(Like what I did there with the title? ;) ) Today I want to talk with you about my experience using one of the newest and most-buzzed-about DIY tools out there, the Cricut Explore cutting machine. I’ll be covering the costs involved, machine features, lots about its design and how it compares to other machines, as well as details about when the Cricut Explore will be available to the public. I’ll also touch on what the heck a cutting machine is! :)
A couple years ago, I started working with the Cricut Mini, and it was my go-to tool for quick crafting, especially when I had a tendinitis flare-up. I didn’t design a ton of DIYs with it. It took a bit of time to figure out how to set up a project, its cutting blades would wear out faster than I liked, and it was loud during operation.
For those of you new to crafts cutting machines, they kind of work like an at-home printer, but instead of printing ink onto paper, they cut out paper that’s stuck to a special adhesive mat. You can also swap out blades with markers to draw and a few other things. I have loved having a cutting machine on hand, especially as a craft designer, since it really saves my hands a lot of pain and my workflow a lot of time when DIYing on a deadline.
This new machine addresses all of those issues I had with my Mini. The new blade is made with a stronger, longer-lasting metal. The carriage – the thing that carries the blades/marker/embosser – now has TWO holders, so you can cut and emboss, or cut and draw, etc. on a single pass. The software you use on your computer (remember, this plugs in like a printer via USB) is web based, instead of needing to install an application to your computer. The new machine costs $299 and will be available at retail locations March 15. Right now, I *think* you can only get it during select HSN broadcasts.
Oh, and it’s INSANELY quiet. The folks at Cricut did their research for real on this machine. For crafters who work late into the night like me sometimes, the noise factor matters. Here’s a video of the machine cutting my first project with the Cricut Explore yesterday. Not only is it cutting hexagons out of vinyl that are less than a centimeter tall, it’s SO quiet while doing it.
Right out of the box & pricing
You get a machine, USB cord, wall plug, adapter, blade, drawing pen, carrying case, cutting mat, and a variety of cutting materials with your initial $299 purchase. The web-based design software, Cricut Design Space is free. The cost on top of the machine comes in in a few ways: paying to access images to cut/draw with your machine and, of course, the physical stuff – buying more materials to cut (paper, duct tape, etc.), markers, blades, cutting mats, and more. You know what you don’t have to pay for anymore? Fonts! Fonts installed to your computer will work in Design Space, which launches to the public February 27. You can also, for the first time, cut your own images with the Explore. That’s big news. SVG, JPG, PNG, BMP, GIF and DXF files can all be uploaded and used in the design space for free.
The materials that come with your machine.
The older Cricut machines started out with a cartridge system. Maybe I’m totally outing myself as a 90s kid, but the whole system reminded me of videogame cartridges. The graphic elements that you’d have your machine cut came loaded in a plastic thingy that you’d plug right into your Cricut machine, rather than getting them offline. Now you can buy all the graphics you need online, and they have a new subscription-based system that simply gives you access to Cricut’s library of images.
What about your old cartridges, right? You’ll be able to load them into your account once and access them digitally after that. Since this post is already way longer than what I usually write, I’ll link you to this FAQ page from Cricut that explains the details of their new subscription service, migrating your cartridge content, using original content. etc. for the nitty gritty.
A sneak peek of the new Design Space. This was my workspace for designing a vinyl honeycomb sticker to accent my machine. Notice how you can design on a model of your finished product?
The Explore’s design is out of this world
I kid you not – my husband came home last night after I busted out my machine for the first time and literally said, “Did they hire a consultant from Apple to design this?!” He’s always been fascinated with crafty technology I have around the apartment, but he asked me, well no, he informed me that he can’t wait to play with my new machine. For real.
The Mini is cute, but the Explore is pretty. Lots of white, silver, and Cricut’s signature greens are all over this machine. The machine just physically feels like it’s of quality when you use it. The USB cable and power cable are both white to match and don’t feel cheaply made. The designers of this machine included an accessory holder on top of the machine and inside the machine as well.
Their accessory kit is designed to fit perfectly in the larger drawer, and the second smaller drawer fits extra blades.
The other design element I really love is the dial. Before, you had to futz around with delicate little settings on the blade inside the machine before you could cut with it. With the Explore, you don’t need to touch the blade housings unless you’re switching to a pen or embossing thingy or replacing a blade. You just set the dial to the material being cut. (By the way – there are like a gillion different materials this machine cuts. That’s also new. Like, even wood sheets.)
I’m sure there are a bunch of things I’m forgetting, like how you’ll soon be able to buy an adapter and cut from a tablet/iPad – no USB cable needed, or that the Design Space includes a bunch of predesigned projects you can just print out, or that you can modify to fit your needs. But I only opened my Explore yesterday. This post is already so uncharacteristically long for me, so I’ll leave it here. I hope you find useful the highlights of what excited me personally as a casualish cutting machine user and what stood out to me as a DIY consumer. Considering the quality of the Explore, I genuinely think the price point is fair and totally worth the convenience of crafting that you get out of it.
This video, while obviously produced to market the new Cricut Explore, shows off a lot of the materials and applications for the new machine.
The machine, accessories and materials used in this review were provided to me by Cricut. Additionally, Cricut flew me to Salt Lake City in January to attend a product launch for the Cricut Explore machine. Opinions expressed in this review are totally my own.