Which is better – a Cricut or a Silhouette?
This question pops up a lot in the planner community, especially when it comes to making planner stickers. Cricut vs Silhouette – which one is actually better for sticker shops? I, for one, wish there had been more reviews on the subject when I first began cutting stickers back in 2017.
In an effort to assist my fellow small business owners (or newbies wanting to enter the planner shop world), I’m sharing pros and cons of the cutting machines I’ve used over the years. Keep in mind that while other’s experiences may differ, I’m sharing my true and honest opinion based on what I’ve dealt with.
*While this post contains affiliate links that link you to the products on Amazon, I am not in any way affiliated with or paid by Silhouette or Cricut to write this. My opinions are mine, alone. *
The first cutting machine I ever purchased was a Silhouette Cameo 3…
…and it was the bane of my existence.
I should probably start out by saying that when I first started out with the Cameo, I was not an experienced user. At all. In fact, I had no idea what I was doing, so that could be why my experience with it was so horrific. Despite that, I’m laying out the pros and cons for you in comparison to the competition.
- Large cutting area. The mats for the Cameo are 12 x 12 inches, so you have a lot of space to work with. This comes in handy when you’re using larger sheets of paper, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re using 8.5 x 11 inch sticker paper. If you plan on using your cutting machine for things like vinyl or other larger-than-letter-size material, this is a huge plus.
- Touch screen. As far as tech goes, the Cameo’s touch screen is pretty nifty. You can update firmware by following prompts on the screen, instead of jumping through hoops like you do with the Silhouette Portrait (this is apparently set to update soon).
- The Silhouette design studio is bangin’. It includes a variety of different tools that can help you design the products of your dreams, many that Cricut doesn’t currently have. (The offset feature is by far the greatest tool available, in my opinion. XD) It’s also a stand-alone program, so you have more control over where your files are saved.
- Cutting without a mat. Although I can’t attest to the accuracy, cutting without a mat is possible with a Cameo (and Portrait). I know people especially like to use this function when cutting vinyl.
- PixScan Mat. When I first started cutting stickers and had no idea what I was doing, I would design my stickers in another program and print them out. Then I would use the PixScan mat to take a picture of the sheet and add the cut lines. I DO NOT recommend cutting stickers this way and silently chuckle to myself at how ridiculous I was in the beginning, but it’s handy to have the PixScan mat for other projects such as cutting or duplicating handmade designs.
- Double duty. The dual carriage on a Cameo allows you to load a blade and sketch pen at the same time, which can certainly come in handy if you’re making things like cards.
- Multiple layers. The Silhouette machines allow you to add layers to your design, as well as cut multiple layers at a time (if you pay for an upgrade). This is especially helpful for sticker makers; you only need to click “cut” once and it’ll kiss cut stickers, then cut out the sheet.
- So much to learn. Silhouette studio is a beast and there is a lot for new users to learn. But while you can learn a lot from online tutorials on how to use the software (my fave is the Silhouette School Blog), there’s nothing that really explains how to deal with the machine’s finicky attitude. Which brings me to…
- Silhouettes are notoriously finicky. When I say finicky, I mean as finicky as the old antennas we had growing up that needed to be twisted a certain way, would only work on Tuesdays, and required a special rain dance to work. This was my biggest problem with my 2 Cameos (did you read that right? TWO different Cameos). I dealt with program crashes, shaking machines, a huge amount of off-cut sheets (so much wasted materials), diagonally skewed cuts, and problems with getting the thing to register. I spent a good 2 months back and forth with Silhouette support before they flat out told me there was nothing else they could do.
- Blades wear out fast. This is especially true for planner sticker makers when you’re cutting in mass quantities. To help combat this, use a CB09 from Amazon. I usually use the 45 degree blade.
