Dual-carriage design allows for two functions at once
Ability to upload your own designs
Great for expert crafters
Doesn’t come with clear instructions
Difficulty connecting via Bluetooth
Steep learning curve
We purchased the Silhouette CAMEO 3 so our expert reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.
Crafting has long been a hobby and an art form, and tools like the Silhouette CAMEO 3 can help creative people take their projects to the next level. In fact, die cut machines can do far more than cut paper—they can punch through fabric, plastic, wood, or even metal to create intricate shapes that can be used in all sorts of crafts from homemade cards and quilts to scrapbooks and party decorations. We tested the CAMEO 3 to see what we could come up with and while we found that it required a lot of digging to understand its intricacies, once you unlock its potential, the possibilities are endless. Read on for our breakdown of all its important features, from its design to its performance.
Instructions and Setup: Steep learning curve and Bluetooth troubles
When our CAMEO 3 arrived, we discovered that no paper instructions were included in the box, though we were able to find its user manual online from Silhouette. There are also several tutorials on the machine’s LCD touchscreen—for example, how to insert the blade and adjust it, load various types of material, upload files from a USB drive, and adjust the roller bars.
Between Silhouette’s online instructions and the CAMEO 3's touchscreen, set-up seems like it should be simple. In practice, though, we found the process frustrating and turned to sites like silhouette101.com and uscutter.com for easier-to-understand tutorials. Overall, experimenting with this machine is one of the best ways to learn how to use it. There’s a steep learning curve, but figuring it out can be done with time.
To physically set up this device, we plugged it into an outlet (via the included power cable) and connected our computer with the included USB cable. One it was powered on, our next step was setting up its Bluetooth connection. But despite attempts to connect to a Samsung S9, Samsung S7, and Macbook, we couldn’t manage to get it working. Unfortunately, because these attempts failed, we were forced to use this machine hardwired to our computer.
Design: Big and powerful
The CAMEO 3 is designed to be able to cut more than 100 types of material, including lightweight paper, thick cardstock, vinyl, fabric, glitter sheets, and paper with adhesive. Plus, because it has a 2-millimeter clearance, it can cut through thicker materials, like foam, leather, and balsa wood. (The only caveat is that while the sheets can be as long as you want, they can’t be wider than 12 inches.)
To help you carry out more complex projects, this machine has a dual-carriage design, which means it can perform two functions at the same time. Setting this up can be a little tricky, but as long as the projects remain ungrouped, you shouldn't have any problems. Just load each carriage with your desired tool (like a blade or pen), and make sure the carriage assigned to each project matches up—otherwise, you might have the machine cutting where you wanted to sketch or drawing on a line you wanted cut.
The main drawback of the design of this machine is that it takes up a lot of space.
Another notable design feature (as mentioned above), is its touchscreen, which you can use to load and unload mats, view the specs of a finished job, and refresh your brain on the basic functions of the machine. You can also change its white background to grey or purple depending on your preferences. Rounding out the design features is a pull-out storage compartment under the tray, which works great for housing tools when they’re not in use. Lastly, the crosscutter on the back of the machine is great for clipping projects that run large.
The main drawback of the design of this machine is that it takes up a lot of space; its dimensions are 22.5 x 8.5 x 6 inches. Its boxy shape looks outdated compared to other machines on the market, too—it’s akin to a printer sans ink and paper tray.
Accessories: AutoBlade limits manual adjustment
Although there are many craft supplies out there that can help you take your die cutting to the next level, the CAMEO 3 comes with a few key accessories to get you started. The most important of these is the AutoBlade. This blade is true to its name; it adjusts itself depending on the thickness of the material you’re cutting. We thought it was nice to not have to worry about adjusting the blade manually (though you still have this option if you prefer).
Once you get past the learning curve, you’ll have a lot of tools and options at your disposal.
Also included is a 12 x 12-inch cutting mat. You may need to replace this mat eventually, as it loses its stickiness as the blade marks it up over time. That said, the machine also has matless cutting capabilities, meaning that depending on the type of material you use, you may not need a cutting mat at all. Since we weren’t working with vinyl, heat-transfer vinyl, or stencil material—the materials recommended by the manufacturer for this mode—we didn’t test this feature, but we appreciate its inclusion. If you do choose to use this setting, note that you have to switch to the proper mode via the Silhouette Studio design program on your computer (more on that below).
