Let me set the scene for you.

It’s 8 pm and I get home after a long day chasing small people to see the Cricut Explore has just been delivered to my house. I’ve been asked to test it out and write up a review, and I’m looking forward to it because I’ve never tried a Cricut before.

After unpacking it and setting it up on my kitchen table, I browse through the setup and look through the website for all of the different projects you can make. Yes, I’m intrigued, but I’m also dead tired, so one of my goals for this week was to test it out and make a few crafty things.

Fast forward to 2 am.

I walk to the kitchen for a drink of water and see the light on. Sitting at the table, with my computer wide open, is my husband.

“Have you tried this thing?” For 2 am, he’s seriously excited. The blade of the Cricut is humming on the table, and although I’m half asleep, I’m aware of how crazy it is to see my husband crafting in the middle of the night.

The next morning, when I had 5 minutes, I tried it out myself. There was a bit of a learning curve as I figured out the importance of ‘unflatten’ in relation to images you find on the web, then moved on to how to feed the machine properly. But once I had it dialed, I was off to the races.

Morning turned to afternoon, and after the kids went to bed my husband and I sat down and crafted together.

Yes, you read this right. My husband is a ski rep by day, but he’s also a die cut enthusiast. I can’t say in the 20 years I’ve known him that we’ve ever crafted anything together, but there we were. For approximately 5 hours, we created die cut after die cut, and we pretty much decorated our laptops, the iPads, and started in on some Christmas crafts. I’ll be honest, I had no idea he was so meticulous when it comes to getting bubbles out of stickers. I’ve never been able to get this man to hang wallpaper with me, but we went through the process of die cuts for so long, we basically turned it into an art form. By 2 am I was falling asleep, but it made me look at my husband in an entirely new way, and he said after he would stop scoffing at my creative home projects. Who knew a sales man could be so crafty?

Day 2 turned into Day 3, then 4 and 5 – by that point I was sitting down with the Cricut Explore every chance I got because my mind was pretty much blown by everything it could do. We even showed people how to use it during my daughter’s birthday party, and I had a crowd watching as I cut a vinyl sticker and made an iron on transfer in under 5 minutes.

When I thought about writing the review for the Cricut Explore, I thought about calling it a ‘Mom Toy,’ because it’s one of the coolest devices I’ve ever tested and all of its uses appeal to me, a mom who likes to make things.

But if I only called it a mom toy, it would be seriously undervaluing this machine and what it can do. Guys love it – even my brother who works in construction was calling and asking what type of vinyl die cuts it made because he wanted to buy a Cricut for his business, and my husband was having so much fun with it that I was beginning to think he liked it even more than I did.

I didn’t mind having him around while I was using it either. Usually it’s the complete opposite – whether I’m painting apple crates, creating Christmas cards, or hanging pictures on the wall, my husband usually makes himself scarce when I’m busy decorating or crafting because he’s just not that interested. That’s my time to be creative, and because life tends to be on the crazy side, I don’t get enough of that quiet time to putter around.

Even with 2 people using it,  7 days with the Cricut Explore, we didn’t even scratch the surface of what it can do, and I know for a fact this is the type of machine almost everyone would use. It’s that handy.

Let’s take a look at the features on the Cricut Explore: 10326968.jpg


  • Electric cutting machine with Cut Smart technology to cut precise shapes in all sizes
  • Works with the Cricut Design Space software that’s a plug in on your Internet browser
  • The smart dial lets you easily set or adjust for different materials including vinyl, cardstock, and iron on transfers
  • You can access 50,000 images from the Cricut image library, but it’s very simple to import your own
  • There are extra cartridges you can pick up with specific fonts or images, and it’s easy to just pop one in and access them
  • Use a Cricut marker to write on your greeting cards and the machine will score them and give you fold lines all at once

Set up in a snap

The Cricut Explore is a sleek, compact machine that is barely bigger than a bread loaf. When you push the button to open up the device, it expands and it’s ready for cutting, scoring, printing, or giving you fold lines.

Each Cricut Explore comes with a package of materials you can try before you buy your own supplies, and that package includes an iron on transfer, different coloured vinyl, and some duct tape samples. It also comes with a German carbide blade and a silver pen for writing on cards.

When I first started playing with it, I wanted to make barn stars. I’ve seen them in home decor stores but never bought them when I saw them. When I’d go out specifically to buy one, I couldn’t find one anywhere. I made several with the Cricut Explore – one specifically for my daughter’s room and one for specifically for Christmas. I used heavy cardstock for both, and between cutting, folding, and adding two layers of Modge Podge, it took me about 20 minutes to create them.

My husband wanted to make die cut vinyl stickers for his computer, iPhone, and iPad. To do this he spent about 10 minutes looking for templates online, imported them into the Cricut Explore, cut them, then applied them. Once he got going, the fastest he managed to cut a vinyl sticker was 3 minutes from import to the die cut’s final destination on the back of my son’s NIntendo DS.


Get ready to createcricut-explore-demo.jpg

I’ll admit I’ve only tried one or two of these types of machines, and never a Cricut before. But I’ve heard of Cricuts, and according to everyone who has one, they’re at the top of the heap as far as craft cutters are concerned.

Once you have the software plugin installed in your web browser, you can go back to Design Space whenever you want to make something. It’s just a matter of bookmarking the site and logging in, and the site will save all of your projects plus suggest something new whenever you login in.

