Is this all-in-one machine worth the money?
When I recently talked about Cricut Maker, I've pointed out how people are slowly growing tired of branded products and looking for new ways to express themselves in a unique manner. This new wave of individualism definitely left its mark on various industries.
As a Prime Example of This Trend:
- The old crafts are getting a new breath of life
- Artisanship is more appreciated than it was in decades
- And die cutters, who have previously been used only by professionals are becoming more affordable and finding their way into regular households.
As you would expect, the various manufacturers have risen to the challenge and pushed an entire slew of wallet-friendly products aimed at hobbyists and aspiring new artisans.
That brings me to the current die-cutter market, which is, by all means, a mixed bag. Some products are genuinely pushing the envelope of what can be achieved with a couple of hundreds of bucks. Others are there to rob you of your hard-earned money.
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Where then the topic of today’s discussion, Silhouette Curio review, finds its place in such a diverse landscape?
Is it a good purchase of a waste of money?
Let's try to find out together!
Silhouette: A Peek Behind The Curtain
The first thing I like to do when I get my hands on a new product is to learn something about the brand – its history, mission statements, overall quality of the products, how it is perceived in public, and similar things.
It just makes an excellent first impression and tells me what can I expect from the product I’m reviewing.
The thing with Silhouette is that I didn’t have to do particularly extensive digging – the manufacturer has a pretty strong reputation in the artisan circles.
Silhouette's products are known for their versatility and affordable price, and the manufacturer goes out of the way to offer its customers all the help they can get in the form of blogs, walkthroughs, and instructional videos.
However, Silhouette also earned quite a rep for inconsistent quality – some of their products end up rock-solid, others seriously lack in terms of longevity.
So, with all things said, I’ve decided to set my expectations to moderate, and you are advised to do the same – Curio could really fall on both sides.
So, let’s proceed to dissection.
When it was first announced a couple of years ago, Silhouette Curio created a lot of buzz in the artisan circle. No wonder – with the ability to cut, draw, stipple, emboss and etch, this unit was intended to replace your entire beginner’s set.
The manufacturer also promised to make the unit upgradeable and continuously push new software updates, which makes Curio a very lucrative long-term investment.
So, there are a lot of good things going on here, at least on paper.
Let’s see how Silhouette handled these promises in real-life.
Silhouette Curio Grades Table
Here’s a handy table which demonstrates how this machine scored on my testing & the impression it left on me after a while.
|Silhouette Curio Review|
|Value for money||4/5|
If you want to learn about all the details, and find out the reasons behind these grades, read on!
What’s in The Box?
- Silhouette Curio unit
- 8.5 in. x 6 in. base (includes three platforms)
- 8.5 in. x 6 in. cutting mat
- 8.5 in. x 6 in. embossing mat
- Cutting blade
- Fine embossing tool
- Wide embossing too
- Power cable
- USB cable
- Silhouette Studio
- 50 exclusive designs
- 1-month Silhouette Design Store subscription
Specs and Highlight Features
- Dimensions – 17.2 x 5.5 x 7 inches (44 x 14 x 18 centimeters)
- Weight – 7.5 pounds (3.4 kilograms)
- Cutting force – 210 grams
- Max speed – 3.9 in/second
- Dual carriage – Silhouette Curio allows you to use two different tools simultaneously
- Stippling and etching – Curio is actually capable of stippling and etching metal surfaces
- Embossing features – Just make the design and Curio will make sure it stays forever imprinted on the material
- 5mm clearance – More clearance more options
- Adjustable base – Now you can add or remove platforms to accommodate different materials
- Deep cuts – The sintered tungsten alloy deep-cut blade allows for some serious piercing power
- Silhouette Studio 4 – Probably one of the best designer apps in the entire industry
- Excellent support – The people from Silhouette America are going out of the way to make their customers’ experience as positive as possible
The Materials You Can Work With
When it comes to the list of supported materials, Curio does leave a powerful impression. For instance, the materials you can cut include all the usual suspects:
- Vinyl (adhesive, glitter, chalkboard, holographic, etc.)
- Paper (printed, crepe, vellum, patterned, photo, etc.)
- Cardstock and mat board
- Craft foam (leather, chipboard, balsa wood, etc.)
