If you’re in the crafting world you may know of a little machine called the Cricut… it’s an amazing concept. A machine that can cut vinyl? Chipboard? Fabric? Felt?
Where have you been all my life!
Of course, the Cricut line has been around for a while now… we’ve rocked the Cricut Explore, the Cricut Explore One, the Cricut Explore Air, the Cricut Explore Air 2 and now the Cricut Maker. Which means that the capabilities just keep getting cooler and cooler.
In today’s world the question often isn’t “Should I get a Cricut?” it’s “What Cricut should I buy?”
Y’all the answer is all of them. Seriously if I had the money I would just go to the Cricut website and buy one of everything. Of course, I don’t have that much money (if you do you can stop reading this post and come hang out with me… we’ll go shopping) and you probably don’t have unlimited money either… which is why you’re trying to decide which Cricut is right for you.
Pssst… if you’re sitting here going “but I really don’t even know if I should get a Cricut? What the heck is it!” it’s ok. Start here and I’ll walk you through what a Cricut is and what it can do!
Pssssssst…. if you’re reading this post in 2020 you’re probably wondering about the Cricut Joy. Cricut’s newest (& tiniest) team member. While the Joy doesn’t have nearly the capabilities of the Maker or the Explore Air 2 there are a few perks of this teeny tiny machine. I have a full break down here in my Ultimate Guide to the Cricut Joy.
And if you’re reading this post in 2021 you’re probably wondering about the Cricut Maker 3! All the details in this post are still relevant since the Maker 3 only has a few upgrades from the Maker… but if you’re buying a new machine and the Maker family is your favorite I definitely recommend the Maker 3 over the Maker. Check out all the details why the Cricut Maker 3 rocks here.
Here’s the breakdown of what we’re going to go over, our goals if you will:
- Understand the differences between the two machines
- Answer any questions you may have
- Decide which Cricut is right for you
Not ready to read a whole post? Looking for a quick guide to tell you the differences in each machine or where the different colors can be found? Download my FREE Cricut Guide for an easy to read chart and links to buy your Cricut today.
This post is NOT sponsored… my first Cricut Explore Air 2 was a Christmas present from my Dad after months of “subtle” hints and a bit of outright begging. Of course, this post does contain affiliate links, which help my family make money on your purchases at absolutely zero added cost to you. Awesome right? Thanks for your support since it makes it possible for us to do things like buy food. Which we like.
Let’s go over the color choices for both machines!
Okay so here’s the thing… when it comes to colors the two machines are like night and day. The Cricut Maker is available in champagne, rose and blue.
Does anyone else thing it’s strange that the neutral Maker has a classy name like “champagne”, the pink Maker is a classy “rose” and the blue Maker is… blue? That’s been bugging me for months…
Anyways… the three Maker colors are absolutely beautiful with a metallic like top and pretty coordinating interiors.
The Explore Air 2 on the other hand has 22 different color combinations! Which means if you love sunshine yellow or wisteria purple the Explore Air 2 has the machine for you. I am in love with the rose version they came out with for Mother’s Day last year… I’m hoping I go to sleep one day and wake up to find my Mint Explore Air 2 has been replaced with the rose version. It would match my rose Maker and rose gold craft room perfectly.
Of course, you can’t buy a machine based solely on color (or can you?!) but once you’ve decided between Maker and Explore Air 2 color is the next step.
Winner of the Color Battle: the Cricut Explore Air 2! I love love love the rose version of the Cricut Maker but with only 3 options the Cricut Explore Air 2’s 22 options blow the Maker out of the water.
Let’s go over the physical differences between the two machines!
The first main difference is the tool slots on the left side of the machines. The Cricut Explore Air 2 has one deep tool spot that is perfect for longer items (like your weeding tool and tweezers) while the Maker has two tool spots.
I love how the Maker has a longer tool spot in the back and a shallow tool spot in the front because I’m always tossing extra blades in the side tool spots and they are hard to dig out of the long tool spot on the Explore Air 2.
You’ll notice that the Explore Air 2 also has a spot for the older Cricut cartridges which is missing on the Maker… I’m guessing because Cricut is going to slowly phase out the cartridges all together. The Maker does have an adapter that you can buy separately to use the cartridges (so they’re not phased out yet!) but they won’t work directly with the machine.
