Home / Blog / The 2 Best Electronic Cutting Machines from Cricut and Silhouette of 2023

The 2 Best Electronic Cutting Machines from Cricut and Silhouette of 2023

Nov 20, 2023Nov 20, 2023

We've reviewed this guide and continue to stand by our picks.

Electronic cutting machines carve images out of vinyl, cardstock, iron-on transfers—some can even cut leather and wood. They’re powerful tools for all crafters, whether you DIY everything or you just want to make a few stickers. We’ve recommended Cricut craft cutters since 2017 because they do a lot, the software is easy to learn, the blade is precise, and Cricut's image library is huge. The latest machine, the Cricut Explore 3, is no exception.

We prioritized software that's easy to use and comes with plenty of ready-to cut projects.

Changing or replacing blades should be as easy, so we noted if blade swapping was hard or frustrating.

If you run into problems or can't figure something out, you should be able to get help right when you need it or it's unlikely you’ll never use the machine again.

You’ll need more than just the machine to get started, so we prioritized machines that offer a variety of accessory bundles.

This machine offers the easiest-to-learn software, smooth cutting, a large image and project library, and strong community support. It's also the most beginner-friendly.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $249.

We found the Cricut Explore 3 to be intuitive for beginners because of its user-friendly software. The company offers a superior selection of images and ready-to-make projects, including greeting cards. And if you run into trouble, this company has better customer support than its competitors. Cricut offers great bundles, too, with discounts on accessories (like extra blades and spare cutting mats) that you’d otherwise need to buy separately. Also, if you ever want to upgrade to a newer machine, the Explore 3 has one of the higher established resale values.


The Maker 3 can slice through fabric and thicker materials without a fuss. And it has updatable software, so it should stay current for longer.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $375.

The Cricut Maker 3 is just as easy for beginners to learn as the Cricut Explore 3. It's also the quietest machine we tested, and it's one of the only machines that can cut fabric without needing stiffeners, such as interfacing. Cricut's design library contains thousands of images and projects, from small sewing patterns to paper crafts. And the machine's software is updatable, so the Maker 3 may stay useful for longer than competing models. It costs about $100 more than the Explore 3 (at the time of writing), so we recommend buying the Maker 3 only if you craft a lot of small projects, you want to use heavy-duty materials, or you need an extra-quiet machine.

This machine offers the easiest-to-learn software, smooth cutting, a large image and project library, and strong community support. It's also the most beginner-friendly.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $249.

The Maker 3 can slice through fabric and thicker materials without a fuss. And it has updatable software, so it should stay current for longer.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $375.

As a senior staff writer, Jackie Reeve covers mainly bedding and textiles. But she has been crafting for years, and she's owned and used several models of Silhouette and Cricut machines. When she was an elementary school librarian, she used them to make bulletin-board cutouts, signs, holiday decorations, book displays, bookmarks, and vinyl decals to decorate whiteboards for the school. At home she made cardstock bunting, car decals, cards, party favors and decorations, T-shirts, costumes, and home-decoration projects. She reviewed cutting machines for seven years, more recently for Wirecutter and previously for the blog GeekMom.

As an updates writer, Arriana Vasquez covers hobbies, cameras, and work-from-home equipment. She has worked on guides to the best tripod and portable document scanner. Before working for Wirecutter, she used Silhouette machines to create art for an Etsy store. She regularly cuts vinyl and cardstock designs to decorate her home.

For this guide we spoke with Melissa Viscount, who runs the Silhouette School blog; Lia Griffith, a designer who uses Cricut machines to create a lot of the projects on her site; and Ruth Suehle (whom Jackie knew through GeekMom), a crafter and serious cosplayer who uses her cutting machine for a wide variety of projects, including costumes and party decorations. A lot of the prominent crafters and teachers who use cutters favor either Cricut or Silhouette. So we also reached out to Stahls’, a company that sells professional equipment for apparel-decorating businesses, to get some impartial information on how these machines work. Jenna Sackett, education content specialist for the Stahls’ TV website, explained to us the differences between commercial and personal cutting machines. All of our experts gave us lists of features and criteria to look for when testing and recommending a machine.

