If you're serious about your arts and crafts, you probably have a variety of cutting tools at your disposal — scissors and shears, exacto knives, paper cutters, and more. But when you need to make complicated, intricate cuts that you want to look clean, you need to turn to a cutting machine like the Cricut Explore. It cuts with degree of precision and automation that is hard to find elsewhere.
The Cricut Explore essentially does three things: cut, write, and score. It can work two tools at once, a blade and a pen or scoring tool. This means you can cut something out of a material and score some folding lines at the same time. Or you could, for example, draw up a label with the pen, and then cut it.
The Cricut Explore can cut through a wide range of materials of varying thickness, but you do need to have the appropriate blades and cutting mats for the different materials. The cutting mat does two things: it aligns your materials so you know where you cuts will happen, and it also keeps the material in place while the the work is done. Use a mat that's too sticky for the material and you may rip it when removing the cut. If the mat isn't sticky enough, the material could slide out of place during the cutting process.
There are three different grip variants you can use. The Cricut Explore includes a 12-by-12-inch StandardGrip Mat that Cricut recommends for anything from patterned paper to card stock, but I was able to cut everything from computer paper to lightweight cardboard with it. If you want to cut thicker stuff like heavier fabrics or cardboard, you'll probably need the StrongGrip Mat. If you're going to cut thin materials, the LightGrip Mat will make removing your cut material a lot easier. The mat I used seem to keep its tack pretty well, but if you notice parts of your material aren't sticking down you'll either have to buy a new mat or try to resurface the mat yourself.
The machine feels nice and sturdy. There are some consumables to be aware of: pens and blades (not to mention materials you're cutting). Blades are two for $10 online. The number of cuts a blade can perform depends on the materials you cut. The only way to tell if you need a new blade is that your cuts will lose their smoothness, so if you've using a older blade, some test cuts might be in order before you go ahead with your project.
The pen holder on the Cricut Explore is designed specifically for Cricut's proprietary pens that have medium size felt tips. I would like to have the option to use something like a fine point Sharpie or a Hi-Tec-C to create more detailed designs. A Cricut representative said that if the pen fits, you can use it without a problem. Apparently, American Crafts' Slick Writers have been used with the Explore, and they look nearly identical to Cricut's pen's but I didn't test any Slick Writers. I did try to hack a fine point Sharpie to fit, but to no avail.
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