Learn all about Cricut cutting machines and everything you can make with one. Keep reading to find all of the answers to your most frequently asked Cricut questions: what it is, how it works, what you need to get started, and so much more!
My Cricut machines are some of the most powerful tools in my craft toolkit. I use them all the time to make a wide variety of crafts, including custom t-shirts, greeting cards, stickers, and so much more.
In this article, I’ll share all sorts of information about the family of Cricut cutting machines and what they can do. I’ll explain what they are, how they work, and tell you exactly what supplies you’ll need to get started.
You may also be wondering which of the three Cricut models is the best choice for your needs. I recommend the Cricut Explore Air 3 to most beginners – but the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Joy are fantastic machines too! Keep reading for a comparison of the three Cricut machines so you can confidently choose the best Cricut model for you!
What is a Cricut Machine?
A Cricut is an electronic cutting machine that can cut all sorts of designs from materials like paper, vinyl, card stock, and iron-on transfers. Some Cricut machines can even cut leather and wood!
You can use the Cricut to cut just about anything you would typically cut with scissors or an X-acto knife. That said, a Cricut can cut with much more precision and speed than would ever be achievable by hand!
Best Cutting Machines
Machines like the Cricut are sometimes called die-cutter machines or craft plotters. Other brands of cutting machines include the Silhouette Cameo and the Brother ScanNCut.
There are currently three types of Cricut machines on the market: The Cricut Explore 3, the Cricut Maker 3, and the Cricut Joy.
The Cricut Explore 3 is the mid-level option and the best-selling machine. The Cricut Maker 3 is one step up from the Explore 3 and can cut a wider variety of materials with more types of tools. The Joy is a smaller model that’s portable, easy to set up, and simple to use.
Keep reading for a more detailed comparison of all three machines!
How Cricut Machines 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 other material.)
First, you create a design in Cricut’s design software or app. Then, you send the design to the Cricut cutting machine via Bluetooth or USB. The Cricut machine receives the design and cuts it out using a small, precise blade.
In simple terms, here is how to use a Cricut.
- First, choose your cutting material and place it on the sticky cutting mat. (The cutting mat holds the material in place while the Cricut makes the cuts.) Load the mat into the machine.
- Next, choose a design in Cricut Design Space. Select your material settings, and send the design to your Cricut cutting machine.
- Press the button on your Cricut machine to start cutting.
- After the machine is done cutting, remove the mat from the machine, and the material from the mat.
3 Types of Cricut Machines
There are five different cutting machines in the current Cricut lineup. Each has its pros and cons. For a super detailed article outlined the pros and cons of each machine, check out this post: Cricut Comparison: Which Cricut Machine is the Best for You?
In June of 2021, Cricut introduced two new machines to their lineup: the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Explore 3. These machines will replace the previous generations of Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air series machines. The new models have stronger motors that can cut up to 2x as fast, and can cut Cricut Smart Materials without a mat! Game changer!
(That said, I still think that the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Maker are good machines, especially if you can find them for a good deal. )
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is Cricut’s best-selling machine. It’s a fantastic mid-level model that’s perfect for beginners and experienced crafters alike. It can cut more than 100 materials, including paper, vinyl, cardstock, some types of leather, and fabric backed with a stabilizer.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 works with mats that are 12 by 12 inches or 12 by 24 inches, allowing you to create full-size iron-on decals for T-shirts, large vinyl decals, and 3D paper projects.
Cricut Explore 3
The Cricut Explore 3 is Cricut’s newest Explore series machine. Like its predecessor, the Cricut Explore 3 can cut more than 100 materials – including cardstock, vinyl, iron-on vinyl, glitter paper & bonded fabric. It’s compatible with 6 different tools, including the Fine Point Blade, the Foil Transfer Tool, the Scoring Stylus, and the Deep-Point Blade.
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 you can make super long cuts (up to 12 ft!) without a mat.
The Cricut Maker is one of the more powerful, and more expensive, cutting machines that Cricut offers. It’s definitely a step up from the Explore machine.
The Cricut Maker is one of the most robust and versatile cutting machines on the market. It can cut more than 300 materials, including wood, leather, felt, fabric, acrylic, plastic, and more. It also works with mats that are 12 by 12 inches or 12 by 24 inches.
