Buying a cutter to start a business? Some things to think about
One question I get asked frequently is, "I want to make shirts and decals which craft cutter should I buy?". So I figured that I could do my own little review and share it here for all to enjoy.
CRICUT VERSUS SILHOUETTE
Everyone these days loves these small sized cutters for craft usage. There are many brands of these machines; the two major competitors in this market are Silhouette and Cricut.
I have owned and used both of these brands and also own professional brands as well. I hope that I can share my insight into using these machines and what the benefits and draw backs are to each product.
Running a home-based business is an exciting adventure that a lot of people want to try. The great thing is that these machines are affordable. So let’s cut to the chase and compare these; I am not comparing feature to feature, I am comparing overall uses.
Since I had a Cricut (Explore model) first I will do it first.
Cricut Design Space is an online-based software that controls the plotter. It has a great dial on it with some preset pressures and speeds. They have now come out with the Maker version which tackles a lot more of those small home crafting jobs with presets wood, paper, perforations and comes with the proper cutting tools for it.
When I had my Cricut, I was using it to cut adhesive and heat transfer vinyls. Personally, I designed all my designs in Illustrator then imported them into the software. I did try using their software for design and it was a great starter program for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience working with graphics. I really enjoyed their “tracing” software for photos or images you found online. It was easy for me to select certain colours and import them into the vector (scalable graphic; I will talk about this in another post) that is required for all plotter machines.
As you upload your file it has simple and easy to see levels of tracing detail; it allows you to choose how simple or complex you want the design trace/output to be with minimal fuss. Then as you go through the process you eliminate the background and pieces you want cut out. This is great and very quickly allows you to trace your design. Like any plotter if you have a complex design or image and you want it to cut out each colour and line it becomes a more laborious task. Each time you need to re-import your image and select ONLY one colour at a time; this can be time consuming.
When designing a text based design; it used to be very frustrating; and luckily Cricut has made the update to include letter and line spacing, words in curves and advanced letter alignment. This is especially important for script fonts, as some will come with the letters very spaced out and not touching each other, you can adjust the letter spacing (of the whole word) to tighten the writing up so the lines touch. Before you cut you need to WELD your letter or you will be cutting out wherever the lines cross, which results in lost time and materials or an odd looking design on the final product.
One thing I always loved about Cricut was when you click MAKE IT, the software outputs mats; so each colour or material you are using it on a separate mat. This makes it easier to avoid cutting the wrong design in the wrong colour. Also when cutting, you either choose the material you are cutting on the dial on the top or in the software to adjust the speed and pressure of the cut. All in all an affordable machine to test the waters and start a business.
Now, let’s take a look at the Silhouette. Unlike Cricut the software; Silhouette Studio is based on your computer, this means you do not need an internet connection to run it. This is great for cottage goers and people who like to cut on site. There are presets for cutting but also fine tuning built in to adjust easily if you have issues.
When uploading a photo or design to Silhouette you do the “tracing” right there in studio. You can easily select lines only or solid areas and use the sliders to adjust selecting all of that colour. There is a ton of fine tuning you can do PLUS the ability to edit points on the to smooth out your lines. (I will do a post on this if requested). Instead of importing your photo many times; you copy and paste and adjust the trace with the sliders, one copy per colour. So if you have 4 colours to make up your design, then there will be 4 copies with each colour highlighted on your mat.
When working with text in Silhouette Studio, I find that the software does a much better job of taking the original font and spacing the letters like is done in a word processor; keeping them as a word rather than just characters. Studio does offer line and letter spacing options and also has the advanced option of moving individual letters. There are a lot of extra features in the software, such as puzzle making, rhinestones, nesting, and warping. These are more advanced features that can help elevate designs above your competitors.
When you click send to cut the design, you select your material and how you want it cut, all lines or outer edge, also cut by line or colour, there’s a lot of options here and it works a like professional grade graphics softwares, just simplified for user ease.
Since I have owned both cutters and am not sponsored in any way; I’m giving my opinion here; doing it all over again, I would spend a bit more and get a Cameo over an Explore or Maker, right away.
At times you lose internet connection or Cricut’s Design Space website goes down; this means you are done working for now on already designed projects and are unable to do any uploads to trace. And if you are running a business with one that means time you aren’t making money. I also had times where it would tell me my own original design was copy-written, and they wouldn’t let me open it; again resulting in downtime. Silhouette Studio is a program on your computer (yes I know you download something from Cricut but that is just the connection part to the software online); this means no downtime due to internet loss and can be taken anywhere to work.
Another awesome benefit to Silhouette is that you can run multiple machines from the same software. If you use these for your business and you get busy the easiest way to speed up production is to add a second machine. The trouble with Cricut is that you will need to use 2 different browsers (ex. Firefox and chrome); one for each machine. Where with silhouette you plug in the second machine and just select which you are cutting from. I frequently did this and had one machine cutting one colour and the other doing another… for the same design or cut two designs at once. This makes this machine, for me, a more useful tool for businesses.
My biggest beef is with files/designs; when you create or import your design into Design Space you are leaving all your cut information with Cricut. This is especially frustrating when your whole design is done there. You cannot send it to a friend or company to make that design.
This is not the case with Silhouette Studio, you are able to save your designs online in “your library” (cloud based storage) OR locally on your computer. The best part is being able to send a file to a friend when they like your design OR to a company to help print and cut more difficult layered designs.
Another reason for my choice
As a business that offers to print and cut designs for other makers this presents a very unique problem. For example, you have a baseball team approach you for shirts. Awesome right! Well their logo is 4 colours and you need to make 20 of them. Doable but super time consuming AND it is for a team, so they all need to be the SAME. So placement, then layering on top of that, all have to match. It’s a lot of work. So you contact your local printer (we do this as a service) and say I need some help to make this job cost effective and less time consuming (therefore more money in your pocket).
When someone contacts me and says I need a design printed I ask them to send me files. Cricut users are unable to send me these files (files where the cutlines are already made from the jpg the team sent) and therefore the cost goes up as I have to recreate/trace that logo. When a Silhouette user contacts me, I am able to tell them how to export/save your file so I can easily print and cut out your design. No extra costs.
So overall both companies get the job done, but I believe that Silhouette is the better option with the most features and abilities for small businesses. They are also bringing out larger sized cutters to allow for a new category of semi-professional cutters. This is only my opinion and everyone likes what they like.