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If you’ve been into a Michaels craft store in the past five years or even just browsed the DIY section of Pinterest, you’ve probably heard of Cricut. These cool—albeit pricey—crafting machines are heralded by DIY enthusiasts, as they allow you to cut out all sorts of intricate, customized designs from materials like sticky vinyl and paper, and with certain add-ons, you can even create iron-on decals for clothing and other fabric.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I found a Cricut Explore Air 2 under the Christmas tree last year—thanks, Mom! I’ve always been really crafty, and I was excited to see how I could use the Cricut to further my pottery (my current obsession) and just explore what the machine had to offer in general.
After several months of experimenting with my Cricut Explore Air 2, here’s what I like—and several things I don’t—about this unique crafting tool.
What is a Cricut, exactly?
There are several different Cricut models available today, and at their most basic, Cricuts are cutting machines. At this point, you might be thinking, “Isn’t that what scissors are for?” but the difference is that Cricuts make cuts based on digital files and they deliver extreme precision, even on incredibly intricate designs.
Depending on which Cricut you own, there are hundreds of materials you can cut with the machine, including everything from cardstock and posterboard to aluminum foil, leather, magnets, and more. Here’s the whole list of materials you can cut with a Cricut, if you’re curious.
As mentioned, Cricut cutting machines work off digital files, and you can create your own designs using the Cricut Design Space. This Photoshop-esque program allows you to customize fonts, shapes, and so much more to design all sorts of projects, and then with the push of a button, your Cricut machine will cut out your creation. It’s really quite cool.
While cutting is the Cricut’s main purpose, it's also capable of drawing, scoring, debossing, engraving, and more. These skills vary by machine, and you often need special tools or attachments for each function.
What can you do with a Cricut?
A better question would honestly be, “What can’t you do with a Cricut?” Because you can create designs from scratch, the sky is really the limit. These cutting machines lend themselves well to a wide range of applications, but here are some of the most popular uses:
- Cards and other paper crafts
- Iron-on designs for clothing and accessories
- Stickers and labels
- Custom stencils
- Art and home decor projects
- DIY jewelry and accessories
- DIY mug designs
If you want to get a better idea of all the ways to use a Cricut, you can browse their extensive project library for inspiration.
Everything I loved about the Cricut Explore Air 2
As I mentioned above, I received the Cricut Explore Air 2 as a gift. This is the mid-tier Cricut model that’s recommended for DIY and hobby applications, and it can cut more than 100 materials and has four different capabilities, including cutting, scoring, and drawing. The next step up is the Cricut Maker, which can handle more than 300 materials and has 12 functions, making it ideal for more professional applications. One of our editors who's an avid quilter owns this model, as it's the only one that cuts fabric.
I spent a few months playing with my new toy, and I used it to complete several projects, including making labels for my pantry jars, a Valentine’s Day card for my boyfriend, and a name tag for my darling Roomba. Here’s what I really liked about the machine:
It’s easy to set up and use I have a less-than-stellar track record with printers (why must they be so hard to use?), so I was expecting my Cricut to be a hassle to set up. After all, it’s kind of like a printer, except with a blade. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the machine sets up quickly and easily in just a few steps. Cricut Design Space walks you through the process, and you’re ready to start creating in just a few minutes.
Similarly, the machine proved very easy to use, making it accessible for all skill levels. All you really have to do is load the mat into the machine, which entails pressing one button, and you’re ready to cut. I was truly blown away by how easy the whole process was!
The results are amazing
The first project I attempted with my Cricut was creating pantry labels for my flour and sugar jars—yes, I spend a lot of time on Pinterest, and no, I’m not sorry about it. I wanted them to be unique, so I downloaded a cool font and designed my own custom labels in Design Space, then cut them out of black vinyl.
The font I chose was admittedly intricate, with lots of swirls and flourishes, but the Cricut was able to cut the labels out perfectly. The machine only needed a minute to cut out the designs, and now, I can’t stop making labels for everything in my home. They’re just so fun to design and make, and I couldn’t be more impressed with the machine’s ability to quickly cut out even the most complex patterns.
