Wondering which Cricut machine you should buy? My guide has a detailed comparison of three machines: the Circut Maker, the Cricut Explore Air 2, the Cricut Maker and Explore 3 machines, and the Cricut Joy. This post was originally sponsored by Cricut, but as always, all opinions are my own, and I’m continuing to update the post to ensure it remains helpful to you!
Wondering which Cricut you should buy? Here’s everything you need to know…updated for 2022!
Alright guys, buckle up for a mammoth Cricut post! I have often gotten questions from people about which Cricut machine they should buy. The capabilities and descriptions can be a little overwhelming if you’re just getting started with Cricut crafting.
So before we get too far into the holiday season this year—the time when most people buy their first Cricut for either themselves or someone else—I wanted to do a breakdown post with info on the four Cricut machines I own:
I’ll also touch on the Maker 3 despite not owning it.
Which Cricut machine should I buy?
I love all four machines, and while they have many similarities, they also have a few important differences that might help you make your decision about which Cricut machine you should buy.
I’ll do a “highlights” section for each of the four machines and then go into more detail about its features. Then I’ll chat about a few Cricut tools I also own and love. So let’s dive in!
WHICH CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE TRUSTY EXPLORE AIR 2!
First I am going to be covering the Cricut Explore Air 2. This is the first machine I owned, and I also want to highlight that it’s a machine I bought myself. (I received my Cricut Maker and Cricut Joy from Cricut as part of their influencer program.) In my opinion, this machine is the best all-purpose machine.
- Base price $249.99
- Comes in a ton of colors
- Cuts 100+ materials
- 4 tools for cutting, writing, and scoring
- 2-ft max material length; 12-in max material width
- Print-then-cut works with home printer to print
- Bluetooth and USB connectivity
What does the Cricut Explore Air 2 machine cut?
A lot of people make their decision about which machine to buy based on what the machine’s cutting capabilities are. The Cricut Explore Air 2 doesn’t cut the biggest number of materials, nor can it accommodate the longest range of materials.
But in my opinion, it hits the sweet spot of cutting the materials most people likely want to cut at a great price point. The Cricut Explore Air can cut over 100 materials using it’s premium fine-point blade.
Some highlights you’ll likely be interested in are vinyl, iron-on, card stock, paper, bonded fabric, adhesive foil, canvas, craft foam, paper-thin faux leather, infusible ink transfer sheets, kraft board, mylar, washi paper, and much more. Cricut’s website has a full list of materials the Cricut Explore Air 2 can cut.
The Explore Air 2 also had two other cutting modes: fast mode and precision mode. Fast most cuts up to double the speed of a normal cut, but it isn’t available for all materials. Precision mode is best for really intricate cuts. I honestly don’t really use either, but it’s good to know they are there.
Looking for more info on Cricut machines? Check out my detailed review of the EasyPress 2, my post about the EasyPress Mini, and my overview of and tutorial all about using the Cricut Mug Press!
What else can the Cricut Explore Air 2 do?
You can use four different tools on the Cricut Explore Air 2. In addition to the premium fine-point blade used for cutting, you can also use a scoring stylus, a deep-point blade, and a bonded-fabric blade.
The scoring stylus can be used to create folds for things like cards, which the deep-point blade is used for thicker materials on the Explore Air 2.
Writing is also simple on the Explore Air 2. You simply put the special pen into one of the tool holders and let the machine write for you. You can write in Design Space using a script font and then have the machine write it all out.
This is great for things like beautiful decorative writing with a lot of flourishes…or if you just have bad handwriting. 🙂 The pen can also draw intricate shapes for you.
A newer addition to the Explore Air 2 suite of capabilities is foil crafting. The new foil transfer tool is compatible with the Air 2 (and the Maker) and helps you embellish invitations, gift boxes, cards, and more. I haven’t tried this capability yet, but I’m keen to get my hands on the foil transfer kit soon!
How do you design with the Explore Air 2?
You use the free Design Space software, which is available on Windows and Mac computers, as well as Android and Apple devices. And you can also use an “offline mode” that lets you download images and projects to take with you and use when you don’t have an internet connection.
You can purchase elements and fonts that others have designed and uploaded into Design Space. If you want to buy a lot of stuff though, it’s definitely more effective to get a Cricut Access membership.
This monthly membership comes with a bunch of images and fonts to choose from in Design Space, and most machine purchases come with a free trial membership so you can check it out!
The machine also comes with 50 ready-to-make projects so you can get your feet wet. Note that you can always upload your own designs, images, and fonts to use in Design Space if you don’t want to buy things. Or you just might find the perfect image or font outside of Design Space.
