For anything from home decor and crafts for families and effective creations for small businesses, the power and versatility of the right cutting machine can be a real life-saver. Instead of needing to pay others or pick up expensive, pre-cut designs, you can make everything you need to without ever stepping out of your home.
When it comes to cutting machines, customers want to easiest-to-use device that won’t be bogged down with the need for extraneous fees or limitations. Working in direct competition with massive brands like Cricut, the Silhouette cutting machine attempts to do it all, with none of the drawbacks.
Silhouette is a company that offers home-based solutions to custom design needs, and their current lineup features everything from a stamp maker to a 3-D printer. With the Cameo 3, the company aims to dethrone common competitors and make a product that’s not limited by proprietary services or other issues.
Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at this cutter and the kinds of solutions it can bring to the home. After breaking down the features, pricing, and perception, we’ll be looking at what’s good, what’s bad, and what you need to know before making a purchase.
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Features and Specifications
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The Silhouette cutter, much like other Silhouette products, comes in a white, unibody design. Anyone looking for a distant color to match an interior design aesthetic or color scheme may be slightly disappointed, but the monolithic shape and design means that it won’t be a sore thumb in just about any room.
The size specifications on the Silhouette also matches many of the other cutters at this price range with the same features, like the Cricut Explore Air or Air 2. This cutter will take up about 2 feet of space on a desk, with about 8 inches in height. It is also only 13 pounds—which makes this cutting machine almost half the weight of the Explore Air.
There are a large number of variations and bundles that come with the Silhouette cutter depending upon where you order the product from. We will be getting into exactly what you’ll need to get started a little bit later on, but suffice to say, there’s more than enough option to get exactly what you need to get started.
One of the major selling features mentioned by Silhouette is the Cameo 3’s ability to operate with the self-adjusting AutoBlade.
The Auto Blade is a time-saving blade designed to skip the hassle of altering your blade’s setting before a cut. Typically, the pressure and type of blade will need to be checked depending upon the type of material you’re hoping to cut. With the AutoBlade, all you’ll need to do is load up the material and hit “Go.”
Another helpful feature on the Silhouette that we don’t see on many other cutters at this price range is the ability to work with particularly lengthy papers. While the width of the material to be cut is locked in at about 12 inches, you can work with paper, cardstock, and even vinyl with a length of up to 10 feet long by attaching a feeling spool to the device.
Other functionality includes a built-in Bluetooth feature that allows you to manipulate projects and cut from your computer or smart device without the need for wires and plugs.
Pricing and Warranty Information
As previously mentioned, the Silhouette cutter normally comes in a variety of different bundles and packages. These packages are often geared towards the specific needs of the consumer. For example, those who either aren’t familiar with a cutting machine or want to “plug and run” their products would most likely enjoy the Beginner’s Deluxe bundle.
There are also bundles that feature blades and setting that appeal to cutting vinyl, transferring heat, and ultimate bundles that focus on giving the end user everything absolutely necessary to use the Silhouette cutter to its fullest possible extent.
These bundles can greatly affect the product’s cost—in some cases, up to 100 dollars or more. For transparency, try to make sure that your cutting machine has the following upon purchase:
- A cutting surface, often 12×12
- Designs and shapes to cut out pre-loaded onto the device
- A USB cord for connectivity
- The Auto Blade or other blade
- Software and power cable
Provided you have each of the following when you make your purchase; you should be set to get started. Because of the popularity of the Cameo 3, it is often also sold secondhand—which is all the more reason to double-check before making the purchase.
As for the base model? The simplest bundle for this Silhouette product include all of the above accessories and cables and runs for about 200 dollars. Of course, different retailers both online and off are going to offer introductory prices and competitive discounts, so be sure to shop around before making a purchase.
This price point places the Silhouette in direct competition with the Cricut Explore Air, which is generally the competitor that this product is most often compared to. We will be getting into the differences between these products a little later on.
As far as warranty goes, you can expect a limited 1-year warranty on your purchase that covers issues with the hardware and cords that are the fault of the manufacturer. What’s also handy is the lifetime warranty offered on the software of the product. Should any bug fixes arise, you can be assured that the Silhouette will iron them out.
The public perception on the Silhouette Cameo 3 pits it again the Cricut Explore Air, which makes them naturally compared to each other.
