Cricut Explore Machine Review – What Works, What Doesn’t

IMPORTANT:  The Cricut Design Space software is WEBPAGE based.  You MUST have Internet connection to use it or you cannot access any images including your cartridge images.  You must use the Cricut Design Space software to create anything with the Cricut Explore.  (This is very unlike the Silhouette Cameo software which can be used without Internet connection.  You cannot purchase items from Silhouette without Internet but you CAN design and cut.) 

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

I have been really excited about the new Cricut Explore ever since it was announced.  I even hopped out of bed one night when I remembered that it was the HSN launch of the machine and I bought it right away.  I couldn’t wait for it to be delivered and when it finally was, I even Instagrammed it.  I am a long time Cricut fan (proof = 398 posts, one app, one DVD, one checklist and my first set of stamps, Lots of Pun, was created to go with the Create a Critter cartridge).   I’ve purchased and used two Cricut Expressions (a white one and then a red one), the Cricut Expression 2, Cricut Imagine, Cricut Cake, Cricut Personal and the Gypsy.  I was thrilled that Provo Craft finally added .svg and other file functionality to one of their machines so they could be like all the other popular machines.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when the machine and it’s software did not live up to my expectations.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

What they did right: Packaging.  The box is visually appealing.  The contents are well protected by the cardboard inserts.  It’s easy to find everything you need to get started.  They even made a tray to hold important information (see that “Start Here” folder on the bottom left picture above) and included some material samples to the right of that.

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I love that they added a bag to carry the Cricut Explore machine.  As always, they add one mat to the package (just like they did here and here).  If yours is bent a little, don’t worry about it.  It will flatten out over time.  You can also put it under a few heavy books to make the flattening happen faster. ;)

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It’s not a huge deal but this machine really could use a handle.  Getting it in and out of the bag would be so much easier if it had one.  I was a little afraid that I was going to mishandle it or drop it but I didn’t.  Again, it’s a small thing and not terribly important.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

Here’s the front.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

Press the “open” button on the left of the machine you’ll get this view.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

You’ll find this storage area if you lift up the plastic doors.  It’s a great place to store things.  Too bad none of those accessories come with the machine. That would be a nice addition.  You do get a blade and blade housing and you’ll find those are already in the carrier (the movable cutting part).

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

Where this machine begins to go wrong: Cartridges.

So many of the purchasers of this machine are already Cricut users, which means that they have Cricut cartridges.  Those cartridges can be a big investment, especially if you’ve collected them for many years.  I had over 200 of them before I sold about 150 last summer.  So, owners of Cricut cartridges want to be able to use those cartridges, right? Right.  Can you use them in this machine?  Sort of.  That little place where my cartridge is plugged in allows me to upload the cartridge to the new Cricut Design Space ONLINE software.  The end.  That’s how you’ll use cartridges with this machine.  Online.  Only.  Period.  You WILL NOT be using this machine and your cartridges without a computer AND Internet connection.  At all.  Nope.  Nada.  No.

AND…as I said at the very top of this post: The Cricut Design Space software is WEBPAGE based.  You MUST have Internet connection to use it or you cannot access any images including your cartridge images.  You must use the Cricut Design Space software to create anything with the Cricut Explore. (This is very unlike the Silhouette Cameo software which can be used without Internet connection.  You cannot purchase items from Silhouette without Internet but you CAN design and cut.) 

So, if you’re stuck at home on a snow day and you’re all cozy in your crafty space ready to get your craft on, you better hope you have Internet connection or your Cricut Explore is just another thing that’s shut off from the world.

Additionally, you cannot import projects from the Cricut Craft Room to the Cricut Design Space.

If that’s cool with you, then read on…because there’s more.

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There are two ways to look at this “SmartSet” dial.  #1=It’s smart.  #2=It’s dumb.  There is nothing wrong with presets.  It’s not a new innovation.  The Silhouette Cameo has built in settings in their software.  However, the real problem comes when you combine it with the fact that you can make absolutely no blade choices.  Say what?  I’m saying that you cannot adjust the blade…at all…not even one little bit.  That’s what makes this “SmartSet” dial a dunce.  Read on to see what these two things have to do with each other.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

Let’s say the “SmartSet” dial we discussed above is dead on.  It’s exactly what I need in every situation.  Awesome.  Well, what if I decide to try something new one day?  Like…cutting cereal boxes.  I’m likely to try that since their past machines could do it see here and the Silhouette Cameo can do it see here.  I’ll make all the changes I can to the custom settings.  Sweet.  I have everything set up perfectly but the blade just won’t cut the box.  I make crying noises until I realize that my blade just isn’t long enough.  No worries!  I’ll just set it to go longer!  Wait.  It doesn’t move, twist or change in any way.  SAD.  I’ll have to abandon that project…or turn to any of my other Cricuts, Silhouette Cameo, Sizzix Eclips or KNK Zing that can cut that like a boss.

