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Cricut Maker 3 vs. Cricut Explore 3: Which should you buy?

The Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Explore 3 are the latest iterations of the popular Cricut machines. There are three different Cricut machine tiers, with the Maker being top of the line, Explore in the middle, and Cricut Joy rounding out the lineup with a tiny, portable machine. The Maker and Explore are quite similar in size and productivity and most of the materials and tools are interchangeable. You can do most of the same projects on either machine, so deciding between the two can be tricky.

The Cricket Maker 3 is the latest version of the Cricut Maker, which we reviewed and loved; while the Cricut Explore 3, is the latest version of the Cricut Explore Air 2, which we also tested hands-on and couldn't get enough of. 

Ultimately, deciding on the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Explore 3 depends on how much you want to spend on your machine and what kinds of projects you wish to do. I'd give Cricut Maker 3 the edge because it offers more versatility and room to grow as a crafter. But if you're looking for a smaller financial commitment to crafting, the Explore 3 is a less expensive option that does almost as much.

Cricut Maker 3 vs. Cricut Explore 3: Key differences

The Cricut Maker 3 is the top-of-the-line Cricut machine. You can make just about any kind of project that you can dream up using this machine. The Cricut Explore 3 does nearly as much as the Maker 3 for a bit less money. So, which one works best for you? Let's start by seeing what both these models have to offer.

Cricut Maker 3Cricut Explore 3
Material compatibility300+100+
Insertable tools13five
CutsYesYes
WritesYesYes
ScoresYesYes
DebossesYesNo
EngravesYesNo
Commercial-grade performanceYesNo
Print-then-cutYesYes
Works with Design Space appYesYes
Bluetooth connectivityYesYes
USB connectivityYesYes
Utilizes Smart MaterialsYesYes
Maximum material width13 inches13 inches
Maximum material length12 feet12 feet
ColorSoft pastel blueSoft mint green

The Cricut Maker 3 has two clamps inside the machine to hold up to a dozen interchangeable tools, allowing you to cut, write on, score, deboss, and engrave over 300 different materials, including leather and even basswood. You can use the same size materials in the Explore 3 as you do in the Maker 3, up to 13-inches-by-12-feet with Smart Materials or 13-by-12-inches on a cutting mat.

However, instead of the over a dozen tools you can use with the Maker 3, you can use just five in the Explore 3. You can cut, write, and score but not deboss or engrave. You can use over 100 different materials with the Explore 3, and you cannot use very thick materials like leather and basswood.

Cricut Maker 3 vs. Cricut Explore 3: How they fit in the Cricut lineup

Cricut Explore Air 2 wedding invitation

Wedding invitation made with Cricut (Image credit: Karen S. Freeman / iMore)

There are three Cricut machine lines: Maker, Explore, and Joy. The Cricut Joy is a pint-sized "sidekick" or beginners' machine with its own line of accessories, tools, and materials. It's great for travel, kids, beginners, or anyone not looking to devote a lot of space to their crafts. It also costs the least of the three. The Cricut Maker 3 is the follow-up to the Cricut Maker, and the Cricut Explore 3 is the next generation after the Cricut Explore Air 2.

Serious crafters are going to look at the Cricut Maker 3 and the Explore 3, which are the latest and greatest.

Serious crafters are going to look at the Cricut Maker 3 and the Explore 3, which are the newest top-of-the-line and the middle-priced machines, respectively. Many of the accessories, tools, and materials are interchangeable; certainly, everything you can use with the Explore 3, you can use with the Maker 3 as well. Both of these machines are appropriate for beginners looking to expand their crafting abilities. They are both easy to use and offer plenty of room to grow.

So, what can you make with a Cricut machine? So far, I've made decals for mugs and iPhone cases, numerous cards, a wedding invitation, a complex doily, and other paper cutout shapes, fabric iron-on projects, paper flowers, a wedding sign, Infusible Ink t-shirts, and even mugs with the Cricut Mug Press. I am a beginner who has barely attempted the tip of the iceberg; there is so much more you can create. Home decor, banners, cards, stickers, decals, gifts, jewelry, bags, apparel: if you can dream it, you can create it with a Cricut machine plus your Cricut tools and accessories.