Last up? The Cricut Explore Air 2 has a little round open button while the Maker doesn’t have a specific button… you simply open the top and the machine is ready to go!
Ready for the right side? If you think the left side is different just hold onto your hat!
When it comes to the Cricut Explore Air 2 the lid ends and the control knobs are on the top of the machine. The Explore Air 2 has rounded buttons for the power, load/unload, Cricut GO! button as well as the pause button.
The wheel makes it really easy to set the material you’re working with right on the machine. Of course, the wheel has all of the greatest hits (vinyl, paper, poster board, iron-on, cardstock etc) but it also has a custom setting that will allow you to set your material in Cricut Design Space instead of on the wheel.
The Maker is a little different since its pretty metallic rose lid goes all the way across to the edge of the right side. Once you’ve opened the lid the inside is simplified without the control knob… instead you’ll set the material for every project directly in Cricut Design Space. The only buttons you have (are completely flat!) control the power, load/unload, pause, and Cricut GO!
The inside of the machines are very similar! They both have long roller bars to slide the cutting mats back and forth as well as the housings that hold the tools in the middle. Both of these machines have dual adapters which means they can rock a pen and blade at the same time.
Of course, the Maker has the adaptive tool system which lets it work with the rotary blade, knife blade and scoring wheel… basically all the tools with the little gold gear on top. The Explore Air 2 does not have this system but is able to work with all the standard blades… this is the main difference of the machines.
Honestly at the end of the day it all comes down to that little gear! When the Maker first debuted the knife blade and rotary blade were the only two pieces that worked with the gear system… then they showed up with the scoring wheel. I’m not sure what else Cricut has up their sleeve but I’m guessing any new blades/tools will integrate with this adaptive tool system and be exclusive to the Maker as well.
So while the Explore Air 2 is still a powerful machine it won’t be able to party with the big kids as new and improved tools come out.
The last difference inside? The Maker has a little slot on top of the machine… to hold your phone or tablet! Honestly it took me a while to figure out what the heck that slot was for. Probably because I always use my Cricut with my laptop!
Plenty of people craft from their phones these days so it’s a genius addition! Simple but effective y’all… that’s my motto. (Actually my motto is “can I put glitter on that?” but I don’t think that would work here).
Both machines are great with storage and have a little storage area inside the bottom door. They are a little different in layout since the Maker is a little larger… and therefore holds a bit more.
Both of them have little magnets to hold extra blades before you put them into the machine. I suppose you could put weeders or scrapers in the other compartments but I’m not the gal to ask since I rarely put tools in these little compartments.
I actually found an extra fine-point blade and spatula tool when I took these pictures in the storage compartment of my Explore Air 2 that I completely forgot about!
The very last difference in the outside of the machines? The Maker has a USB port on the bottom right side which is perfect for plugging in your phone or tablet in the middle of longer cuts.
Especially when you’re using the knife blade the cut times can get a little long… a normal project may require 2 or 3 passes with the fine-point blade but materials like chipboard ask for a standard of 20 passes. (If you’re looking for a little help with the knife blade I go over e.v.e.r.ything for you right here).
I had to plug in my laptop in the middle of my last knife blade project so a USB port to charge your phone or tablet puts the little phone slot on top over the side.
Winner of the Physical Battle: the Cricut Maker! Between the adaptive tool system, the phone slot, the USB port, the deeper tool slots on the side, the larger tool slots in the door and the shiny rose top we have a clear winner.
Let’s go over the tool options for both machines!
When it comes to Cricut there are amazing tools like the Easy Press and the Brightpad that work independently of the cutting machine. There are quite a few tool options for the cutting machines though: the knife blade, scoring wheel, rotary blade, bonded fabric blade, deep cut blade, fine point blade and of course the extensive line of pen colors!
Like we talked about above the Cricut Maker has the adaptive tool system which lets it work with all of the newer tools (knife blade, scoring wheel, rotary blade) as well as the older blades (fine point blade, deep cut blade, bonded fabric blade) and of course the pens.
The adaptive tool system is (basically) the little gold gear on the Maker that interlocks with the little gold gear on top of the newer tools. Take a look in the picture above… you’ll see the gear topped tools!
