiful projects. However, in terms of true designing as in drawing or working with nodes, Design Space is going to limit you here.

The desktop version of Cricut Design Space.

One of the main reasons I got into SVG design and creating my own SVG files is that Cricut has a membership that is paid monthly to access their files. The optional Cricut Access membership is around $9 a month and if you pay for a year there is a slight discount. This is a great option for those crafters who don't want to or don't have the time to create their own files (and I totally understand this). You can also opt for something like Creative Fabrica for even more files and fonts or search around for free ones!

​Over the 4 years of working with Cricut machines and Design Space, I have seen more and more features become paid such as the new Sticker Create feature or wavy text - both which in my opinion should be free.

Also, keep in mind to use Cricut Design Space, you will also need an internet connection - so no crafting can be done when the wi-fi is a miss! Now, this being said, basically you need to be online first to be offline (that sounds so ridiculous when I type it out) but to access Design Space you have to be able to sign in and then choose to work offline.

Silhouette Studio Software

Let's start by looking at the different tiers of the Silhouette software: Basic (free), Designer, Designer Plus, and Business editions. Each tier is going to go up in price as well as what it can do in design function and upload/download capabilities. What I do like about Silhouette over Cricut is that Studio is a one time fee for the amazing upgrades to use all of the features.

Silhouette Studio business edition for desktop.

Basic Edition

This is your free download which you can design within and import some images (but no SVG files which is the main file type that most cutting machines use). You cannot export from here so if you designed a beautiful project, you cannot then keep it stores on your desktop as an SVG. However, to get started you might want to try it out.

Designer & Design Plus

These next two tiers are going to add in SVG use which is huge in my opinion and almost necessary to have. They also add in more design features and align features. My suggestion would be to start basic even if you don't have a machine yet and then upgrade to here once you feel comfortable.


This is the edition that I have and its going to be the most similar to Adobe Illustrator in terms of designing your own images. When I first started with Silhouette Studio I was blown away with how amazing it is in terms of making intricate designs and how many great features it includes. However, the learning curve can be steep and I am still learning how to master all the functions.

If you are really looking to up your designing but you love the user experience when it comes to Cricut, you can always design in Silhouette and download in the business edition and upload into Design Space. This can be a better option for a lot of people. However, it is a little bit round about.

In terms of internet connection, team Silhouette for the win - once the app is downloaded to your computer you are free to design away. This is actually a great feature as silly as it seems because sometimes you just need to be working and the internet shouldn't have a say in that.

Love what you are reading? Sign up for my newsletter below to get my latest craft blogs and free SVG files sent to your mailbox.

Sign Up for the DinosaurMama Newsletter & Grab the Community SVG Vault Password

* indicates required

Cutting Out a Project

We have designed our project, now let's talk about cutting it out. The biggest difference between the Cricut and Silhouette when you send to the machine is the set up. The Cricut Explore Air 2 has the ability for custom settings as well as the Smart Set Dial on the machine itself. I have personally set my dial to custom and then I choose from the wide variety of materials in the app.

Loading a Cricut Explore Air 2 with a standard mat and cardstock paper.

For the Silhouette I pull each piece of my design onto the page and you can set your cut settings per piece or by color or even by line - this is a main difference in the software. Again, it takes a little bit of time to learn and I am still trying to master, so the first time might be confusing. But when you have complex designs with multiple materials, this set up is actually super handy.

​Cricut Design Space places all your layers out by color and will sort it automatically onto its color mat. You then only have to choose your material and then send to be cut. This does mean that everything that is one color will need to be cut with the same settings, so if you have red and there is some vinyl and some paper, you'll have to make them two different reds to be on separate mats.

We also need to talk about the size of our craft projects. Project sizing and cutting capabilities are essential considerations, especially if you have specific dimensions or require matless cutting for your crafting endeavors.

With the Cricut Explore we are going to have a max cutting width of 11.5 inches and 23.5 inches (if you have the longer cutting mat) so in this case it is bigger than a Silhouette portrait in width. In terms of height - we can get up to 2 mm so think bonded felt or thin faux leather. Nothing too intense or hard.

A Silhouette Portrait 3 being loaded with a 8.5x11 inch piece of paper.

