It's been quite the week of Christmas crafting around here, hasn't it?!? As I mentioned on Wednesday, this week has been all about making gifts for school buddies and neighborhood friends....and I am excited to pop on here at the end of the week to show you what I've been up to. But beyond just showing you what I've made, I wanted to share my thoughts about my Christmas present to myself: a Cricut Explore. I know, I know. Those of you who read a lot of home decor and craft blogs might be rolling your eyes because you've heard enough about the new Cricut machine. However, I like to share things that I love and use all the time with you guys...plus, this review is completely unofficial (Cricut doesn't know me from Adam and certainly didn't pay for my new machine!) so I am going to be as real as I can about my experiences so far!
There are a million reviews out there of the Explore that talk about the new fancy blade, it's quietness, its ease of setup and is versatility (which I've found all to be true!!). But I've been most taken aback with the dramatic changes between the Cricut Expressions II machine and the Explore. As a relatively long-time Cricut user (whose had her shares of frustrations with the company and brand), I wanted to share the ways this machine has impressed me so far (and spoiler alert: it really has impressed me!)
First off...why I went Team Cricut again (after swearing I never would!). Just over two years ago, I bought a Cricut Expressions II, and at the time, it was Cricut's "latest and greatest" machine. This was just before the Silhouette Cameo became "the" machine to own...and all-too-quickly I started watching my sister, friends, and bloggers all over the web create awesome things with the Silhouette that I couldn't make with my Cricut. Not willing to jump ship so quickly, I stood by my Expressions II, successfully making a ton of projects in this home and for other people. While I strongly craved being able to create and cut my own designs and fonts, I just wasn't ready to abandon my 20+ Cricut cartridges (with great images) that I owned and loved or my new and expensive machine. Over time, however, I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of dependability, versatility and flexibility in my Cricut Expressions II. To be clear, I had no issue cutting images from the cartridges themselves. My frustrations mainly laid in trying to customize designs and do more with them. The software (Cricut Craft Room) was bad, the cutting was undependable, and the customer service reps were exasperating. I began avoiding the machine because it was too cumbersome, and I found my inability to design and cut with ease beyond frustrating.
I read all the Cricut Explore reviews and the promotions over the last few months and was still a bit skeptical...but when the Black Friday deals were too good to pass up, I actually went for it. I decided to give Cricut another try for two main reasons: 1) the reviews were REALLY good (they got me: hook, line and sinker); and more over 2) the machine would allow me to use my beloved cartridges while still allowing me to cut any images I owned or bought! Sold. I bought the machine with two sets of pens, the deep-cut blade and the bluetooth wireless adapter for $250.
The Setup. It's true what other bloggers are saying. The setup out of the box was quick and simple. I actually let the machine sit in its box for about 2 weeks before opening it, too overwhelmed to dive in before Christmas. I decided on a whim to open it up last week and was shocked to find myself up and cutting within an hour.
My Cricut Account. Everything that I had synced to Cricut Craft Room appears in the new website, which is wonderful. I am having some issues changing my account information (like my email address and other personal information); for some reason it just won't save. Also, my "Linked Cartridges" isn't populated nor is my current image subscription, which I've both used and updated recently. These aren't huge problems, but it's frustrating all the same. These type of nuisance issue are reminiscent of my old frustrations with Cricut.
The Bluetooth Wireless Adapter. Worth.every.single.penny. I could stop there, but I'll elaborate. My Cricut Explore is on the clear other side of the room from my computer, but I am able to cut without any trouble. I LOVE that I don't have to have the machine connected to my computer and have cords running everywhere. It makes sitting down, designing and cutting super efficient. Every now and then, the bluetooth will become un-synced from the computer, but my suspicion is that it's because the machine is about 13+ feet from the computer. After a few re-tries, I'm re-synced and ready to roll.
Linking Cartridges. I was able to quickly and easily link (most) cartridges I own directly to the software, allowing me to use those images without having to pay or subscribe OR insert the cartridge anytime I use the image. Now, all my cartridges and books and keypads are stored away, and I no longer need to access them on regular basis. Three cheers for Cricut going all digital #finally! Some of my cartridges had a hard time linking; I suspect, again, that it had something to do with the Bluetooth and the physical distance between my machine and the computer. I still have a few I never got to sync...I need to investigate more and will keep you posted! Like the account thing above - not a huge deal, but a bit annoying for a brand new machine/software.
Design Space. The new online-only (I think) design software is a world better than Cricut Craft Room, in my opinion. While it took a little bit to get used to, I watched the plethora of well-made official Cricut tutorials and was up and running in no time. I feel like in just a week, I am a pro at the software - and that's not because I'm super savvy, it's because the software is pretty intuitive. I honestly thought I would have to spend a ton of time learning a new program just to get cutting. But honestly, I was up and running in no time at all! There are a few functions that feel really new, and some functions (like autofill) are seemingly missing, but I am learning how new functions fill those gaps. The software functions completely unlike the old Cricut machines, which is refreshing and liberating!
Searching for Images. I hinted at this above, but I LOVE searching for images in the image database by search/keyword rather than having to look through all my booklets. I can't tell you how many times I've had to page through all my booklets just to find the perfect flower for a particular project. The image keywords seem to be enhanced, and I love the way each image shows whether you own it or not. Having all my images at my fingertips and accessible through a simple keyword search is HUGE!
