Q & A. What is the best cutting machine for me?Posted by in Craft | Cricut | Q & A | Reviews | Stuff I Like
Today’s question comes from Lisa in Texas. She is looking to invest in a personal cutting machine and asked which one I suggest.
I actually get asked this question a lot and the answer really depends on what you are going to use it for. I’m going to do some pros and cons on what I consider to be the top 3 personal cutting machines (Cricut Expression, Silhouette, and eCraft) and I hope that will help Lisa (or you!) make an educated decision on which one might be best.
When you’re looking for a machine there are a few things you want to consider:
- Price-not just the initial cost of the machine, but what will it take to continue to use your machine.
- Images-can you use your own images or are you bound to pre-selected images or fonts?
- Computer compatibility-do you need other equipment to make the machine work?
The Big 3
This is the machine that I have the most experience with. I’ve used all of them but this is the one I have in my home (disclosure: I did not have to purchase this machine). You can find other Cricut machines that are bigger or smaller, more expensive or less, but the Expression (in my opinion) is the most versatile and user-friendly of their line.
The Silhouette cutting tool is one that I have used just a few times while attending the Craft & Hobby Trade Show. While I won’t be able to attest to all of its features, I can give you a good run down of what it is like and the basic features.
eCraft by Craftwell
I’ve been following this machine since it first debuted at the CHA trade show in 2009. In fact, I’ve already written a few blog posts about it which you can find here and here. Now that they’ve hit the market, there are a lot of improvements and I got to mess around with their latest version last summer. Again, I don’t own one of these machines so all of my comments are from minimal usage and general knowledge of the genre of machines.
The price varies greatly and the thing to look for are bundles. The more extras, the more it will cost. Usually these bundles can save you a lot of money. However, make sure they are things you would actually use (like images, extra mats, blades, etc…).
Ongoing Costs $$$
The Cricut Expression and Silhouette use mats. These mats don’t last forever. You can find packs of 2 (Cricut)on sale regularly at craft stores or online for $6-7 (great sale price) on up. The mats come in two sizes: 12 X 12 or 12 X 24. The larger sizes cost double. Silhouette mats are smaller and more expensive ($20 for 2). I’ve heard some people cut down the Cricut mats to use in their machines.
The eCraft does not need a mat.
Each machine needs blades. For the Cricut, the cost isn’t too bad (around $5 for 2) and they don’t need to be replaced too often if you’re not cutting out super thick items like chipboard or fabrics. The Silhouette blades are more expensive to replace ($30). eCraft packages their replacement blades in 10 packs that cost around $15.
Cartridges are a big expense for the Cricut. You can find some for around $25 but most will be in the $40-$80 range. I discuss cartridges and other image options more in detail below, but know that they can add a major expense.
Silhouette uses downloadable images (free or small fee) or you can design your own.
eCraft uses SD cards that are pre-loaded with images and can be anywhere from $25-$40. They also have downloadable images available for a small fee.
I go more in depth on the images in that section below.
Raw Materials (paper, vinyl, chipboard, etc…)
Those costs will vary. However, because Lisa is specifically looking to cut vinyl, I will say that not all vinyl is created equal. There will be some trial and error involved. I’ve always had good luck with the Provo Craft vinyl but it is one of the most expensive. It comes in two 12 X 24 sheets (convenient to use with the Cricut mats) but the color selection isn’t that great. I have a hard time finding it in stock at my local craft store. It retails for around $10. You’ll also need vinyl transfer tape which also costs around $10 for four 12 X 24 sheets.
The Silhouette is a smaller machine so any 12X12 paper or vinyl will be too large and need to be trimmed. They do sell their own vinyl and heat transfer (9″ X 10′) but it isn’t always available in the larger craft stores. However, they have an amazing selection of colors and features (flocked vinyl!) at their online store.
The eCraft isn’t held back by a mat so it can cut any length. They sell long rolls of paper and vinyl (12″ X 10′) for around $16.
Expression 21″ X 7″ X 7 3/4″ You will also need an open space of approximately 2 1/2 feet so the mat (more for the 12X24 mats) can go in and out of the machine during use.
Silhouette 16 inches long by 5.5 inches deep and 4.5 inches tall This machine is small but it has to be connected to a computer to work. Keep that in mind!
eCraft 24″ wide by 8.5″ deep by 2.5″ high (18″ deep with paper tray) The thing I love about this one is that it is flat. Even though the overall footprint is the largest of the machines, the fact that it is “short” makes it seem more sleek.
The Expression is a cartridge based system. You buy preloaded cartridges full of images and/or fonts. Cricut has some really talented designers because their cartridges are full of great images for a variety of different styles and occasions. For someone that doesn’t want to worry about designing their own images, they most definitely have the best selection.
If you like to work with your own images and custom fonts, you aren’t totally left out if you have a Cricut. There are a few software programs you can buy that will allow you to cut images and fonts not found on Cricut cartridges. The most popular is Sure Cuts A Lot. It retails for around $75 and you need a computer to be able to use it with your Cricut. You also need to be able to hook up your computer to your Cricut to cut the images. If you use software like this, consider your Cricut warranty null and void. This is 3rd party software so consider yourself warned. However, I know a lot of people that use this program and have had no issues.
The machine comes with computer software that you can use to access their online store. You can download designs there iTunes style or use your own fonts and images from your computer. If you’re computer savvy, this could be a great way to get images. With the plethora of free fonts and images to be found, you can get a lot of bang for your buck using this machine.
eCraft images come pre-loaded on SD cards (like you probably have in your digital camera). In my opinion, they have the worst selection out of the three and their images aren’t that great. But, they are a newer company and I’m sure they’ll be adding more designs in the future. One thing I do like is that they test all of their images. It won’t let you cut an image too small for it not to work.
If you want to use your own designs, you need to use their software. It seems fairly easy to use and they are also coming out with a mobile app soon so you can even design on the go!
The Expression is designed to be a stand-alone cutter. You need a plug and a tabletop. Should you want to use the 3rd party software, you will need to hook up your computer to your Cricut (it has a usb port).
You need to have a computer to use your Silhouette. From their website, here are their specific requirements:
- Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7
NOTE: The Silhouette software is not compatible with Windows 98, Windows ME, or Windows versions earlier than Windows 2000
- Pentium III 600 MHz or faster
- 128 MB of RAM (256 MB recommended)
- USB 1.1 Port (or higher)
- Approx 186 MB of memory (not counting additionally purchased images)
If you don’t have a laptop, you’ll also need space near your computer for your machine.
The eCraft doesn’t need a computer unless you want to use the software to add your own images. It is similar to the Cricut in that regard. One added feature is that they are adding a rechargeable battery so if you want it to be even more portable (crops, ease of use at home), you can add that.
I commend you all for reading this far! Phew. That’s a lot of info. You can see that they each have their pros and cons. Here are my quick and dirty recommendations.
Get the Expression if:
- you aren’t very computer literate
- you don’t want to design your own images
- you want products and ideas readily available
Get the Silhouette if:
- you are good with a computer
- love to design your own images
- will be doing a lot of custom work
- you don’t mind that it only cuts up to 8″ wide
Get the eCraft if:
- you hate cutting mats
- you don’t mind shopping online for accessories and images
- you are computer literate enough to use their software
- love the idea of unlimited cutting length
Which one would you get? Or, would you use one of the other options available? I’d love to hear your comments on the subject. If I didn’t already have a machine, can you guess which one I would buy?