Electronic cutting machines, also known as vinyl cutting machines or die cutting machines, are powerful tools for hobbyists, teachers, makers who sell their work on a marketplace such as Etsy, or anyone who just wants to cut out the occasional shape. These machines open up endless projects by cutting common materials, including:

These machines cut using software that lets you create, upload, or purchase premade designs. To draw, you can attach a pen instead of a blade. A quick tour of Instagram hashtags (#cricutexploreair2, #cricutmaker3, #silhouettecameo, #silhouettecameo3) shows the wide range of projects that people can do with these machines.

As with any new craft or hobby, there is a learning curve to using electric cutting machines. And it takes time to learn how to use the software. Melissa Viscount, of the Silhouette School blog, told us she’d heard from many beginners who were intimidated by their machines and the intricate projects they saw online, and so they never took them out of the box. Ruth Suehle told us the same thing: "I put off buying one for a while. We had a friend who had bought one, and it sat on his shelf." It helps if you’re comfortable with online tutorials and manuals, or if you have a friend who can teach you. It also helps to start with easy projects, such as a simple vinyl decal, to learn the basics.

We combined years of using, testing, and reviewing these machines with the advice of the experts we interviewed to come up with this list of criteria for cutting machines:

In our original 2017 testing, we spent a lot of time with the Silhouette Studio and Cricut Design software—about 12 hours total—on both an HP Spectre running Windows 10 and a MacBook Pro. Before we started cutting anything, we used both programs to try to create basic designs, reviewed their collections of projects and images, and asked the companies directly about certain features. We looked at online tutorials and at the Cricut and Silhouette help sections to learn some new techniques, and we noted which software felt more intuitive, with clearly labeled tools to help us get started.

We also timed how long it took to set up the machines (no machine we tested took more than 10 minutes), as well as how easy it was to start making a project. We assessed the machines’ cutting speeds and noise levels. We changed blades, used pens, and noted how well the machines cut and how accurate they were at anticipating the right cutting depth for the blade. We made complete projects in vinyl, cardstock, and sticker paper to see how the process and quality turned out all the way through to a finished craft. We also tried cutting fabric, but some of the machines required additional tools and products to do so. We weighed this test lightly, since we don't think cutting fabric is the primary reason most people buy a cutting machine.

For our 2019 and 2020 updates, we tried three additional machines from Cricut, Silhouette, and Brother. We spent time getting used to software updates from Cricut and Silhouette, as well as learning Brother's software (this took about five hours of testing time). We put the three additional machines through most of the same remaining tests that we used in 2017: timing how long it took to set up; changing blades and pens; cutting projects from vinyl, cardstock, and sticker paper; and evaluating each brand's library of images and projects. These tests took another eight hours.

For our early 2021 update, we tested two new Silhouette machines and retested the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Maker, taking new notes and drawing fresh comparisons about their performance. We also used both companies’ software to test updates and evaluated changes to their image libraries. These tests took a total of 12 hours.

For our early 2022 update, we tested the two newest machines from Cricut: the Explore 3 and Maker 3. We used the blade tool to cut a complicated doily from cardstock, and we used the pen tool to draw an intricate mandala. We compared how long it took to cut, how cleanly the machine finished each project, and whether or not we experienced any issues during the test. To see how well the Maker 3 did with its additional compatible materials, like balsa wood, leather, and aluminum, we tried the deep-cut blade, the knife blade, and the engraving tool.

Cricut and Silhouette machines can both cut a large variety of materials commonly used in arts and crafts. There are some important differences between them, such as the software you need to use with each machine, their sizes, and their prices.

Each of the two companies’ machines can cut most basic crafting materials, such as adhesive or iron on vinyl, sticker paper, and cardstock. Stronger (and more expensive) machines can cut tougher materials like leather, chipboard (a thin wood), or felt. Additionally, the Cameo 4 can use the Punch Tool, which makes it easier to remove vinyl designs from the larger piece of material. The Maker 3 works with an even larger variety of tools (up to 14 different tips) that allow for extra abilities like embossing and engraving. There is an engraving tip for the Silhouette cameo, but it's made by a third party. There is no official engraving tip listed on the Cameo 4 web page.