WHICH CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE CRICUT EXPLORE 3
Next up, the Cricut Explore 3! This wasn’t part of my original post, but I am updating it in 2022 to add in these new machines. I have had a chance to work with mine quite a bit and am getting around to adding it in February 2022.
You might see the “3” in this machine’s name and think that it is simply a better version of the Cricut Explore Air 2. And, honestly—it pretty much is. But that doesn’t mean you need to get it.
Cricut is still promoting both of these machines and has them available for purchase on their website. And the Cricut Explore Air 2 remains cheaper than the Explore 3. As I write this, is it on their website for $50 cheaper. So what do you get for ponying up a bit of extra money?
- Base price $299.99
- Comes in mint green (probably more colors to come, but for now it’s just this one color)
- Cuts 100+ materials
- Tools for cutting, writing, and scoring
- Cuts up to 12 ft (3.6 m) in one go (using Smart Materials
- Compatible with Cricut Roll Holder (sold separately) to support rolls of Smart Material up to 75 ft
- Print-then-cut works with home printer to print
- Bluetooth and USB connectivity
What can the Cricut Explore 3 cut?
I’m not going to go too much into the materials this machine can cut and the tools it uses, because it really mirrors the Explore Air 2’s capabilities. The major difference on the Cricut Explore 2 is that it can cut without a mat is you’re using Smart Materials.
And it can do looooong cuts with some of those Smart Materials as well. Here are the maximum cut sizes for a single cut:
- Vinyl: 11.7 in x 12 ft (29.7 cm x 3.6 m)
- Iron-On: 11.7 in x 4 ft (29.7 cm x 1.2 m)
- Paper Sticker Cardstock: 11.7 in x 11.2 in (29.7 cm x 28.4 cm)
Not needing a mat is a huge bonus, in my opinion. Just loading the material and pressing go is a huge time saver. Plus you don’t need to continue buying mats and trying to use them within the last inch of their life when they are losing their stick.
The Cricut Explore 3 can also cut faster. It is 2x faster (when cutting Smart Materials) compared to fast mode on the Explore Air 2. One thing I notice when cutting—regardless of whether I’m using Smart Materials or materials on a mat—is that the Explore 3 is smoother and quieter, too.
So, is all of this worth it to you? It depends on what you want to make with your machine! If the idea of using Smart Materials and no mat is appealing to you, the Explore 3 is worth the extra $50. And don’t worry—you still have the ability to cut using a mat with traditional materials.
Long or repeated cuts could also be something that you’d like doing. Say you want to cut out a TON of smaller decals. You can just load a roll of Smart Vinyl and let the machine do its thing. No more swapping out mats and starting the cut again.
I have a long and detailed post about the Cricut Explore 3, too—it goes into much more detail about the machine! You can see my full Cricut Explore 3 post here for more.
WHICH CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE POWERHOUSE CRICUT MAKER
The third machine I’ll profile is the Cricut Maker. It’s a real powerhouse—both in DIY capabilities and in weight. Although it’s the same size as the Cricut Explore Air 2 and really looks pretty much the same, it’s definitely not the same on the inside! This machine is pretty incredible and is for the very serious crafters among us.
- Base price $349.99
- All white with 5 different colors on the lid
- Cuts 300+ materials
- 11+ tools for cutting, writing, scoring, debossing, engraving
- 2-ft max material length; 12-in max material width
- Print-then-cut works with home printer
- Bluetooth and USB connectivity
What does the Cricut Maker machine cut?
The real selling point for the Maker is that it can cut A LOT of different materials. It cuts all of the stuff the Explore Air 2 can cut, but it also uses specialty blades to cut things like wood veneer, bass/balsa wood, leather, thicker chipboard, thick felt, sewing patterns, corrugated cardboard, and more. (See the full list here.) Like the Air 2, it writes, scores, and is compatible with the foil transfer kit.
So let’s talk about the differences. Overall, this machine is just more powerful. It has commercial-grade technology (probably why it’s so much heavier) and an adaptive tool system to control the blades and cut pressure, providing 10 times more cutting power. The basic cutting is also done using the premium fine-point blade used on the Explore Air 2.
Talk to me about the Maker’s special blades and tools
The Maker has tons of tools for cutting, writing, scoring, debossing, engraving, and more. In addition to the fine-point blade, the Maker has a fantastic knife blade. The knife blade really takes the Explore Air 2’s deep point blade to another level, cutting up to 2.4mm (3/32”) thick materials.
