The Cricut Maker is Cricut's flagship machine, albeit not the newest model. It's fairly expensive, and it offers incredible versatility in terms of performance. