First off, prepare yourself, this is a long post!
Second, a bit of background on me: I’ve worked with both Provo Craft® (manufacturer of Cricut) and Brother (manufacturer of ScanNCut) as a designer and consultant, so yes – I’ve gotten machines and accessories from them and have been compensated by them both. This review, however, is based purely on my honest experience with using their current models and contains only my opinion and not either of the manufacturers. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer.
As a blogger, I get a lot of email and social media questions from you wonderful readers, and one of the topics that constantly comes up is which personal craft cutting machine to buy. I get it – it’s a big investment in not only the machine itself, but also in all of the accessories and materials you’ll be using with it. The advice is sometimes difficult to give. This is because people have such different workflows in their crafting process, in their comfort level with technology, and in the price point they want to stick with. In this review, I will try to point out the advantages and disadvantages regarding each of those points. Ultimately, however, you will know which machine will work best for you and your situation.
Now, I gave away my old Cricut Expression years ago, and so for this review (since I wanted it to be fair), I borrowed a friend of mine’s new Cricut Explore (with Bluetooth Adapter) so I could see the new changes to the Cricut machine.
Let’s start with the basics...
Cricut Explore - 24" x 9.5" x 9.5" inches and weighs 14.2 pounds
ScanNCut2 - 10.1" x 22.8" x 10.6" inches and weighs 9.9 pounds
Since I have been using my ScanNCut2 so much lately, I was actually shocked at how noticeably heavier the Cricut was when I lifted it out of the box. If you like to just craft at home and not take your machine with you, then this might not be an issue for you. But if you’re on the go or you have physical limitations, this is good information for you to know. The ScanNCut2 is also a little bit smaller as far as the footprint is concerned, but from viewing them on the same table – they look pretty similar in size. The Cricut does need more space overhead though since it has two doors that open (one up towards the ceiling that takes up 10" in height and another that opens to the front).
When setting up both of the machines, I didn’t use any instructions (because let’s be real, who really reads those?).
Cricut Explore - After I opened the box and took the machine and the cords out of the bag it comes in, I plugged everything in and then didn’t know what to do next until I opened the lid and saw the three steps sticker under the lid – 1: “Plug in”; 2: “Connect it to my computer with the included USB cord”; and then 3: “Go to the Cricut website to complete the set-up and walk through doing a project on the computer.” There is no display on the machine. Instead, it uses your computer screen or iPad® (once it’s linked via Bluetooth adapter, which is sold separately). I did like being walked through the first project, but since I like to create my own designs to cut out, I probably wouldn’t use their pre-made ones often (if at all). It also showed me how I needed to insert the pen correctly and how to use the “Smart Set Dial” to adjust the blade and pressure – it does it automatically for you if you select the correct material setting on the dial. While I’ve only used cardstock so far in the machine, I was impressed that it was able to cut varying thicknesses of this material using the same setting – and without cutting through the mat (although thicker cardstocks sometimes had a bit of fraying around the die cut).
Since I had created the card they had me do, I could now sync the machine to my computer or iPad®’s Bluetooth (via the Bluetooth adapter my friend had purchased separately). I’m not sure how I feel about being tied to a device in order to create or manipulate my designs. While I love, love, love my computer and iPad®, it sometimes ruins the groove I have going when I have to use it for my craft project. And once I lose momentum, the likelihood that I’ll actually finish my project grows smaller and smaller.
ScanNCut2 - Once you unpack this machine (sorry, no bag included with this one, but you can purchase it separately) and turn it on, it tells you on the 4.85" LCD touch screen display (which, by the way, is 30% larger than the original ScanNCut) that it is going to adjust the machine and then gives you two options: “Pattern” or “Scan”. From “Pattern,” you can use one of the built-in designs (one that you have on your computer/USB drive/or a design you’ve loaded wirelessly onto the machine). Or, you can choose “Scan” and scan a design in. With either choice, you are led through other options to get you to cut out your design. For me, it’s been foolproof. (My nine-year old niece figured it out right away.)
Cricut Explore - One big drawback of this machine is that you must be connected to the internet and computer/tablet to use the software. Any cartridges you bought for previous models of Cricut must be linked online to the machine. You can connect the Cricut to your computer with the included USB cable or purchase the Bluetooth adapter and connect it to your computer (if it has Bluetooth) or your iPad®. You also must be connected to the internet to buy designs from the Cricut Image Library.
ScanNCut2 - No computer is needed! You can use it with the built-in designs, a USB stick drive with designs on it, or scan designs in from the on-board 300 DPI scanner. If you want to connect directly to your computer, you can use either a USB cable (not included) or the built-in wireless connection. Being able to send my designs wirelessly to my machine from my computer and iPad® has been my favorite upgrade that Brother has made to the ScanNCut!
Cricut Explore - Uses Cricut Design Space™ online cloud based software, so it’s compatible with PC and Mac. There is also a free app for newer Apple devices.
I found it pretty simple to use the software with my PC and their pre-designed images, although I was frustrated by not being able to cut out multiple designs (with multiple materials) on the same mat. I was used to doing this on my old Cricut Explore and ScanNCut, and it kinda makes me nutty having to load and unload my mat multiple times. If you die-hard Cricut users have any tips on how I can get around this, please let me know.
I could upload my own images to cut, but they needed to be digital and on my computer. This required me to stop crafting and go into my office, scan in my art on my 3-in-1 printer/scanner/copier, and then import that file into the software. The app has no capability (at this time) to upload files, but there is an interesting camera button that will allow you to audition the pre-made designs onto your project (although I found it hard to get the scale correct). From your computer, you can upload JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, SVG, and DXF files to cut.
ScanNCut2 - Uses ScanNCutCanvas™ online cloud-based software, and is compatible with PC, Mac, and most tablets that use the same link (not an app).
If you’ve purchased the Rhinestone Kit, Sticker Kit, or Stamp Kit, you can use those premium features on both the computer and tablet. You can also send designs wirelessly with the ScanNCut “Transfer” option on both the computer and tablet as well.
I was able to import files (JPG, GIF, PNG, or BMP) from my tablet into the software to trace and convert to a FCM file (the file type that ScanNCut uses). From your computer, you can also import SVG, DXF, PES, PHC, and FCM files as well.
Cricut Explore - As I already mentioned, the Cricut Explore One comes with a storage bag. It’s nice for holding the cords but it’s not able to fit much more than that. And because it’s not padded, I’d be leery of actually using it for a carrying case if I was traveling with it.
The machine also come with some nifty hidden storage.
ScanNCut2 - You can purchase a rolling tote separately, but the machine doesn’t come with a storage bag. What it does have, however, is a handy spatula and pen holder behind the LCD display screen.
Designs & Fonts:
Cricut Explore - The Cricut Image Library contains images for personal use only from Disney®, Pixar®, Anna Griffin® (and more), along with projects you can purchase. You can purchase individual designs or buy a subscription. If you’re not the designing type and want to quickly purchase a design (especially a licensed design), then you may be happy using it. You can also use your previously purchased cartridges with this machine by going into your Cricut account and linking the cartridges in order to be able to use those designs from your computer or Apple device. There are over 300 Cricut fonts available for use and you can also use the ones already installed on your computer. Also, you have the capability to import SVG and other popular cut file types and cut them out.
ScanNCut2 - The CM650 model comes with over 1,100 built-in designs and 15 built-in fonts. While the ScanNCut is a stand-alone machine (i.e., you don’t have to be connected to the internet), you can also download free projects from ScanNCutCanvas and the Brother ScanNCut website. And (of course), you can convert or scan in any design or font you want as well (obeying copyright law, of course). You are also able to import SVG and other popular cut file types and cut them out.
Cutting Your Own Design:
Being an artist and having a digital craft cutting machines, one of the functions I use the most is hand drawing and then cutting out my designs. I knew I had to try it out on both of these machines to see how the final cut out designs looked, as well as how easy it was to accomplish. Here’s a video of me at work:
Cricut Explore - First off, I had to calibrate my printer and Cricut (not my favorite job since my eyesight isn’t what it used to be). The rest of the process was pretty simple:
I had to scan in my hand-drawn flower in order to have a JPG file to upload into Cricut Design Space.
Once it was uploaded, I had to choose how I wanted the image converted: “Simple,” “Moderately Complex,” or “Complex.” I went with “Simple.”
Next, I cropped down the image to only the flower.
Then, I saved it as a “Print Then Cut” image.
Next, I selected that image and inserted it onto the mat.
I had to resize it now, since it imported it really small.
Then I clicked on the “Go” button in Cricut Design Space, which opened up the print options. I then clicked on “Go” to have it print out on my printer.
Once the image printed, I placed it onto my mat, loaded it into the machine, and hit the “Go” button so that it could be cut out. The machine first reads the registration marks that are on your printout, and then it cuts out your design.
ScanNCut2 - Since the ScanNCut has a built-in scanner, the steps were extra-simple:
I placed my hand-drawn flower onto my mat and clicked the “Scan” button.
I then pushed the “Direct Cut” button and “Start” for my design to get scanned in.
- Once it was scanned, I cropped it, told it "ok" and then I pushed “Cut,” adjusted my blade depth for my cardstock, and hit the “Cut” and “Start” buttons.
