Such was the case for my purchase of a Cricut Expression Personal Cutting Machine, made by ProvoCraft. Basically, it is a computer that makes die-cuts. May not sound like much, but think about it: with a traditional die-cut machine, you have to manually put together the correct “sandwich” of materials, and manually crank it through the machine. You cut whatever is in that particular die, which is usually more pieces than you are actually interested in using. And, you cut that one size. One at a time. I really do hate to sound like an advertisement, but the Cricut helps you get around all of these limitations.
I’ve used my machine recently for two different projects. For one, I was filling an order for 40 Christmas cards, all of which required a 2-1/2″ star cut out of Purely Pomegranate. In maybe 10 minutes, tops, I had all of these cut out of three pieces of cardstock, all while I was doing something else! In the second project, I created a snowflake in two different sizes to use as a stencil. In about 2 seconds (slight exaggeration, but you get my point).
Here are a few pictures. Above, is a head-on shot of the Cricut at work. There is a screen on the top left that allows you to confirm your selections. The key pad on the top, just to the right of center, is how you select your image. In the center right of the photo is a small, gray, triangular shaped object- this is the cartridge that contains the software for the set of images on the keypad. Just to the left of that is an object that has a round, green top- this is the cutting blade assembly.
In order to cut, you adhere your paper or cardstock to a special, tacky mat. In the picture above, the cardstock is white, and the mat is the blue-green underneath it. You insert it at the bottom of the machine, and then press the “Load Paper” button, which is in the same place on each key pad, no matter what cartridge you use. It automatically loads the paper into the correct position. You then need to select the correct blade length (longer for thicker paper and cardstock, shorter for thin paper); the speed of the cutter; and the amount of pressure it needs to apply for cutting. For the snowflake, which is relatively detailed, I used the #6 setting for blade length (cutting Shimmery White cardstock from Stampin’ Up!), medium pressure, and medium speed. It is, of course, a good idea to practice a couple of times to make sure you have the right selections. Trial and error, in this case, isn’t so bad, since paper is cheap, and it literally takes only moments to test out one combination of settings.
You then select the image of your choice, the size, and the quantity. The machine will tell you how many of the selected size can be cut from the paper that you are using. (Yes, it’s that smart!) The picture above shows the snowflake cut, but not removed from the mat. Below, the cardstock is removed, and the snowflake remains on the mat. The mat is sufficiently tacky that you might have to work a little bit to get your image off. Of course Provo Craft sells a special tool to help you do this, but I find that a fingernail carefully placed under a cut edge was enough to loosen it so I could gently peel off the die-cut.
One cartridge will allow you to create a full alphabet set, upper and lower case, with a bunch of different variations (such as creating a shadow, or cutting it as an outline). Other cartridges might contain only images. Below is the keyboard cover for the “Plantin Schoolbook” alphabet cartridge that came with my Cricut machine. The picture is of the soft plastic pad that comes with each cartridge, and which you lay on top of the actual keys on the Cricut machine. The actual size of keypad is 3″ X 7″, and each of the buttons is a comfortable size, so you don’t have to worry about hitting the wrong one.
Below is the keypad for the “Accent Essentials” cartridge which contained my snowflake. You can see here that every key is for a different graphic design. The snowflake image is “Accent 13”, which is shown also in the booklet that comes with the cartridge.
The booklet that comes with each cartridge (below) gives you an idea of what each image will look like when you cut it in the basic mode, versus using different modes that give other effects. In this example, on the lower left (on the green background), is the basic snowflake image, and just above it to the right is in “Shift” mode- the center of the snowflake is not cut out. On the right-hand side, with the white background, is what happens if you use the “Shadow” mode for the snowflake (the green image). It creates something heavier and larger, so you can create a “shadow” effect underneath the basic image. And, the blue image is the “Shadow” and “Shift” used together. Thus with each key, you have the possibility of four related images.
Cool, huh? But, of course, like all good things, it comes at a price. Not only is the machine pricey (over $300 suggested retail), but the cartridges each run anywhere from $45-$55. You could certainly get along with a single cartridge for quite a while, though, since there are so many effects, and even the alphabet cartridges contain other decorative elements. And, since the big box craft stores periodically have sales on Cricut products, you could collect them over time at a significant discount.
The cost, though, is really my only complaint. The machine was incredibly easy to set up- I was cranking out stars only 10 minutes after getting the machine out of the box. It is so versatile, I believe it will pay for itself over and over again. It is relatively light-weight, and easy to carry around. And they now make a shoulder bag to make it easier to tote your machine to events.
- Mix and match creative features in the same cut
- Use the entire library of existing Cricut cartridges
- Cut portrait or landscape
- Mat sizes 12″ x 12″ or 12″ x 24″
- No computer necessary – it is a computer!!
- Change settings such as language and units of measure
- New LCD screen that shows exactly what you’re typing for your next cut
- Easy, easy, easy to use
- Quick to set up
- Pretty fast cutting
- Versatile: one cartridge yields many images and effects; you can cut almost any size you want of the same image
- Lots of cartridges available in a variety of designs and themes
- Cuts through paper, cardstock, adhesive-backed vinyl, stencil material, magnetic material, and flocked, heat transfer fabric.
- ProvoCraft also makes pens that can be used in place of the cutting blade, so you can draw the desired image.
- Cost: Retail price is $319.99 (as of 11/15/08). I’ve seen it as low as $229 on line, without any cartridges (Cricut-Xpress.com). JKCrafts has it listed for $279.99 with 2 cartridges included.
- It does not have a center carry handle, so without a tote or a box, it requires two hands to move it around.
- Cartridges are expensive, but you can usually find them on sale.
Overall, I’d give it a 9 out of 10 stars. Its price is my complaint; its versatility is my love!! What do you think? Do you have one? What about the “Jukebox”? Let us know by leaving a comment!