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Which Digital Stencil Cutter To Buy?

By Edited Nov 15, 2015 3 7

If you enjoy scrapbooking or making stencils for crafts, one of the most important tools to have in your arsenal is a personal digital cutter. These aren’t an inexpensive crafting purchase so it’s important to know what machines are out there and how they differ. This article is intended to clear up any confusion you may have about the two most popular personal digital cutters.

Cricut And Silhouette

Cricut is a big name in digital cutters and has a large following. Their line includes several machines with prices that retail from $200 to $350. The difference in prices is due to features, the size of the machine and how large the cutting surface is.

A major contender for Cricut is the former Silhouette SD and the newer Cameo Stencil cutter. 

Silhouette SD

They retail comparably to Cricut machines with similar features.  Although the price of the two brands isn’t substantially different, the machines are. The most important feature of the Silhouette is that it was designed to cut any image or lettering you have on your computer, even the smallest type or the thinnest lines. Just about anything you can create on your PC or Mac computer, can be cut by the machine without purchasing additional software. While the Silhouette online store offers individual image cards for users who do not want to draw their own, the cards are strictly optional and available at a nominal cost.

Conversely, the Cricut machine requires further investment in order to be used with the complete creative freedom offered by the Silhouette. One or two third party programs are required to allow the user to create their own images and communicate them to the cutter. This pricey software may put the Cricut machine beyond a crafters financial limit. Although these programs are now available, Cricut was originally designed to work with the image cartridges available at a cost of from $10 to $40. Each cartridge contains a collection of images but a user looking for one particular image has to pay for the entire lot. Again the cartridges substantially raise the cost of operating this machine.

Stencil cutters come with many different features and prices.  Be sure to shop around for the machine that will suit your particular needs.

Portability

Both Cricut and Silhouette work in two ways, independently and plugged into your computer. On the Silhouette, a card holds your image library allowing it to work without your computer. This is a plus for crafters who need to be portable with their machine for attending crafting parties or traveling from home to work.

The Software

The software program included with the Silhouette is huge and ready to tackle nearly anything you throw at it. The machine and software come with an easy to follow manual and help files to guide you. You’ll learn how to draw images in the program and send them to the machine or import images you created in a program outside of Silhouette.

The program offers several tracing options and full drawing and editing capabilities. Click a button and lettering will be traced along the outer and inner edges.

Outer and Inner edges cut

Click another button and an outline of the lettering will be cut.

Outline cut

Many other options are available including a perforation cut.

Perforated cut

Interested in embellishing designs with rhinestones? An optional kit is available for just that purpose. Perforations are cut into a template using your design. You brush hot fix rhinestones onto the template and they fall into the perforations. Adding bling to anything just got easier!

How The Silhouette Machine Works

The Silhouette contains a blade that cuts through stencil sheets, vinyl, cardstock and other materials. Carrier sheets are included with the machine, usually one standard tac for use with smooth materials like typical card stock, and one with extra tac for textured materials. Generous gridlines on the carriers make it simple to align your page perfectly and insure the right cut. Unlike a printer that pulls the page through in one motion, the loaded page and carrier move in and out of the Silhouette machine while cutting the image. It does not cut the reusable carrier. No cut pieces fall into the machine because the pieces adhere to the carrier.  Remove the perfect die cut pieces from the carrier to use for creating artwork and for scrapbooking.

Cut complicated images like lace or other designs with fine lines like the image below, and you’ll see how accurately the Silhouette performs.

Fine line cuts

You could scan a paper doily into your computer, bring it into your digital cutter and create your own doilies! Cricut has a reputation for rounding angled edges, which can ruin the design of something as intricate as doily designs or lace.

The Silhouette And The Mac

Misinformation has circulated on the Internet concerning the Silhouette's compatibility with the Mac, most of it coming from people reading older articles on the subject without noting when they were written. Some of it may also be due to the fact that a software CD came with the SD model which was only for PCs. But it proved to be a non-issue because Mac users could go to the silhouette website and download the software for free. Other historic facts include Mac people used to have to own or go out and buy a particular drawing program to interface with the machine.  Again, this was before the software was offered online. That’s all changed. The Silhouette's new relationship with the Mac is uncomplicated. There’s nothing else to buy after you purchase the machine. Having used my Silhouette SD for nearly two years, I can’t say enough good things about the software’s ease of use and the machine’s brilliant accuracy.  Of course now I want the new Cameo model.

Sizing Up The Machines

The Silhouette is more compact and lighter in weight than the Cricut.  The size of a page you can cut has been an interesting and competitive issue between the two companies for some time.  Todays Silhouette Cameo can cut on a page measuring 12" wide by 10' long!

When working on Cricut with cartridges, the availability of images and lettering is limited to the number of cartridges users are willing to buy. Both machines have a pen feature that allows you to draw instead of cut on a surface.

Am I smitten with my digital cutter? You bet. Scissors and craft knives are outdated now. The cutter opens up many design possibilities not easily achieved before. Cricut clearly has a great number of cheerleaders, but I chose to buy the Silhouette SD. Overall it presents less of a financial output than the Cricut when you consider their cartridges and software add-ons. Although it’s possible to have complete creative freedom with both, why not buy the one that won’t break the bank?

See The Kind Of Projects You Can Create With Your Own Stencil Cutter

Stencil Making Tools And Materials

Make Christmas Stencils With Your Computer

 

Silhouette Cameo Starter Bundle (Old Model)
Amazon Price: $344.95 $239.99 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 15, 2015)
The Cameo is the newest model offered by Silhouette.
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Comments

Jan 9, 2011 11:09pm
Deborah-Diane
This is fascinating. I had no idea that this kind of equipment was available for home use. Great investment for home crafters, decorators and others who would like to design their own stencils.
Jan 10, 2011 5:34pm
divaonline
Amazing machine isn't it? I just learned about it a few months ago. Thanks for your comment.
Jan 10, 2011 9:39am
eileen
same here I would have loved one of these a few years ago when doing my screen printing for the artwork would have been great. thanks for bringing this to our attention. rated up
Jan 10, 2011 5:35pm
divaonline
I appreciate the comment Eileen!
Jan 11, 2011 12:00pm
Lynsuz
Great info, I didn't know this could be bought for home use either. ^^^
Jan 11, 2011 5:57pm
rayuhler
Sounds like the Silhouette SD allows more flexibility.
Jan 11, 2011 9:31pm
divaonline
I really appreciate that you recognize that from my article. It's great to have creative freedom!
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