But, that's not all. As I previously covered, Curio takes a couple of steps further than a regular die cutter and throws the cocktail stippling, etching and embossing capabilities into the mix.
So, not only some of the materials we’ve covered can be processed with different tools, but you also get the opportunity to play with metal foils.
Still, as versatile as it is, Curio is not all-powerful. Lighter materials like aluminum can be easily dealt within one run. On the other hand, heavier metals like iron may require multiple passes.
Also, the machine performs excellently on thinner fabrics. But, as soon as you increase the volume or stack up a couple of layers, the real struggle begins.
Silhouette Curio: A Step by Step Review
And now that we've gotten to know our star of the evening, let's delve deeper into the details and see what these functions and buzzwords are all about.
Saying that Silhouette Curio doesn’t aspire too high in the visual design would be an understatement. If you ever wondered how an oversized PC printer would look this the answer you were looking for. In terms of visual flair, the unit does even less than Cricut Maker I’ve recently reviewed.
And yet, there is a lot of beauty to be found in this simplicity. Yes, in this case, straightforward design language works to the benefit of the product. Everything looks clean, simple, and streamlined. Curio definitely won’t make your room appear any better, but, as far as the desktop units go, it makes very little disturbance.
As always, I am much more concerned with performance, so I’ll give the overall look of this unit a thumb up.
The functionality is, unfortunately, the area where the design of this product takes a slight drop. For the sake of comparison, Cricut Maker was stacked with different storage options that have all drastically improved the usability of the cutter.
In the case of Curio, though, you only get two sets of storage slots located inside the unit's work area (two slots at each side). I have to admit that the very location where the slots are is pretty handy. But, even so – why would be satisfied with less.
Base and Platforms
Silhouette Curio is a product that certainly plays the role of Jack of All Trades. Its hardware may seem familiar to the people working with different sets of tools. The artisans who are used to work exclusively with cutters may sometimes feel out of their depth while operating this bad boy.
One of the prime examples of this curious problem is definitely the unit's platform system. Although it works just fine (as a matter of fact, definitely above the average), its depth that proves to be quite an asset when embossing doesn't exactly work when you need to cut something.
The manufacturer has found a solution to this slight issue with two slide-in platforms, that pack 1mm and 2mm of thickness. Depending on the volume of the material you are going to work with, you will slide in first, second, or both these platforms.
If you have trouble finding the proper combination, you can always consult your Silhouette Studio software. So, I could easily call the problem solved now and close this case.
But, we have to ask ourselves if this was indeed the most intuitive way of adjusting the depth of the base. The platform system is admittedly intuitive enough, but when you need to replace a couple of materials in quick succession, it can become a hassle.
The Cutting Area
And now comes one of Curio's biggest pitfalls. Yes, I am talking about the cutting zone, the feature that often makes or breaks the contemporary compact die cutters. Fortunately, Curio feels far from broken. But, its cutting area does nothing to elevate the product above the fierce competition (at least in terms of die-cutting).
Be that as it may, with Curio you are stuck with the width of only 6″ by 8.5″ (15 x 22 centimeters) which leaves a lot to be desired, even compared to some of Cricut's products that aren’t exactly the champions in terms of workspace.
I would be more inclined to give this issue a pass (a necessary concession that needed to be made to make the product more versatile) if Silhouette hadn't given us an option to buy the larger tray that increases the size to 8.5″ by 12″ separately.
Obviously, this is the tray that was meant to be in this package from the get-go, and forcing the customers to pay for this upgrade seems a bit like extortion.
Well, if Silhouette definitely dropped the ball when it comes to the workspace of their latest Curio, they more than compensated for this issue when it comes to versatility.
As I previously covered, Curio is not a simple die cutter – it’s capable of embossing, stippling, and etching as well. Unfortunately, this versatility also comes with an asterisk. Namely, out of all these features, you will be able only to do embossing.
So, as of now, I will put our focus on this feature and cover the other two capabilities in lesser detail.
The good news is that the two embossing tools you get in the package (a Fine tip for strong indents and Wide tip for gentle indents) for the most part do their job rather well. For instance, if you are working on thin materials like foils and vellum, you will be more than pleased.
Of course, the performance can’t be compared with some of the professional embossing units, but it stays firmly above the average.