For the Silhouette Portrait 3 we are maxing out our width at only 8 inches but for on mat cutting we can go up to 12 inches and for matless cutting we can go up to 10 feet!! Now Cricut has recently released the Cricut Joy Extra to compete with the Portrait 3 but I have not tried it just yet. The specs are similar and right now its priced just about the same at $199. So if you are set on a Cricut but don't need that cut size - then this might be a good deal for you.

The speed of these two machines can be hard to tell - I tend to turn on fast mode on my Cricut machines as often as I can while my Portrait is just automatically fast moving. So this one is a little harder to compare.

The Cricut Explore Air 2 does not have the option for matless cutting, for this you would need to upgrade to the new machine (the Cricut Maker 3 or Explore 3) to have this ability. The smart materials are also available for the Cricut Joy but of course that is going to limit your size for large projects. So you will need to invest in a cutting mat (or twenty) to keep up with larger projects with a lot of colors and layers. The Portrait 3, as mentioned before, does have matless cutting for certain materials like iron-on vinyl or heat transfer vinyl. A lot of sticker makers have multiple Portraits because you can cut sticker paper matless which makes for quick and easy cutting.

Blades for the Machines

The versatility of materials and blades supported by each machine plays a significant role in determining the types of projects you can undertake and the precision of your cuts.

The foiling tool for Cricut machines.

Let's talk blades for the Cricut explore family, this is where you see the difference in the Cricut machines as the Maker and Maker 3 are going to have a great cutting capacity with the variety of blades. The Cricut Explore Air 2 is compatible with the premium fine-point blade, the deep cut blade, the bonded-fabric blade, and the foil transfer tool, you can also use the scoring stylus and Cricut pens in the B adapter. ​

You cannot use the following blades with the Cricut Explore Air 2: the rotary blade, the knife blade, and the quickswap tools like the scoring wheel or perforation. You can definitely still cut some thicker materials like craft foam sheets which I use often with my shaker cake toppers but know that you cannot cut balsa wood with the Explore. They also sell an optional roll feeder but this again is only compatible with the newer Cricut machines so don't spend your money on this if you end up with an Air 2!

The Silhouette machine autoblade.

The Silhouette Portrait 3 is compatible with the following blades: the autoblade (which is what I have and am always impressed with), the 1mm and 2mm blades, and the kraft knife blade for thicker materials like chipboard. There is also a blade just called "blade" for paper, vellum etc and I would assume this is close to a fine point blade. It also has the ability to work with the pen adapter which means you can use the sketch pen in your designs. The portrait 3 is not compatible with the engraving tools or the new heat foiling pen (which I want to try with my Cameo).

The look of the machines - both machines have a sleek design. I cannot complain about the aesthetic of these machines. However, the Portrait is only coming in white while the Explore Air 2 comes in a variety of colors to match your craft space: Mint, Black, Lilac, Raspberry, Rose, Fuschia, Gold, and Blue. You might even get lucky and find some of the limited colors like Peacock or Boysenberry out at a craft store. If this is important to you, then you will definitely be leaning towards the Air. I personally have the Mint color, I don't even remember how or why I picked it - I think it was just on sale... I'm a budget girlie!

Pros and Cons of Each Machine

Examining the pros and cons of each machine offers valuable insights into their strengths and weaknesses, acting as a compass to navigate the vast landscape of crafting possibilities. By carefully considering the advantages and limitations of the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Silhouette Portrait 3, you can chart a course towards selecting the ideal companion for your crafting endeavors. For instance, while the Cricut Explore Air 2 boasts user-friendly features and versatile cutting options, it may be hindered by its software limitations and lack of matless cutting capability. Conversely, the Silhouette Portrait 3 shines with its advanced design software and matless cutting functionality, yet its learning curve and smaller cutting width may pose challenges for some users. Through this thoughtful evaluation, you gain a clearer understanding of how each machine aligns with your crafting needs and preferences, guiding you towards making a well-informed decision that enhances your creative pursuits.

Pros of the Cricut Explore Air 2

Cricut explore Air 2 up close.