You use the knife blade to cut basswood and balsa wood, among other things. I have a full tutorial on how to use the knife blade to cut wood on the Maker, as well as a post about cutting chipboard with it and making a leather hair bow with it! (I also have a post about different wood and chipboard Cricut projects you can make.)
The Maker is also really great for crafters who are into sewing. I haven’t used the sewing capabilities too much yet, but I did use my rotary blade and Maker to make some masks at home in the early days of the pandemic.
In addition to the rotary blade making cuts super precise, the Maker can mark patterns on fabric too! I suck at cutting straight lines and even cuts, so this is a huge benefit for me. You can also get tools for scoring, perforating, debossing, engraving, and creating wavy lines.
I gave the debossing and engraving blades a test run on my blog, so you can check those out. The Maker is also constantly getting new tools, so if you want to be on the cutting edge of crafting, the Maker is where it’s at.
How do you design projects on the Maker?
Like the Explore Air 2 and other Cricut machines, you’ll use the free Design Space software that works on Windows and Mac computers, as well as Android and Apple devices. You can purchase elements in Design Space or check out a Cricut Access subscription—but like the Air 2, the Maker comes with a trial.
Also like the Air 2, you can upload your own files to use in Design Space, and the Maker comes with 50 ready-to-make projects. But it also comes with 25 digital sewing patterns to help you get your feet wet with the Maker’s sewing capabilities. You’ll also have access to the digital sewing pattern library to purchase hundreds of patterns.
What else makes the Maker cool?
There are a few other things that are pretty cool about the Maker. It has two storage areas, which I use to store all of the smaller blades and tools. It also has a spot for you to hold a tablet or phone—and a USB port to let you charge those devices while you’re working! Sometimes it’s the little things.
WHAT CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE MAKER 3
So the fourth machine we’ll profile is the Maker 3. Full disclaimer—I do not own the Maker 3, but it rolled out during the same campaign that Cricut rolled out the Explore 3, so I am pretty familiar with its upgrades.
Essentially the Maker 3 does everything that the original Maker machine can do, but it has the same upgrades the Explore 3 has—
- It can cut without a cutting mat if you’re using Smart Materials
- Cut the length increases dramatically if you’re using Smart Materials—up to 12 feet
- It is compatible with the roll holder (sold separately) for large/long projects
- It cuts 2x faster than the Cricut Maker
Its base price is $399, $50 more expensive than the Maker. So if you want access to all of the quick swap tools, the knife blade, and you want to extra perks of longer, faster cuts on Smart Materials, the Cricut Maker 3 may be for you!
WHICH CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE TINY BUT MIGHTY CRICUT JOY
The last of the five machines I’m profiling is the newest of the bunch: the tiny but mighty Cricut Joy! This is such a cool little machine that really packs a lot of features into something that can be neatly stored in a drawer—a huge plus for those of us without a dedicated craft room!
This would make an amazing holiday gift for someone who wants to get their feet wet with Cricut. As a bonus, it’s the machine with the lowest price-point while still packing a bunch of different capabilities and features.
- Base price $179.99
- Only one color, blue and white (as of now!)
- Cuts 50+ materials
- 2 tools for cutting and writing
- Only a 5.5-inch material width—but a 20-foot length!
- Cool card-making mat and features
- No print-then-cut feature
- Bluetooth connectivity (no USB)
What does the Cricut Joy cut and do?
Ok, so 50 materials might not seem like a ton coming off the heels of the 300+ materials that the Maker can cut…but here’s the thing. The 50 materials that the Cricut Joy can cut probably include many—if not all—of the materials you’ll want to cut if you’re a novice or intermediate crafter.
It uses a fine-point precision blade, much like the Explore Air 2 and the Maker, to cut tons of intricate shapes. It can cut vinyl, iron-on, card stock, label paper, construction paper cardboard, Infusible Ink transfer sheets, papers, and more (see the full list of materials the Cricut Joy can cut here).
Like the Explore Air 2 and Maker, the Joy can write for you. But keep in mind that the pens are a different size, so you can’t use the Explore Air 2/Maker pens on the Joy. Everything is scaled down for the little Joy.
But the writing feature is really great on the Joy, especially since you can use ready-made label paper! I actually used the label paper to make some return address labels—I just had the Joy write out my name and address and then cut the labels out.
Mat-less cutting and Cricut Joy Smart Materials
Another great feature the Cricut Joy brings is mat-less cutting! This was Cricut’s first mat-less machine. You don’t need to use an adhesive mat if you’re using Smart Materials specifically designed for Cricut Joy.
If you want to use regular materials or scraps, that’s fine too—you’ll just need to use a little Cricut Joy mat. I have cut things both ways on the Joy, and both are easy.
