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After another poor experience with Cricut support, it was time to start exploring the marketplace to see what other options are available as a Cricut alternative. Here at Repurposing Junkie we’ve created tons of Cricut tutorials, but after our Cricut Maker suddenly stopped loading materials and we contacted their support email without receiving a response yet again…we had to start looking around to see if there was something else we could use and recommend to our readers.
Don’t get us wrong, the Cricut Maker is still our primary crafting device right now. In fact, we went out and bought another one at Michaels after a week of no response from Cricut support. But we realize that most people who are just using Cricut for their crafting hobbies might be even more frustrated than we were when our Cricut broke and all we heard from their support team was well…crickets.
Cricut Alternative Craft Cutter – xTool M1
We had already purchased a 10-watt xTool D1 laser engraver / cutter not with the idea that it’d be a Cricut alternative, but rather that we’d set up an Etsy store to sell custom-engraved products before we stumbled upon the xTool M1 machine. Since we had to move the D1 into the garage due to its size and the smoke/fumes it produces (the D1 does not come with an enclosure or vent fan) we had space in our craft room for the M1. And the sleek design of the enclosure fits right in with the look of the Cricut Maker at the other end of our work table.
New, More Powerful D1 Laser Now Available
- Since we originally published this article, xTool has released the incredible-looking 20w laser cutting & engraving machine — the D1 Pro.
- The xTool D1 Pro is faster, more accurate, and cuts more deeply through materials than even our powerful 10w original D1 model.
- If you purchase a D1 Pro, please let us know what you think of it in the comments below!
We also have the rotary attachments for both of these laser engraving machines so we can engrave designs on tumblers, glasses, mugs, wine bottles, etc.
We’ll be doing a direct comparison of the craft blade cutting capabilities of the M1 in our next article (Part 2) to really see if this machine is a viable Cricut alternative. But, we had to do a bunch of laser engraving right away because we got an immediate order for custom engraved products as soon as we showed some folks our test items we made on the machine! How cool is that?
Unboxing the xTool M1
I have to say, xTool did it right with the packaging on the M1 machine. The designs on the box look great and the items inside are packed so well they hold up fantastic in shipping from our experience. Our product arrived from Hong Kong since it was shipped directly from xTool (we recommend buying from their site since the prices are excellent with frequent discounts and fast shipping).
We got the bundle that included the rotary tool (for engraving tumblers, mugs, etc.) and the material sample pack. All the items were tucked in the packaging perfectly which made a great first impression. The xTool D1’s boxes were much more utilitarian, so we assume the M1 is targeted to a more design-centered audience like us crafters as a potential Cricut alternative.
Engraving Wood and Leather with the xTool M1
Our very first tests were to try both wood engraving and leather engraving on a couple sample items.
First up was a leather keychain blank that I engraved on the M1 with “Honey’s Dog Mom”. It turned out great so I punched a small hole in the top with a simple awl tool and gave it to my own mom and her dog named Honey. She loved it. :)
Next up was a small piece of balsa wood (I think this is referred to as basswood these days, but I’m a bit old-school). I found a fun design on Freepik (I have a paid plan, but don’t remember if this design was a freebie or not) and
Laser Engrave Metal with the xTool M1
I had previously made a few test engravings on thin metal business cards using the xTool D1 to create a fun gift for friends we traveled with recently. The D1 is set up more to do one-off engravings (unless you make a precision jig like the one seen on The Clack Shack’s Youtube video — you can buy the jig pattern file on Etsy), so we hadn’t really done any batch-type projects of the same design yet.
However, as soon as I saw the integrated camera in the xTool M1 and how seamlessly it works with their free Creative Space software, I knew that the M1 was going to be a game-changer for us. Take a look at the photo below. On my first try I could easily align six cards using the included marks on the M1’s base plate (the vertical stripes on some of the cards are the just frequency of the LED light that illuminates the inside the M1 conflicting with my Android phone’s camera).
“That’s interesting”, you say, “but how do you get it the design to engrave perfectly on each card?” That was my question exactly, and it only took me a couple minutes to figure it out in xTool’s Creative Space software. Since the camera inside the M1 shows you exactly what’s inside the machine, you simply copy & paste the same design and drag it onto the individual items. And even if you don’t have the items perfect aligned inside the machine, it’s super easy to rotate the designs on each item individually so they’ll be engraved as desired.