The quality of the output starts to drop once you try to make raised impressions on thicker materials. Don’t get me wrong, you will still be able to get the pattern you originally intended, but you will need to take a round of scoring and make multiple embossing passes to get there.
On paper, this sounds very exhausting and time-consuming, but fortunately, the Dual Carriage System does an incredible amount of weightlifting to make this process as effortless as possible.
With all things said, I have to point out that in spite of some of its inherent limitations (after all, Curio is not a professional embossing tool), the unit still allows you to emboss all the designs you can find in Silhouette Studio. It is a beautiful feather missing from the caps of the tools that cost a lot more than Curio does.
Bottom line - as long as you're patient, you will get a great deal of versatility out of this fella.
Stippling and Etching tools
So, if you are willing to open up the wallet to upgrade your Curio, you will be able to buy Stippling and Etching tools. If you are unfamiliar with these terms, stippling is a process of creating the patterns with a bunch of little dots. When you are stippling, you are creating indents on metallic surfaces.
I am happy to report that both of these tools work very well. The stippling performance is pretty much near-perfect. When it comes to etching, the machine definitely favors the softer materials like aluminum. Still, you will be able to tackle even as something as though as steel if you’re willing to take multiple passes.
Keeping all these things in mind, I am very disappointed that these two tools are not included in Curio's package. Silhouette has presented us with tons of useful features and hidden most of them behind different paywalls — such a shame.
Other useful things that are omitted from this bundle, but exist as an upgrade option are three different-sized pen holders you can use to upgrade your unit with a whole slew of different pens and markers. Once the assembly is done, your Curio can be used for drawing different shapes and text lines.
And what to say – these duties are rather simple, and Curio performs them with a lot of grace. The performance is quite stable and reasonably fast, and that's all you should ever wish for, at least in this department.
On the paper, Silhouette Curio is a machine capable of cutting the materials that are thick up to 2 millimeters, which is pretty awesome. But, as you can probably guess, the Deep Cut Blade is not included in the original package, so if you are not willing to pay Silhouette the ransom, you will be limited to only 1 millimeter.
Still, even if you don’t make an upgrade, one millimeter is not that shabby. Most of the units in this product range rarely go beyond 0.8 millimeters.
Of course, if you decide to purchase the additional Deep Cut Blade, you will have a whole slew of cutting opportunities in front of you. So, the problem here is definitely not a limited set of options. The real villain is the fact that Curio feels somewhat underpowered. With the cutting force of 210 grams, you will be able to deal with materials like paper and vinyl with ease.
When it comes to thicker materials like cardstock, you will notice the machine struggling. The things like balsa wood will definitely require multiple passes, while the metals like steel will downright damage the blade.
In the end, Curio can be best described as a reasonably capable die cutter. It handles most of the common materials, even though some of them may require multiple passes. The Deep Cut Blade also does an excellent job expanding the usability of the whole package. However, Curio's main strengths lie elsewhere.
If you are looking for a machine you'll use primarily for cutting vinyl, there are a lot of much better options at this price point.
Finally, I have to take a quick look at Curio's mat set. Out of the box, you get two of them – Embossing Mat and Cutting Mat – with bigger-sized mats that are suitable to the large tray being available as an upgrade option.
All of them are pretty serviceable. They will prevent your unit from getting damaged, but also take a lot of beating along the way. Classify them under "Expendable."
Talking into consideration all the tools Curio allows you to play with, I am very surprised by the absence of some exciting special features that could make this product more appealing to aspiring artisans.
Still, the things that are included are more than worth talking about. So, let’s start with…
Dual Carriage System
This one’s a life-saver. Essentially, Silhouette Curio allows you to mount two tools at once and use them simultaneously. The perks of such a setup are incredible.
First, Curio is a tool that is often slow and clunky. If it hadn’t included Dual Carriage System, its overall usability would be seriously undermined. This way, though, the unit performs much faster and sufficiently streamlined.
Of course, this feature is not so revolutionary – by now, I have seen it in several different products coming from companies like Cricut and Silhouette. But, in the case of Curio, it makes all the difference in the world, and I cannot be happier it was implemented. To make things even better, the whole setup works pretty seamlessly.
So, the Dual Carriage System was definitely the upgrade that had a tremendous impact on Curio’s usability. Silhouette Studio, on the other hand, is a powerhouse software that elevates the package on the whole new level.
