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My Guide to Using the Cricut Explore 3

Looking for a guide to using the Cricut Explore 3? I am so excited to be able to share this new machine with you! I’m covering everything you need to know about it, including what makes it different from the Explore Air 2 and previous Explore machines, what you can make with it, and much more! This post is sponsored by Cricut.

My unboxing of and guide to using the Cricut Explore 3

I am super excited to be sharing my review of the brand new Cricut Explore 3! I own the Cricut Explore Air 2, the Cricut Maker, and the Cricut Joy. So why not add a fourth machine to the lineup? 🙂

When I first heard Cricut was planning to roll out next-generation machines for both the Explore series and the Maker series, I wondered what the improvements could possibly be. I would say I use my Explore Air 2 the most out of all of my machines, so I decided to review the Explore 3 and deep dive on it!

So, what do I get when I order a Cricut Explore 3?

  • A Cricut Explore 3 machine
  • Premium fine-point blade and blade housing already installed in the B clamp
  • Accessory adapter installed in the A clamp for pens, etc.
  • Power adapter, cord, USB cable
  • Quick start guide
  • Materials for test cuts
woman sitting at a desk holding rolls of Cricut Smart Vinyl
Cricut Explore 3 with rolls of smart iron on and smart vinyl

And what does the Cricut Explore 3 do?

It cuts, draws, scores, and more with speed and precision. And works with 6 different tools for cutting and embellishing over 100 materials. These materials include vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, glitter paper, cork, bonded fabric, and much more!

In addition to all of these things, it can cut without a mat if you’re using Cricut’s new line of Smart Materials specifically designed for mat-less cutting on the Explore 3! And it cuts much faster than the Explore Air 2 does. Basically it does everything the Explore Air 2 does, plus more. 

packages of smart vinyl in pink and teal

What are the 6 tools the Cricut Explore 3 is compatible with?

The Cricut Explore 3 is compatible with the 6 tools listed below. Although the smart vinyl roll holder is super handy, I don’t really consider it a tool. But Cricut does, so I am including it. (See more on tool compatibility on Cricut’s website.)

Cricut Explore 3 cutting bright pink vinyl with a roll holder

Here are the key differences between the Explore Air 2 and the Explore 3:

  • The Explore 3 can print-then-cut on white and colored paper; the Explore Air 2 can only print-then-cut on white paper.
  • Like the Maker, the Explore 3 has integrated cutting settings. The Explore Air 2 has a dial you have to change on the machine.
  • The Explore 3 has an approximately 2x faster cutting speed compared to the Explore Air 2 using fast mode. There is no fast mode on the Explore 3 because it’s fast out of the box.
  • And finally…the Explore 3 has mat-less cutting capability when using Cricut’s Smart Materials! Just like the Cricut Joy. (Read all about my review of the Joy’s capabilities.)
overhead shot of a Cricut Explore 3 with packages of vinyl

So let’s talk about Smart Materials—what are they?

Cricut first rolled out Smart Materials on the Joy machine last year. Before Smart Materials, you’d need to put your material on an adhesive mat and load that into a machine. The introduction of Smart Materials means mat-less cutting.

You heard me! Smart Materials don’t use mats. They are designed to be sturdy enough to load directly into the machine, which saves time, money, and honestly—mat frustration. Smart Materials for the Explore 3/Maker 3 currently include vinyl, iron-on, and sticker paper cardstock.

A big advantage to not needing a mat means that you can cut more at once—and you can make longer cuts. The maximum cut size on the Explore Air 2 was 11.5 in x 11.5 in (29.2 cm x 29.2 cm) with a 12×12 mat and 11.5 in x 23.5 in (29.2 cm x 59.6 cm) on a 12×24 mat. 

If you are cutting with a mat on the Explore 3, it uses the same mats as the Explore Air 2 uses. So the max cuts sizes are the exact same. Howeverrrrr…the mat-less Smart Materials really ups the size of what you can cut for iron-on and vinyl!

rolls of Cricut smart iron-on and smart vinyl in packages
woman with purple hair holding a package of smart paper sticker cardstock
closeup shot of smart sticker paper cardstock

What are the maximum cut sizes for the Cricut Explore 3?

Here are the details on the maximum sizes you can cut when using the Explore 3/Maker 3 Smart Materials:

Keep in mind that this is the maximum size of a cut. Not an entire project. The Cricut Explore 3 can support a roll of vinyl up to 75 feet long. So that means if you wanted to cut a 12-foot-long squiggly line shape for a wall decal, you could do that. 