Cricute Explore 3 with materials

Cricut Explore 3 Lifestyle Asset (Image credit: Cricut)

All three machines connect to your MacBook, iPad, and/or iPhone and require the use of Cricut's software, Design Space. You can do tons of projects for free, and you can even upload or create your own images and fonts in Design Space. Additionally, you can subscribe to Cricut Access for even more designs. Design Space is not the easiest, most intuitive software to learn, but using the machines themselves is quite easy once you get the hang of it.

Both the Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Explore 3 utilize Smart Materials, a new product released at the same time as these two machines. Smart Materials are slightly wider and have a stiffer backing than regular materials, so they can feed directly into the machine without using a mat. Because you can make one long, continuous cut up to 12 feet in length, your big projects can go a lot faster than they would if you had to load and re-load your mats. Plus, both machines' cutting speed is dramatically faster when using the Smart Materials, easily twice as fast.

Cricut Maker 3 vs. Cricut Explore 3: Cricut Maker 3 does more

Cricut Maker 3 with cardstock

Cricut Maker 3 Cardstock Lifestyle (Image credit: Cricut)

If you are a serious crafter, have a crafting business or online storefront, or plan to do so, the Maker 3 is the way to go. You can do more with the Maker 3 than you can with the other machines, as you'd expect from the heftier price point. Unique to the Maker line is the ability to cut leather, matboard, and basswood.

If you are a serious crafter, the Maker 3 is the way to go.

Since you can cut leather with a Maker, you can use it to make jewelry and other leather accessories. You can even make clothing and costumes. Cutting matboard means you can professionally mat your artwork; no need to take it to a framer. Basswood is quite thin as wood goes; it's certainly not for building furniture. But, there are several creative applications such as carving and even musical instruments.

You can cut fabric for sewing projects without backing material. Quilters will love not having to cut out each piece by hand! Over 500 digital sewing patterns and quilt blocks are available (for purchase) from popular brands Simplicity®, Riley Blake™, and more. The Cricut Maker 3 cuts about three times as many different materials as the Cricut Explore 3. There are also more than twice as many tools that you can put in a Maker, such as a Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, and more. You can also engrave and deboss.

Cricut Maker 3 vs. Cricut Explore 3: Which should you buy?

While you can't cut very thick items with the Cricut Explore 3, you can still do quite a lot. You can use over 100 different kinds of paper, cardstock, vinyl, HTV (Heat-Transfer Vinyl, also known as "iron-on"), Infusible Ink, and more.

You can cut, score, and write. You can use the print-then-cut feature, which involves sending a design to your home printer and then putting it into the Cricut machine to be cut out. This is great for cards and stickers. You can also place pens in the tool clamps and write directly on your creations.

Make no mistake; the Cricut Explore 3 is still a serious crafting machine with lots of room to grow for beginners. You'll still need some dedicated space in your home for your crafting! You could certainly start a business using your Explore 3, and you just wouldn't be able to cut the thicker materials like leather and wood. If you don't see yourself taking advantage of the Cricut Maker 3's extras, why spend the extra money?

Apps to help you hone your craft

If you're using a Cricut machine, don't forget to take advantage of these free programs that can help take your crafting to the next level.

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Cricut Design Space for Mac

This flexible software lets you create any kind of project you can dream up for your Cricut machine.

Download from: Cricut (opens in new tab)

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Cricut Design Space

Use your iPhone or iPad to design your Cricut projects. There is even a ledge to hold an iPhone or iPad built right into both the Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Explore 3.

Download from: App Store (opens in new tab)

Karen S Freeman
Karen S Freeman

Karen is a contributor to iMore.com as a writer, social media manager, and co-host of the iMore Show. She’s been writing about Apple since 2010 with a year-long break to work at an Apple Store as a product specialist. Before joining iMore in 2018, Karen wrote for AppAdvice and WatchAware. She’s an early adopter who used to wait in long lines on release days before pre-ordering made things much easier. Karen is a wife and mom (and dog mom) who is also a part-time teacher and occasional movie extra. She loves to travel the world and is always looking for portable tech and accessories so she can work from anywhere.