  • Easy to use and a beginner friendly cutting machine. You truly can plug your Cricut machines in, download the Cricut Design Space app and begin crafting within 10 minutes. I am not saying this isn't possible with the Silhouette family of machines but Cricut is truly a new users dream when it comes to cutting machines.
  • Has an adaptive tool system to switch through a few different blade options like the deep point blade or even the foil transfer tool. This opens up a lot of great options for your materials.
  • Has a great cutting capacity in terms of size width at 11.6 inches which is great for 12 x 12 cardstock cuts and paper crafting in general. Plus a lot of materials come in 12 in widths.
  • Of my two Cricut machines, this one is my preferred machine just because I feel like it is faster and gives me more precise cuts but that is definitely a personal opinion. My print and cut is also much more precise than my Maker.
  • You can use the scoring stylus and Cricut pens for your designs, there is an A B adapter system here so you don't need to switch between the stylus and the blade in one given project.
  • Set cut settings on the dial for quick set up or use the custom setting to open options for materials - this makes swapping out mats quick when crafting.

Cons of the Cricut Explore Air 2

  • Software isn't as advanced in terms of design - you are limited with what you can create from scratch. Plus you cannot download your designs from Cricut Design Space, so if you wanted to sell your SVG files, you cannot get them off their app.
  • Monthly fee to use all parts of Cricut Design Space which limits some of the design options and as they add new features they seem to keep making them for Access Members only.
  • No matless cutting so your max length is going to be 23.5 inches on the longer Cricut cutting mat. If I am honest, I have never needed to cut anything that long but I know a lot of small businesses do long decals so I know having this option can be important to some crafters.
  • Mats separated by color and no way to set material settings per object. I know you can just put the object on its own mat to switch between but sometimes I want a light cut and a cut through on some of my designs... this is a a no go for Cricut.

Pros of the Silhouette Portrait 3

Close up of a Silhouette Portrait 3 cutting machine.

  • Advanced software for designing your own SVG files and projects. Some of my favorite features are the pop up card maker - literally just grab an image, click the pop up button and adjust, you now have a pop up insert. So cool! And the fill the page feature which makes duplicating and maxing out space a breeze.
  • Set up multiple materials and cut settings on one mat for different parts of your design - this just means I can cut faster. Vinyl, paper, and HTV all on one project? I can cut all of these at once if they fit on my mat.
  • Long cuts are possible with the matless cutting option and backed materials (you will need a roll feeder for this). Again, I might never use this or maybe I will, it's just nice to have the option. Plus some cardstock settings are available matless and the sticker pros love to use the Portrait 3 because of this.
  • One time price for the Silhouette Studio versions rather than a monthly fee and you get access to all these amazing features and advanced design tools forever. Plus you can download your SVG files to your desktop and sell them if you are inclined!

Cons of the Silhouette Portrait 3

  • Smaller width cuts maxing out at 8 inches wide - they say for a mat cut the max will be A4 paper which is 12 inches long.
  • Not mentioned above but the Silhouette family has been known to be a louder machine and I'm not going to lie the first time I used it I thought something was wrong but thats just the machine.
  • There is a learning curve when crafting with this machine, it's not as beginner friendly. This just means it takes a little more effort to master, my suggest is to make Youtube videos your best friend during your craft journey.

So which is the perfect cutting machine?

Navigating between the choices of cutting machines can indeed be challenging, especially when you've developed a preference over time, like my recent lean towards Team Silhouette. However, it's essential to reflect on your own crafting journey and priorities before making a decision. Consider factors such as the materials you'll be working with, your budget, and the scale of your projects.

Keep an eye out for deals and discounts, especially as companies introduce newer models and phase previous models. I snagged my Silhouette Portrait 3 at a steal for around $75, proving that patience and timing can pay off handsomely. Right place, right time???

Regardless of which machine you ultimately choose, rest assured that it will unlock a realm of creative possibilities for your crafting endeavors. From crafting exquisite cards to crafting vibrant stickers and even DIY party decorations, the sky's the limit with a cutting machine by your side. Personally, my crafting machines have been instrumental in my growth as a creator, allowing me to explore new techniques and develop my own unique designs to share with fellow crafters in the community. So, dive in with excitement and anticipation, knowing that your cutting machine will be a faithful companion on your crafting journey, enabling you to express your creativity in ways you never thought possible.

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!

Want to Connect?

Instagram logo
YouTube logo
Send an email.
Pinterest logo
Back To Blog Page

Newest Blog Posts:


Thanks for your interest in Dinosaur Mama.
For more information, feel free to get in touch and I will get back to you soon!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.