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Wondering which Cricut machine is best? Here’s a detailed comparison of all 4 current Cricut models, including pros and cons of each and a “bottom line” to give you a quick idea of which machine is best for your crafting needs!
One of the most common questions I’m asked is “Which Cricut machine should I buy?” or “Which is the best Cricut machine for beginners?” The good news is that all 4 Cricut machines currently available share the same basic features: they are all digital die cutting machines that can cut out a wide variety of materials. But there are some key differences between the specific features and price points of the machines.
- Machine Similarities
- Cut, Write, and Score
- Cutting Area Size
- Cut a Variety of Materials
- Cricut Design Space Software
- Finding Pre-Made Images or Uploading Your Own Images
- Print Then Cut
- Machine Differences
- Adaptive Tool System
- Single vs. Double Tool Holder
- Wireless Cutting Using Bluetooth
- Fast Cutting Mode
- Linking Physical Cartridges
- Styles, Bundles, & Price
- Machine Overviews
- The Final Verdict
Which Cricut Machine Should I Buy?
Which Cricut machine should you buy? The answer depends on what types of projects you want to do with your machine, how often you plan to use the machine, and how much you want to spend on a new machine.
In the article below I’ll discuss the common features and key differences across all 4 Cricut models, and then go into detail about each machine individually. For each machine I give an overview of the machine, list the pros and cons, and give you my “bottom line” opinion on who will get the most out of that machine!
All Cricut machines have some capabilities that are the same across all machines. No matter which Cricut model you buy, you will be able to do all of the following things.
Cut, Write, and Score
Every Cricut machine can cut, write, and score. No matter which machine you buy, it will come with the standard Fine-Point Blade for cutting a wide variety of popular crafting materials. All of the machines are compatible with the Cricut Pens, the Scoring Stylus, the Deep-Point Blade, and a variety of other standard tools and accessories.
Cutting Area Size
Unlike Silhouette, which makes a “mini” version of it’s standard cutting machine, the cutting area on a Cricut machine is the same for every model: 12″ wide. No matter which Cricut machine you buy, you’ll be able to cut materials up to 12″ wide and 24″ long.
Cut a Variety of Materials
All Cricut machines can cut SO MANY materials; the only real limit is your imagination! Cricut’s website lists at least 96 different materials that can be cut with the Fine-Point Blade that comes standard in all machines. And those are just the ones that are actually written down!
If you have the Deep-Point Blade or the Bonded Fabric Blade (for any of the Explore machines), or any of the additional blades that can be used with the Maker (the Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, and Scoring Wheels) there are hundreds MORE materials you can cut!
Cricut Design Space Software
All of the Cricut machines use Design Space software to allow you to design and create projects to make with your machine. Design Space is free for anyone to use and can be used on a Windows or Mac computer, or as an iOS or Android app. No matter which machine you have, Design Space works the same way, and you always use it to send projects to your machine for cutting, writing, or scoring.
Finding Pre-Made Images or Uploading Your Own Images
Within Cricut Design Space is a GIANT library of pre-made images, fonts, and graphics that you can use for your projects. Or you can upload your own image to use with your Cricut machine. It doesn’t matter which machine you have; finding images through Design Space or uploading your own will be the exact same process for all of them.
Print Then Cut
All Cricut machines have the ability to use Print Then Cut, which allows you to add multi-colored images or photos to your projects. Design Space will send the image to your home printer, and then you can load the printed image into your Cricut to have it cut out; no scissors required! Print Then Cut is a feature within Cricut Design Space, so all machines have access to it.
Next up: a quick overview of the key areas where the machines differ.
Adaptive Tool System
The Adaptive Tool System is the newest innovation out of Cricut headquarters, and it’s only available on the Cricut Maker.
The tool holder carriage on the Explore family of machines (the Cricut Explore Air 2, Cricut Explore Air, and Cricut Explore One) can only move up and down. That means the carriage is either “down” and touching the material on the mat below it, or it is “up” so the entire carriage can move to a new position before going “down” again to cut.
The Adaptive Tool System is different in 4 ways:
- It delivers much more power, with up to 4 kg of cutting force – 10x more than the Explore family of machines.
- It uses a steering system to rotate and turn the blade so that it is actively controlling the direction of the blade at all times.
- It automatically adjusts the pressure of the blade with each cut pass to get a clean cut even through tough materials.
- It allows the machine to use a whole new suite of tools and accessories (like the Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, and Scoring Wheels) so you can cut hundreds of new materials.
Overall, the Adaptive Tool System provides much more control over the tools, allowing for much more intricate cuts, cutting through thicker materials, the ability to expand and use new types of tools, and clean, crisp cuts every time.
