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.) 

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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 = 391 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.

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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.

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Here’s the front.

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

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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It did a great job creating this card.

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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!


  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.

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