Laser Cutters Vs Cricut: Which to Use

Craft cutting machines are capable of cutting many different kinds of projects. You’ve probably seen many of these projects yourself even with limited knowledge as to how exactly were they were created.

What are the distinctions and practical uses of both laser cutting machines and Cricut? The biggest difference between laser cutting machines and Cricut is that laser cutting machines use a powered, highly concentrated, narrow beam of light to burn, vaporize, or melt materials (this process is frictionless) while Cricut Machines use blades to slice lines through materials. Generally, since laser cutting machines are using light to cut through materials they will be more power intensive.

In addition, there are several other differences between these varieties of cutting machines including laser cutters and craft or die cutting machines like Cricut (which I will cover in this article) and it’s very important to know the distinction between these two and their respective capabilities.

My intention is that hopefully this short guide will help you navigate the waters in selecting just the right  kind of machine appropriate for your unique project tasks.

Along the way, perhaps all of this will pique your interest and curiosity. It is amazing what is currently available at our disposal that could fit on The average desktop!

Laser Cutter and Cricut Comparison

Cricut machines utilize the same underlying technology yet totally different method to cut materials than laser cutting machines.

They actually utilize CNC (for the uninitiated, I will explain exactly what the letters “CNC” stands for shortly) actuators that are motorized to control a sharp blade in a specialized holder which slices through materials.

That means that this is a physical tool that comes into contact with the material that you’re cutting and has a limited lifespan.

This also means that periodically the blades used to cut your designs after many passes will need to eventually be replaced as sharpening them is not really an option.

As an aside, if you’re curious, I did write an article a while back covering this issue of how long one can expect blades to be replaced after multiple projects.

Laser cutting machines, on the other hand, do not have any of these same issues with wear and tear that vinyl cutting machines like the Cricut have.

This is simply because there is no physical contact between the light beam implement and the material, so these machines should last a much longer time and cut more projects before anything should need to be replaced.

This of course does not mean that laser cutting machines do not have their own issues.

What is CNC?

As I touched on earlier, both laser cutting machines and Cricut utilize an underlying technology called CNC.

CNC stands for “Computer Numerical Control.

The computer program controls a motorized actuator that then guides a specific tool (a blade, bit,  router, laser beam, etc.) along the path. Various data inputs like speed, direction, length, width, and depth are mathematically determined and there’s a correspondence between the physical tool and the information that’s being fed to it.

It works a lot like your common home desktop printer: you create a design, hit print, and the information is sent to your printing machine.

Instead of colors/pigments being placed on a piece of paper or other surface with dots or ink jet, A CNC controlled device can carve, cut, engrave, plot or do anything that’s a tool was required to do.

Cost Comparison of Laser Cutters Vs Cricut Machines

First of all, laser cutting machines are far more expensive than your typical desktop craft cutters like Cricut. Not only are they more costly right out of the box, but when parts need to be replaced or when their brakes broken down, the replacement parts are more expensive as well.

If a vinyl cutting machine has blades that eventually start wearing down and become dull (you will know this when you have to make multiple passes of the blade just to get through material, it doesn’t cut deep enough, cuts erratically, and starts ruining projects), a multi-pack of blades of different cutting angles only costs a few dollars (usually less than $30) to replace.

These can be found at a typical big box hobby store, arts and craft store, or hardware store.

Laser cutting machines typically have more numerous and intricate and delicate parts. They have lenses, filters, mirrors and the like that could all potentially need to be replaced if anything malfunctions.

I was initially curious (scratching my head is more like it) as to why some laser cutters like Glowforge (any model) are called “3D laser printers”. The projects created with these machines that I’ve perused online always seemed to be two-dimensional to me, even wood engravings.

My base assumption was that any machine advertised as being supplied with “3D” capabilities was created with the capability and purpose of sculpting additively or subtractively some complex 3D shape. Or at least a bas relief design.

Later on I realized that the mechanisms guiding the laser cutting implement had some degree of control with depth in addition to horizontal and vertical directions in order to allow for engraving and cutting through the thicker materials like wood or acrylic.

The cutting machines like Cricut or Silhouette simply do not have nor need this added control vertically as they are not capable of engraving. They’re only intended for cutting (the notable exception is with the use of an optional accessory for Cricut Maker, the company’s flagship model).