Single vs. Double Tool Holder
When you open the lid of a Cricut machine you’ll see the main tool holder on a carriage that moves back and forth. The Cricut Maker, Cricut Explore Air 2, and Cricut Explore Air all have a double tool holder, meaning there is a clamp to hold the blade and a second clamp for holding accessories like pens or the scoring stylus. This allows the machine to write and cut all in one step! The Cricut Explore One has a single tool holder, which means if you want to write on your project and cut it out, you will have to switch out the blade for a pen halfway through the process.
Wireless Cutting Using Bluetooth
When you first set up a new Cricut machine, you need to plug it into your computer using a USB cable. But after the initial setup, the Cricut Maker, Cricut Explore Air 2, and the Cricut Explore Air can be used wirelessly so you don’t have to be tethered to the machine with a cable. The Cricut Explore One does not have bluetooth capabilities built in, though they do sell a bluetooth adapter for the machine that allows you to connect to it wirelessly.
Fast Cutting Mode
When writing or cutting standard materials like paper, cardstock, iron on, and vinyl, the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 can use “fast mode” which allows the machine to cut and write up to twice as fast! This is especially useful when you’re making a lot of copies of something, like cards or party favors. The Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Explore One don’t have the “fast mode” option.
Linking Physical Cartridges
The original Cricut machine models (like the Cricut Expression, Cricut Personal, and the Cricut Create) used cartridges that plugged into the machine and contained digital files for cuttable images, graphics, and fonts. The current suite of Cricut machines uses images and fonts from the digital Design Space library instead of from physical cartridges.
But if you do have cartridges that you purchased for an older Cricut model, don’t worry! There are still ways to use those images and fonts even if your machine is not compatible.
All of the Cricut Explore machines have a slot in the machine where you can plug a cartridge in. Then you can “link” that physical cartridge to your digital Design Space account so that you can still access your cartridge graphics. The Cricut Maker does not have a slot for physical cartridges, so if you want to use cartridge content with your Maker, you will have to purchase a separate cartridge adapter to allow you to link your cartridge to your Design Space account.
Styles, Bundles, & Price
The other major difference between machines is the colors they come in, whether the machine is bundled with additional materials and accessories, and the price.
Prices vary from retailer to retailer (especially if someone is having a sale) but in general the Cricut Maker is the most expensive and the Cricut Explore One is the least expensive, with the Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Explore Air 2 somewhere in between.
The machine bundles are great for those just starting out because you can get some additional accessories for your machine, plus cutting materials at a discount, all in one go. There are tons of different bundle options available, so just see what looks good to you when you’re ready to buy a machine!
As far as color goes, Cricut is always coming out with new colors for their machines, and some of those colors are specific to certain retailers or certain limited edition models. But once you’ve decided which Cricut machine is right for you, you can browse through the available colors online before purchasing.
This section has detailed reviews on each of the 4 available Cricut machines, so you can decide for yourself which one best fits your needs!
The Cricut Maker is Cricut’s newest machine. Cricut calls it the ultimate smart cutting machine, and I can’t help but agree. It is a top-of-the-line digital die cutting machine that delivers professional-quality results at a personal machine price. It can cut hundreds of materials, from the most delicate fabric and paper to matboard, balsa wood, and leather.
The Cricut Maker uses the brand new Adaptive Tool System, which allows for more precise control over the tools, including rotating, lifting, and varying pressure throughout the entire cut. The Adaptive Tool System also allows the machine to utilize new types of tools later on as Cricut expands their tool offerings.
Besides the Fine-Point Blade, Deep Cut Blade, and Bonded Fabric Blade that are compatible with all Cricut machines, the Maker can also use the following tools that are compatible with the Adaptive Tool System:
- Rotary Blade – This lets you cut fabric with a Cricut Maker and it’s a huge improvement over using the standard Fine-Point blade. You can cut tough fabric like burlap or denim, and also delicate materials like crepe paper or satin. This blade lets you make intricate cuts on fabric without fraying or bunching (which is why you need a stabilizer backing when using the Fine-Point blade).
- Knife Blade – This lets you easily slice through thicker and denser materials such as balsa wood, leather, matboard, and Cricut Chipboard. You can make some pretty intricate cuts without worrying that the blade will snap.
- Scoring Wheels – These tools make crisp creases on thin, thick, and even coated paper materials. They allow you to make extra-deep score lines on any material that don’t crack when you fold it.
The Explore machines cannot use these new blades and tools because they rely on the Adaptive Tool System. The standard tool holder carriage in the Explore machines just doesn’t have the necessary precision or power.