And, it can do more than just cut and write. The Cricut maker is compatible with an ever-expanding set of blades and tools, including the knife blade, the engraving tip, the foiling tip, the debossing tool, and the rotary cutter.
Cricut Maker 3
The Cricut Maker 3 is the newest Maker model, released in June 2021. If you need a machine that can deliver commercial-grade performance, you want the Cricut Maker 3.
Like the original Maker model, it can cut more than 300 types of materials, including fabric, paper, wood, and leather. It’s compatible with 13 tools for cutting, writing, scoring, foiling, engraving, and more.
What’s new about the Maker 3? The Cricut Maker 3 is compatible with Smart Materials, so you can cut really long projects (up to 12 ft) without a mat. It also has a stronger motor, so it can cut up to 2x as fast as the original Cricut Maker, and with 10x the cutting force as the Explore 2 series.
The Cricut Joy is the newest Cricut model. It’s a smart little cutting machine that’s easy to set up and use. It can cut more than 50 materials, including paper, vinyl, iron-on, and some thin faux leathers.
This machine has a smaller footprint, so it’s easy to store in a smaller craft space. 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 5.5″. So it’s great for making stickers, 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.
Older Cricut machines
If you are shopping for a used Cricut, you may come across older Cricut models like the Cricut Explore, Cricut Explore One, or Cricut Explore Air. Even though these 3 models are discontinued, they still work with the current version of Cricut Design Space.
Other legacy models, like the Expression and Gyspy, rely on design cartridges. These older machines are no longer supported by Cricut and don’t work with Design Space.
The Cricut Cuttlebug is a different type of manual die-cutting machine and has also been discontinued.
What is the best Cricut for a beginner?
The best Cricut machine for the 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 not the fastest or quietest cutting 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. Think about what types of materials you’ll want to cut before choosing 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 on a budget.
It’s a relatively fast and powerful machine that cuts up to a maximum width of 12″. 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.
Speaking of using the Cricut sewing projects, the Cricut Maker has a special rotary cutter tool perfect for cutting fabric pattern pieces, quilt appliques, and other fabric 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 cutting machine that won’t take up a lot of room.
Here is a chart that compares the features of all three machines.
Cricut Machine Comparison Chart
|Machine||Cricut Explore 3||Cricut Explore Air 2||Cricut Maker 3||Cricut Maker||Cricut Joy|
|Max material width||13 in||12 in||13 in||12 in||5.5 in|
|Max cut length||12 ft||1.9 ft||12 ft||1.9 ft||20 ft|
|Types of materials||100+||100+||300+||300+||20+|
|Types of tools||6 (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)|
|Works with Smart Materials (cuts without a cutting mat)||yes!||no||yes!||no||yes!|
|Works with Card Mat||no||no||no||no||yes!|
|Works with home printer to “print then cut”||yes||yes||yes||yes||no|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth or USB||Bluetooth or USB||Bluetooth or USB||Bluetooth or USB||Bluetooth only|
|Shop at Cricut.com||Check price||Check price||Check price||Check price||Check price|
|Shop on Amazon||Check price||Check price||Check price||Check price||Check price|
Where to Buy a Cricut
If you’re just starting out with Cricut, the best value would be to purchase a Cricut machine bundle. Cricut bundles usually include additional tools and blades, extra cutting mats, and a selection of craft materials like vinyl and card stock. You can find the best Cricut bundles on Cricut’s website, QVC, and Amazon.
Definitely check out Cricut’s website to see if they’re running one of their frequent sales.
Can a Cricut cut felt, fabric, and leather?
Yes, some Cricut machines can cut heavier materials like felt, fabric, leather, and plastic.
The Cricut Explore 3 can cut stiffened felt, stabilized fabric, and tooling leather. It can also cut craft foam, cardboard, and natural wood veneer.
Remember that the Cricut Explore 3 doesn’t work with the rotary cutting tools. So, if you want to cut fabric, you’ll need to use additional stabilizers.
The Cricut Maker 3 can cut the widest variety of materials, from delicate materials like crepe paper to heavier materials like balsa and basswood. It also has a rotary cutting tool that cuts fabric and felt without the need for additional stabilizers.
And don’t forget about the Cricut Joy. Even the Cricut Joy can cut some faux leather materials, as long as they are paper-thin.
Can a Cricut cut wood?
Yes, both the Cricut Explore 3 and the Cricut Maker can cut wood materials.
