We tried Cricut Explore 3 and like it, we are builders

As a mother of two girls, I often feel jealous of the profession. You know those fellow parents. Bringers give teachers gifts like cute personalized coffee mugs while you deliver another lame Starbucks gift card. Or volunteers tie dyed T-shirts for the entire football team, with each child’s name neatly ironed on the back. Or those who not only host girls’ nights out but also gift attendees with wine glasses embellished with sassy quotes that look as if they were bought from the cutest Etsy store.

Turns out the people who wanted Martha Stewart actually had a serious cheat tool in their crafting arsenal: a Cricut smart cutting machinewhich is really discount now.

Cricut Explore 3 takes some serious patience to get started with custom design. And, at $300 for the machine, plus all the materials, tools, and registration fees, it doesn’t come cheap. But once caught in its whirlpool, anyone with a desire to become more cunning will quickly become obsessed.

If the well-stocked Cricut aisle at your local Michaels or other craft supply store is any indication, these machines have become hugely popular. With three current models (small Cricut JoyPopular Explore the chain and more expensive crafters, for the serious ones Manufacturer series), Cricuts looks a lot like a printer but is actually a smart die cutter that can precisely cut over 100 types of materials – foil, vinyl, cardboard, cork, fabric, glitter paper or even wood balsa – all at lightning speed. These cuts can then be used to create stickers, greeting cards, iron frames, signs and more right from home.

If you’re using an older model, you’ll need to invest in new “smart materials” for Explore 3. They’re generally a few dollars more expensive than “everyday” materials, but – here’s the good news – they feed directly into the machine without the need for a backing pad. Explore 3 also works twice as fast as its predecessor, Discover Air 2, and can create projects that are 12 inches wide by 12 feet long – great for patio signs, for banners, or cut multiple logos at once to make multiple iron t-shirts for the event. family reunion. It also has a pen feature to draw fonts, styles, and patterns on your materials.

To see if we could use the product to boost (or even, honestly, start) our crafting game, we put Cricut Explore 3 to the test.

It might seem silly to call a cutter pretty, but Explore 3 comes in the loveliest soft mint green and right out of the box made us smile. At 22.2 inches wide x 7 inches deep x 5.9 inches high (and weighs 11 pounds), it requires a relatively small amount of space and is light enough to be easily moved if you don’t have a crafting area. point. It also has a handy little kickstand to hold your phone or tablet, and a built-in compartment to store some tools you’ll need to purchase separately (more on that later).

Lesley Kennedy / CNN

Connecting is completely effortless: Simply plug in and connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or use a USB cord to plug it into your computer. The box comes with a sharp blade and some practice sheets, but you’ll need to download it Design spaceThe company’s free app for Windows and Mac (and iOS and Android). It includes a large selection of images, fonts, and ready-to-go projects – and also allows you to upload your own images and fonts. If you plan to use a lot of your Cricuts, you may want to subscribe Cricut Access for $9.99 per month. It gives you unlimited access to 200,000+ images, 700+ fonts, and more, plus 10% off purchases and exclusive deals. (Be sure to take advantage of the 30-day free trial first.)

As mentioned, Discover 3 also requires “smart materials”. These are specially designed rolls and sheets of vinyl, cardboard, corrugated iron, etc that are manufactured to be loaded directly into the Explore 3’s feeder without the need for special pads as other Cricut versions require. . We found a 3 leg roll smart iron on sale for $8.99, a 3-foot roll Permanent smart vinyl for $4.79 and a pack Smart paper stickers for $8.39.

If you’re perceiving a theme of add-ons here, you’re not wrong. Besides smart materials, you will need some tools to “weed” and “burn” your projects ( Necessary toolkit on sale for $29.99 – more on tools below). And there’s a wide range of blades, pens, markers, roll holders, heat presses and more available. Oh, and don’t forget the Transfer Tape. You will definitely need that. Turns out crafting can be an expensive hobby.

But, armed with the essentials to get started, I was ready to find out if it was worth it.

Lesley Kennedy / CNN

When you first set up Explore 3, you’ll be prompted to complete your first little project: create a simple sticker. Eager to dive in, I followed the on-screen instructions and made the practice easy. After choosing a simple mountain image, I fed a sheet of vinyl into the machine and in maybe three seconds I had a great new sticker for my Yeti mug. Spread. That is easy.

Feeling good, I used Design Space to look for another sticker image to use to customize one of my kids’ many water bottles. She picked a cute dinosaur labeled “easy to make” – and, yes, it’s super easy! I reduced the size of the little guy, clicked the “Make It” button, and again, followed the prompts. To remove the yellow vinyl sticker, I simply peeled off the excess vinyl, then used the “weed” tool (it had a sharp metal hook and looked like something that the cleaning staff could use). tool used to poke your gums) to pull out any small pieces that are left. behind. Next, I covered it with duct tape that adhered to the vinyl and buffed it with a small tool like a food scraper to make sure it would stick. Finally, I glued the tape to the water bottle, burned it again, and then peeled the tape off. And the sticker stays in place – even after running it through the dishwasher.

Lesley Kennedy / CNN

Now it’s time to make a basic transition. Again, I started with an image marked “easy”. This one has a rather thin constellation of shapes in the shape of a tacos with the words “My star sign is tacos.” (I think my baby will think it’s weird/funny. She doesn’t. It’s pajamas now. Oh come on.) I followed the instructions to mirror the image (so it would translate correctly to the shirt.) your mi), add my paper with the shiny side down and voilá! Achieve cuts on iron. After peeling and cleaning the excess, I simply ironed it on a pre-washed t-shirt in about 30 seconds. It works perfectly.

Lesley Kennedy / CNN

Feeling smug, I decided to tailor another ironing shirt – and that’s where I tinkered. Pretty well versed at PhotoShop, I think this Spatial Design tool should come easy. Almost two hours later, I was about to throw the towel in the house. But, luckily, I finally arrived with a YouTube tutorial that saved the day. Once I had everything to play nice, the trim and iron worked like a dream.

What is the main content of the couple? If you plan to use Cricut for its existing DesignSpace projects, you can follow the prompts and tweak it. For anything more complicated, you’ll definitely want to check out the tutorial and be ready to try and fix it.

Lesley Kennedy / CNN

After the first few cuts and peels, I no longer winced for fear of things messing up and now feel as if an inner Martha I didn’t even know existed had taken over. I’m making collages for the kids, taking ironic requests with glee, and planning to label everything in my pantry, and I can’t wait to be a greeting card designer for a lady. her own female. Seriously, who am I?

Yes, Cricut Explore 3 takes some serious patience to get started with custom design. And, no, at $300 for the machine, plus all the materials, tools, and subscription fees, it doesn’t come cheap. But once you get the hang of it (and consider the cost of greeting cards, personalized t-shirt designs, and more), anyone with a desire to be more crafty will quickly become obsessed. And the next girls out for the night? I will be the one to bring the wine glasses decorated with sassy decals.

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