- Mats are lower quality and wear out quick. Obviously, materials for any cutting machine are going to wear out eventually, but Silhouette mats have an especially short life. They’re thinner than Cricut mats, so most of the Cameo owners I know end up buying the Cricut 12 x 12 mats. You’ll have to continue to re-stick or replace them the more planner stickers you cut.
- Registration marks can be a pain. When you’re cutting planner stickers, you learn pretty quickly how hard it can be to line up registration marks. My machine was veeery particular in where you could line up the mat. If it was even an 1/8 inch off, it would never register. This takes some time to get used to, but once you figure it out you shouldn’t have as many problems.
- Paying more for certain features. If you want the layers option, which as I said before, is super handy for sticker shops, then you’ll need to upgrade to the Designer, Designer+, or Business Edition of Silhouette Studio. The cheapest option – Designer Edition – retails at $49.99. Sometimes you can find it on sale on Amazon. Check out a comparison of the different editions here.
In the end, I returned both my Cameos and got myself a Cricut Explore Air 2. Like I said before, my problems could have been in part because of user error, or just because I hadn’t figured out the tricks to get it to work right. But my horrific experience with the machine scarred me for life, so I’ll never own one again.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a huge majority of planner shop owners who use Cameos as their go-to planner sticker cutting machines. I’ve had so many people tell me how they’ve never had the kind of issues I did in the past, but I can only share what my own experience was. Make of my opinions what you will!
Now, cutting stickers with a Cricut is a lot different than cutting with a Silhouette. While the Explore Air machine wasn’t nearly as finicky as the Cameo, it did come with it’s own learning curve. The design studio was a lot different than what I was used to by this point.
Here’s one of my favorite videos from YouTube on how to make stickers with a Cricut:
- A steady mat is a happy mat. This machine has points on either side of the cutting mat area that keep said mat in place, so there’s no guessing game when you slide the mat in. This is a major plus for the Cricut because the Silhouette machines don’t have that, so when you stick it in the wrong place, the machines can’t read the registration marks.
- Blade is better. The Cricut Explore already takes a CB09 so when you need to replace the blade, you can buy a pack of replacement blades like this one on Amazon. You get a lot more for your money and they last longer.
- Cut settings dial. Instead of setting each cut setting in the design program, this machine has a dial on top. Simply turn it to adjust. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a “sticker” setting on the actual dial, but more on that later…
- Also does double duty. Like the Cameo 3, Explore Air 2 has two slots to add a blade and sketch pen – definitely handy and time-saving when making things like cards.
- Hunting for the sticker setting. Finding the right cut setting can be a little more difficult with the Cricut. In order to cut stickers, you’ll want to set your dial to “custom” and when in the cut settings on the computer, you’ll need to Set material > View All > Search “Sticky note”. For me, this was the best option for white matte stickers. I never used my Cricut for any other kind.
- Adding offsets can be complicated. Instead of adding cut lines, Cricut cuts around your image. After you upload your image, you’ll erase everything around it so you’re left with the outline you want cut. This means that when you’re drawing your sticker, you’ll need to add a white offset area while designing (like in the video above). If, however, you don’t want a white offset, you can add the “bleed” option when printing your design; this will spread the color out so there isn’t any white space around the sticker.
- Only one cut at a time. When cutting stickers, it’s much easier to have the machine cut both the stickers and the sticker sheet. However, the Cricut can only cut one at a time. So, to have it cut out the sheet after the stickers are done, you’ll need to add a background image or square around your stickers and re-insert the mat for it to cut a second time. Otherwise, you can just use a paper trimmer to cut the sheets yourself.
- Design space limitations. Firstly, it isn’t a stand-alone program like Silhouette Studio. It requires an internet connection. Secondly, Cricut studio doesn’t have nearly as many tools as Silhouette. This didn’t really bother me design-wise because I create my sticker files in another program, but it did make offsetting cuts more difficult.
- Print & cut area. The cutting area for the print & cut option is smaller with the Cricut than a Silhouette. You can still add multiple sticker sheets, but not as many or ones not as large.
