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Silhouette vs. Cricut: My Review of Silhouette Cameo 4 and Silhouette Studio

If you follow me on social media or read my previous post, you might know that I've bought a new toy! A Silhouette Cameo 4! Pink, of course. ;) 

You may also know I've been following the situation at Cricut closely. Cricut has been taking steps to correct what turned out to be an unpopular decision to restrict the free version of their software Design Space. If you need to catch up a little, see their statement HERE. I've seen strong opinions regarding this situation from both sides, but customers were overwhelmingly against this move, including myself. I still love my Cricut machines and enjoy using them. However, there are many reasons why Cricut's move was a bad idea, and I had a lot to say about it, which you can read in my previous post.

As a result of all this, I decided it was time to invest in a rival machine: the Silhouette Cameo 4. Since I do cut files as part of my business, it makes sense anyway that I should be familiar with both brands. I need to be able tailor my designs and instructions to a variety of needs, and to be able to provide help when customer service issues pop up. And if it sounds like I'm trying to justify my completely spontaneous and large purchase decision—well, that's partly true, too, LOL.

Quick Take: In comparison with Cricut, for my needs (mostly paper crafting using my own designs), the Cameo 4 does pretty much the same thing as my Explore Air 2. However, Silhouette's advantages over Cricut, in both the software and the machine itself, outweigh its minor disadvantages. And, yes, I prefer Silhouette's subscription/upgrade business model over Cricut's.


My new Silhouette Cameo 4

Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may be compensated if you click or buy. It does not affect how much you pay, but it is one way to support this blog!

Pros

Advantages of the Silhouette Studio software and design store:
  • The biggest advantage: The software is desktop based, which means I can work directly from my computer without uploading to a cloud system. Even so, Silhouette provides cloud based backup for your projects (with storage size limits depending on whether you have a free account or a subscription—a much better model than what Cricut had tried to do limiting number of uploads). 

  • A look at Silhouette Studio

  • Software is more advanced overall. I have yet to go really in-depth with all the features, but just from first impressions, it definitely is more complex than Design Space. Browsing through the panels, I see some functions that I use in pro software like Adobe Illustrator. Just a few examples of things  I've seen in Silhouette that aren't in Cricut Design Space are freehand drawing, ability to edit points, more advanced tracing settings, and the Modify panel (equivalent to Pathfinder in Illustrator—once again, more advanced than Cricut's simpler "slice" and "weld" functions).  In addition, there is more control over cut settings as well.
  • Purchases are yours to download and keep. Their subscription is based on a credits system so you have a certain amount you can "buy" designs with every month. Credits can roll over for 60 days, and after that you lose them. Even so, if you use store designs a lot, this can save money. The designs in their store come in a proprietary format that can only be used with Silhouette Studio, but some designs have the option of upgrading to the more universal SVG format for a slightly higher price, which I find worth it since I own different brands of machines. I still get the Studio versions to use with the Cameo, but also SVGs that can be used across any machine that accepts that file type, such as Cricut. By comparison, Cricut store files can only be used on Cricut machines and it is all web based—no downloading capabilities. With a subscription, you have access to many of their store designs, but lose access once you unsubscribe.
  • Silhouette has an organized library where you can easily sort your designs. One thing I found a bit annoying in Cricut Design Space was trying to find my purchases. I use my own designs 99% of the time. I think I've made one purchase, and that was when I got my Joy and wanted to try cutting a card for the first time. I found one that I liked, and it cost $.99 since I didn't subscribe to Access—fine, I was happy to pay. You'd think it would be easy to find it later on, especially since it's literally my only design purchase from Cricut. But no. You can filter images by "purchased" but when I do that I get over 1200 results. I don't know if these came free with one of my machines or something, but I definitely did not purchase these on my own. Luckily I can just do another search to narrow it down further, but what a pain. I can only imagine this would be frustrating if you purchased a lot of images and it was harder to search.  Silhouette's library has a folder system, and even puts their "free with purchase" designs in a separate folder for you.

Trying to find a Cricut purchase with over 1,200 extra images when I try to filter by purchased. Why??

Silhouette's library (with folders!)

Advantages of the Cameo 4 machine itself:
  • Cut lines can be set to different pressures. This is particularly great for sticker sheets. I can set cut lines around my stickers to cut only through the top layer and another line around the whole sheet that cuts the whole way through! As far as I know, this is currently not possible in Cricut unless you hack it. For example, when I do sticker sheets on my Cricut, I set multiple cut lines stacked one on top of the other around the outside edge so it will cut all the way through, since the overall pressure needs to be set so the stickers only cut through the top layer. Another great advantage of this feature—you can create score lines on paper projects cut on heavy materials like card stock. So you create two colors of lines, and set one color to cut and one to score, and it cuts score lines at a lighter pressure than the regular cut lines. No separate scoring tool necessary! 
  • The machine seems to cut faster, but also you have more control over speed with a setting you can manually tweak. This is good because sometimes you want it to move slower if you're getting tears while you're cutting. I believe Cricut simply has a "fast mode" you can use for certain materials.

  • Silhouette cut settings, including ways to tweak the force and speed.

  • Also greater control of cut force, or depth of the blade. This is handy if you are having trouble finding the right material setting or I'd imagine once your blade is older and you need to compensate for a duller blade. In Cricut, the custom settings just give you more options of materials to use. A few might have an additional option to use "More" or "Less" pressure but that's it.
  • The Cameo 4 can cut heavy duty materials. To be clear, I have not tested this since I use mostly paper, but from what I've read it would be comparable to the Cricut Maker, which would make it an upgrade from my Cricut Explore Air 2.
  • It has the ability to do matless cutting from rolls of vinyl. Personally, I do not see myself needing to use this often since I work mostly with paper, but this might be a big feature to consider for vinyl crafters. I know in the past, I've found it a pain just to cut sheets from rolls and have them curl up while I'm trying to stick to the mat. This would eliminate that.

Click image to view on Amazon (affiliate link)

Cons

Not too many—in general, the downsides of Silhouette are minor compared to their advantages.

  • Setup is not as easy as Cricut. With the documents provided in the box for my Cameo, I could get it registered and plugged in. After that, I sat there like, Now what? I had to do some online searching on the Silhouette site and YouTube and browse through the handbook (once I found it) to find all the information I needed to actually do my first cut. With both my Cricut Explore Air 2 and Joy, the box contained very easy step-by-step instructions as well as sample materials to do your first test cut, taking you through the whole process to understand the basics. For that they get a big thumbs from me.
  • The software has a bigger learning curve, but also seems more advanced so the trade off is expected.
  • No equivalent on the Cricut Joy card mat in the Silhouette line of products that I've seen. It's one of my favorite Cricut projects to do.
  • The machine is louder, but that's not a deal breaker for me.
  • Silhouette mats are thinner and more flimsy, and I find them a tad more difficult to stick materials to and load correctly. Again, not a huge deal, but something good to know going in.
    Cutting mat comparison
  • You cannot import/upload SVGs unless you upgrade your software from the free Basic Edition to Designer Edition (a $50 one-time flat fee). You can work with other file types like PNGs or DXF, but I personally prefer working with SVGs. 
  • It should also be noted that you need the Business Edition upgrade ($100 one-time fee) to export/save a design as an SVG from Silhouette Studio.



Conclusion

As a pro designer for mainly paper crafts, I find the Silhouette edges over Cricut with its more advanced and desktop-based software and better business model regarding upgrades and subscriptions. Cricut's best asset is its ease of use. Bottom line: I plan to continue using all my cutting machines!

—Nicole

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