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Die cutting software: Which is best?

Die cutting machine software: Which is best?
(Image credit: cricut maker)

In an ideal world, the only limitation for crafters should be their imagination. Unfortunately though, the best die cutting machines don't always come with the best die cutting software. Users of Cricut, Brother, and Silhouette machines can sometimes complain that their machine doesn't come with free and unlimited use of the respective software. Cricut's Design Space, for example, allows users to upload and cut their designs completely free. If you do want to access its immense catalogue of fonts and designs, you'll have to pay. 

Cricut Design Space, Silhouette Studio, and Brother CanvasWorkspace all do the same job when it comes down to it. They let you upload external designs or create your own using a limited range of fonts or patterns. They also have paid add-ons if you want to expand your machine's capabilities. The way it's packaged is very different though, so the best one for you depends on what you want it for.

In this feature we tell you exactly what we think of Cricut Design Space, Silhouette Studio, and Brother's CanvasWorkspace. If you're still considering which die cutting machine to buy, this should definitely be part of your evaluations. 


Cricut Design Space

The Cricut logo in bright green

(Image credit: Cricut)

Pros:

  • Works with all Cricut machines
  • There's a free version
  • You can use it with other software

Cons:

  • Users find the app glitchy
  • You need to pay for full access

Cricut Design Space offers the flexibility to slant, rotate, flip and weld quite easily. If you're not willing to pay for extra features you are still limited to the fonts and shapes from the beginner-level software, which is a shame for a companion to such an expensive line of products. If you have the Cricut Joy, Cricut Maker, or Cricut Explore Air 2  though, this is the software you'll have to use at least some of the time.

The software offers around 20 fonts completely free, and a very limited handful of shapes. You can expand these individually, paying a few dollars for a new font or design, or even buy straight-to-cut card or sticker designs from the store for as little as under a dollar. This could all add up though, so if you plan on using Cricut Design Space a lot, it's worth considering a Cricut Access monthly membership for $10. 

Some users feel hemmed in by Cricut Design Space, but you shouldn't. You can upload all manner of files to your canvas, meaning you're perfectly able to go elsewhere and make a design before saving it as a JPEG or PDF and importing it into your app or software. From here, getting it to print on your Cricut machine is totally free - although we should note that some users encounter difficulties when doing this. 

You can download Design Space totally free when you create a Cricut ID. We suggest doing this before buying, so you can see how easy you find it to use, and whether or not you could see it being something you use on a regular basis. 

Silhouette Studio

The Silhouette logo in blue and grey

(Image credit: Silhouette)

Pros:

  • Some nice free patterns
  • Pretty intuitive to use
  • Silhouette Go app is easy to set up

Cons:

  • There's no Silhouette Studio app

When testing Silhouette Studio, we also had a go at using the Silhouette Go app. Unlike Studio, the app is available on smartphones and can be used as a way of sending designs to your die cutting machine remotely. However, it doesn't let you add or alter text, so it's limited in functions. What you can do with Silhouette Go is send some pre-made designs or patterns straight to your Silhouette Portrait 3 or Silhouette Cameo 4

Like the Cricut, you can buy one-off extras for a set price in Silhouette Studio. Some of these are made and uploaded by fellow DIY-ers, and can be sent straight to your machine for instant results without any hiccups. Upgrades to the software can be bought outright, instead of on a subscription basis. Designer Edition costs $49.99, Designer + costs $74.99, and the Business edition is $99.99, and they offer progressively more features such as Font Management, Puzzle Generators, or even Digital Font Creation.

We do think that the Silhouette Studio offers better features for free compared to Cricut's offering. It has an auto-trace function for PNG images and it's fairly easy to trace. One thing we would note is that this is very much a computer software. You need to download it and save your work, and if your computer isn't connected to your Silhouette, you need to then get out your phone to print or cut via the app. 

Brother CanvasWorkspace

The Brother CanvasWorkspace logo in deep grey with a multi-colored graphic design on the left hand side

(Image credit: Brother)

Pros:

  • Plenty of free patterns
  • Easy to use
  • Straightforward download
  • Plug straight in to your cutting machine

Cons:

  • Outdated look
  • Pattern collections are hard to buy

CanvasWorkspace is a PC-based die cutting software that's free to download. There's also an online version that offers similar features. It doesn't have a smartphone app - for this you'll need Brother My Design Snap - but this does mean you can connect your laptop directly to your cutter via USB to create your designs instantly and without any Bluetooth required. 

CanvasWorkspace offers a far superior range of free projects (or "recipes") when compared to Cricut or Silhouette. This includes cake toppers, lamp shades, felt coasters, and even stickers to decorate your own die Brother ScanNCut SDX125E. These are enjoyable, and while there are some paid expansions in the form of pattern collections, they're not shoved in your face in a way that makes you feel like you've been cheated of a fully functional software package. These collections are actually very hard to buy though. You'll need to register an activation code from a Premium Pack you buy on the Brother site, as well as your machine number. 

In terms of free features, CanvasWorkspace isn't the worst. It offers a range of shapes and borders, as well as words in bespoke fonts that you'll also find pre-saved onto your machine. Using CanvasWorkspace is somewhat intuitive - you can add text and manipulate in the properties panel. This software also enables you to insert images to be traced from PNG, JPG, and other file types. This means you can use some alternative software options available to import other designs and layer or weld them with your own text and designs. 

Which die cutter has the best software?

An image showing the Brother CanvasWorkspace in use on a tablet and desktop computer

(Image credit: Brother)

If you want to make your own designs externally and upload them to a simple software, you could go for Brother, Cricut, or Silhouette easily. If you want something where you can really expand your repertoire and do so easily and without external software, our top choice would be Cricut Design Space. It's got a lot of paid extras that you can access with a subscription, and if you're willing to pay it, this will make your life a lot easier.

While the up-front features on Brother CanvasWorkspace are probably the best, it's hard to buy any pattern collections to expand on this. If you're not interested in spending any more on extra designs or patterns once you've bought your cutting machine, opting for a Brother model will suit you perfectly. There's plenty of pre-made options to get you started. 

Finally, we think Silhouette Studio is the easiest die cutting software to use for most people. It's a balance between the somewhat clunky but ultimately reliable Brother CanvasWorkspace, and the flashy but sometimes fiddly Cricut Design Space, making it a true all-rounder. You can easily shop relatively affordable fonts or complete designs from other Silhouette users, which means your options will always be expanding.