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Cricut Comparison: Which Cricut Machine is the Best for You? [2021]

Do you want to buy a Cricut cutting machine but don’t know which one is right for you? With so many different options available today, choosing which model is the best Cricut to buy can be difficult.

That’s why I created this blog post to help guide you through each step of choosing the right Cricut machine for your needs. Whether you want something small enough to fit on a desk or large enough for bigger jobs – there’s a Cricut machine perfect for every project imaginable!

So, check out this blog post now and find out which Cricut model is the best Cricut machine for you!

Are you thinking about buying a new Cricut machine? If so, I’m here to help. I know how overwhelming it can be to choose the right machine for your needs and budget. That’s why I created this blog post comparing all of the different models.

There are many factors to consider when purchasing a Cricut machine, from how often you plan to use it and what types of projects you want to do, to where you want to store it and how much you can spend.

In this blog post, we will compare the top 5 different Cricut machines so that you can make an informed decision on which is best for you. Hopefully, by the end of this blog post, you’ll have a better idea as to which one will be best for your needs!

What is a Cricut, and What Can it Do?

First of all, you may be wondering: what is exactly is a Cricut?

A Cricut is an electronic cutting machine that can cut and draw on a variety of materials – like paper, cardstock, adhesive vinyl, and iron-on vinyl. Some Cricut machines can even cut thicker materials like leather and balsa wood!

How does it work? You can think of a Cricut cutting machine like a household printer. Except, instead of printing your design onto a sheet of paper, a Cricut machine uses a small, movable blade to cut the design out of a sheet of paper (or another material.)

A Cricut allows you to make cuts quickly and precisely – so it’s perfect for making crafts of all kinds, from personalized t-shirts and custom wall art to paper flowers and party decorations! With Cricut, you can make your crafting ideas come to life.

There are many different models of Cricut machines with various features and price points, so it is essential to know what you need before you buy! In this blog post, we will be comparing the different Cricut models on the market today and help you decide which one best suits your needs for 2021.

What are the Different Types of Cricut Machines?

There are currently five different types of Cricut machines: the Cricut Explore Air 2, Cricut Explore 3, the Cricut Maker, the Cricut Maker 3, and the Cricut Joy.

The machines are similar in that they are all digital die-cutting machines that can cut and write on a wide variety of materials. But, each machine has a unique set of features that make it ideal for different applications.

The Cricut Explore 3 and the Cricut Explore 3 are the mid-level options and the best-selling machines. The Cricut Maker and the Cricut Maker 3 are a step up from the Explore series and can cut a wider variety of materials with more types of tools. The Joy is the smallest Cricut model, making it portable, easy to set up, and simple to use.

Late 2021 Update: In June of 2021, Cricut introduced their two newest machines to the lineup: the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Explore 3. I expect these machines to replace the previous generation of machines and that Cricut will eventually phase out the original Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2. At the time of publishing, all five models are still currently for sale on Cricut.com)

Read on to learn more about all five currently available Cricut machines.

Cricut Machine Similarities

There are a few similarities between the Cricut machines. For example, each of the five models is able to cut and write using a wide range of materials, including paper, cardstock, vinyl, and iron-on. The best thing? No matter which Cricut you buy, you will be able to make your crafting ideas come to life.

Cut: Each of these models can cut 20+ different materials, including paper, cardstock, vinyl, iron-on material.

Draw: Each of these machines can draw with a Cricut pen or marker on paper, cardstock, and other materials.

Design Space Software: In addition, all of the machines can connect with Cricut Design Space – a free online design software where you can share and upload your own designs. For even more designs, consider subscribing to Cricut Access.

Bluetooth Connectivity: Another feature that is shared among the machines is Bluetooth connectivity. This means you do not have to directly connect your machine with a USB cord.

Accessories: In addition, each of these Cricut models has hundreds of accessories available so that you can make almost any kind of project imaginable! From scrapbooking and card-making supplies to custom t-shirts and holiday decorations, the possibilities are endless.

Cricut Machine Differences

Machine Size: One major difference between the Cricut machines is their size. The smallest and most portable machine in the group is the Joy, which measures 8” by 5” and weighs only 4 pounds.

The Explore series machines measure about 22” by 7” and weigh about 11 lbs. The Explore series machines measure approximately 22” by 7” and weigh about 15 lbs. Both the Explore and Maker machines are still compact enough to store on a shelf or craft cart.

Variety of Materials: Here is where you really start to see the difference between the machines. The Joy can cut 20+ types of materials, the Explore series machines can cut 100+ types of materials, and the Maker series machines can cut 300+ types of materials (including leather, fabric, and wood.)