The Cricut Explore 3 can cut thin wood veneer with the Deep-Point Blade.
The Cricut Maker 3 can cut even more wood materials, like basswood, balsa wood, natural wood veneer, and heavy chipboard.
How to Start Using your Cricut
Ready to take your new Cricut out of the box? Let’s talk about how to start using your Cricut.
How easy is it to use a Cricut?
Believe me, I understand that it can be overwhelming to get started in the wide world of Cricut crafting. But, with a little guidance, it’s not that hard to start using your Cricut machine to make beautiful paper and vinyl projects.
Cricut makes it easy to complete your first project. Inside the box, you’ll find an envelope with instructions and all the materials you’ll need to make your first cut design.
Using Cricut Design Space
After unboxing your new machine, make sure to sign up for a free Design Space account. Cricut Design Space™ is the free design software program you will use to send designs to your cutting machine.
There are three ways to use Design Space to create Cricut designs:
- You can search the vast Design Space library for pre-made designs and project ideas.
- You can upload your own SVG files (free or purchased elsewhere) to Design Space.
- You can use the user-friendly interface to create your own unique designs.
What is Cricut Access?
Remember when I talked about the library of images inside of Cricut’s Design Space program? Some of those images are free to use, and some require a subscription to Cricut Access.
For about $10 per month, you can sign up for a Cricut Access subscription that will give you access to Cricut’s extensive catalog of exclusive graphics, images, and projects (including officially licensed graphics from brands like Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney.)
Do you need a computer to use a Cricut Machine?
You will need either a computer or a smartphone to access Cricut’s design software and send your design to the Cricut cutting machine.
The Cricut Explore and Cricut Maker can connect to a laptop or desktop computer via USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth. The Cricut Joy connects via Bluetooth.
You can also use the Cricut Design Space app (on both iOS and Android) to send a design to your Cricut machine from your smartphone.
I prefer to use the desktop version of Design Space for most projects. That said, the app is convenient for quick, simple cuts.
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.
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.
I also recommend picking up a few inexpensive hand tools that will make creating with your Cricut even easier. Cricut offers a few beginner kits, including a Basic Tool Set and an Essential Tool set that includes essential handheld tools, including tweezers, a weeding tool, scissors, a small spatula, scraper, a scoring stylus, and a paper trimmer.
What can you make with Cricut?
You can use a Cricut to make a huge variety of different craft projects. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the only limit is your creativity!
Here are a few popular projects you can make with a Cricut:
- iron-on t-shirts and onesies.
- handmade greeting cards
- leather earrings and bracelets
- paper banners and party decorations
- custom stickers
- vinyl decals for car windows
- custom pantry labels
- monograms for a mug, cup, or tumbler
- address envelopes and invitations
- stencils for glass etching
- custom painted wooden sign
- stencils for a painted doormat
- quilt blocks and applique shapes
Can you make money with a Cricut?
Yes, many people use their Cricut cutting machines to make custom t-shirts, mugs, vinyl decals, and other crafts that they sell online or at craft fairs.
Is the Cricut machine worth it?
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!
More Cricut Projects Ideas
If you love crafting with your Cricut, I think you’ll enjoy these other projects:
- How to Make Shirts with Cricut Iron-On Vinyl
- How to Make a Stencil with Cricut
- How to Make Reverse Canvas Wall Art with Cricut
- How to Make Stickers with Cricut “Print then Cut”
- 25 Best Cricut Christmas Gift Ideas
- 12 Cricut Christmas Cards Ideas
Learn with Cricut Tutorials
To learn more about how to use your Cricut machine and Cricut Design Space, check out these tutorials:
- How to Connect Cursive Letters in Cricut Design Space
- How to Make a Monogram in Cricut Design Space
- When to Use Weld vs. Attach in Cricut Design Space
Pin this post: Save this tutorial to your Pinterest boards so that you can come back to it later.
Leave a comment: I love to hear your feedback. Tell me in the comments below!
Share on Instagram or Facebook: When you make this project, share it on social media and tag me @sarahmaker. I love to see what you make!
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Sarah Stearns is an artist, maker, and blogger at sarahmaker.com
Her work has been featured in Scientific American, Good Housekeeping, Vox, Apartment Therapy, and more.
Sarah lives and works in North Carolina with her husband and young kids.