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Cricut versus Silhouette: Drama in the Land of Cutting Machines

What is Cricut?

Most Cricut machines, at its base, are cutting machines. You use software to cut shapes out of a multitude of materials: paper, fabric, even leather on some machines. These machines are not cheap, and are almost never on sale. However, if you are dedicated to your craft, these may be worth the effort.

To me, Cricut is kind of like the the “Oreo” or the “Post-Its” of cutting machines; it is the brand name that people know and are familiar with when it comes to cutting machines. They’re sold in all the big name stores, and they’re the most popular. Cricut makes their own accessories and materials, have their own proprietary software to use with the machine, and have expanded to create different types of machines that are tangential to what you may make with your cutting machine: a mug press to have your designs pressed displayed on a mug; a smaller, more portable machine for crafters on the go; and of course a little heat press that allows you to transfer your designs onto T-shirts.

My History with the Cricut

When I allowed myself to dream about selling designs that I created, I knew I needed a cutting machine. The one I dreamt about was the Cricut. In passing, to my boyfriend-at-the-time, I briefly mentioned wanting to eventually make stickers in the future, and the following Christmas, he gave me a Cricut Explore Air 2. This is one of their signature machines, the lesser of the two signature cutting machines, but all you need to cut stickers.

So, in the past couple of years, I made a bunch of things! Cards, some treat boxes for a party, and of course, some stickers and stencils for my personal use.

I’ll share a video of one of my favorite things I made with my machine: Dump Trump countdown books! For the 27 days between Christmas and Biden’s inauguration, I made these little “advent” calendars for me, my mom, and some of my friends. Starting on Christmas, each date had little candies and clues for my Dump Trump crossword! The book had 24 out of the 27 days; 3 of the days were not in the books, rather they had their own containers with extra candies and goodies. This was the largest project I had made with my Cricut, so I am extremely proud of it. Here’s the video!

Now, during the pandemic, everyone was bored at home and starting a side-hustle, so I got to planning as well. I want to start my shop on downloads first, but I do eventually want to get into printed items to ship, and of course, I would want to get my Cricut as my main machine to do this.

Cricut Drama

For Cricut users, there are two tiers, Cricut Access Premium users and free users. (There are additional tiers inside “Premium” but I won’t get into that.) Premium users pay $120 a year for access to all the items in the Cricut library. If you don’t have Premium, you have to pay for each item. The library boasts a collection of over “100,000 images, 7,000 projects, and 400 fonts”. Speaking as a free user, you definitely don’t need a Premium account, especially if you already have software that can create high quality images (like Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer). Unless you are a full-time Cricut user, and using your Cricut machine(s) for your business, I don’t think it’s worth the cost.

In mid-March this year, Cricut announced that another “feature” of Premium would be that you could cut an unlimited amount of “images”, and free users would be restricted to only 20 images a month.

Now, I put “images” in quotation marks because images can be anything: a square, one letter, anything you cut out would be labelled an “image”. Each of my Dump Trump boxes were around 26 images, each, since I cut each little box out, as well as each surrounding box out. And sometimes, I needed to cut extra boxes, if they didn’t cut well. So this Christmas project, which took a week, maybe two weeks to cut, would have taken me over 4 months on this new program, which is simply preposterous! I don’t know if they also included scoring in their “images”, if so, then it would have taken me at least a year to do these. Now, what if I paid for the service and did unlimited cuts? Well, then the project would have cost me $120 more than I needed, since I have not used the Cricut since (especially because I moved recently).

On Reddit, user esanii made this perfect analogy:

[…] think of Word announcing that you can print -insert number- a month but will have to pay if you want to print more out of the printer you own. Cricut effectively announced putting a paywall of use amount onto every Cricut machine.

This announcement enraged a lot of users who were not previously Premium members. And for good reason. A lot of them, like me, are not using their Cricut for profit, just for fun; some are even teachers, who bought the Cricut out of their own pocket to make cute things for their classroom. A lot of these users were looking elsewhere to put their hard-earned money, yours truly included, actively looking at other cutting machines to buy instead.