As the name implies, the Adaptive Tool System is designed to easily switch between tools, adapting the drive system to whichever tool is loaded into it. This allows for TONS of new types of tools to be created in the future, to do new types of crafts with the machine that we never could before. I think the Adaptive Tool System is a HUGE benefit and I think it makes the Maker more “future-proof”; I suspect we’ll see a ton of cool new tools for the Adaptive Tool System soon!
Cricut Explore One
The Cricut Explore One is Cricut’s entry-level budget machine; it’s perfect for anyone who wants to get started with a digital die cutting machine but doesn’t want to spend a ton of money. It comes with the standard Fine-Point Blade which allows you to cut hundreds of materials, and it’s compatible with the Deep Point Blade and the Bonded Fabric Blade (sold separately) to allow you to cut even more materials.
As its name implies, the Explore One has a single tool holder, so if you want to cut and write in the same project you will have to switch out the blade for a pen mid-way through the cut. It’s really easy to switch out the blade or accessory, and the Design Space software will pause the cut and walk you through it when it’s time, but if you do a lot of projects that combine cutting, writing, or scoring, it can get tiresome after a while.
And actually, the single tool holder is compatible with the standard sized blades (Fine-Point, Deep Point, and Bonded Fabric), but to use other tools and accessories like the Scoring Stylus or Cricut Pens in the Cricut Explore One, you’ll need to purchase a separate adapter to fit in the single tool holder.
The Explore One doesn’t have built-in bluetooth capabilities, so you have to plug the machine into your device with the USB cable provided. Or you can purchase a bluetooth adapter separately to allow the machine to cut wirelessly.
Cricut Explore Air
The Cricut Explore Air is the next step up from the Explore One. It also comes with the standard Fine-Point Blade which allows you to cut hundreds of materials, and it’s compatible with the Deep Point Blade and the Bonded Fabric Blade (sold separately) to allow you to cut even more materials.
One big upgrade over the Explore One is that the Cricut Explore Air has a double tool holder; it is designed to hold a blade in one clamp and a pen, scoring stylus, or other accessory in the other clamp. This means that if you have a project that has both cutting and writing, you can load a blade and a pen into the machine and it will cut and write all in one pass without stopping for you to change between tools. Even better, the second clamp is compatible with accessories like the Scoring Stylus, Cricut Pens, etc. so there’s no need to purchase an additional adapter.
The Cricut Explore Air also offers built-in bluetooth capabilities. For the initial setup, you will have to connect using the USB cable provided, but after the initial pairing you’ll be able to connect to your machine and cut wirelessly.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is the next step up from the Explore Air, and it has one major upgrade: Fast Mode. Fast Mode allows the machine to cut and write up to 2x faster on standard materials like cardstock, vinyl, and iron-on. This is really helpful for people who make multiple copies of their projects (like teachers) or people who make things to sell who will appreciate the amount of time they save.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 comes with the standard Fine-Point Blade which allows you to cut hundreds of materials, and it’s compatible with the Deep Point Blade and the Bonded Fabric Blade (sold separately) to allow you to cut even more materials.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 also has built-in bluetooth capabilities so you can cut wirelessly and a double tool holder so you can cut and write all in a single pass. And like the Explore Air, the second clamp is compatible with accessories like the Scoring Stylus, Cricut Pens, etc. so there’s no need to purchase an additional adapter.
Personally I don’t actually use Fast Mode all that often, so the step up from the Explore Air isn’t a huge deal for me, but it can definitely save you time if you do a lot of cardstock, vinyl, and iron-on projects!
The Final Verdict
Here’s the bottom line: In my opinion, the Cricut Explore Air or the Cricut Maker are the right machine for the majority of people.
The Cricut Explore Air has most of the features you need, is a great value, and is the perfect machine for the casual crafter. As long as you don’t cut a lot of fabric and don’t care so much about Fast Mode, the Explore Air will be a great machine for you!
If you use your machine for your business or make a lot of copies of the same project, you might consider upgrading to the Explore Air 2 to take advantage of Fast Mode.
If you are a very casual crafter on a tight budget, the Explore One is a great basic machine. But for anyone who uses the machine often, I think you’ll quickly get tired of not having the wireless cutting capability and of only having one tool holder.
For serious crafters, sewists, quilters, woodworkers, etc. (or if you get the chance to splurge a little!) I definitely recommend the Cricut Maker. The Cricut Maker is the top of the line machine and the only machine that can cut thick materials like leather and wood. Plus it can cut fabric with a rotary blade, meaning it can make crisp, clean, intricate cuts on fabric without needing a backer fabric. And the Adaptive Tool System helps make the machine more “future-proof” since new types of blades and tools can easily be added in the future and you won’t need to upgrade your machine in order to use them.
If you have any questions, leave them in a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them!
And if you have a Cricut machine of your own, chime in with your opinions so everyone can benefit from your experience too!
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