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 = 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.

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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!

Comments

  1. 166

    says

    Hi,
    I’m new to these cutting machines. I’m a pretty capable artist and I need a machine for a specific function. I currently hand cut leather feathers and a customer has a huge order. While that is great news I would like to purchase the best product for the job. I was looking at the Cricut Explore or the Cricut Explore Air. Now I am leaning towards the Sizzix eclips2. I will be designing and cutting my own shape out of thin leather. Planning on cutting hundreds! Any advice is appreciated! I feel like I’ve been reading reviews for days and I really need to take the plunge! Thank You!

  2. 167

    mia says

    I just bought this new machine at Michaels online and was so excited to get it.
    This would be my first machine!
    Then I realized everything I do will cost me extra money. I was really disappointed that I would have to pay a monthly subscription and would even have to pay to cut or print my own designs. Sure there are free projects, but nothing that interest me at the time.
    Everything I wanted to do, ended up with a cost……pay then cut.
    I tried to make vinyl lettering one word “beach” they wanted $4.99 . No pay, no cut!
    After spending $300 on this with tax, you would think you could do simple projects without extra cash. I could end up spending thousands of dollars in just a few months. Sad really!
    So without even using it once my Cricut Explore Air is going back in its pretty little box and back to the store.

    • 168

      Anonymous says

      why do you need to pay? lots of free fonts on your pc to use and you can upload free svgs for something more original. Also lots of free cuts from cricut themselves. I have old expression and have been trailing the design space software for a while. I’m now keen to attach an explore to cut all my custom designs I’ve made without paying a penny.

  3. 169

    Dottie Honeycutt says

    Very disappointed! I have been unable to make my first cut. Yes I was able to make the cute little card that came with it but that was it. So frustrated I call Tech Supoort every other day and sit on hold for 30 minutes or more, There is always a high call volume.TAhe one time I actually talked to a person they said someone would call me back .Only to call me back 2 days later and leave a message to call support back if I sill need help. On hold now 35 minutes so far!!!

  4. 170

    D says

    Thanks for your review. I agree about the cartridge investment. I have 150 some of which were already linked when I bought them. The fact that you need Internet connection because otherwise you cannot do any projects without it also a good point. It doesn’t make sense to me having to pay $10 extra a month for access to the images, after paying $250+ for the machine. All of these reasons limits the number of consumers that may want to purchase the Cricut Explorer and enjoy its features. For example, retirees who are on a fixed income may reconsider the advantages of this machine over others. I am a big fan of the Cricut Imagine. Mine still works. I love the fact that I can print and cut and print in color, make pattern cardstock, all with or without using the internet. In my opinion, this machine was the best they ever made.

  5. 171

    Mama loie says

    Well now I am in a panic. I bought this machine 2 weeks ago and tried to use it to cut my own design for things for my daughter’s wedding. No luck. I haven’t tried to use it since. I am wondering if I need to take it back and get a Silhouette? I am new to these machines, so maybe I got the wrong product? I will use it for making vinyl images and making cards. Which machine is more user friendly?

    • 172

      says

      Hi Mama Loie,
      It’s hard to say which machine is more user friendly because it mostly comes down to personal preference. Some people just love Cricut and others might love a different machine. One of the best ways to see if the Cameo will be right for you is to download their free software and see if you like that. You can use either machine for vinyl and card making. I’ve used the previous Cricut’s for vinyl and even have a DVD called Cricut Vinylology that’s all about creating with vinyl. The techniques learned in the video can be used no matter what machine you choose. I hope this helps! :)

  6. 173

    says

    Just got my Cricut Explore Air. I am going to be making old fashioned stencils with mine for very specific slogans. I am trying find out what thickness of vinyl I should be purchasing to making stencils that can be used over and over again. I look forward to hearing from you when you get the time. Sincerely, Becky Wierzbicki beckysrosecottage@comcast.net

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