Cricut Explore - Scanning is not an option, but the machine does have an “eye” that will allow you to use their software to Print Then Cut out a design that is no larger than 5.5" x 8.5" and which must be done on white materials only.
ScanNCut2 - When you push the “Scan” button, you have three options. You can “Direct Cut,” which is the simple option for when you want to just scan and then cut out what’s on your mat without doing anything fancy to it. You can also “Scan-to-Cut Data,” which will allow you to save your design so that you can manipulate it and do fancy things to it. Or, you can scan it and save it to your USB stick drive or computer. (That last option is great if you are scanning home photos to save or share online, or for artwork that you want to play with on your computer before cutting.)
In “Scan-to-Cut Data” mode, the default limitation for the smallest image you can scan is 5mm. You have the option to adjust the image down to 1mm, and also scan it up to 12" x 24" from the on-board 300 dpi scanner with RGB color recognition. The new and improved scanner on the ScanNCut2 “sees” colors better than ever. As a result, I have found that scanning lower contrast designs is even easier than it was on my original ScanNCut.
Also, one of my absolute favorite features is the capability to add my design and then scan in whatever is on my mat. I can then move my design that’s on top of it on the LCD display screen for getting the perfect placement. This gives me the choice to either use up paper scraps or get the perfect part of my mixed media art cut out.
Cricut Explore - You’re able to purchase a variety of pen sets, including a metallic set. (A pack of 5 pens costs about $13.) Since Cricut has changed the blade/pen holder so that they are now separate, you can draw and then cut, although your pen will be uncapped and might dry out during the cutting phase.
ScanNCut2 - The CM650 model comes with 8 pens (2 of which are for fabric and are water or air soluble). If you have a different model of ScanNCut, you can purchase those pens, but I'd recommend just getting the ScanNCut Universal Pen Holder, which will hold most pens and writing implements (and is a bargain at about $20).
We all know that cutting machines create sound when they are operating. (In fact, when I first used another brand of cutting machine, my husband came running in to see if I was O.K. The machine sounded like a dying moose!) Well, thankfully these cutting machines are much quieter than that, with the Cricut Explore being the quieter of the two.
Cricut Explore- You use the “Smart Set Dial” to select the proper settings for the German carbide blade and the material you plan on cutting. Then, use the web-based software to “tell” the machine to cut out your design, and, when it's ready, push the “Go” button. The Cricut Explore One’s cutting range is from .25" to 23.5" and it can cut material up to 1mm thick with the standard blade. Less dense material (such as fun foam) can be cut if it is less than 2mm thick.
ScanNCut2 - You manually adjust the German carbide blade depth by screwing the blade cover on or off to the proper height. The advantage of this is that you can quickly fine-tune your test cuts to get clean (not jagged) cuts. You can adjust your pressure settings by pressing the “Wrench” icon on the LCD display screen. Then, when you’re ready to cut, just tap “Cut” on the LCD display screen and then press the “Start/Stop” button. The cutting range of ScanNCut2 is from 11.75" to 23.75". (I've been able to cut materials up to 2mm thick with the standard cutting blade.)
The new Cricut Explore (and the rest of the Cricut Explore family of machines) has come a long, long, long way from the old Cricut Expression! I really hated dealing with the cartridges. I could never find the design I wanted and I hated the fact that I couldn’t use my own designs without using third-party software (which Provo Craft® strongly frowns upon). If you are a longtime Cricut owner and have collected tons of cartridges (or are a big time Disney or other licensed character fan), then you clearly want to go with the Cricut Explore One, since that model will be most compatible with what you already own. Also, if you prefer to not create your own design and would rather purchase designs from the Cricut® Image Library, then you may prefer a Cricut.
For me, personally (being a artsy and techie girl who likes to mainly create my own designs or scan in fabric and scrapbook paper), I prefer to use the ScanNCut2 (even though I have a gazillion Cricut cartridges linked to my Cricut account). My favorite feature is being able to import files from my iPad® to my ScanNCut, and then send them to my machine – wirelessly! And as I've already mentioned, I love that I can scan in my scraps for perfect design placement, as well as being able to scan in my art, stamps, scrapbook paper (and more) and quickly cut them out – without having to break my crafty rhythm.
So, that’s my take on the two cutting machines! What do you like about them? Would you recommend one machine over the other, and if so – why?
Disclosure: Erin is a paid consultant and has received products from them to evaluate. However, the opinions expressed are entirely her own and based on her use of the products.
This post contains affiliate links. If you buy from these links it won't cost you a penny more but Erin will make a little bit of money (not enough for a pony).