- Saving files. Because the Cricut Design Studio is an online program, it saves your files online. In order to export your designs/files, you have to work around it by either snipping the screen and saving it, or go to print options and choose “export to PDF”.
Once I learned how to cut stickers with the Cricut Explore Air 2, I was getting tired of the offsetting process and desperately wanted to return to the Silhouette Studio. Because of my past with the Cameo 3, and with some encouragement from friends, I decided to give Silhouette Portraits a try.
- The design studio. Just as I said before, the Silhouette Studio capabilities far surpass that of the Cricut Design Space. It’s the biggest reason I went back to Silhouette in the end.
- Adding cut lines and offsets. My savior – the offset tool. Adding cut lines and offset in Silhouette Studio is so much simpler than the alternative. Don’t want part of your image cut? No problem. Just add the cut lines where you want them, and you’re good to go.
- Perfect size. I love the size of the Portrait mats. I can just slap an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of sticker paper and stick it in the machine. It can still cut other materials like vinyl, you just need to make sure they’re no more than 8.5-9 inches wide.
- Lightweight and easier to store. The Silhouette Portrait’s size really comes in handy when you start adding multiple machines to your line up. As your sticker shop grows, you’ll want more machines to get the job done faster. Portraits stack up pretty easily on IKEA shelves.
- Adding layers & multiple cut settings (but only with the Designer Edition and above). The layer function in Silhouette Studio is another favorite tool of mine. Just like with the Cameo, you can have your machine cut stickers as well as the sheet itself in one go. Unfortunately, it’s an added cost, but more on that later…
- (Again) There is so much to learn. Silhouette studio has a lot of tools, and a lot to learn.
- (Again) Silhouettes are notoriously finicky. While my Cameos seemed to be the spawn of Satan, my Portraits weren’t as bad. (This is the big reason I recommend them over Cameos). I still dealt with registration problems, shaking machines, and off-cut sheets, but I could usually run through a list of troubleshooting steps to get them working again. At this point in my cutting “career”, Silhouette support had implemented a live chat option, and the person I chatted with was a HUGE help. After a million steps, we got the machines working better than ever.
- Blades still wear out fast. As I said in the Cameo section, this is especially true for planner sticker makers when you’re cutting in mass quantities. To help combat this, use a CB09 from Amazon. I usually use the 45-degree blade.
- Mats are still lower quality and wear out quick. There are several off-brand options on Amazon for the Portrait that you can use that are thicker and last a bit longer. These are the ones I buy. They’ll still wear out (I had to buy new ones every month) the more you use them, but they’re better quality than Silhouette mats.
- Registration marks can still be a pain. My portraits are also pretty particular in where you line up the mat, but since fixing issues with Silhouette support, I have a little more leeway. As long as I have nice sticky mats, they usually register correctly. Usually.
- Paying more for certain features. Like I said in the Cameo section, you’ll need to upgrade to the Designer edition at least in order to get some of the features – like the layers tool. Personally, I snagged the Business Edition so I could run multiple machines at once. It retails at $99.99, but I found it on Amazon for around $65. You can check out a comparison of all the Editions here.
It took me a few months to really figure out my machine’s quirks and work around its finicky behavior, but my Portraits are now my favorite cutting machines. Although they don’t work perfectly all the time, they’re much more consistent and reliable than the Cameo, with greater capabilities than the Cricut Explore.
Side note: I’ve noticed that a lot of Youtubers, and even shop owners, recommend the Cameo 3. I’m sure this is because they’ve had better experiences than me. But sometimes when someone recommends the Cameo, I’ll see Portraits in their photos and videos rather than a Cameo. Maybe I’m being skeptical, but it really makes me wonder…
So, as far as planner stickers go, I recommend the Portrait 2.
What about you all? What has your experience with Cricut vs Silhouette? Was one of them the bane of your existence? Do you favor one, or hate them all? Let me know in the comments below!