I was definitely a little out of my element when I took on this review. I’m not really an arts and crafts kind of guy. Sure, I’ll do the occasional project with my four-year-old. I also like to make things (beer, music, small electronics) and generally have a pretty strong DIY streak. But I don’t really traffic in the same mediums as the traditional Cricut crowd: cardstock, fabric, vinyl, et cetera.
This sort of stuff is more my wife’s territory. She made the decorations, bouquets and the invitations for our wedding. She crochets video-game themed blankets. And she made a robot costume out of cardboard and aluminum foil for our kid. So honestly, I was kind of hoping she’d come to the table with a bunch of project ideas to put the $300 Cricut Explore 3 through its paces. Suffice to say, she let me down. (I still love her, though.) So I was largely on my own as I tried to figure out what exactly an Engadget review of a Cricut machine should look like.
- Companion app is simple to use
- Cuts a variety of materials quickly
- Cuts with extreme precision even small and delicate designs
- Smart materials only available as stickers or iron-ons
- Requires additional accessories to make the most of it
I guess to start, we should establish what exactly a Cricut is. It’s basically a desktop CNC machine that’s designed to cut things like fabric, paper and vinyl, as opposed to wood or metal. The whole idea is to let your average DIYer quickly and easily cut intricate shapes and patterns with extreme precision.
The first thing I did: I made a delicate vinyl decal of a mixtape to stick on my laptop. Then I made one to stick on one of my guitar pedals. And a floppy disk decal that I put on top of a canvas board I painted. You get the picture. Basically, I just cut out a bunch of decals.
The process for doing these things is almost idiot proof. The Design Space app (available for macOS, Windows, Android and iOS) where you layout your creations is incredibly simple to use and offers access to over 1,000 free images and over 250 projects, ranging from simple stickers to 3D cardboard masks. And if that isn’t enough, you can pay for a Cricut Access membership (starting at $9.99 a month) that opens up over 200,000 images and “thousands” of projects. Or you can pay individually for licensed content from the likes of Disney, Marvel, Warner Bros. and Sesame Street. Or you can upload your own images.
The latter is pretty simple so long as you stick to line drawings, but it does require occasional cleanup work. For instance, I downloaded a Superman silhouette for my son to color in (he wanted to make his own superhero stickers). But before I could cut it out using the Cricut I had to select and remove the background, otherwise it’d have just cut out a square.
The instructions in the app for predesigned projects are thorough and clear. And that’s even true for relatively complex ones that require multiple cutting tools, markers and several different materials. It walks you through each step as you load a pen to draw on white cardstock, then cut the shape out, before having you swap in a different color card stock and the scoring tool. And for really involved designs, like the 3D cardboard masks, you’ll find a PDF with assembly instructions. (Well, most of the time at least. I only discovered after I cut the pieces for the cardstock fox I tried to build that it had "tips for assembly" as opposed to detailed instructions.)