Tools & Capabilities: Here’s another big difference between the types of Cricut machines. The Cricut Joy can accept two types of tools – for cutting and writing. The Explore series machines can accept six types of tools – for cutting, writing, scoring, and foiling. The Maker series machines can accept more than 12 types of tools – for cutting, writing, scoring, foiling, debossing, engraving, and more.

Single or Double Tool Holder: The Explore and Maker machines have a double tool holder (for a cutting tool and a writing tool), while the Joy has a single tool holder. Why does that matter? It just means that you have to switch out the tools more often – especially when you want to draw and cut on the same project.

Adaptive Tool System: In addition, the Cricut Maker machines have something called the Adaptive Tool System, which allows the machine to cut with more precision and more pressure. It also makes the Cricut Maker machines more “future-proof” since it makes it easier to expand the suite of tools and blades you can use.

Maximum Cut Size: Another difference between the Cricut machines is their maximum cutting sizes. The Cricut Explore Air 2 and the original Cricut Maker can cut up to 11.5” by 23.5” on a 12” by 24” mat. The newer Cricut Explore 3 and Cricut Maker 3 can cut up to 11.7” by 12’ on a roll of Smart Material. (Yes, that’s 12 feet!). The Cricut Joy can cut a maximum size of 4.5” by 12’. on a roll of Smart Material.

Smart Materials and Cutting without a Mat: Some of the machines are compatible with the new Cricut Smart Materials, which allow you to make super long cuts (up to 12 ft long!) without a mat. The Cricut Explore 3 and Cricut Maker 3 are compatible with the 13” wide rolls of Smart Materials, and the Cricut Joy is compatible with the 5.5” wide rolls of Smart Materials. The Cricut Explore Air 2 and the original Cricut Maker cannot do “matless” cutting.

Card Mat: The Cricut Joy, and only the Joy, is compatible with a special Card Mat that you can use to make folded cards.

Print Then Cut: “Print Then Cut” is a type of Cricut project where you print out a design on your home printer and cut it out with a Cricut cutting machine. The Cricut Explore Air 3 can do “Print Then Cut” on white paper. The original Cricut Maker, Cricut Maker 3, and Cricut Explore 3 contain a more powerful Print Then Cut sensor so they can do “Print Then Cut” projects on colored paper. The Cricut Joy machine is not compatible with “Print Then Cut” projects.

Machine Price: And finally, the last major difference between the Cricut machines is their price. The Joy is the least expensive machine ($159.99), the Explore series are the mid-level models ($249.99-299.99), and the Maker series machines are the top-level models ($399.99).

Cricut Machine Overviews

Are you still with me? I know that this is a lot of information to take in! I hope you are starting to get a sense of which Cricut machine is right for you.

Now that we’ve gone through the main differences and similarities among the machines, I thought it would be helpful to discuss each Cricut model individually. We’ll talk about the unique features of each machine, along with its pros and cons.

Cricut Explore Series

Let’s start with the Explore series of machines since they tend to be the most popular.

The Cricut Explore machines are perfect for crafters looking for simplicity & value. The Explore machines are a great choice for you if you want to cut popular materials like vinyl to make stickers, iron-on to make t-shirts, and paper to make greeting cards and party décor.

At the time of writing, both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the new Cricut Explore 3 are available on cricut.com.

Cricut Explore Air 2

The Cricut Explore Air 2 is one of Cricut’s best-selling machines. It’s a fantastic full-size machine that’s perfect for beginners and experienced crafters alike. The Cricut Explore Air 2 uses cutting mats that are 12” by 12” or 12” by 24”, allowing you to create full-size iron-on decals for T-shirts, large vinyl decals, and 3D paper projects.

The Explore Air 2 comes with a Fine-Point Blade which can cut more than 100 materials, including paper, vinyl, and cardstock. If you swap out the Fine-Point Blade for the Deep Point Blade and the Bonded Fabric Blade, you can cut even more materials – like leather and fabrics backed with a stabilizing material.

The Cricut Explore Air 2 has a double tool holder, which means it can hold a blade and an additional accessory. For extra speed, turn on Fast Mode, which is a feature that allows you to cut and write up to 2x faster. Both of these features will save you time, which is especially important when making multiples of a project.

Pros:

  • Cuts, writes, foils, and scores
  • Compatible with 100+ materials
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Fast Mode
  • Print Then Cut compatible
  • Free Design Space software

Cons:

  • Not compatible with Adaptive Tool System (cannot use Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, Scoring Wheels)
  • Requires a cutting mat. Not compatible with Smart Materials, such as Smart Vinyl
  • Max cutting length of 23” on a 24” mat
  • Not portable

Cricut Explore 3

In June of 2021, Cricut introduced a new machine in the Explore family: the Cricut Explore 3. This new model has a stronger motor that can cut up to 2x as fast, and can cut Cricut Smart Materials without a mat!

