With two new Cricuts just released this year, many people are wondering, “What Cricut should I buy?” Let’s compare the different smart cutting machines and learn which Cricut to get for the best results.
A Cricut cutting machine is a wonderful tool for DIY and crafting. But these days there are a lot of different models: the Cricut Explore Air, the Cricut Joy, and the Cricut Maker machine. And on top of that, there are newer models: the Cricut Explore 3 and Maker 3. Which is the best Cricut machine for your needs? How many different materials can each Cricut cut? Which Cricut cutting machine is best for a serious crafter, and which Cricut is best for small projects? And do you need a new machine, or will one of the older models suit you best? You’ve got questions, and I’m going to help you find the right machine for you and figure out which Cricut to buy!
What Cricut Should I Buy?
My first experience with the Cricut machine was the Cricut Explore family, which I was introduced to in early 2017 when I got my first machine, a pretty pink Cricut Explore Air 2. Later that year, the Cricut Maker machine with its Adaptive Tool System was introduced and I fell in love all over again — the Maker became my best friend overnight! In 2020, a new Cricut machine came out at a lower price point — the cute and portable Cricut Joy. And in 2021, two new Cricut machines made their debut: the Cricut Explore 3 and the Cricut Maker 3, which both excel at the long, continuous cut. So I now have one of each of the five different Cricut machines, but that does not mean you need them all, too. One machine will do, maybe two if you want portability. Let’s look closer at the main differences between these different Cricut machines to help you find the right Cricut machine for you!
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Cricut Explore Air 2
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is a very popular, all-around great machine at an excellent price point these days. The Explore Air 2 was my very first machine — I never used the Cricut Expression, which is the model that predates it. The Cricut Explore Air 2 uses the basic Fine Point Blade and Smart Set Dial to cut various materials, from cardstock to heat transfer vinyl to Infusible Ink. The Cricut Explore machines can also use the Deep Cut Blade to cut slightly thicker materials, as well as the Bonded Fabric Blade to cut fabric with a bonded backing. It can also use the Scoring Stylus, which is useful for paper crafts. The Explore family of machines also have the Print Then Cut feature, albeit it on white paper only. And the Air Explore uses Bluetooth as well as a USB connection for versatility.
Who is the Cricut Explore for? I think the Cricut Explore Air 2 is a great option for those who are just getting started in cutting machine crafting, as they often go on sale and really is a solid cutting machine.
Note: I consider the Cricut Explore Air 2 comparable to the Silhouette Cameo 3 (I do have both), but I think the Explore Air 2 is the better machine. I am a solid Cricut fan, however, and much prefer to use the simple and free Design Space app over the free-to-start Silhouette Studio app with a higher learning curve.
The Cricut Maker machine is one step up from the Explore family, offering the Adaptive Tool System that allows us to use a variety of different tools. The Maker cutting machine can do everything that the Cricut Explore machines can do, as well as use the knife blade to cut thick materials like balsa wood up to 2mm deep and use the rotary blade to cut more fragile materials like tissue paper, crepe paper, and fabric. The biggest difference between the Cricut Explore and the Cricut Maker is the Adaptive Tool System that accommodates more and different blades and tools for the Maker to use — 13 tools on the Maker vs. just six tools on the Explore. These extra tools allow for some really intricate cuts on less typical materials that you can’t get with the Explore. The Maker machines cut up to 300 materials, while the Explore machines cut up to 100 materials. And the Maker’s tool system allows for new tools, too — such as the new engraving tool that came out last year.
The Cricut Maker also has the Print Then Cut feature like the Explore, which uses a home printer to first print an image then have the Cricut cut it out. The nice thing about the Maker is that it can do Print Then Cut on colored paper as well as white paper.
Who is the original Cricut Maker for? The Cricut Maker is popular with the serious crafter who wants to be able to cut as many materials as possible. Of course, this versatility comes at an extra cost, and the Maker is a bit more expensive than the Explore.