 I did have a look through the project library, but there were so many different PInterest projects for the Cricut Explore that I couldn’t stop searching online.

cricut-cardstock.jpgWhat can you make? The short answer is everything

I’m not exaggerating. I had a slow start with the Cricut because when I set it up I wasn’t really sure what I would make, and I think that might be what stops people from really getting into it. But if you ever find yourself wandering the aisles of a home store looking at all of the handmade signs or you’ve admired a vinyl die cut on Pinterest, trust me when I say you can make it under 5 minutes on the Cricut Explore.

Do you like throw pillows with iron on phrases or images? Antlers are big this year, and you can make an iron on transfer and put some on any old throw pillow you have in your house. Christmas crafts? No problem. I made a festive firewood box with an old apple crate and a vinyl die cut.

cricut-barn-star.jpgHow about an iron on transfer for a tshirt? When my neighbor’s daughter wanted a tshirt with her name on it, I whipped one up for her. And don’t get me started on vinyl die cuts – once I found out how easy they were to make, I literally didn’t want to stop making them. They print out so perfectly and are so easy to transfer, you’ll never want to use the store bought kind again.

Card stock and poster board are also easy to use, and the Cricut Explore will score each card, write your message with the pen, and show you where to fold them. I also loved it for paper crafts. Have you ever seen those small paper villages you can pick up for Christmas? You can make those with the Cricut Explore. All you need is some heavy-duty card stock and time to fold and decorate. Place a battery-operated tea light inside and your little houses will glow on your mantle.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that whether you use the Cricut Explore for random vinyl images, tshirts, monogrammed letters, crafts, scrapbooking, or whatever comes to mind, it’s so easy and fun to use.

As for my husband, he didn’t hesitate when it came to creating my Christmas firewood box with me, but his main focus was vinyl die cuts. He really got into the <a href="http://"Cricut"” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Star Wars die cuts, and he was specifically interested in importing and editing intricate images, then printing them out. 

You can see everything I made with the Cricut Explore on my Flickr stream.

A quick how to

How easy is it to use the Cricut Explore? I took a look around online and didn’t see a quick how-to for creating on the Cricut Explore, so I’ll give you my own step-by-step for creating word art:

Step one – Choose your image. Although there are thousands of images available right in Cricut Design Studio, you can also look for your own images and import them right into the software. Just choose import image.

Step two – Set your cut lines. Once your image is imported, the Cricut software will ask you to set your cut lines. You take the small wand tool and highlight the areas you’d like cut out. In the case of my ‘Merry and bright’ die cut, I highlighted the inside of the ‘b’, ‘e’ and so on. You can easily see on the software what is removed as a cut line, and you can zoom in or out for larger or small images.

Step three – Choose your type of design space. You can pick a design layout for a laptop computer, bag tag, or just a blank design space. I usually used blank, and that way I could stretch the image within the space.

Step four – Insert the image in your design space. You can see by the grid on the side the size of your image, so you can make it as big as you’d like.

Step five – Place your vinyl on your cutting mat. I always used a 12 x 12 mat, but there are other sizes if your image is bigger.

Step six – Your image will show up in design space, and you’ll also see it as a small thumbnail preview in a window called layers. When you’re ready to cut, tap the ‘unflatten’ button in the layer window. This is a key step.

Step seven – Once you’ve tapped unflatten, click on the small printer icon beside your image in the layer window. That will open a side menu, and that’s where you select cut. Unless you select unflatten, you won’t be able to select cut from this window.

Step eight – Hit the ‘Go’ button at the top of the screen.

Step nine – Make sure you’ve turned the dial on the Cricut Explore to vinyl so the blade knows how deep to cut.

Step ten – Line up your sheet with the vinyl on it and press the feed button. The buttons will flash so you know what to do.

Step eleven – Touch the Cricut button on the Cricut Explore. The machine will start cutting.

Step twelve – Once you’ve cut your vinyl, peel away the excess. Your finished die cut will be ready to pull off.

Step thirteen – Use the sticky transfer paper and press it down on your vinyl. If you have the extra Cricut tools (I highly recommend) you can use the small tool that presses out any air bubbles and makes it easy to transfer.

Step fourteen – You’re ready to transfer onto any surface!


It may look like a lot of steps, but once you get going it will take you under 5 minutes to create vinyl die cuts. I’ve used the vinyl transfers on laptops, iPads, iPhones, mirrows, wooden boxes, walls, and even a picture frame. The sky really is the limit.

For my husband and I, crafting on the Cricut Explore was a fun way to spend time together. Between his crazy schedule and mine, it can be really hard to ever sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation let alone do anything creative. But when we started using it, it made me remember what life was like before kids. Before we were married, he’d sit and paint Christmas ornaments with me between University exams. It was a way for both of us to de-stress, and I’m glad having the Cricut Explore brought that back.

When I shipped the Cricut Explore back after I wrote up this review, I was genuinely sad, but I’ll be crafting again soon enough because I’m getting one now to put under the tree as a family gift this holiday.

I can’t recommend the Cricut Explore enough, and it’s the perfect gift to put under the tree this year too. Check out the Cricut Explore right now on, and don’t forget to take a peek at all of the cool Cricut cartridges and accessories you can find online.

Shelly Wutke
Editor TV & Home Theatre
I'm a Vancouver freelancer and tech enthusiast. When I'm not writing you'll find me on my farm with my alpacas, chickens, and honeybees. Visit my website Survivemag