In order to use any of these machines, you’ll need the companion software. Cricut provides Design Space, and Silhouette offers Silhouette Studio. Both programs are free to download and use, and they can run on Mac and PC. You can access either program without a subscription, but you’ll have limited access to the various tools and projects. Silhouette has different tiers of subscriptions that grant you credits you can use to buy digital designs from the store. With the Cricut subscription, you get unlimited access to its images, fonts, and ready-to-make projects at every level.

This machine offers the easiest-to-learn software, smooth cutting, a large image and project library, and strong community support. It's also the most beginner-friendly.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $249.

We recommend the Cricut Explore 3 because Cricut's user-friendly software is the easiest to use, and the blades make cleaner cuts than anything we’ve tested from Silhouette or Brother. Also, the image and project library is extensive (with easier-to-follow licensing rules than Silhouette's). This machine also has the best variety of tool-and-material bundles available for sale. We found the customer service to be more responsive than Silhouette's, and the owner reviews were a bit better. The Explore 3 also has a decent resale value, if you decide to upgrade in the future.

Software will make or break the experience for beginners, and in our tests Cricut's was by far the most intuitive. Design Space has a big onscreen workspace and well-labeled icons, which make Design Studio easier to navigate than Silhouette Studio and Brother's CanvasWorkspace. You can quickly find your existing projects or start something new, and you can pick a project to cut from the Cricut store with just one click; in our tests, Silhouette's software took more steps to create projects. If you’re drawing instead of cutting, the software shows all of the Cricut pen colors, so you can get a clear sense of your finished project. Meanwhile, Silhouette's software uses a generic palette that doesn't match its own pen colors. Even if you’ve never touched this machine before, you can start cutting ready-made projects in a few minutes.

In 2020, Cricut retired the web-based version of its Design Space software in favor of a desktop version, so it can now be used offline, like Silhouette Studio. Explore 3 machines connect to a computer via Bluetooth or USB, or they use the Cricut Design Space app (iOS and Android) on a mobile device.

All of the 100,000-plus images and projects Cricut offers are exclusive, with a wide range of officially licensed graphics from brands including Sanrio, Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney. Brother also licenses Disney Princess and Mickey Mouse images, but that's it. Silhouette's library, meanwhile, is bigger than that of Cricut or Brother, but the vast majority of the images are from independent designers. Each designer has their own licensing rules, and the images aren't exclusive to Silhouette—you can purchase many of them to use on whatever cutting machine you like. The Explore 3 comes with about 100 free images, and for about $10 per month a Cricut Access subscription lets you use almost everything in the company's catalog (some fonts and images cost extra). You can also use its in-house-designed images commercially, within the limits of the company's Angel Policy (which is similar to a Creative Commons license, with some additional restrictions).

Even if you’ve never touched the Cricut Explore 3 before, you can start cutting ready-made projects in a few minutes.

The Explore 3's blade settings were extremely accurate in our testing. It made perfectly clean cuts in cardstock and vinyl, and designs made using the pen tool were precise—the lines within the design lined up neatly throughout the entire design. The Explore 3 cuts were just as clean as the Maker 3 cuts in every test, and the Explore 3 even finished cutting the intricate doily from cardstock faster than the Maker 3 (a whole 3 minutes faster!).

Alongside the Explore 3, Cricut released a new line of what it calls "Smart Materials," including vinyl, cardstock, and sticker paper, that do not require a cutting mat. Because of this, cutting mats are no longer included in the box. The cutting area of the Cricut Explore 3 is the same size as that of the Cricut Maker 3. It works with mats that are 12 by 12 inches and 12 by 24 inches—sizes that allow you to create full-size iron-on decals for T-shirts, vinyl decals for walls (within reason), and 3D projects, such as treat boxes and play masks for kids.

Cutting-machine bundles are typically a good value—their price is usually less than the cost of buying all of the extra accessories or materials separately. But Silhouette's extras are more limited, and Brother doesn't offer bundles. Cricut's Explore 3 bundles, which you can find on the company's site, include options such as tools, cutting mats, paper trimmers, additional blades, different kinds of blades, and starter craft materials, including vinyl and cardstock.

We also preferred Cricut's customer service over Silhouette's. You can contact Cricut by phone during weekday business hours, and the company's online chat is available 24/7. Silhouette offers email or online chat Monday through Friday, but only during business hours.