The Cricut Joy is a much smaller, and less expensive, Cricut cutting machine. The Joy focuses on smaller projects, such as small vinyl decals, cards, and labels. The Cricut Joy has just two tools — the fine point blade, which comes with the Joy, and the foiling tool. The Cricut Joy also cuts fewer types of material, focusing on heat transfer vinyl, cardstock, and what is known as “Smart Materials,” which it can cut matless. You can get Smart Material in iron on vinyl, adhesive vinyl, and sticky-backed paper. Along with the Joy’s smaller footprint comes a smaller price point, too, and it is the least expensive of all the Cricut cutting machines.
One of the best things the Cricut Joy has going for it — besides its small, portable size — is its ability to use a special card mat to make cute cards really fast. One of the limitations of the Cricut Joy is the lack of a double tool holder (available on both the Explore Air and Maker). So when you want to use a pen, you have to remove the blade or tool to insert the pen, which can be a little tedious. But I think the biggest difference between the Joy and the larger machines is the available cut size — the Joy doesn’t cut wider than 5″ on Smart Materials, or 4.25″ on other materials. That size limitation can make it tough to do all the projects you may want on the Cricut Joy.
Who is the Cricut Joy for? The Cricut Joy is a great price point for those who are very new to crafting, or consider themselves casual DIYers. The Cricut Joy also has an easier learning curve which can make it the right choice for the new or occasional crafter.
Tip: The Cricut Joy is often a good second cutting machine, as it’s more portable and very easy to use when you just need to make a quick card or vinyl decal.
Cricut Explore 3
In June 2021, Cricut announced the newest Explore in the Explore family of machines — the Cricut Explore 3. The biggest difference between the Cricut Explore 3 and the Cricut Explore Air 2 is that the Explore 3 can cut Smart Materials in a long, continuous cut without a mat, and it can cut it faster … even faster than Fast Mode on the Explore or Maker. Smart Materials are the new materials — like Smart Vinyl and Smart Paper — that you can cut without a mat on the Explore 3, Maker 3, and Joy. My favorite feature of the new Explore 3 is just how its speed saves me a lot of time — when they say fast, they mean fast. I did a speed test and found that the Explore 3 was more than twice as fast as the Explore Air 2. That’s a big deal when you have a lot of things to cut, or a project with intricate cuts that take a lot of time.
Who is the Cricut Explore 3 for? I think the Cricut Explore 3 is great for all crafters, and particularly good for a small business that is making decals for T-shirts, signs, and cups as it can cut faster and longer.
Cricut Maker 3
Along with the Cricut Explore 3 in June 2021 came the new Cricut Maker 3, now the flagship cutting machine of Cricut. The Cricut Maker 3 can do everything that the original Maker can do, but now it does it faster, longer, and — if you’re using Smart Materials — without a mat. So it uses all the same blades, tools, and cutting mats that the Maker uses, and it can cut all of the same materials, including heat transfer vinyl, cardstock, faux leather, adhesive foil, and heavier materials like balsa wood and chipboard, and can ALSO cut Smart Materials.
There’s a common misconception that the Cricut Maker 3 (and Explore 3) can ONLY cut Smart Materials, which is not true at all. You can cut 300+ materials, you just need to put them on the cutting mat like you do with the original Maker. The Maker 3 is now the most expensive of the five Cricut cutting machines, so the question you may ask is, “Is the Maker 3 worth the extra money?” The answer depends on if you need to use the extra tools like the knife blade and rotary blade or not, in my opinion. Most people just cut paper and vinyl and don’t need it. I personally like having the rotary blade to cut crepe paper, fabric, and other specialty materials, as well as the knife blade for deep cuts, so the Maker 3 is my cutting machine of choice. In a nutshell, the Maker 3 is a larger machine that cuts a wide variety of materials, and it’s now my go-to cutting machine.
Who is the Cricut Maker 3 for? I think the Maker 3 is for the serious crafter who wants to cut as much as possible in as little time as necessary. It’s also great for smaller business owners for whom time matters.