Power Requirements of Laser Cutters And Cricut Machines

Laser cutting machines, even one marketed as a desktop version like Glowforge, consume considerable amount more power than their vinyl cutting counterparts. The Glowforge Pro Plus model is listed as having a maximum power draw of 1400w.

When it is idling it won’t consume as much power obviously. The peak power draws will be when the machine is actually burning or etching a design into a material. But keep in mind there are also external water pumps and exhausts that consume some amount of power as well.

Advantages of A Cricut

Since, as I already mentioned, the laser cutting machine uses a light beam not to slice through like a blade, but to burn vaporize or meltaway materials, there are certain materials that are verboten.

  1. A Cricut machine can slice through vinyl materials without as much is a hiccup. But you want to avoid using PVC or vinyl products at all costs for the laser cutting machine because the laser beam will merely melt through the material, leak chlorine gas, and corrode internal components of your machine.
  2. Essentially any material that has any kind of reflective filaments or additives you want to avoid using with your laser cutting machine. The laser beam will reflect at these materials and those light beams can hit mirrors or affect the other internal components of the machine causing further damage.

Some Commonalities Between Laser Cutters And Cricut

So far i’ve written about chief differences that can distinguish laser cutting machines from Cricut. but the two types of machines, particularly desktop machines, have some similarities as well.

I already spoke about the underlying CNC computer technology that drives the cutting tools of both drag knife machines and laser cutters.

Here are just a couple of things both tools share in common:

  • They can both cut many of the same kinds of thin materials like fabric, paper,
  • Both machines are capable of engraving the surfaces of certain materials like wood. *NOTE: keep in mind that with Cricut machines not every model from this manufacture is capable of engraving. At the time of this writing, only the Cricut Maker can engrave, and  that’s only when the necessary bit is attached to the holding device. One must also keep in mind that laser cutting machines are going to engrave with more depth than Cricut.

Which Is Best to Use, A Laser Cutter Or Cricut?

Now that you have a brief overview of the differences, similarities, and unique capabilities of both laser cutting and desktop die cutting machines, it’s now time to get an idea of which machine would be better to buy or do use for your projects.

Of course, there’s a degree of subjectivity involved in the decision making process, but hopefully I can at least jumpstart your effort.

I personally would recommend that you use a Cricut machine over a laser cutting machine if following reasons resonate with you:

  • You’re not looking to break the bank. You usually can find any Cricut machine for under a few hundred dollars. Replacement blades, cutting materials, and other accessories are also relatively inexpensive and easy to find when you need them.
  • You intend to cut thinner materials like paper, vinyl, or card stock (and don’t forget that a laser cutting machine cannot cut vinyl! So if you’d like to create stickers, decals, and projects requiring adhesives, a die cutting machine like Cricut is your choice) 
  • You’re intending to use and or buy a machine chiefly for the purposes of hobby crafts and light recreational use. Although a vinyl cutting machine is certainly a capable device for a small business, if you’re only looking to purchase a machine for fun why not start with something basic and less expensive?
  • You don’t intend to engage in cutting projects that involve exquisitely detail ornamentation although with a sharp angle blade like a 60°, you can get some respectable degree of detail)

And I would personally recommend you purchase or use a laser cutting machine over a die cutting machine if:

  • You intend to cut exquisitely detailed designs that are beyond the capabilities of a cutting blade and too time-consuming to do manually
  • You would like to experiment with burning, etching, or engraving of thicker materials like leather, plastics, wood and more.
  • You wish to cut large volumes of materials without the concern or headache over gradual wear and tear of some tool like a blade or bit (since a laser beam is frictionless).
  • You don’t mind spending a little bit more money! Of course if you rely on services rather than purchasing your own machine to complete your projects, this is less of an issue. If you’re looking to buy a large  industrial laser cutter for business, you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, but even desktop versions will be a few thousand dollars, which is a considerable considerable savings over industrial counterparts, but not quite as cheap as Cricut or other die cutting machines.

Final thoughts

The big take away from this article is that both die cutting machines and laser cutting machines are more than capable for creating numerous projects. I honestly feel that there is no one machine that is better than the other definitively; They each have their own pros and cons for any discerning hobbyist.