During the most recent round of tests, we ran into a few connectivity issues testing both the Explore 3 and Maker 3. Each time we contacted customer support, we never had to wait longer than 10 minutes to get connected to someone, and they were able to resolve the issue. And to test and correct the issues we were experiencing, they even went as far as to ship us replacement supplies for whatever materials we were using.

Although the Explore 3 is faster than the Maker 3 and the cuts it makes are every bit as sharp, it is significantly louder. That's thanks to a constant beep the machine emits as it moves the blade from spot to spot. If you have a dedicated craft room, the beeping might be a non-issue, since you can leave the machine to do its thing while you work somewhere else. If you plan to have the machine running in the same room, however, this could be a big issue. In a one-bedroom apartment in New York, we had a machine running tests on a bookcase right next to an office desk, and the beeping was loud enough to cut through noise-cancelling headphones, making it tough to focus at times.

The Explore 3 doesn't come with a cutting mat anymore, since it can now cut certain materials like vinyl and cardstock without one. In testing, however, we found that anything even slightly more complicated than cutting a basic sticker outline—including the doily from our testing—still requires a cutting mat. Without a mat, the machine can only cut materials that are 6 inches or longer. So if you have some decently sized scraps from other projects, you’ll still need a cutting mat to use them. Ultimately, we think the cutting mats ($17 at the time of writing) should still be included in the box.

If you want to design your own images to use with a cutting machine, we recommend using a separate graphics program such as Adobe Illustrator, although you’ll need practice or training to get the most out of this sort of advanced software. Unless you’re working with basic shapes like circles and squares, Cricut's software isn't designed to create your own images. If you do manage to make something you like, you can save it only in the company's proprietary format—you can't create an SVG file and use it with other machines (or sell it). Use Illustrator instead, or even the paid Business Edition of Silhouette Studio (about $100 at the time of writing), which lets you save in SVG format to use on any machine.

The Maker 3 can slice through fabric and thicker materials without a fuss. And it has updatable software, so it should stay current for longer.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $375.

The Cricut Maker 3 costs around $100 more than our main pick, but it's worth buying if you need an accurate machine that can work almost silently. It can cut more types of material—including specialty fabric, leather, and balsa wood—than the Explore 3. The Maker 3 uses the same accessible Cricut Design software as the Explore 3, and it can receive firmware updates, so we think it has more longevity than anything else we’ve tried.

During testing, we noticed the Maker 3 was a little slower than the Explore 3, but not to the extent that it bothered us. At its slowest, the Maker 3 took 3 minutes longer to finish a complicated doily from cardstock (the Explore 3 finished in 17 minutes versus 20 minutes for the Maker 3). Meanwhile, cutting simpler projects from vinyl only took a second longer, and it completed a mandala design using the pen tool 3 seconds faster. We think this is due to a heavier dampening system, which adds resistance, causing the tool to come down onto the cutting surface more slowly than it does on the Explore 3. So although the Maker 3 might be a bit slower, the blades and machine should last a little longer.

The Maker 3 can cut a wider variety of materials, including balsa wood and leather, than the Explore 3. It can also engrave and etch. During testing, it cut leather and balsa wood just as cleanly as it cut vinyl and cardstock. One thing to note is that most of these materials require cutting mats, which are not included with the machine. These materials also leave more debris on the cutting mat, making them less sticky for the next project. When we tried to cut leather after cutting balsa wood, the leather didn't stick down as thoroughly to the mat during cutting, causing the machine to jam and stop. After we ejected the mat, repositioned the leather, and applied a little more pressure, the Maker 3 finished the cuts without issue.

If you want to get the most out of the Maker 3, expect to spend a few hundred dollars more than just the $100 price difference between this machine and the Explore 3 (depending on what materials you plan to cut). It comes with the same basic knife tool as the Explore 3, so if you want to be able to cut challenging materials such as leather or balsa wood, you need the special blades for each kind. They’re not cheap—ranging from about $35 to $45 for each additional tool (at the time of writing). That doesn't include the materials you want to cut or the cutting mat that's not included. We recommend taking a look at the several bundles that are available. The good news is that the machine's resale value is strong—in early 2022, used Maker 3s on eBay were selling for $250 to $300.