You could then repeat that cut 6 times since the roll is 75 feet long, leaving you with 6 squiggly line shapes at the end of your cut. You’d have a little leftover vinyl since 75 feet divided by 12 feet is 6.25 feet.

Iron-on has a shorter continuous cutting capability at 4 feet, but I’m thinking the longer cuts would be mostly for vinyl anyways. Decals, signs, etc. 

The new Cricut Roll Holder, one of the 6 accessories the Explore 3 is compatible with but that is purchased separately, is super helpful with longer mat-less cuts. It clicks on and helps keep the material aligned properly. But it isn’t required.

Cricut Explore 3 machine on a table with a pack of smart paper sticker cardstock and vinyl

Why is there a minimum cut size for cutting with Smart Materials?

Unfortunately there is also a minimum cut size when using Smart Materials. You’ll need material that is at least 13 in (the full width) of the roll x 6 in long to cut without a mat. And there’s a reason for this.

You don’t have to measure and cut Smart Materials before loading them into the machine. Design Space will tell you how much material you need, and then when you load them, it will pull the Smart Materials allllllll the way in and back out to ensure you have enough. 

If you haven’t loaded enough material, Design Space will tell you that you need to. For this reason, Cricut recommends leaving your entire roll intact and then cutting your project off after your machine cuts everything out. 

Cricut Explore 3 machine on a table with a pack of smart paper sticker cardstock and vinyl

Want more Cricut? Read my guide “Which Cricut Should I Buy” to learn more about the Cricut Maker, Explore Air 2, and Joy machines. You can also checking out complete guide to using the Cricut EasyPress 2 and the fancy new Cricut Mug Press!

Can I cut Smart Materials on older machines?

You can, but why would you? If you’re buying Smart Materials, you probably have an Explore 3 or Maker 3. If you want to use them on an older machine, you can, though. You just have to use a mat.

Can I use regular materials or other brands without a mat?

Cricut does not recommend using non-Smart materials without a mat. And that includes Cricut brand materials. Again—you can use other brands and non-Smart Cricut materials on the new machines, you just need to use a mat.

I want to make that super clear because I have seen a few people saying things like, “my old materials are now worthless with this new machine!” This is not true at all. Much like the Joy, the Explore 3 and Maker 3 both have mat and mat-less cutting capabilities. 

overhead shot of Cricut smart vinyl, iron on, and smart paper sticker cardstock

My first Cricut Explore 3 project!

I did a quick first project (you can see a Reel of it on Instagram) using the Explore 3, roller holder, and black permanent vinyl. First I grabbed a piece of scrap wood from the garage—a 1″ dowel. I cut a few pieces, sanded the edges smooth, and glued magnets on.

And then I cut out a bunch of black vinyl leaves! It was super fast and easy to do, especially without a mat! After I popped the leaves on the blank wooden magnets, I was done!

Cricut Explore 3 cutting black vinyl with a roll holder
small round pieces of wood with black vinyl leaves on them
woman with purple hair holding two small magnets with vinyl leaf decals on them

Guide to using the Cricut Explore 3: Other FAQs answered

Here are a few other tidbits of info you might want to know about the Cricut Explore 3 before you get started working with one.

How do I set up my machine, and activate Bluetooth?

Go to Cricut.com/setup to set your new machine up. Ensure it is on and that you have Bluetooth enabled on your computer or device. Bluetooth connectivity is now standard on all Cricut machines, despite them dropping “Air” from the Explore’s name!

Are the Cricut power cords interchangeable?

Some of them are, but the Explore 3 cord is not. It comes with a new 90-degree connector that ensures you can tuck it away when cutting long cuts on Smart Materials. 

closeup shot of a Cricut Explore 3 cutting pink vinyl

How is the Explore 3 powered?

The Explore 3 machine is powered by a combination of servo and stepper motors. I have literally no knowledge on this topic, but I wanted to learn more. Here are a few quick definitions.

Servo motors are devices that rotate and push parts of a machine with precision. Stepper motors are used to precisely position a motor (e.g., hard drives, robotics, antennas, etc.) Combined, they make the Cricut magic happen. 

How do I turn on fast mode when cutting on an Explore 3?

You don’t! There is no fast mode. The Cricut Explore 3 is already up to 2x faster than the Cricut Explore Air 2 when it was on fast mode. The Explore 3 is already optimized for fast precision cutting on Smart Materials.

Pin my guide to using the Cricut Explore 3!

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