Thinking of a Silhouette Cameo?

The CardMonkey’s Review                                    April 14, 2012
© 2012 - Ellen S. Jarvis, CardMonkey – All Rights Reserved

I started papercrafting in November, 2009, when my daughter Emily introduced me to the wonders of electronic cutting. Santa brought us each a Cricut Expression, along with several cartridges to get our cutting started.

The branded Cricut cartridges were plentiful by 2009, and now three years later, there are more than 400 Cricut cartridges available for purchase. Our collection of cartridges grew to about 150 now, but along the way, so did my desire for just the right cut for the project at hand. Enter SVG files, or “Scalable Vector Graphics.”

The text-rich computer language used to develop SVGs has been used by graphic artists since 1999. The advantage of an SVG (over, say, a JPEG file) is that an SVG file can be enlarged or reduced without losing any of the file’s clarity. In 1999, SVG files were used primarily in the printing and advertising industries for computer-generated and printed images. Some industries (such as architecture) used SVGs and a version of a computer-driven plotter with an electronic cutter to create building/plan models.

The system and method of using one cutting system instead of a printer for use in the craft industry was described first in a U.S. patent application filed on July 13, 2006 by Workman et al (Ser. No. 11/457,417), who called the product an “Electronic Paper Cutting Apparatus and Method.”  The machine was the first to use proprietary computer technology in a stand-alone cutting tool for paper – what is now known as the Cricut.

Over time, the two technologies (paper cutters and SVGs) merged, and not so lawfully as it turns out. According to lawsuits filed in 2010 by ProvoCraft, several software developers violated ProvoCraft’s patented software by developing computer-linked software to cut SVG files with the Cricut – a move designed to sidestep the need to buy Cricut cartridges. These suits (against Make The Cut [MTC], Sure Cuts A Lot [SCAL] and FairyCut [FC]) were settled in 2011, when MTC, SCAL and FC agreed to upgrade their software packages to disable the connectivity to a Cricut, and to stop marketing their programs as Cricut-enabled.

Prior to the lawsuits having been filed, I invested in each of the original versions of MTC, SCAL and FC, and learned/compared them all, using my Cricut as my cutter. I loved being able to access free and purchased SVGs, and converting JPEG images to design my own cut files. And still, I purchased Cricut cartridges.

Now, I have a little more computer agility than the average 55+ senior citizen – but certainly not as much as a graphic designer or a younger person who has grown up around computers. Even though I loved my newfound ability to cut just about anything, I still found my Cricut cartridges easier to use, less time consuming to set up and get crafting, and more portable when I went to a crop. I never did upgrade my MTC, SCAL or FC software post-lawsuit settlement, so I can still use my Cricut to cut SVG files using any of these programs. Unfortunately, by not upgrading the software, I still have to work my way around some of the original programs’ glitches and cannot use the Help feature when I get stuck in designing or have questions.

Perhaps aided by the negative press caused by the lawsuits and the hew and cry of those who loved using their Cricuts to cut SVGs, many message boards lit up with reviews of other sorts of electronic cutting machines on which upgraded versions of MTC, SCAL and FC could be operated.

There are many electronic cutting machines available now to crafters, ranging (in price) from the Black Cat Cougar (MSRP $749), Pazzles Inspiration ($599), Sizzix eClips ($499), the Boss Kut Gazelle ($419), Craftwell eCraft ($349), and the Silhouette Cameo ($299). The Cameo, targeted in the same price range as the Cricut Expression (also with an MSRP of $299), caught my eye.

Sleek and light, the early reviews I read on the Cameo showed that it offered easier to use “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) software – basically, I could set up and go. There are thousands of images are available in the Silhouette online store (many are free, others are typically $0.99 each). And early reviews I read promised a  machine with the ability to cut fine and intricate images, and perfect circles. This month, I added a Silhouette Cameo to my craft room.

Here is what I can attest: installing and using the Cameo is delightfully easy. Without spending a lot of time learning the software (yet), I was able to cut several SVG files within a half-hour of opening the box. I believe you can see the comparison of the two cutting machines (Cricut and Cameo) in this card I made, below:

I purchased and downloaded the vintage sewing machine image from the Silhouette shop, downloaded it to my Cameo and cut it at 3.5” on Core’dinations cardstock, using the default settings to cut. I was amazed at how finely cut the paper is (see the top bit representing thread on the machine, which is only slightly wider than the actual thread I wrapped around the spool). A downside: the new mat is so sticky that one fine swirl of “thread” to the left got stuck/left on the mat when I removed the image.

To contrast, the doily behind the sewing machine was also cut on Core’dinations cardstock, but used my Cricut and the new “Sophie” cartridge, an exclusive to Cricut Circle members. The booklet that comes with the newer cartridges recommends minimum setting sizes for each image – and this one was 5”.  While the image is cut cleanly (and I used a new blade for a fair comparison), it is far less smooth than the image cut with the Cameo. The curves are a bit jagged, and some of the smaller connections were more fragile than the Cameo’s tiniest cuts.
The bottom line:
For crafters who like the simplicity and guidance of images in a collection on a cartridge, a Cricut is for you. I have the Cricut Expression and a Cricut Cake. There are also a Cricut Expression 2, the smaller Cricut personal, the original Cricut Create, and the smallest Cricut Mini. ProvoCraft also sells a Cricut Imagine, which combines color inkjet printing and cutting together, for enhanced print/cut capabilities. 
On the downside, if you limit yourself to a Cricut, you will not be able to use the vast array of millions of images created worldwide in the SVG format. However, ProvoCraft now releases dozens of new cartridges weekly (announced on “Hello Thursdays”).

ProvoCraft has expanded into a broader per-image market with the introduction of its new Cricut Craft Room (accessed at If you have some computer knowledge (PC or Mac-based) and want to add to your capabilities beyond the cartridges but don’t want to (or can’t) invest in a new cutting machine, adding Cricut Craft Room (CCR) to your mix might be the next logical step.

But if you are comfortable with your computer and want to move into the world of SVG files, and creating your own files from JPEG images, then you'll need to move to an electronic cutter and its software that supports that endeavor. There are many companies that sell SVG files (and have freebies, too).  Here are My Top Dozen favorites:
  1. SVG Cuts (
  2. SVG Attic (
  3. My Grafico (
  4. Lettering Delights (
  5. Two Peas In a Bucket (
  6. Little Scraps of Heaven Designs (
  7. Treasure Box Designs (
  8. Visual Designs by Chris (
  9. Paper Piecings by Nikki (
  10. Designs on Cloud 9 (