The best thing you can do to keep your machine running smoothly is to close it when you’re not using it. This will prevent dust from settling into the cutting area. Before you start a job, wipe any dust or paper debris away from the blade and cutting area with a clean, dry cloth—but do this only after you’ve unplugged the machine. Cricut recommends using a glass cleaner on the machine's exterior, but do not use anything with acetone. Silhouette doesn't give cleaning recommendations, but you should be able to follow the same advice with a Silhouette model.

Silhouette estimates that a blade lasts about six months, depending on what you’re cutting (Cricut doesn't estimate a time limit for its blades), and cleaning it will help you get the most out of its lifespan. Silhouette has instructions for opening the blade housing, to clean it out if the blade isn't cutting properly. If the machine starts to make a grinding noise, Cricut also has instructions for greasing it, which should smooth things out again. (The company will even send you a packet of grease that it recommends you use.)

The cutting mats for all of the machines come with a plastic film to cover the adhesive side. To extend the life of your cutting mats, hold on to these. You can also prolong your mat's life by using a spatula tool to scrape away any bits of material left on it after a project (Cricut has one, as does Silhouette). Once the adhesive has gone, you’ll have to replace the mats. There are tricks that will allegedly refresh the mats (video), but we’ve never tried them.

Regardless of which craft cutter you use, almost any project you make will generate excess materials and scraps to be thrown away. During testing, we noticed that the craft cutter software programs don't optimize layouts in an efficient way, creating a lot of wasted materials. We manually rearranged the project pieces to be closer together and managed to cut a whole extra project from a piece of vinyl that otherwise would have had to be discarded.

If you are in the market for one of the newest machines from Cricut, keep in mind that although they can cut vinyl and cardstock without a mat, they can only cut materials that are 6 inches or longer. For anything shorter than that, the wheels don't have enough material to properly move it through the machine. This means you either can't use those (still perfectly good) materials, or you need a cutting mat, which isn't included.

And even though cutting mats are necessary for most projects, they do eventually need replacing. You can prolong their life by cleaning them regularly. If they have deep cuts or are so dirty they’re not sticky any more, try upcycling them by turning them into stencils.

We previously recommended the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2. And even though the newest machines are faster and quieter—and can cut Cricut's Smart Materials, which don't require a cutting mat—these two previous picks are still a great option for anyone who doesn't need those features. They are also a good option for anyone who wants to take advantage of the now-cheaper prices or who still wants to be able to use older Cricut cartridges (since the newest machines don't accept them).

The Silhouette Cameo 4 is the best Silhouette machine we’ve ever tested, but it is still bigger, louder, and less precise than the Cricut machines we recommend. The more-complicated Silhouette Studio software may be frustrating for beginners, too. But if you want to create your own designs (or if you’re starting a small business), you might prefer the Cameo 4's flexibility and advanced options. The paid Business Edition software lets you save your work in more file formats, including SVG, to resell. And you can link several machines together to create a production line, something the Cricuts don't offer. Silhouette also has the Cameo Plus and Cameo Pro, which offer larger cutting areas for big projects. These are all options to consider if you’re more of a power user. If you’re an occasional hobbyist or completely new to these machines, though, we think the Cricuts will be more fun and less frustrating to use.

We reviewed the Cricut Joy in 2020. And although it's a neat little machine for small projects such as stickers and cards, we don't think it's a very good value. The Joy's cutting width is just 5½ inches, compared with the Silhouette Portrait 2's 8-inch width, and it costs about the same. We think the Portrait 2's cutting size is more versatile than the Joy's (you could cut and draw some T-shirt transfers, signs, and larger costume pieces), and it has a more manageable price than the Cricut Explore 3. But if you have a crafty tween or teen, the Joy would make a fun gift for learning the basics.

The Brother ScanNCut DX SDX125E, which we also tested in 2020, is a disappointment for beginners. It's more expensive than the Cricut Maker. And it's marketed to sewers and quilters because it can cut fabric and add seam allowances, which the Maker also does. But the machine's interface and the company's design software were clunkier and harder to learn than those of the Cricut and Silhouette machines we’ve tested. The ScanNCut comes with almost 700 built-in designs—more than the 100 free images Cricut offers with a new machine. However, the rest of Brother's image library is limited, frustrating, and inconvenient, relying on expensive physical cards with activation codes. It feels like a really outdated way to get cut files, considering that both Cricut and Silhouette offer big digital libraries you can shop from and access instantly online. If you’re a sewer who is used to Brother machines and their software, or if you find it helpful to have a cutting machine/scanner combo (we didn't), you might be comfortable adding the ScanNCut to your craft tools. It's also the only cutting machine we’ve tried that works with Linux. We don't think it's worth it for most people.