Now you might be asking, “how did you know what settings to use in the Creative Space software for these particular metal business cards?” Well that was incredibly easy as well. If you notice on the right side of that screenshot above there’s a setting called “Material”. I simply selected “Metal Business Cards” and then clicked the “Process” button to get the job started (you also have to click the flashing button on the M1 to officially start the job).
It was literally that simple to get my custom design (which I created using Affinity Designer and some vector files I grabbed from Freepik) engraved on these metal business cards. And the results were fantastic! In fact, the results were so good that I immediately got an order for a whole pack of metal cards and some custom vinyl lettering for a church event that I’ll detail in an upcoming article.
Engrave Slate Coasters and River Rocks with xTool M1
After having great results with metal, we decided to try the two slate (stone) coasters that came in the materials sample pack included with the M1 bundle. I grabbed a couple more vector designs from the Freepik site, placed the coasters in the M1, set the Material setting to “Rock Coaster”, aligned the individual designs on each coaster (it’s so awesome that you can do different designs on each item), and got the job started on the machine.
Again, with the default settings the coasters turned out incredible! And that got me thinking…we have a ton of decorative river rocks in the back yard, could the M1 etch on those too?
Yep! Once again we had a winner with the default settings (I used “Rock Coaster” again). There was one caveat though…some of the river rocks are actually a darker color on the inside so the engraving is really hard to see. But since rocks are basically free in our backyard, I didn’t mind the results being hit-or-miss.
Laser Engraving Produces Fumes
It can’t all be roses and daisies now, can it? There is one aspect of the xTool M1 (and all laser engraving machines) that us Cricut users didn’t have to think about before, and that is the fumes & smoke caused by the laser burning the designs into the material. Remember that poof of smoke every time Han Solo hit a Storm Trooper with his blaster? Yep, think that but continued for a ten-minute steady zap.
There are pretty easy ways to mitigate the smoke and fumes, and the xTool M1’s enclosure with integrated vent fan & tube that exhausts outside your house are a great start. The downside is that you have to keep your M1 machine close enough to a window to vent the hose to the outside and if you live in the desert like we do, that means the temperature in your craft room is going to get pretty unbearable in the summer time when you’re engraving.
Since we were running out tests while the thermometer was reading around 108 degrees outside we closed off the craft room door, blasted a couple fans, and dealt with the heat. However, there are alternative solutions. The first and easiest is to purchase xTool’s Smoke Purifier unit. This looks to be a fantastic option for a room just like ours, but honestly the price of it removed it as an option for us at this time.
Of course, since we’re a site that also does DIY tutorials, I studied a bunch of venting filtration units, headed to Lowes to buy various filters, and came up with a design of my own that we’ll be featuring in an upcoming article. The total cost of the parts I bought was under $150, which is considerably less than the xTool Smoke Purifier so we’re really hoping it works well.
Our first attempt at a quick-and-dirty filtration solution was shoving carbon filters inside the exhaust tube and then wrapping the tube with additional filter material. This offered little to no fume reduction so we ultimately opened the window back up to let the fumes out even tough it let the intense outdoor heat back in.
Bottom line, only use your xTool M1 in an area where you can vent the exhaust hose directly outdoors or into a high-quality purification unit. It gets stinky and the engraving jobs can take a while to complete so you don’t want to be inhaling those fumes.
Can a Laser Engraver Cut Vinyl?
Well, technically the answer is yes — a laser engraver could cut standard PVC vinyl sheets but we recommend you do not cut vinyl sheets with a laser engraver. Both the noxious fumes and the potential for fire (not to mention the chance you might damage the expensive laser element itself) are enough negative reasons not to use a laser to cut vinyl sheets as a Cricut alternative. This is what makes the xTool M1 so great though, since you can use a single machine to cut your vinyl with a blade and laser engrave a wide variety of other materials.
Video of xTool M1 Laser Engraver and Blade Cutter
We’re a big fan of Brandon’s videos over at the Make or Break Shop YouTube channel. In this video he presents a detailed review of the diode laser machine, going through a ton of the features and even doing a comparison with the Glowforge at the end. And if you specifically want to see if the blade cutting of the M1 is a good Cricut alternative, head straight to the 1:54 mark of the video.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this article where we’ll go into detail on the blade cutting capabilities of the xTool M1 and let you know if the machine is a viable Cricut alternative (and whether we think we’ll be using the M1 more than our Cricut Maker).