Like its predecessor, the Cricut Explore 3 is a full-size machine that can cut more than 100 materials – including cardstock, vinyl, iron-on vinyl, and glitter paper. It’s compatible with six different tools, including the Fine Point Blade, the Foil Transfer Tool, the Scoring Stylus, and the Deep-Point Blade – which allow you to cut even more materials like bonded leather and stabilized fabric.

What’s new about this model? The Cricut Explore 3 has a more powerful motor that can cut up to 2X faster than the Cricut Explore Air 2. It is compatible with Smart Materials so that you can make super long cuts (up to 12 ft!) without a mat. 

Pros:

  • Cuts, writes, foils, and scores
  • Compatible with 100+ materials
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Can cut up to 2X faster than the Cricut Explore Air 2 when using Smart Materials
  • Print Then Cut compatible
  • Free Design Space software
  • Can cut without a mat using Smart Materials

Cons:

  • Not compatible with Adaptive Tool System (cannot use Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, Scoring Wheels)
  • Not portable

Cricut Maker Series

The Cricut Maker series of machines are the most powerful Cricut machines, which will allow you to create virtually any project you can dream up.

At the time of writing, both the original Cricut Maker and the new Cricut Maker 3 are available on cricut.com.

Cricut Maker

The original Cricut Maker is one of the more powerful, and more expensive, cutting machines that Cricut offers. It’s a commercial-grade machine that delivers professional-level results.

The Cricut Maker is one of the most versatile cutting machines on the market. It’s a full-size machine that cuts more than 300 materials, including wood, leather, felt, fabric, acrylic, plastic, and more. Even on tricky materials, it always produces precise, clean cuts.

And it can do more than just cut and write. The Cricut Maker is compatible with an ever-expanding set of blades and tools in the Adaptive Tool System, including the knife blade, the engraving tip, the foiling tip, the debossing tool, and the rotary cutter. 

Here are some of the tools that are available for the Cricut Maker:

  • Rotary Blade: This tool allows you to cut fabric without dragging or fraying. Use it to cut tough fabric like denim, or delicate materials like crepe paper and tissue paper.
  • Knife Blade: Use the knife blade to cut through thicker and denser materials like balsa wood, leather, and chipboard.
  • Scoring Wheels: The single and double scoring wheels allow you to make creased on paper materials to make them easier to fold.
  • Engraving Tool: Use this tool to engrave metal, leather, acrylic, and more.
  • Debossing Tool: Use this tool to created debossed designs on paper or leather.
  • Perforation Blade: This blade allows you to cut perforation lines for tear-out projects.
  • Wavy Blade: This is a cutting blade with a unique wavy edge.

All in all, the original Cricut Maker is an amazing cutting machine – perfect for someone who wants to do it all.

Pros:

  • Cuts, writes, foils, scores, engraves, debossed, and more
  • Compatible with 300+ materials
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • 10x cutting force
  • Adaptive Tool System (Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, Scoring Wheels, and more)
  • Print Then Cut compatible
  • Free Design Space software

Cons:

  • Requires a cutting mat. Not compatible with Smart Materials, such as Smart Vinyl
  • Max cutting length of 23” on a 24” mat
  • Not portable

Cricut Maker 3

The Cricut Maker 3 is the newest Maker model, released in June 2021. If you need a great machine that can deliver the ultimate commercial-grade performance at the fastest speeds, you want the Cricut Maker 3. Even on the most intricate cuts, it still performs like a champ.

Like the original Maker model, it can cut more than 300 types of materials, including thicker materials like balsa wood, chipboard, acrylic, and genuine leather. It’s compatible with 13 tools for cutting, writing, scoring, foiling, engraving, and more. (Check out the complete list in the section above!)

What’s new about the Maker 3? The Cricut Maker 3 is compatible with Smart Materials so that you can cut really long projects (up to 12 ft) without a mat. It also has a stronger motor so that it can cut up to 2x as fast as the original Cricut Maker, and with 10x the cutting force as the Explore 2 series.

