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There is a deep-seated part of us that finds great satisfaction in making something, whether it’s a table, a birdhouse or the world’s greatest turkey sandwich. And in this age of the DIY movement, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration and tutorials and then connect with others over creations on sites like Etsy.
But making something is not always as simple as we think it will be, as any new DIYer can tell you. An original vision is easily compromised by poor scissor work or a hastily placed nail. That is the inspiration behind the new Cricut Explore, a desktop crafting machine that can cut or draw any shape on materials like cardstock, fabric and vinyl, said Ashish Arora, CEO of Cricut, which is a subsidiary of Utah-based Provo Craft.
Cricut machines have been around for about five years now, but the newest iteration is the first to fully embrace the web as the greatest repository of ideas. Cricuts used to rely on cartridges that came loaded with designs; now, you print directly from your computer after designing a shape or selecting one of the thousands that Cricut has made available in its online shop and creation space.
It’s also much simpler to use. A new dial on top of the machine is labeled with different materials. Before you start printing, you just turn the dial to whatever material you are working with. You can also turn it to “other” and select a custom material in the menu that pops up on your computer.
I spent a few weeks with the Cricut and found it to be dead simple to use. Using an existing design on the Cricut site is as easy as hitting “print.” Creating your own is a bit more difficult, but anyone with basic Photoshop experience will not have a problem. I made a vinyl decal for the back of a phone, posters that had “I love technology” written on them in metallic marker and an ornate paper clock. There are tons of other options too; mobiles, party decorations, 3D cardboard animal heads and so on.
The biggest annoyance I ran into was cost. Like any desktop printer company, Cricut doesn’t want to let you go after you sink $299 into an Explore. There are accessories to buy, including special markers, mats, materials and scrapers, most of which are necessary if you want to work with a variety of materials. And if you want to take advantage of the thousands of images and projects Cricut has made available online, you will most likely have to pay, as most cost a dollar. For $10, you can subscribe to use as many images as you want a month.
Arora said Cricut has bigger plans for its online market. The site will center around designs created by creative partners, who produce whole collections of items that go together. Individuals can still contribute their own designs, but the focus is on curating projects that Cricut knows will work every time for anyone.
So why would you want a Cricut Explore? Well, there’s an obvious appeal to hobbysists, who every year help pour $30 billion into the U.S. crafting industry. If you’re one of the millions of people who feels compelled to assemble paper in whimsical ways, the Explore could pay for itself pretty quickly, as it takes the place of just about every other crafting tool. And the collections of projects make it easy to make, say, the decorations for a theme party or wedding in a single day.
There’s also a healthy market on sites like Etsy for custom decals, cards and so on. Many people currently make these items with more complicated, expensive machinery like laser cutters, which often requires them to take out a membership at a space like TechShop.
Shopping online for projects and then printing them instantly at home reminded me strongly of 3D printing. Cricut really nailed usability with the Explore and its online marketplace, and I would love to see a 3D printer company take a similarly thoughtful approach. Imagine just turning a knob to whatever material you are working with and then just having everything print exactly as planned, every time.