Software: The key to creativity
Aside from the design features and included accessories, the heart of the CAMEO 3 is Silhouette Studio, a suite of design software made specifically for Silhouette products. This program is included with the purchase of the CAMEO 3; you can download it from the company’s website. This software is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS.
If you prefer to create your own design with this program, you’re in luck; it includes several features that are common in illustrating software, like the ability to manipulate images and adjusting them in ways such as rotating, sizing, snap-to-grid, aligning, welding, and color alterations. We also love that it allows user to create your own fonts. For example, if you want to send out hand-written notes to family and friends during the holidays, you can design a font and “type” the message in your own handwriting.
If you don’t want to start out by designing your own creations, though, there’s an option for you: the program also includes the Silhouette Design Store, which contains more than 100,000 ready-made shapes from artists. Many of the designs in the shop cost money, but some are free. Once you’ve bought a design, you’re free to use it as many times as you want; your purchased images are added to your personal Silhouette library for easy access. The CAMEO 3 also comes with a $10 Silhouette Studio gift card, you so you can shell out for some of the more expensive designs or several 99-cent options.
This device is also compatible with the company’s PixScan technology, which allows you to photograph hand-drawn designs and upload them to Silhouette Studio. All you have to do is place your design on the PixScan mat (which is included), capture an image of it (using a scanner, digital camera, smartphone, or tablet), import it into Silhouette Studio, and add cut lines. We tried this feature out by sketching a raven and uploading it. We were impressed with how well the machine cut it—especially the little spaces between each feather. It took a long time, but the final product was neat.
If you’re already familiar with software like CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator, you can also import your designs from there. Silhouette CONNECT (which you can download separately for $39.99), contains a plug-in allowing you to send projects you've designed with these programs to the CAMEO 3 without the hassle of converting them to Silhouette Studio format.
Ultimately, learning Silhouette Studio may prove tricky if you don’t have a lot of experience with design software. That said, once you get past the learning curve, you’ll have a lot of tools and options at your disposal.
Price: If you want all the bells and whistles, it’s a great value
The Silhouette CAMEO 3 has an MSRP of $300 but now that the CAMEO 4 has been released, you can find it around $200. We think the CAMEO 3 is a good value given its versatility, but if you’re not an expert crafter, you may be able to find a model that meets your needs at a much lower price point.
Competition: Lots of options depending on your needs
Cricut Explore Air 2: Perhaps the best die cut machine with which to compare the CAMEO 3 is the feature-rich, $250 Cricut Explore Air 2. This sleek, stylish machine (which we also happened to test) is easy to set up and intuitive to use. It’s smaller, too, which makes storing and displaying it a little easier.
Brother ScanNCut2 CM650W: Though this die cut machine isn’t as well-known as the Cricut and Silhouette models, the ScanNCut2 has plenty of power. Like the Silhouette, this machine has a touchscreen, but unlike any of the other models mentioned here, it has a built-in scanner, which allows you to upload your own designs very easily. It also comes with a variety of pre-loaded projects that are great for all sorts of things like quilting or making vinyl transfers.
Sizzix Big Shot Machine: If you’re seeking the polar opposite of a feature-rich die cut machine like the CAMEO 3, check out the Big Shot. Heck, you don’t even need to plug it in to start crafting—it’s totally manual. Also, since it doesn’t use electricity or Wi-Fi, you can set the $120 machine up on any hard surface in any location. You do need to purchase each design separately in order to make things, though, which means you can’t be quite as creative or customize your designs as much.
Worth the investment for experienced crafters.
If you haven’t been crafting for very long or want a plug-and-play sort of machine, the Silhouette CAMEO 3 isn’t the device for you. If crafting is more than just a hobby, though, there’s a lot this powerful and professional machine can do. From intricate patterns to personalized fonts to 3D flowers, the possibilities are endless.
- Product Name CAMEO 3
- Product Brand Silhouette
- UPC 814792021781
- Price $299.99
- Weight 6 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 22.5 x 8.5 x 6 in.
- Warranty 1-year warranty on all hardware including cords