Silhouette replaced our former runner-up pick, the Portrait 2, with the Portrait 3 in 2020, and it is not good. In testing, none of the automatic settings we tried managed to successfully cut the test materials, and the machine was so noisy that we thought it had been damaged in shipping. During one test, the cutting mat became misaligned and popped out the back of the machine, but the blade kept going and tried to cut into the machine itself. Reviews for the Portrait 3 are mixed—some rave about it, and some have the same problems we did. But looking back to the Portrait 2's reviews, we found similar complaints of noise and messy performance. We may have lucked out in the past with our test models for older versions of this machine, which performed perfectly well (we recommended the original Portrait at one point, too). However, the Portrait 3 is definitely not worth the money, especially since it cuts only smaller projects (the cutting area is 8 inches by 12 inches) and isn't that much cheaper than the full-size Explore Air 2.

We’ve tested and recommended both the Silhouette Portrait and Portrait 2 in previous versions of this guide, but both are now discontinued.

We’ve also researched and dismissed the now-discontinued Silhouette Cameo 3, Cricut Explore Air, Cricut Explore One, Sizzix Eclips2, and Pazzles Inspiration Vue machines.

This article was edited by Signe Brewster and Erica Ogg.

You can access Cricut's Design Space software without a subscription, but the number of projects and designs will be limited, and features like Background Removal Tool won't be available. With the Cricut Access subscription, you’ll gain access to advanced tools and the entire library of designs and projects. For those who don't have Access, most projects can be purchased with a one-time fee. But if you plan to use your machine often, it will probably be more cost effective to sign up.

If you’re someone who crafts often or tends to make similar patterns over and over, then it's worth the investment to get an electric cutting machine since they can cut repeated patterns with extreme precision. We’ve found Cricut machines to be the easiest and most effective to use, and as a result recommend buying them over other brands.

If you want to be able to make stickers, or any other designs that involve cutting around a picture, then you will need a printer in order to print the design you plan to cut out. If you’re only interested in cutting vinyl then you may not need one.

You will need a computer if you plan to buy a Cricut or Silhouette machine, since you have to prepare designs on a desktop app before sending them to the cutting machine to be cut or drawn. The Brother ScanNCut DX SDX85 comes with free designs preloaded, so it's possible to use it without having access to a computer or the internet. If you want to add more designs, however, you will need a computer and the internet.

Melissa Viscount, founder of the Silhouette School blog, phone interview, August 1, 2017

Jenna Sackett, Stahls’ TV education specialist, email interview, August 3, 2017

Lia Griffith, founder of craft and design company Lia Griffith, phone interview, July 28, 2017

Ruth Suehle, author and maker, email interview, August 2, 2017

Heidi, Choosing the Best Electronic Craft Cutting Machine – Compare Silhouette, Cricut and More, Everyday Savvy, January 15, 2017

Marie Segares, Cricut Basics: Which Cutting Machine Should I Buy?, Underground Crafter, July 15, 2017

Max C. Nash, The Most Popular Die Cutting Machines of 2017, Max Nash, July 11, 2016

Jackie Reeve

Jackie Reeve is a senior staff writer covering bedding, organization, and home goods at Wirecutter since 2015. Previously she was a school librarian, and she's been a quilter for about 15 years. Her quilt patterns and her other written work have appeared in various publications. She moderates Wirecutter's staff book club and makes her bed every morning.

Arriana Vasquez

Arriana Vasquez is an updates writer for powering, home office, cameras, and hobbies at Wirecutter. Her hobbies include reading and photography. Her photos have won several awards in various online competitions, and she is the producer and co-host of Old Books Podcast.

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User-friendly, dependable software: An easy-to-change blade system that cuts cleanly: Quiet hardware: Straightforward licensing agreements: Responsive customer service and community support: A range of accessories available in a bundle: Decent resale value: x x