Pros:

  • Cuts, writes, foils, scores, engraves, debossed, and more
  • Compatible with 300+ materials
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Adaptive Tool System (Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, Scoring Wheels, and more)
  • Print Then Cut compatible
  • Free Design Space software
  • Compatible with Smart Materials, such as Smart Vinyl. Cuts without a mat.
  • 10X cutting force, compared with Cricut Explore
  • 2X cutting speed, compared to the original Cricut Maker

Cons:

  • Not portable
  • Most expensive

Cricut Joy

The Cricut Joy is the newest Cricut model. It’s a clever little cutting machine that’s easy to set up and use. It can cut more than 50 materials, including paper, adhesive vinyl, and iron-on vinyl. It can even cut some thin faux leather sheets.

This machine has a smaller footprint, so it’s easy to store in a tight craft space or multiuse office. It’s the only Cricut machine that is truly “portable,” in my opinion.

The Cricut Joy can cut a design with a maximum width of 4.5”. So it’s great for making mini sticker sheets, labels, greeting cards, and other small projects. While it’s not as versatile as the larger machines, it’s still an excellent machine that would be perfect for learning the basics.

If you’re new to Cricut and see yourself making quick and easy projects, the Cricut Joy may be a better fit for you!

Pros:

  • Cuts and writes
  • Compatible with 20+ materials
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Portable
  • Can cut with our without a mat using Smart Materials
  • Compatible with Card Mat
  • Free Design Space software

Cons:

  • Maximum cut width of 4.5”
  • Not compatible with Adaptive Tool System
  • Not compatible with Print Then Cut projects

What about the older Cricut machines?

If you are shopping for a second-hand Cricut, you may come across older Cricut models. Older models like the Cricut Explore, Cricut Explore One, or Cricut Explore Air are discontinued, but they still work with the current version of Cricut Design Space.

Other machines, the kind that used physical cartridges, are called legacy models. These older Cricut models, like the Cricut Expression and Gyspy, are no longer supported by Cricut and don’t work with the Design Space software.

The Cricut Cuttlebug is a different type of manual die-cutting machine altogether and has also been discontinued.

Bottom Line: What is the Best Cricut to Buy?

I really want to give you a hard and fast answer here, but the truth is that the best Cricut machine for you depends on your specific needs and wants. With that caveat, I recommend the Cricut Explore Air 3 to most budget-conscious beginners – but the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Joy are fantastic machines too!

What is the best Cricut for a beginner?

The best machine for a beginner on a budget is the Cricut Explore Air 3. The Cricut Explore Air 3 is Cricut’s most popular machine, and for a good reason! It cuts over 100 materials: cardstock, vinyl, iron-on, and specialty materials like glitter paper, cork, and bonded fabric. It’s faster than the older Explore Air 2 – plus, it’s compatible with Smart Materials. It’s the most powerful machine, but it does a lot and is very beginner-friendly.

Which Cricut should you get?

The best Cricut for you depends on the kinds of projects you like to do. Consider what materials you’ll need to cut before deciding which Cricut machine to buy.

When to choose the Cricut Explore Air 3: The Cricut Explore Air 3 is the best-selling Cricut machine and offers you great “bang for your buck.” The Cricut Explore is my all-around top choice for Cricut newbies or anyone on a budget.  

It’s a fast and precise cutting machine that cuts with or without a mat. And like I’ve mentioned before, it cuts more than 100 popular craft materials, including paper, vinyl, and iron-on. 

So, if you prefer paper and vinyl crafts (and don’t need to cut a lot of fabric and wood), your best choice is the Cricut Explore Air 3.

When to choose the Cricut Maker 3: The Cricut Maker 3 can do everything the Cricut Explore can do, and so much more. I recommend upgrading to the Maker if you want the versatility to cut heavy-duty materials like wood and leather and delicate materials like crepe paper and fabric for sewing projects.

When to choose the Cricut Joy: The Cricut Joy is Cricut’s newest cutting machine. The Cricut Joy is perfect if you like to make quick, small-scale projects, like labels and cards. 

I recommend the Cricut Joy if you don’t have a dedicated craft space and want a portable cutting machine that won’t take up a lot of room. 

Best Cricut machine for the ambitious crafter

Cricut Maker 3 can do it all – perfect the crafter who wants the freedom to experiment with all types of materials.

Best Cricut machine for the occasional crafter

Cricut Joy is small and portable – so it’s easy to store when not in use.

Best Cricut machine for quilters and sewists

Cricut Maker 3 has a rotary tool that makes cutting fabric a breeze. Cut heavier fabrics like burlap or light fabrics like silk.

Best Cricut machine for making t-shirts

Cricut Explore 3 or Cricut Maker 3. Both machines can cut full-size graphics for iron-on transfer.

Best Cricut machine for making custom stickers

Cricut Explore 3 or Cricut Maker 3. Both machines can cut full-size sticker sheets and are compatible with Print Then Cut projects.