Wanna cut looong cuts? Joy is for you!
I also want to highlight another great feature the Joy has. While it cuts a much smaller maximum width—5.5 inches—it can cut up to 20 feet long without a mat. (It can do a single image up to 4 feet long.) I really love this.
I used this to cut out all of the letters I needed to make a sign for a rally in my city a few months ago. You just need to use one of the Smart Materials for this—I used white smart vinyl.
I simply typed all of the letters out on my canvas and then sent it to my Joy. I went about my business as it cut, checking on it every few minutes. Not having to use a mat or switch out the vinyl to make more cuts was super handy.
Making beautiful cards with the Cricut Joy
One of the coolest things about the Cricut Joy is that it comes with a mat specifically designed for making greeting cards. That’s something the Explore Air 2 and the Maker do not have.
The card cutting works by cutting a design into a card stock sleeve. Then you insert a different-colored card on the inside of the sleeve, making the design pop.
When quarantine first started, R and I made a bunch of cards for her to draw in and send to friends. Helped us kill a few hours of being trapped inside in March 🙂 I have since used this for a couple different occasions, both designing my own cards and using the readymade projects in Design Space.
How do you design with the Cricut Joy machine?
Speaking of Design Space, even though the Joy has some different capabilities and is much smaller, you still use Design Space. You can purchase elements and fonts that others have designed and uploaded into Design Space—again, check out an Access membership if you’re a frequent buyer.
The Joy is tiny and works really well with your mobile device, though it works with computers, too. I have exclusively used my Joy for projects I’ve pushed from my mobile device, which has been pretty handy. It comes with 50 ready-to-make projects just like the other machines.
And a free trial of Cricut Access! You can check out a few of the projects I’ve made on the Joy, as well as a detailed review, in my What Can You Make With a Cricut Joy post!
What other Cricut products are worth it?
Maybe you’re shopping for a Cricut lover who already has a machine. If so, there are a few Cricut tools I definitely recommend adding to your crafting lineup! You could also bundle a few of these as a special gift for a crafter in your life.
- EasyPress. I have a guide all about how to use the EasyPress 2—I love my EasyPress. It makes iron-on transfers seamless, and it’s a must-have for working with Infusible Ink!
- Extra machine mats for different materials. After years of using my Cricut, I finally got a 12” x 24” mat! I used it to cut the rainbow decals for R’s room, and it was really helpful to have more real estate to place my designs in for cutting.
- Infusible Ink blanks. I haven’t talked much about Infusible Ink in this post, but I LOVE working with it. Cricut has a ton of Infusible Ink blanks you can use to create beautiful designs.
- Essential tools set. I love my gray essential tools set—it has everything I need to complete my projects with more intricate cuts.
- Self-healing mat, cutting ruler, and TrueControl knife. I absolutely love using my self-healing mat, cutting ruler, and TrueControl knife for all crafting projects—not just for Cricut! It helps me get precise, straight cuts for all of my projects, from paper to vinyl and fabric.
- Readymade bundles. Check out Cricut’s readymade machine, materials, and tools bundles. You can often get things for a steep discount by buying in a bundle—and they often go on sale! When I bought my Explore Air 2, I got a bundle with mats, tools, and some vinyl. Just do some price comparisons to see what makes the most sense.
So…which Cricut should I buy?
Alright, this is a sponsored post, so I’ve told you all about the different features of the machines. Now let me give you my hand-to-the-sky, God’s-honest truth about which Cricut machine I think you should buy:
I don’t know. LOL. Sorry. But everyone’s needs are different. So let’s highlight a few things I want you to keep in mind while shopping.
- Are you a serious crafter who has the time and desire to devote to frequent crafting? If so, consider the Maker.
- Are you a novice or intermediate crafter who mostly crafts with vinyl and iron-on material? Consider the Explore Air 2 or the Joy.
- Do you want to try a Cricut but want the lowest-price machine? Consider the Cricut Joy, but keep an eye out for Explore Air 2 sales.
- Do you like to experiment with different materials and want a machine that can handle the widest variety of materials? The Maker is probably best for you.
- Do you want something that hits the sweet spot of price and capabilities? Explore Air 2 might be the best option.
- Do you want something that is the easiest to store when you’re not using it? The Joy can fit in a drawer.
I hope these things help you decide which machine to buy to best fit your needs! If you decide to buy one and want to say thanks, make sure to click one of my Cricut links first (here is one)! I’ll get a small percentage of your sale at no extra cost to you 🙂 Let me know if you have any more questions!