What’s especially helpful about the Silhouette cutter is its willingness to operate with 3rd party designs. To better understand this concept, we’ll need to do a little bit of explaining about how modern cutting machines work.
The computer system inside the Silhouette and other cutting machines utilize files that tell the machine how to cut out the specific shape. Both Silhouette and their competition, Cricut, produce proprietary designs, applications, blades, and cartridges.
These consumables are part of the way both companies incentivize you to use their internal products instead of others. In the case of Cricut, cutting out unique shapes and downloading 3rd-party designs is quite limited. This is partially why the Silhouette stands out.
Provided you have the right file types; the Silhouette has few problems cutting out 3rd-party designs and shapes. This—combined with the massive 10-foot length capability of the cutting machine—makes this a bit more appealing to the end user that want’s full control over their devices.
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This plays into the comparison to the Cricut Explore Air and why so many compare the two products. Generally, public perception is positive on the Silhouette for its willingness to cut out longer and larger shapes from any source.
Aside from a looser set of constraints, fans of the Silhouette also appreciate the dual carriage design within the machine that allows for cutting and printing simultaneously. The application for smart phones is also praised, as well as the ability to quickly transfer files and projects over via USB if necessary.
However, there are a few common complaints we noticed across the board. While many are small nit-picks to the overall design and intent of the product, we felt that the following were worth nothing:
For one, the Silhouette, despite some features geared towards novice users, can have quite the steep learning curve. Miscommunication issues are common between the company’s marketing and the product itself when it comes to quirks like the Auto Blade needing some tweaking for each print, and the user interface being dense.
The Silhouette is also quite loud—even when comparing to other cutting machines. These products are not exactly known for being quiet by any stretch of the imagination, but the Silhouette can put out a surprising number of decibels. This product is not one you’ll want to use near sleeping pets or babies, or anywhere that needs to be quiet.
Pros & Cons
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As we’ve mentioned, the biggest pro we can think of when it comes to the Silhouette is versatility and customization options.
While you can purchase a membership to their online Designer Store, this is completely optional. Right out of the box, you can cut a host of different materials with custom shapes and designs without needing to spend any extra money. Just pick up the right blade and material, load in the file via USB or smart device, and cut.
Aside from this, affordability is another strong suit of the Silhouette. While it may be about 30 or so dollars above the baseline Cricut Explore Air, when you factor in the savings on operation costs, you tend to end up with a product with lower overhead. This is perfect for power users and people who want to push the Auto Blade to its fullest possible extent.
The things that people need to be wary of almost all pertain to knowing how to use the product itself. The learning curve is steep and often unforgiving, so any mistakes you make may seriously damage the product without the aid of a warranty to back you up.
Likewise, it will take some time to get used to the relatively unintuitive software, both on the computer as well as the phone. Finally, this product is loud and needs pretty constant attention for a cutter with Bluetooth capability.
- Cuts long-length materials
- Steep learning curve
- Unintuitive marketing/design
Is the Silhouette Cameo 3 Right for Me?
The Silhouette cutter is an outstanding product no matter how you spin it. The clean design and high functionality for such a low cost makes it stand tall and proud against the remainder of the competition. Likewise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a cutter that’s as 3rd-party friendly as this one.
Still, we fully admit that the Silhouette is not for everyone, and in some cases, the Cricut Explore Air is the better choice.
What this will come down to is your projected workload and time to learn the new materials.
If you’re ready and willing to be hands-on with your new cutting machine, and aren’t scared of a few night’s worth of research and testing to get the product up and running, then the Silhouette Cameo 3 will reward you with some of the best features out of any cutting machine at this price point.
However, if you don’t have much time to fiddle with a new device and are much more interested in plugging and running as opposed to immersing yourself with new jargon and features, then you might want to consider the Cricut model instead. One focuses on ease of use, while the other on customization. You’ll need to put some thought into which is best for your specific situation before pulling the trigger on either one.
As always, do your research on secondhand sellers and ensure that whichever product you purchase comes with all of the necessary materials right out of the box. Silhouette is more than willing to offer replacement cords and blades, but these are often far cheaper when picked up in an initial bundle rather than purchased separately.
Regardless of which product you choose and whether or not this Silhouette cutter has a place in your workshop or home office, we think that a cutting machine can do far more than cut. Using one of these devices, home projects from interior design to even leatherwork can become easy and simple.