The possibilities are endless Pretty much every time I finish a project with the Cricut, I immediately think of three or four new things I want to try. Currently, I’m planning to make a calendar decal for my office white board, as well as stencils to trace onto some handmade plates.
Plus, if you ever run out of ideas, there are hundreds of projects in the Cricut Design Space library that you can either use as inspiration or make yourself!
Here’s what’s not so great about it
However, I wasn’t universally impressed with my Cricut. There are a few notable downsides that might keep me from recommending it to other people.
You end up spending a lot more money Cricut machines themselves are not cheap—the Explore Air 2 retails for $250, while the Maker is a cool $400. I think these are fair prices considering how advanced the technology is, but what bothered me was the additional investment on top of the machine itself.
To use the machine to its full potential, you have to pay extra for tools, attachments, materials, and even Cricut’s fonts and graphics. Here’s what I ended up spending to complete just three projects:
- Tools: I purchased the Cricut Basic Tool Set for $26.99, as the weeding tool helps you pull out small pieces of vinyl and the scraper is helpful for transferring labels. (I also didn’t realize that I needed a separate Scoring Stylus to make cards or envelopes, so I ended up folding them by hand.)
- Materials: I purchased a roll of black vinyl for $7.99, a pack of three pearl-finish vinyls for $16.99, and transfer tape for $7.99.
- Digital assets: One of the craziest things to me is that you have to pay per item for Cricut’s graphics and fonts. Their fonts cost $4.99 each, and graphics range from $0.99 to $1.99. I ended up purchasing the template for that little note card, and it cost $2.13 after tax.
For just a few small projects, I spent more than $60 on extra supplies. I avoided a lot of cost by downloading free fonts and using paper I already owned, but if you’re looking to create more complicated projects, the costs will likely add up quickly as you buy graphics, materials, and special attachments, like the Deep Cut Blade or additional cutting mats.
Cricut also recommends you use their specific tools on each project. Using an iron-on decal? You'll need the Cricut EasyPress to adhere it to your fabric. Want to make your own mug? Great! You'll need to pick up the $200 Cricut Mug Press and a set of Cricut-compatible blank mugs.
As a hobby crafter, I have trouble justifying this type of expense.
Of course, the catch is that you can get add-on items for free (or at least cheaper) if you subscribe to Cricut Access. For $10 a month, you get access to 400 fonts and thousands of graphics, as well as a discount on materials. Again, for a hobbyist, $10 per month seems like a lot, as you’re probably not using the machine constantly.
Design Space can be tricky
I grew up using Photoshop and other various design programs, so I was able to pick up Cricut Design Space fairly quickly. However, I don’t find it to be particularly user-friendly. With programs like this, I think core functions should be fairly intuitive—I shouldn’t have to watch a YouTube video to figure out how to resize my graphic or switch a line from cutting to drawing.
Because the program isn’t the easiest to pick up, I can see it being frustrating for someone like my mother, who isn’t well-versed in design programs. And if it is going to be that complicated, I think it should at least come with a manual to walk you through the basic steps. (There is one available online, but it doesn’t seem very comprehensive.)
There’s a lot of waste
See that $8 roll of vinyl you just bought? You can go ahead and throw at least 1/2 of it away. Why? That's the amount of material that gets wasted when you cut out designs.
After cutting, you have to peel away the "negative space," and there's really nothing you can do with the excess material besides throw it out. As someone who feels guilty every time she buys single-use plastic, it bothers me that there's so much waste involved with the Cricut process.
Should you buy a Cricut?
With all that in mind, I’m on the fence about my Cricut. The technology is amazing, and I have a lot of fun using it, but I don’t necessarily think I would buy it for myself or recommend it for fellow crafters. The nickel-and-diming is a lot if you’re just a hobby crafter, and you’re going to end up spending a lot more if you don’t have the skills to build your own designs in Design Space.
However, if you sell your crafts on Etsy or elsewhere, I do think a Cricut could be a good investment. The cutting machine will let you churn out more products quickly and easily, and since you’re recouping your money, it feels less wasteful. (What can I say? I’m a businesswoman at heart.)
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.