But really, is the Cricut machine worth it?

Yes! If you love to craft with paper and vinyl, you’ll love using your Cricut. I think you’ll appreciate how quickly and quietly the Cricut machine can cut even the most intricate designs.

I know that I’m always impressed with how professional my crafts look when I use the Cricut to cut them out!

Cricut Machine Comparison Chart

Here is a chart that compares the features of all three machines.

MachineCricut Explore 3Cricut Explore Air 2Cricut Maker 3Cricut MakerCricut Joy
Max material width13 in12 in13 in12 in5.5 in
Max cut length12 ft1.9 ft12 ft1.9 ft20 ft
Types of materials100+100+300+300+20+
Types of tools6 (cutting, writing, scoring and foiling)6 (cutting, writing, scoring and foiling)13 (cutting, writing, scoring, debossing, engraving, foil, and more)13 (cutting, writing, scoring, debossing, engraving, foil, and more)2 (cutting and writing)
Commercial Gradenonoyes!yes!no
Works with Smart Materials (cuts without a cutting mat)yes!noyes!noyes!
Works with Card Matnonononoyes!
Works with home printer to “print then cut”yesyesyesyesno
ConnectivityBluetooth or USBBluetooth or USBBluetooth or USBBluetooth or USBBluetooth only
Suggested Price$299.99$249.99$399.99$399.99$159.99
Shop at Cricut.comCheck priceCheck priceCheck priceCheck priceCheck price
Shop on AmazonCheck priceCheck priceCheck priceCheck priceCheck price

Other Cricut Supplies

Once you get a Cricut, you may need some other accessories and tools to use it to its full crafting potential. (It’s a bit of an “If you give a mouse a cookie…” situation – but isn’t that the truth with all creative hobbies?)

What supplies do you need to get started with Cricut?

When you buy a Cricut, the machine will come with many of the things you need to get started. Inside the box, you’ll find a blade, a mat, a pen, and material samples for your first project. You’ll also get a charging cord and USB cable, if compatible.

What else do I need to buy?

After that, you’ll want to buy a few more supplies so you can keep creating. If you prefer paper projects, shop for pretty scrapbooking paper, cardstock, and vellum. If you like to make vinyl projects, you’ll want some adhesive vinyl, iron-on vinyl, and transfer tape.  

Last but not least, here are a few tools I think everyone should get.

using a cricut easypress to apply the heat transfer vinyl to the canvas

Other Cricut Products

While we’re here, we might as well go over some of the other accessories and tools in the Cricut ecosystem. You definitely come across these items in Cricut project tutorials and YouTube videos – so I hope this list can help you know what everyone’s talking about.

Cricut Heat Presses

The Cricut Heat Press machines allow you to use Cricut Infusible Ink and Cricut iron-on vinyl, also called HTV.

Cricut EasyPress. The EasyPress comes in a variety of sizes to suit different projects. I like the 12 for shirts and totes, and the mini for hats and shoes.

Cricut Mug Press. You’ll need a special curved mug press to use Infusible Ink on mug blanks.

Cricut Machine Accessories

Smart Material Roll Holder. This machine attachment keeps rolls of Smart Materials aligned for clean, precise cuts.

BrightPad. Cricut BrightPads are slim lightboxes that help illuminate your work, and you weed vinyl and trace paper.

Machine Tools and Blades

Of course, there are lots of different machine tools you can add to your collection, including the blades and tools that are part of the Adaptive Tool System.

Cutting Mats

You can purchase extra cutting mats in different strengths or stickiness levels.

Hand Tools

You’ll want to keep a scraper tool and a weeding tool handy. You’ll also want to have a pair of scissors, a small spatula, tweezers, and perhaps a paper quilling tool.

In Summary: The Best Cricut to Buy in 2021

If you are an occasional crafter who doesn’t have a lot of extra space, buy the Cricut Joy. If you are a budget-conscious beginner who only wants to craft with paper and vinyl, get the Cricut Explore 3. If you are a creative crafter who wants the freedom to make any project you can dream of, get the Cricut Maker 3.

Ashwini

Saturday 27th of November 2021

This was a very useful and enlightening article. It has given me an insight about his machine. I am very new to this world of circuit and excited to own one. Thanks a ton for the detailed information.

Angela

Wednesday 6th of October 2021

This is such a helpful and detailed article, Sarah. I have never tried making cards before, but heard about the Cricut machines. I wouldn’t have had a clue which one to choose, though, but think the Joy model will be fine for me as a beginner. Thank you!

Sarah Stearns

Wednesday 6th of October 2021

You are so welcome! I hope you enjoy it :)