One of the things I found the most appealing is the overall feel of the suite. The UI is streamlined enough for beginners, but, at the same time, nuanced enough for the more advanced users. If you want to remain on the surface level, you'll get enough options to play with. If you're going to delve deeper, you'll find the depth you search for.
The second thing we want to give my shout out to is the Pixscan feature, which allows you to transfer the pictures from your phone, identify the patterns and use them for cutting, embossing, stippling, and etching.
This is easily one of the most powerful features I found in the product. I will go as far as to call it a package seller.
Now, Silhouette Studio is not without its flaws. In spite of all the exciting options that can be found under the hood, some more experienced artisans still see the entire affair pretty shallow. Also, the package features some occasional but not overly annoying bugs.
Still, the good news is that the software package is entirely free and Silhouette always works on implementing updates and expanding the set of features. So, things are expected to become even better as time goes by.
Unfortunately, Silhouette Studio doesn't feature a built-in Bluetooth module. That means that if you want to connect your unit with PC (and you need to run Silhouette Studio software in order to operate the machine), you will need to use the good old USB port.
That, in itself, is not a bad thing if you have a long-enough cable or own a laptop. Still, Bluetooth is not exactly a novel technology that would drastically affect the unit's price. It would, on the other hand, do a lot to improve its overall usability.
As I’ve briefly mentioned when I was introducing Silhouette America, the brand is known for its open and friendly approach to user interaction. Their official website operates as much as an artisan learning tool as it is a marketing platform.
Here, you can find a bunch of exciting manuals, tutorials, and forums where you can interact with other professionals and like-minded enthusiasts.
Bottom line, I am delighted about the way Silhouette handles the customer support.
When all is said and done, we are left with the impression that Silhouette Curio is a very versatile but somewhat underpowered product. The latter fact makes some of the operations pretty tedious.
Of course, you will be able to plow through thinner and softer materials without too much sweating. But, as soon as you move on to something more substantial, you will notice the machine struggling and more often than not, have to take multiple turns at the helm.
Ironically, this comes especially true when it comes to cutting, which is the machine’s primary function.
Keeping that in mind the unit performs very consistently throughout and doesn’t produce too much noise, even when put through tougher ordeals.
And then there is the Dual Carriage System that easily saves this entire affair and raises the Curio’s value far above the average.
The name of the game here is patience. You will be able to do a lot with Curo, but not particularly fast.
Summing it All Up…
- An ability to perform different artisan activities on one tool
- Good build quality
- Excellent tool quality
- Consistent performance
- The long list of supported materials
- Dual Carriage System
- Excellent software package
- Excellent customer support
- Small cutting area
- The unit packs a lot of different functions, but you have to pay to unlock most of them
- The mats are easily damaged
- Some materials put Curio through a real struggle
- No Bluetooth = Limited connectivity
Silhouette Curio Review - My Final thoughts
Silhouette Curio is a product that tries to do a lot of different things, and for the most part, it succeeds in all of them. This versatility, however, comes at the expense of power. When you try to deal with tough materials, Curio will require multiple passes.
This lack of performance casts a dangerous shadow over the usability of the unit – especially taking into consideration that, at this price point, you can find much more capable die cutters.
The second thing I find incredibly frustrating is the endless string of paywalls and hidden expenses. Curio makes a lot of exciting promises, but for every new feature you want to unlock, you will need to spend more money.
This, for lack of a better word, feels like extortion. I would be much more pleased with a more rounded package, even if it featured a less appealing price.
On the other hand, there is no denying that that Curio is one incredibly versatile artisan tool that packs an incredible amount of useful features under the hood. With its ability to emboss, etch and stipple different materials (metals included) this unit is so much more than a regular die cutter.
If you are in need of all these features, buying Curio will prove to be much more affordable than buying all these tools separately.
And, then there is the powerful Silhouette Studio that does an excellent job at providing this pretty capable tool with all the different options you might ever want.
So, in the end, I have to admit that I was very pleased with Curio, even though the unit often tested my patience. If you are just entering the world of arts and crafts and want to assemble your toolkit in one fell swipe, this package (with all the added expenses) is your dream come true.
If you, on the other hand, need a powerful and fast die cutter, you will find more luck elsewhere.