What All Cricut Machines Share
What all the Cricuts do really well is precise cuts — I don’t think any of my Cricut machines is any better than any other one when it comes to how precise and careful they cut. I’ve always been really impressed with the crisp cuts on every Cricut I’ve ever owned.
A machine cut design made on the Cricut Explore Air 2
All five of the Cricuts also use Cricut Design Space software, which lets you upload your own images and own designs for free (unlike Silhouette Studio’s free software). You will need an Internet connection to get it initially setup, but after that you can use your Cricut offline when you don’t have Internet. Critics of Design Space contend that it’s oversimplified, but I find it to be just the right amount of tools without an overwhelming learning curve. And yes, you can even make custom designs in Design Space, as I teach in my Cricut College courses.
All five Cricut machines can also use the optional Cricut Access service, which offers over 150,000 images and 500+ fonts for a low monthly cost. This is entirely optional, but many crafters find Cricut Access very convenient. It can also be a money-saver, as Cricut Access subscribers can save 10% on machines and materials on the Cricut website, meaning they get some of the best discounts available.
Main Differences Between Cricut Machines
When it comes down to it, the biggest differences between the cutting machines are the different sizes (the Joy cuts smaller projects), the materials (the Maker can cut heavier materials and specialty materials with different blades), and the speed (the Explore 3 and Maker 3 are on permanent fast mode and can do long, continuous cut projects).
So. when it comes down to it, how do you choose between these different machines? Which Cricut should you buy? I think the very best machine is the one you can afford and start using successfully. If you feel confident that a Cricut cutting machine is for you and you can afford the extra cost of a new machine, go for the Maker 3. If you’re new or more casual, start with an older Cricut, like the Cricut Explore Air 2, and work your way up.
I also recommend you browse the many free projects and videos here on my site to help you make an informed decision about these different machines. Many crafters tell me they watched many of my videos before ever buying a Cricut to help them choose the right machine for their needs. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with dozens of step-by-step tutorials from start to finish that will help you conquer your Cricut!
What Cricut Accessories Do I Need?
To begin with, your best accessories are going to be the Basic Tool Set that includes a scraper, weeder, and spatula. Beyond that, I recommend several green Standard Grip cutting mats and the TrueControl craft knife.
If you intend to do iron on vinyl (heat transfer vinyl) or Infusible Ink projects, a Cricut Easy Press is a good tool to have as well, as is the Cricut BrightPad as it helps with weeding. And mug lovers will find the Cricut Mug Press a good investment, as it makes Infusible Ink mugs really easily.
Learn more about which Cricut Machine Accessories you REALLY need for the Explore and Maker in my guide here. I also have Cricut accessory recommendations for the Cricut Joy as well in this guide.
Which Cricut machine do I personally recommend?
Honestly, the Cricut Maker 3 is my new go-to cutting machine. Not only is it the newest model of Cricut cutting machine, but it’s designed for more serious crafters like me. Although you can use any Cricut to cut vinyl, the Maker has a stronger force than earlier models, so it’s better at cutting intricate details and thicker materials.
The Cricut Maker 3 can cut SO many materials — I still haven’t cut them all. I have cut a lot of basswood, balsa wood, chip board, crepe paper, all kinds of fabric, acetate, and thin flexible plastic on my Maker. I like that it’s faster and can cut longer materials, but even if you don’t need that, it’s still the better machine with upgraded motors and sensors.
And I love that the Maker 3 can cut Smart Materials, including Smart Vinyl, Smart Iron-On, and Smart Paper, because it is SO much easier and faster to cut these without a mat. I am in love with matless cutting! I’ve made a layered butterfly, long porch signs, and personalized beach towels all with Smart Materials!
If you want a really sturdy and reliable cutting machine that will last for a long time (my original Maker I bought four years ago is still going strong), one that will grow and expand with you, then the Cricut Maker 3 will be your best bet.
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