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I have been doing paper cutting since I was little, and the idea of buying a cutting machine has crossed my mind a thousand times. I haven’t taken the plunge yet because back then, cutting machines only cut, which I could do with my cutters and scissors. Now, they have so many features that buying one is justified, especially since I intend to do bookbinding and decorate book covers with vinyl.
With my limited budget, I initially considered buying a Cricut Joy. But after some research, I realized it was too small. The cutting width is smaller than A5, so it’s very, very small. Moreover, many Cricut Joy machines are being resold, which says a lot about the machine’s usefulness.
Then I compared the Silhouette Portrait 3 with the Cricut Explore 3, and I ended up buying a Silhouette Portrait 3.
Here are my main uses:
- Making lightboxes (see some examples here)
- Creating 3D paper greeting cards
- Bookbinding and decorating book covers with foil or HTV vinyl
- Making 3D paper houses
- Creating tunnel books (see some examples here)
- Cutting leather for small leather goods
- Embossing leather, adding foil to leather, engraving initials on leather
Now, let’s discuss the pros and cons of the Portrait 3 compared to the Explore 3.
- Price: Cricut Explore 3 costs around €320 new (Amazon, Fnac), but can be found for around €250 secondhand. However, buying secondhand is risky because many machines with defects have been deactivated by the company and replaced with new ones. Some people sell their deactivated defective machines online, and you only discover the problem when you connect the machine to the software. I recommend trying it out in person if you’re buying secondhand or buying it new.
- Silhouette Portrait 3 costs around €232 new (Amazon), but can be found for around €150 secondhand. During summer sales, Silhouette had significant discounts, unlike Cricut.
- Cricut focuses too much on selling additional products like accessories and templates. A few years ago, they even wanted to limit the number of uses per month if you didn’t have a subscription. Fortunately, user outrage made them change their minds, but I don’t like a system where you need internet access to use the machine (so they can sell you more things). Even importing an SVG file requires an internet connection.
- Silhouette has fewer accessories (no press, few blades), so Silhouette tutorials encourage you to use what you already have (iron, pens from other companies). If there’s any criticism, it’s the paid upgrade of the software to access advanced features, but I’ll talk about that later.
- Although Cricut allows cutting without a mat, it only works with their “smart” vinyl. The Cricut mat can be recycled using a special product.
- Silhouette can cut any vinyl without a mat, even paper. Many people also cut stickers without a mat. The Silhouette mat is easier to clean and recycle than Cricut’s. Just wash it with soap and apply a layer of regular glue.
- Cricut’s software is somewhat limited. Advanced users often need to use another software like Illustrator.
- Silhouette’s software is a minimalist version of Illustrator, so it can do many things for you. For example, instead of making two separate cuts (deep cut and light cut) for stickers, Silhouette can be configured to handle two cutting depths in one pass, which saves a lot of time. You can also create 3D pop-up cards in just three clicks; it’s very easy.
- Cricut is less precise than Silhouette. For cutting stickers, everyone prefers Silhouette.
- Silhouette is the default choice for sticker sellers because their software has a system that recognizes precise pattern positions and cuts cleanly around them. Additionally, I plan to use leather with my machine, and imprecise cuts would be costly. To achieve precise cuts, I’ll use the Silhouette Pixscan mat to cut leather with millimeter precision.
- When it comes to industrial-scale production, professionals use Silhouette machines. The “Business” version of the software allows launching the same cut on twenty or thirty Silhouette machines simultaneously. I’ve seen TikTok videos where sticker sellers cut on 20 machines at the same time.
- Cricut Explore 3 is only available in an ugly turquoise color.
- Silhouette Portrait 3 is white.
Size & Dimensions:
- Cricut Explore 3: 56 x 18 x 15.7 cm; 6.9 kilograms.
- Silhouette Portrait 3: 43.18 x 13.97 x 10.8 cm; 1.59 kilograms. I particularly like its small size because I plan to take it with me to the mountains for a few months (train + car travel). It’s convenient that it’s compact.
- Blades: Cricut sells various accessories, including their own foiling, embossing (for the Maker machine), and engraving tips. They are also compatible with We R Memory’s accessories (foiling, embossing, engraving), which are of better quality. We R Memory accessories (foil, embossing, bevel) work with all Silhouette machines.
- Silhouette only has blades for cutting. For foiling and embossing, I use We R Memory’s accessories (foil, embossing, bevel), which come with adapters and are compatible with all Silhouette machines.
- Cricut’s software is very user-friendly. It’s well-designed and intuitive, with step-by-step reminders.
- Silhouette’s software requires some learning. Those familiar with Adobe Illustrator will find Silhouette software easy to use since it’s a minimalist version of Illustrator. To open SVG and PDF files, you need to purchase an additional license (for $25). However, opening PNG, JPG, etc., doesn’t require a special license, but I mainly work with SVG files.
- Cricut’s noise level is acceptable.
- Silhouette’s noise level is concerning. It sounds like the machine is malfunctioning because the noise is quite loud.
In summary, you can see that the choice depends a lot on your usage and budget. If you primarily focus on simple projects, especially vinyl work, both machines perform well. However, for more complex projects, Silhouette’s software can be a great assistance. The only drawback is the learning curve, but I followed tutorials in this playlist, and I had no trouble using the software. I even created my own designs. I switch between Illustrator and Silhouette Studio for my creations.
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