I’ve been using Cricut machines for many years and have accumulated five different models. Here’s a recap of all the Cricut machines I own, pros and cons of each, and which one is my favorite.
If you’ve been considering buying a Cricut machine, you were probably overwhelmed when you visited their website and saw all the different machine options. What’s the difference between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Explore 3? Where is the Maker 2? What’s a Joy and why is it so tiny? These are all legit questions, and I can answer them all for you because I own all five Cricut machines. Here’s my full recap of what each machine does and doesn’t do, how to choose the best one for your needs, and which one is my personal favorite.
The 5 Cricut Machines Currently Available
Currently, there are five different Cricut machines being produced and sold: Maker 3, Explore 3, Maker, Explore Air 2, and Joy. The Maker 3 and Explore 3 are the newest versions, followed by Joy, the Maker, and ending with the oldest Explore Air 2.
There are other models even older than these, but they are no longer in production and are considered to be retired. The older models require cartridges, while the newer ones listed above work via Bluetooth or USB cord, and designs are purchased via the software Design Space versus individual cartridges.
Cricut Maker 3
Cricut Maker 3 is the newest version of the Maker. It was released in 2021 at the same time as the Explore Air 3. You probably noticed that there was never a Cricut Maker 2. I was told directly by my friends who work for Cricut that they jumped right to 3 for the Maker since the Explore was the third version. It made marketing easier and would cause less confusion since both machines were launching at the same time.
The Maker 3 is the most expensive model of Cricut machines at the moment. It cuts faster than any other machine, has the ability to cut and engrave specialty items like leather, balsa wood, and acrylic, and does not require the use of a mat when working with new Smart Materials.
Smart Materials are everyday vinyl, iron-on vinyl, and sticker paper that are adhered to a thicker backing than the original Cricut vinyl. Changes to the mechanics of the machine paired with this thicker backing allows the Maker 3 to pull the material through straight from the roll instead of having to use a Cricut mat. The Explore 3 and Cricut Joy also have the capability to use Smart Materials. But you can still use a mat for original materials so you aren’t obligated to buy all new materials if you upgrade machines.
Cricut Maker 3 Pros
- Completes projects super fast
- Compatible with specialty materials
- Does not require mat for Smart materials
- Most high-tech option available
Cricut Maker 3 Cons
- Most expensive price tag
- Only comes in one color
- Heavy and may be hard to move for those with mobility issues
Cricut Explore 3
Cricut Explore 3 came out at the same time as Maker 3, and it is the upgraded version of the Explore Air 2. This version dropped the word “Air” in its name because it is no longer needed. The Explore Air 2 had the word “Air” to indicate that it worked via Bluetooth when the original Explore did not. But now all Cricut machines have Bluetooth capability, so they dropped it.
The Explore 3 basically does the exact same thing as the Explore Air 2. The only upgrade was increased cutting and writing speed and the ability to use Smart Materials without a mat. It can only cut paper, vinyl, felt, fabric, and a few other standard Cricut materials. It cannot cut leather, wood, acrylic, or any specialty materials, which is why it is more affordable than Maker 3.
If you want the newest version of a Cricut Machine but aren’t sure which one to choose, you should consider the types of things you want to make with your Cricut. If you think you’ll be using wood, leather, and acrylic, it’s a good idea to go ahead and get the Maker 3. But if you only use standard items like paper, vinyl, and fabric, you can save money by going with the Explore 3.
One thing I’m disappointed with about the Explore 3 is it only comes in one color. The most fun thing about the Explore Air 2 was the wide variety of color options to choose from. The Explore 3 only comes in mint green and has a matte finish instead of the original glossy coating. I find it hard to keep it clean, and it kind of looks cheap in my personal opinion.
Cricut Explore 3 Pros
- Completes projects as fast as Maker 3
- More affordable than Maker 3
- Does not require mat for Smart materials
Cricut Explore 3 Cons
- Matte finish looks kind of cheap
- Only comes in one color
- Price seems a little high for minimal upgrades
Cricut Joy came out in 2020, and I was actually a part of the secret launch project. Cricut flew me out to Salt Lake City, Utah to test out the new machine before it even hit the market. I was immediately impressed with this tiny machine and completely blown away at how much it can do.
The Joy machine cuts vinyl, paper, iron-on vinyl, Infusible Ink, and sticker paper just like the other machines do, but requires Joy-specific materials. This was the very first version of Smart Materials and the biggest reason the larger machines got an upgrade. The ability to cut without a mat was very popular and users were requesting Smart Materials for bigger machines.
Cricut Joy is the perfect machine choice for someone who makes smaller projects or primarily uses their Cricut to make labels and small decals. As a professional organizer, I recommend Joy to anyone who wants to up their labeling game without committing to a full-sized Cricut machine. If organization is your priority and you don’t really plan on crafting much, go with the Joy.