So, Cricut backtracked their statement and said that only new members after December 2021 would start this new Premium program. Meaning, all existing members would have been fine and didn’t have to pay for more cutting, but this meant that none of those existing members would would be recommending Cricut as a cutting machine again, due to the betrayal of trust, as well as the additional cost that you would have to incur every year, including the cost of the machine.

Thus, Cricut backtracked again, saying they would not be implementing the change at all, and would keep cutting limits away from the free account. Everything would be the same as it was before.

Which means the consumers won, right?

Well honestly, I’m still looking to switch over, with the okay of my amazing future husband (I felt like I had to make sure it was okay with him that I was switching, since it was a gift). I really feel dissatisfied with Cricut’s marketing tactics and the way they handled the entire situation. First, the announcement was somewhat “hidden” in an announcement of good changes, so it felt like they were just trying to usher it in quietly, which feels really sleazy. Then, their two rounds of backtracking just felt like a big pie in the face for them. And of course, the only reason they were doing it was because they were going public, so I guess they wanted to show investors that they could make money quickly and easily. But, who is going to invest in a company that makes all their consumers mad and confused in a week?

I will keep my Cricut Explore Air 2 for now, but I’m definitely looking for a new machine as my workhorse machine, so here we go, a mini spotlight on Silhouette Machines!

Silhouette Machines

Silhouette is the main competitor to Cricut, and they even poked fun at the entire drama situation by giving away 20 free images, and saying that “some people even think that’s enough for a month!” Good shade, Silhouette.

The Silhouette Cameo 4, from what I can tell, is a direct competitor to both the Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Maker, as it cuts a multitude of items, including felt and thin crepe paper, and has many different optional accessories like the router blade that make the Cameo the prize of the Silhouette line.

However, in my weeks of research, I found that Silhouette makes a lot of cool machines, and I might want all of them!

The Silhouette Portrait is a cute, portable version of their cutting machine. It’s really cute and portable, which I like because I’m really concerned about the space I take up, and is mainly used to cut small things, which I would mostly be doing. This is like the Cricut Joy, which is also a small, portable cutting machine. My only concern would be that the cutting area is only 8″, so if I wanted to do similar to my Dump Trump books, I would have to redesign it to fit on a smaller page.

However, what I’m super excited about for either the Cameo or the Portrait is the ability to create your own acrylic stamps! They have a tutorial on it here and you can buy a stamp kit here.

Next on my wish list is the Silhouette Mint! This little machine is a dedicated stamp maker, that would make custom stamps! These would not be rubber stamps or acrylic stamps, rather something in between; the part that is “cut out” is actually raised ever-so-slightly and you can ink it with a regular ink pad, but Silhouette sells Mint ink of many different colors that you ink onto the stamp (instead of putting the stamp onto the ink). It’s super interesting and I would love it for my planner and planner supplies.

The last item that I would want would be the Silhouette Alta: a 3D printer! Now, I have a tiny, tiny interest in 3D printing, only so far in that people are making planner supplies for it! Things like stencils and bookmarks and washi tape holders! You can even 3D print things you need for your Silhouette or Cricut, like adapters for pens and scoring pens! The issue here would be that I’m not super creative in a 3D way, so I don’t know if I would use this more than once a year, and even if I made stencils, I don’t know if I would have enough confidence in my designs to sell them.

The only downside is that it seems that the Mint is being phased out, of sorts, as a lot of its materials and kits are not shown on any of the Silhouette Shop pages, and you actually have to search for them. That means if I were to get the Mint, and I encounter a problem, I would likely not have support for in the near future. (Additionally, it is being sold for much less than it’s sticker price of $130, some sites have it for only $50.) However, Alta Plus only came out last year, in 2020, and none of it’s parts are shown on the main Shop pages either (unless the Alta Plus is also being phased out, which I have do doubt since it has only been out for a year).

It’s a lot to think about. Right now, I’m still checking to see where to set up my Cricut in our new apartment, so I’m not looking at a purchase right now (except maybe the Mint) so we’ll see. Is anyone else looking to switch over to Silhouette after the Cricut drama? If you did, what has been your experience so far? Let me know!

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