Wondering which Cricut machine you should buy? My guide has a detailed comparison of three machines: the Circut Maker, the Cricut Explore Air 2, and the Cricut Joy. This post is sponsored by Cricut, but as always, all opinions are my own!
Wondering which Cricut you should buy? Here’s everything you need to know!
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 three Cricut machines I own: the Cricut Explore Air 2, the Cricut Maker, and the Cricut Joy.
Which Cricut machine should I buy?
I love all three 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 three 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.
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 POWERHOUSE CRICUT MAKER
The second 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 $399.99
- 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!
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.
In addition to the fine point, knife, and rotary blades, 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.
WHICH CRICUT SHOULD I BUY: THE TINY BUT MIGHTY CRICUT JOY
The last of the three 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! Yes, you heard me right! 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 of cuts 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 “BLACK LIVES MATTER” 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, Ramona 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 Ramona’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.
To learn more about Infusible Ink, check out these posts of mine: All about working with Infusible Ink on coasters; Infusible Ink toddler t-shirt; Infusible ink pillow, cosmetic bag, and toddler t-shirt; and an Infusible Ink adult shirt.
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 over on Instagram!