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You can’t change the new blade (on left) but you could change the depth of the old blade (on right).

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

Cool factor.  The Cricut Explore can cut and draw.  Lame factor.  The Cricut’s always could.

The Cricut Explore can cut and draw without you having to change from a blade to a drawing tool.  Is that really a big deal?  I’ve been changing from the blade to a pen for years.  It’s a neat looking gimmick but it’s just a gimmick.  Cricut has made pens and markers to fit their machines for years.

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Here’s the pen that came with the machine writing out a thank you card that came as a complete project in the Cricut Design Space ONLINE ONLY software.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

It did a great job creating this card.

Cricut Explore Machine Review #CricutExplore #Cricut #Review

TA DA!  That was cool.  Thumbs up to this easy project.

TWO THUMBS DOWN to the user experience with their software when trying to create your own project.  I’ll keep this short.  It’s difficult to locate your cartridges.  They’re missing simple shadowing features.  You can achieve a shadow effect but you have to make a bigger image and size it around the smaller one.  That’s just old school.  No software does things like that anymore and that’s just one example.  Frankly, they’re missing a lot of simplicity present in other software.  Don’t even get me started about their lack of logical search features.

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The back of the machine.

Finally, the Cricut Explore it is not a machine that I would recommend to anyone except Cricut users who are not interested in trying a different brand of machine.  There are better options for those who want .svg functionality.  Take a look at machines like the Silhouette CameoSizzix Eclips (or new Sizzix Eclips 2), KNK Zing (or new KNK Zing Air) machines.  I’ve heard people say that the Cricut Explore is superb in it’s cutting ability compared to other Cricut machines.  That may be true but if you’re looking for machines that cost about the same, have better software, cut just as well or better, you’d do better to pick something else.

All that being said, the best machine is the one that fits YOUR needs. ;)

UPDATE: There is now a wireless adapter available making the Cricut Explore Bluetooth compatible.  Nice addition!

Go get your craft on, my friends!

Comments

  1. 106

    Mc says

    Margaret W.,
    You can buy the ink for the Imagine at Office Depot. You the the HP ink cartridge numbers. 97 (tri-color) and 98 (black). You can sometimes also find them on Amazon. I believe there they show up under Ink for Cricut Imagine.
    They are not inexpensive at either place, but at least we can find them.
    Hope this helps.

    P.S. I got the numbers from PC customer service reps. I have been using them and they do work.
    And as a reminder , if you have been out of ink for a while (or if you have not used the machine in a while) remember to clean the heads for best results.

  2. 107

    Carole says

    I have had my Explore since May. I am happy but no happier than I was with my Expression.
    Today however, I am not happy. I was making a batch of thank you cards that I needed for a fundraiser. I got part of them done but then the bracket that holds the pen suddenly is loose. I mean loose enough to make the lettering with the pen not look right.
    Have you had this issue? I was leery when they tell you to push up on the bracket and push the pen in. And my fears were realized.
    I am bummed because I am still about 6 cards short, which means I will have to come up with something else. I am afraid I will have to send the machine in to Cricut to repair or replace. I bought it through Amazon because we have Prime and therefore didn’t have to pay shipping.
    Heavy sigh.

  3. 108

    says

    Thanks for a wonderful review. I am disappointed as a Cricut Imagine owner that they abandoned the machine. I wish they would unlock it so that I could use it as a 12×12″ printer. I have not tried the new design software that is online only (not a problem at home but might be a crops). I mostly used the Cricut Craft Room software, since it was much easier to see, size items, and place them on the mat.

    I too own two other Cricut’s personal & expression and Silhouette Cameo. Since getting the Cameo I have not turned on a Cricut. I was thinking the Explore might change my mind.

  4. 110

    says

    I was looking for recent reviews of the newer Cricut machines… I had the original Cricut, and I had a Silhouette Cameo that I never learned to use properly. I donated it to a teacher… but… I wanted another Cricut. I LIKED using my machine at crops, and would not want to have to connect to a computer just to use it… so I’ll go backwards and look at the “older” Cricuts. Sometimes, newer isn’t better. Thank you for reviewing this!

  5. 111

    Wanda smith says

    Can I use my files that are downloaded for my monogram machine…

    Is there a way to use fonts I have already purchased for my monogram machine with cricut explore>>>

    thanks
    wanda

  6. 112

    says

    Thank you! I have been trying to decide if I wanted to upgrade to the Explore. I live on a mountain in the country (in PA), in the winter we lose power a lot and with a generator we still have electricity and HEAT but not internet. I think I will stick with my Expression (Create, Mini and Cake) and my Gypsy. AND WHY did they get rid of the Gypsy….In my book…..”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”!

  7. 113

    MC says

    Margarett,
    You can get the ink for the imagine at Office Depot and sometimes on Amazon. They HP ink cartridges numbers 97 and 98. I do recommend you run the clean prinhead tool several times after you install the new cartridges. This will help it print better. And then also the alighn. This is all in the tool/settings. Hope this info helps.