My Favorite Thing So Far? The layers for every image automatically populate. My friends, this is a TOTAL GAME CHANGER. If you are a Cricut user, then you know selecting all the right layers for all the details in an image using the shift keys (and more!) was laborious and often frustrating. Getting sizes right and keeping colors straight was enough to make your head spin! Now, you select an image, and it loads onto your "canvas" with all the layers populated. You can change colors, edit the images, delete out layers, size all the layers at once, and more with no trouble at all. All those adorable Disney images with all the intricate layers and multiple colors? Before I'd say "no way." Now I say, "no problem." What's even better is that the machine automatically tells you when to load certain colors, which makes getting the images to turn out just right practically seamless. This one feature alone has me completely smitten. In just a week, I went from never using my old Cricut, to using my new one for anything and everything. It's that quick and simple to do!
Okay - enough of me blabbering already, right? Want to see what I made just this week alone?
I started easy. I wanted to get a feel for the machine and how inserting images worked. At first, I was a little confused by the whole layers thing (that I just raved about above) because it's just SO different than how previous Cricut machines have worked. I made these he- and she-reindeer goodie bags for Henry's school buddies. If you look closely, I simply cut 10 of all the same pieces, then just moved the bow around to be either a bow-tie or a hair bow. In less than an hour, I designed, cut and glued 10 goodie bags together.
My impressions with this first project:
- The machine is SUPER quiet so I won't wake up the three-year-old sleeping next door.
- This machine is reliable - I can walk away without worrying that the machine will stop or get caught.
- I LOVE that the computer tells me what color paper to put in next. Distracted-Megan-proof!
Excited that this machine was seemingly as easy and reliable as bloggers were saying it was, I decided to really put it through the works as I made a bunch of holiday gifts and crafts. Now, I obviously haven't gotten to everything this machine can do in this first week, but as I get to more things, I'll be sure to share them with you here!
Next up, I wanted to try the pens! For some reason, I was super nervous to try the pens in the machine. Again, years of frustrating experiences left me skeptical, and I just didn't want to try anything that would disappoint me or make me feel like I wasted my money again. I watched a few online tutorials, designed my own label, and then cut AND wrote out some simple yet adorable tags for little gifts Henry is giving to his classmates. My old machine would have tripped up over all those small trees, leaving ragged and unsightly edges...but this machine really had no trouble. I couldn't believe my eyes how clean the cuts really were. Then...the pen wrote those cute letters with precision. And I stood there in awe.
My impressions with this second project:
- The $10/month subscription is seemingly worth it (so far!). I wanted "bag topper" labels for these little sticker kits. A quick search yielded dozens of images I could alter and edit to be exactly what I wanted. LOVE that I will never have to look through all my Cricut booklets again (have I mentioned that already? ;)
- The pens are a game changer. Never again will I have to print wording from my printer and then figure out how to cut around the words with the Cricut. This one does it all in one step, and it's amazing. As I made these, I told my husband I was doing something "magical."
The final few things I made this week were some water bottles for Henry's best little buddies. I found these awesome and fun water bottles at Marshalls and knew the kids would get a kick out of the twisty straws. I then set out to pick images for each child from the image database and even added their names to the bottles in different fonts, all using vinyl. I designed all three water bottles at the same time, on the same screen/canvas. The software then allowed me to play around with the sizing and colors in order to get just the right look for the bottles and make the most efficient use of my cuts and vinyl. There are 6 different colors of vinyl across these three bottles. The program organized the cuts, prompting me when to feed which color into the machine. "Plug and play" is the best way to describe it. It told me to load blue, so I loaded blue. It cut the blue then prompted me to load the next color.
And a word about the cutting: this blade is really great. The machine got almost all those little teeny detailed cuts perfectly. I will say, there was some "pulled up" vinyl while cutting some of Elsa's intricate details, but all in all...the precision with this machine is pretty amazing. I don't fear cutting small or detailed images anymore!
My impressions with this final project:
- Cutting all the intricate layers within a detailed design is NO problem!
- Wow, this really is quick and easy to use. Once I finalized the designs, each bottle came together in less than 10 minutes. Seriously.
- I need to practice my layering - I didn't quite get some of them centered just right!
Guys, I realize as a blogger, I am giving Cricut a big ol' free commercial here. And while it somewhat pains me to do that, I wrote this review for a few reasons.
1) I've been a frustrated Cricut user for a while and maybe some of you are too. Maybe some of you are waiting to see if this machine is all it's hyped up to be or if it will be another Cricut fumble. I thought it was valuable to tell you in a completely un-biased, non-sponsored way that this machine is pretty legit. I was skeptical, but now I'm swooning over this machine like everyone else. And I'm back to making some pretty cool things using some of my beloved Cricut images!
2) I'm really impressed with Cricut. I feel like they really stepped back, listened to the consumer and set out to design a machine that offered crazy functionality in a dependable fashion while still remaining true to their brand (awesome images with intricate and lovely details). The machine and software feel fresh, current and well-thought out. I am sure the Explore is not hiccup free, but in my 8 days of using it, its quality has shown through time and time again.
Gosh - sorry for such a long-winded post here at the end of the week. Honestly, it's been a long one for me, cranking about a bunch of posts, projects and gifts here at the end of the year. I am ready to unplug this weekend and get some major holiday shopping done (anyone else a last-minute shopper?). If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about the new Cricut Explore...I'd love to hear them. I hope to follow-up this post with more reviews and projects as I learn my way through the tutorials and functions! More to come, my friends! More to come!
Have a fantastic weekend! See you back here Monday!