Today I had a chance to borrow a Cricut Explore OneTM from a friend. It was pretty easy to figure out. I cut out my design on cereal box cardboard before attempting to cut any plastic.
This is a simple design for a storefront. Four walls, a roof, and a floor. This is modified for the Cricut machines from a design that I found on the internet. The original design with assembly instructions can be found here. This is for N scale (1/160), so I needed to see how good the machine is at cutting very small pieces, especially door and window openings.
It helps to include a gauge for scale on the drawing, because although I had it set to print at 100% at 300dpi, it came up larger in Design Space. I was able to scale it easily with my gauge set to represent three inches, and the grid on the screen in Design Space. This particular design comes to the correct size in Design Space when the width is set to 6.7 inches and the height is set to 4.165 inches.
I found that the best thing to do is to upload your design for “printing and cutting”. This will allow you to print the design first, and physically measure the gauge to see if it comes up to three inches. If it doesn’t, you can adjust the size accordingly. Make sure that the lock icon is checked so the proportions stay the same. When your print looks good, you can cancel cutting.
At that point you have a few choices. You can re-upload your design and this time specify that it is for cutting. This will preserve the original version that is for printing. OR You can click the layer that the original drawing is on and choose Cut (the Scissors icon instead of the Printer icon). OR You can duplicate the original layer, mark one of them as a Cut layer, and leave the other one as a print layer, and show or hide the layers as needed. When your drawing is ready to cut it will look gray like this, and you won’t be able to read the text on the 3″ gauge anymore. I surrounded the gauge with a box so that the machine would not attempt to cut within that area.
I used .030″ flat styrene for my first test with plastic, and the “deep point” black blade (I didn’t get to try the turquoise blade). I tried the thickest “Poster Board” setting and also tried the Custom settings, which offer more choices. The thickest material in the Custom menu seems to be .6mm whereas .030″ styrene is .762mm, so this machine is not really meant to cut it. After two passes it had not cut through as much as I would have liked it to. I was able to break my pieces out but all of the edges are beveled. This bottom of the line machine did ok on the door and window openings, though the cuts were not totally clean after two passes. I would not recommend it for cutting out anything much smaller than that. The design originally included some strips to hold up the roof and to use as trim. I think it would have been better to cut those simple strips by hand.
I’m curious to see what the new “knife blade” will be like when it comes out for the Cricut MakerTM. Otherwise I’d say that the machine sort of works on .030 styrene, but it helps to do many passes, and don’t plan on cutting anything super tiny. It’s definitely faster and easier, and at least as accurate as cutting by hand, if not better. All of the Explore series machines use the same blades, except for the Maker, which can also use a rotary cutting blade for fabric, and the new “knife blade” which is due out some time this year. Aside from that it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which machine you buy if your goal is to make these kinds of models with it. You can see a comparison chart of the Cricut Explore series machines here.
So, there you have it. I’m glad that I got to try it. I’m not rushing to buy one just yet but I’d like to see what the Maker can do with the new blade when it comes out.