The Cricut Explore Air 2 on the other hand doesn’t have the adaptive tool system (that fancy little gear!) so it’s only able to use the older tools (fine point blade, deep cut blade, bonded fabric blade) and of course the pens.
When you think about it the Maker can do everything the Explore Air 2 can do but oh so much more.
So why is the adaptive tool system so bada**? It gives the new Maker tools 10x as much power as before which makes these tools so. much. better.
For example, you can cut fabric or felt with the Explore Air 2 but they need to be backed for any results short of catastrophic. The new adaptive tool systems rotary blade can cut felt and fabric (without backing or a stabilizer!) flawlessly. Seriously it’s ridiculous.
The rotary blade slides through the felt like butter as opposed to the original blade that pulls on the fabric. The knife blade can cut through materials up to 2.44mm thick which is kind of amazing… balsawood? chipboard? All possible in a world with the Cricut Maker.
I’ve heard rumors of up to 40 new blades to work with this fancy schmancy adaptive tool system (although I’m trying to imagine what they could possibly be and failing short… I have no idea!). So if you want to be able to get in on this goodness the Maker is the way to go.
Winner of the Tool Battle: the Cricut Maker! 3 new tools means 3 more ways the Maker can make hundreds of projects.
Looking for an explanation of each tool? Want a demonstration of how they work? Click on the tool you want to learn more about:
What materials can the Cricut cut?
Okay this is kind of a long list… and there are probably materials I haven’t included that could be on this list!
Explore Air 2 Materials:
- Poster Board
- Window Cling
- Glitter Paper
- Bonded Fabric
- Bonded Felt
- Poster Board
- Window Cling
- Glitter Paper
- Balsa wood
- Tooling leather
- Garment leather
- Cricut® Chipboard
- Craft foam
Winner of the Materials Battle: the Cricut Maker! The list really speaks for itself.
What is the price difference?
Alright y’all let’s talk money. If the choice comes down to dollar bills the Cricut Explore Air 2 is going to win every time. At the end of the day the Explore Air 2 rings in at $299 and the Cricut Maker has a price tag of $399.
Of course, both machines regularly go on sale so you can typically find the Explore air two anywhere from $199 to $229 while the Maker goes on sale for about $269. Being a newer machine the Maker doesn’t have large price cuts just yet although you can check on the major sale days for your best savings (think Mother’s Day, Black Friday etc).
I’m not rolling in money (trust me, this life is run on a budget!) but I tend to think that since the Cricut is a fun item to buy anyways (it’s not a necessity like food or shelter) spending a little bit more money for a better machine is worth it. Skip the morning latte for a couple weeks and you’ll have the difference saved!
Winner of the Price Battle: the Cricut Explore Air 2! I am still team Cricut Maker (better is better!) but numbers don’t lie and the Explore Air 2 is a better price. Period.
Final Verdict: Cricut Maker Wins!
If you can afford it the Cricut Maker wins hands down in every category that counts: tools, materials and physical perks. While the Explore Air 2 has an entire rainbow of colors to chose from unfortunately I think this is a case of function over form.
While the Cricut Explore Air 2 is a wonderful machine and I wouldn’t rush to upgrade (unless you were searching for a specific feature of the Maker) I think the Maker will only gain functionality as Cricut develops new tools to work with it’s adaptive tool system.
Of course, if you aren’t looking to cut fabric, score material or cut thicker materials saving money on a machine by going with the Explore Air 2 is a great option. This machine is still fabulous and works perfectly for what it’s designed to do.
My personal opinion is that anyone looking to purchase a Cricut for the very first time can’t go wrong with the Cricut Maker. This is a long post so if you’re looking for a quick graph to help you decide feel free to download my FREE Guide to buying your first Cricut Cutting Machine at the bottom of this post. It even has a color break down of where to buy each and every model as well as easy to click links to help you make your purchase.
If you’re ready to buy the Maker I recommend buying directly from Cricut. I actually had a problem with my very first Maker (the scoring wheel would not work… it was a nightmare!) Luckily it was an isolated problem and Cricut support was able to work with me on getting a replacement… my new Maker works perfectly.
Ready to see this baby in action? Check out my unboxing and setup for the Cricut Maker!
Want even more project ideas? The cricut access library has hundreds of ready to make projects… get your subscription to the cricut access database here.
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