Joy also has its own app that’s fast and easy to use, so you don’t even have to get on Design Space and create your own designs. You can crank out pre-designed labels, decals, and even greeting cards in 5 minutes or less. The Joy is also great for school projects and quick gift tags.
Cricut Joy Pros
- Lightweight and portable
- Has its own easy-to-use app
- Makes labels & cards in 5 minutes or less
- Very affordable and on sale often
Cricut Joy Cons
- Only comes in bright teal color
- Limited material options
- Cut size is limited to 5.5″ tall (but up to 20′ wide)
Cricut Maker was a game-changer for Cricut when it launched. Its sleek and expensive look really set it apart from its competition and even Cricut’s original Explore machines. The ability to cut thin wood, engrave metal, etch acrylic, and cut and emboss leather made it the coolest machine for a crafter to own.
Since the launch of the new Maker 3, the price of the original Maker has gone down drastically. I don’t know if Cricut will eventually phase out production of the Maker, but I assume they will at some point. For now though, you can still buy this machine new from their website. It comes in a few color options, and comes with a mat in the box. (You cannot use Smart Materials with this machine)
If you want the capability to cut a variety of specialty materials but can’t swing the cost of the Maker 3, the original Maker is still a great choice. Cutting with a mat isn’t really that big of a deal and I don’t mind it at all. And while the Maker 3 does cut faster, the Maker isn’t like turtle speed. I used a Maker for years and never once thought “this cuts too slowly.”
Cricut Maker Pros
- Cuts many types of materials
- Price dropped after Maker 3 launch
- Comes in a few color options
Cricut Maker Cons
- Still a pricey machine even after price drop
- Requires mat for cutting all materials
- Cut time takes longer than Maker 3
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 was the first Cricut machine to work via Bluetooth. Cricut fans were over the moon about not having to use and store a bunch of cartridges, along with the increased creativity of being able to make completely custom projects in Design Space.
The Explore Air 2 allows you to cut vinyl, paper, fabric, and a few other types of materials on different mats, but instead of the machine “talking to your computer” to get these settings, there is a dial on top of the Explore Air 2 for you to select it manually. But even though it’s the least high-tech option available, it’s still pretty fancy. Since the Explore 3 came out, you can find Explore Air 2 machines on major sale on the Cricut website, Amazon, and Facebook Marketplace is bursting with them from people who upgraded.
If you’re new to crafting, a teacher or student, or just looking to explore a new hobby (haha Explore…get it?) the Explore Air 2 is an affordable way to dip your toe into the world of Cricut. Plus, there are tons of color options so you can choose one that reflects your personality or matches your craft room. Honestly, picking the Explore Air 2 color is the best part about shopping for one.
Cricut Explore Air 2 Pros
- Most affordable full-size machine
- Comes in many color options
- Perfect for beginners & teachers
Cricut Explore Air 2 Cons
- Bulkier than Joy
- Requires mat for cutting all materials
- Smallest range of material options
My Personal Favorite Cricut Machines
Okay, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. As someone who owns and uses them all, I know you want to know which are my most and least frequently used machines. Here’s my honest opinion…
The machine I like the very least is the Explore 3. Shocker right?? I don’t like the matte finish, I had a ton of trouble getting it to connect to Bluetooth, and it randomly stops mid-project very frequently. I also don’t think the price point is worth it. You can get a brand new Maker for the same price (or less on sale) and it can cut more materials. Sure, it can cut Smart Materials, but using a mat never bothered me.
The machine I use the most is kind of a tie, so I’ll tell you both and how I use each of them. Technically, my most-used Cricut machine is the Maker 3. It’s the one I have plugged in my DreamBox at all times. I still use a mat with it most times because I feel like the matless option wastes a lot of material. But it cuts fast and efficiently and has never had Bluetooth connectivity problems like my other machines.
Buuuuut, I also use my Cricut Joy very frequently too. I pull this guy out for labeling projects and card making because it’s just so fast and easy. Sure, the Maker 3 can do those things too, but I have to go to my craft room, open up Design Space, create the design, prep the mat, wait for it to finish, and clean up after. The Joy can be used anywhere in the house and I can even take it to organizing projects in my clients’ homes. And I haven’t bought a greeting card since I got it because my family is obsessed with the handmade cards it makes.
In full honesty, I will probably give away my Maker and Explore Air 2 soon. They rarely get touched and take up space in my craft room. Not because they aren’t good machines, just because I don’t need two versions of each. The original two machines are still fantastic tools for crafters and organizers, and I used and loved them for a long time. Whichever machine you choose, you can’t really go wrong. They’re all great and you won’t regret it.