  8. 115

    Holly East says

    I just bought a Cricut Explore and I was wondering if my Gypsy will work on it. I plugged it into the back but it said it was not connected. Is there anything I can do to make it capable?

  9. 116

    KB says

    I cannot imagine what all of you are talking about!! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE my new Cricut Explore!!! I connected my Gypsy and all of my cartridges loaded into my cricut account. And it’s so much easier to design on a bigger screen. The Gypsy was really too small. It is easy to search for a single image, as well as a certain cartridge, and now with the new print and cut, I can do soooo much more, without having to buy any other ink, since I can use my regular printer! And I love how Easy it is to use the write function. Much easier than my old cricut! And I love love the new dial to set for the different papers… No more guess work! And it is so nice to be able to use any images, or fonts…by uploading them to Cricut Design Space. So now you don’t have to buy any more cartridges if you don’t want too. So yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet… I LOVE MY NEW CRICUT EXPLORE!

  10. 117

    says

    Thank you I was concedering it but now not so much … I don’t understand way u have to have all those steps .. I liked it when you just put the cartridge in and presto you have a design .. I will stick to the one I have .. Thanks agine (;

  11. 118

    mC says

    Holly, sadly, NO, it does not. But you can still use whatever cartridges you had loaded on it. If you had linked them to your Craft Room account just use the same info you used with to log in to it to log in to the Design Space account ( you must have an account in Design Space to use the Explore) and your linked cartridges will show up. If you had not linked your cartridges before you will need to link them now to the Design Space account in order to use the Explore. If you need more info give the kind folks at ProvoCraft a call. Their customer service reps are great and will guide you through all the way until you are completely set up. Call 801-932-1144 Or 877-7274288(toll free #)

  12. 119

    mC says

    Holly, sadly, NO, it does not. But you can still use whatever cartridges you had loaded on it. I linked them to your Craft Room account just use the same info you used to log in to it to now log in to the Design Space account ( you must have an account in Design Space to use the Explore) and your linked cartridges will show up. If you had not linked your cartridges before you will need to link them now to the Design Space account in order to use the Explore. If you need more info give the kind folks at ProvoCraft a call. Their customer service reps are great and will guide you through all the way until you are completely set up. Call 801-932-1144 Or 877-7274288(toll free #)

  13. 120

    mC says

    Holly,
    I meant to say, …If you if you had already linked them to you Craft Room account…”
    Not “I linked them…”.

    I hope the info helps.

  14. 121

    CC says

    Thank you SO MUCH for your honesty and also for so much great information. I have been wanting a Silhouette Cameo for such a long time but have to say that i’ve wondered about the Explore since it came out. I have a Cricut Expression that I have never used and always hated the fact that Cricut/Provocraft didn’t play well with others (their lawsuit against SCAL and things like that). I do also own a Pazzles cutting machine which I’ve never really liked, so I’ve longed for a Silhouette for ages now and after reading your review of the Explore I think I’ll still keep the Silhouette on my wish list and forget the Explore!

  15. 122

    Anonymous says

    Are you able to import your cricut craft room cartridges (some I no longer have) into the design space software?

  16. 123

    Jasen says

    No. The Gypsy will not work with the Explore in any way. And any cartridges you have linked to the Gypsy must be unlinked to be added to your Design Space account (what the Explore uses to track what you own).

    If you are still a Gypsy user, the Explore is not for you.

  17. 124

    mC says

    Yes, just use the info you use to login to Cricut CraftRoom to sign in to Design Space and all your linked cartridges will show up. You can call Cricut and they will help you get all set up.

  18. 125

    Anonymous says

    I just bought my first cricut. Cricut explore, but I can’t figure out how to use it. How did you learn how it works?

  19. 127

    Karen Moyer says

    Hi Joy! Just found you because I just got my new explore a week ago. I have an expression that I never did an update to so I could still use my SCAL but it died. Since you can’t get them repaired I got a pazzles and most recently a silhouette which I do love. My reason for getting the explore was to be able to use the cartridges I own again. I did know about the internet connection piece and even though we have to use our phone hotspot for internet connection I still went ahead and finally got it. I am concerned though because above you said that it’s difficult to locate images in design space. Is that still the case? I am just getting ready to break it out but maybe I should just send it back…I could always just find a used cricut.

    • 128

      says

      Hi Karen! I’m not currently using Design Space, so they might have made some changes since I bought my Explore (the day it was released). I think you should try out Design Studio before you send your machine back. You might really like it! :) You can try it on Cricut’s site here. I hope that helps! :)

  20. 129

    mC says

    Karen,
    Do give Design Space a try. I think you will like it. It’s really colorful and easy to learn and use. I felt like I had rediscovered so many new images on my cartridges when I used it. What’s the harm in trying it.? The trial is free…

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