If you frequently work with vinyl, a good vinyl cutting machine is an absolute must. And when it comes to vinyl cutters, you can choose to buy one from either of the two major brands in the field: Cricut or Silhouette.
Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences, such that you will be able to decide yourself which one suits you best.
Available Vinyl Cutting Machines
When comparing Cricut vs Silhouette, it’s important to realize that both brands actually sell several different vinyl cutters. Of course, the specifications vary between models and thus also which projects you can do with them.
Let’s take a look at the 3 most popular Cricut and Silhouette vinyl cutters, and see how they compare with eachother.
The Explore One, Explore Air and the Maker are the main vinyl cutting models from Cricut, with the Explore One being the oldest and the Maker the newest. Admittedly, all three of them look very similar at first glance. Although they all have the same basic functionalities, you can expect additionally features with the newer models.
Below you can find the biggest difference between the Explore Air 2 and other Cricut vinyl cutters.
- Cricut Maker vs Explore Air 2: The Cricut Maker is the newest and most advanced model. It has 10 times more power, which lets you cut additional thicker materials as well. It also has a rotary blade for fabric and a scoring wheel tool for making sharp folds. All that being said, the Cricut Maker also comes at a much higher price point and you might not need the extra features it has.
- Cricut Explore One Vs Air 2: Whereas the Explore One can only hold a single tool at a time, the Explore Air 2 has a double tool holder which saves a lot of times changing between tools. It also has a fast mode which lets you cut and write 2x as fast as the Explore One. The additional Bluetooth is also a nice feature to have.
- Cricut Explore Air vs Air 2: The main difference between the Explore Air 1 and Explore Air 2 is the Fast Mode. As mentioned above this allows for 2x faster cutting and writing of popular materials such as vinyl, iron-on and cardstock. If you plan on using your vinyl cutter often this can save you a significant amount of time waiting.
|Explore One||Explore Air 2||Maker|
|Easy to learn||x||x||x|
|Compatible with over 100 materials||x||x||x|
|Double tool holder||x||x|
|Extra cutting power||x|
|Rotary blade, knife blade, scoring wheel||x|
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Silhouette offers three different vinyl cutters; the Cameo, the Portrait and the Curio. Although all three of them can cut vinyl with no problem, the main differences is in which other materials they can cut and their cutting width.
Amongst these three, the Silhouette Cameo 3 is the most popular option. It can cut 100 different materials and has a large cutting space, which makes it a good choice for almost any project.
Take a look at how the Cameo compares with the other Silhouette models below.
- Silhouette Cameo vs Portrait:Both these models are very similar, with their size being the biggest difference. The Cameo 3 has a cutting width of 12 inches, while the Portrait is limited to 8 inches. Of course, the Portrait is also cheaper, so it might still be a good choice if you are only planning on using a vinyl cutter occasionally for small projects.
- Silhouette Cameo vs Curio: The Curio has a few options that the Cameo does not have, such as stippling, etching, debossing, embossing, and scoring. Additionally, the Curio can also work with thicker materials than the Cameo. However, it only has a cutting width of 8.5 inches compared to the 12 inches of the Cameo.
- Silhouette Cameo 2 vs 3: The Cameo 3 is the latest one in it’s series. It now comes with the option of using two cutting tools at the same time and is compatible with the AutoBlade function. However, the biggest difference is the addition of Bluetooth, which lets you use it wireless.
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How Much Does a Vinyl Cutter Cost?
If you compare all the models mentioned above and check the prices of Cricut vs Silhouette, you can see that a new vinyl cutter will cost somewhere between $150 to $400.
Obviously, the older and smaller models such as the Cricut Explore One and the Silhouette Portrait are the cheapest, but are also the most limited in what you can do with them.
However, you might not need the extra cutting width or features that more expensive models provide. So consider what projects you want to do and see which model will fit you the best.
If you are not quite sure, I would recommend saving for a more expensive model over buying a cheaper one for beginners, because once you upgrade to a newer model the old one will feel like a waste of money.
Besides the vinyl cutter, you will also need to buy the vinyl itself or any other materials you want to use. And both Cricut and Silhouette provide accessories for their models to make them even more versatile. Fortunately, you can save some money by buying a “Starter Bundle” that already comes with everything you will need to get started.
What Materials Can be Cut on a Vinyl Cutter?
They might be called vinyl cutters, but most of these machines can cut much more than just vinyl. Even the basic models can often cut other thin materials such as paper, iron-on, cardstock, felt, etc.
By buying additional accessories or by getting a high-end vinyl cutter, you can also cut thicker materials such as leather, basswood, cotton, suede, etc.
Best Vinyl Cutter Software
Both Cricut and Silhouette will provide you with their free vinyl cutting software regardless of which model you buy from them.
This software is basically used for two things. First it can give the vinyl cutter instructions on how to cut, how deep it should cut, which materials you are cutting, etc. Secondly, the software can also be used to design your own patterns or quotes.
To be honest, the biggest part of learning how to use a vinyl cutter is getting the hang of the software it comes with.
Silhouette vinyl cutters come with the software called Silhouette Design Studio that you can download and install on your computer. It has a surprising amount of graphic design features. So if you want, you could make your own images from scratch without having to learn any other program.
However, all those additional options can make the software intimidating form new users.
For a one time fee of $50 you can upgrade your version of Silhouette Studio to unlock additional features, such as the option to upload .svg files or make rhinestone patterns. You can also buy individual images from the online store or get a subscription.
File types you can use with the free version: jpg, bmp, png
The Cricut software is named Cricut Design Space and is relatively simplistic. This makes it easy to use, but can also be limiting if you want to make original designs.
That’s why most Cricut owners use different software programs such as photoshop to make their designs and then import it to Cricut Design Space.
For $10 per month you can join the Cricut Access program which allows you to use addition images and fonts for free. Although many people have mentioned that the images by Cricut seem a little less professional than the ones from Silhouette.
It is important to note that Cricut Design Space is completely web-based, which means you will need an internet connect to use the software or your vinyl cutter.
File types you can use with the free version: jpg, bmp, png, svg, dxf, gif
Cricut Explore Air 2 Vs Silhouette Cameo 3
It is pretty clear that the Cricut Maker is the best vinyl cutter on the market right now in terms of features and performance. But in my experience it comes at a price point that is more than most people are willing to invest in a new vinyl cutter.
The best vinyl cutter under $300 is a close call between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Silhouette Cameo 3.
The Silhouette Cameo 3 can cut projects up to 12 inches wide and 10 feet long. It is easy to learn and intuitive to work with due to its touchscreen, which makes it a serious contender as best vinyl machine for beginners. The software it comes with is also very good, but it has a little bit of a learning curve and you will have to pay to access all the features.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 can only cut up to 11.5 inches wide and 23.5 inches long, and the software it comes with is more basic than the Silhouette counterpart. The Explore Air 2 does cut considerably faster than the Cameo 3, and at the same times seems to cut more precisely and accurately. Moreover, the Explore Air 2 is a bit stronger which lets you cut a wider variety of materials.
Although there are vivid advocates of one vinyl cutter over the other and vice versa, I believe both the Explore Air 2 and Cameo 3 are good options for people interested in die cutting. But depending on which type of project you are working on, one might be a bit better than the other.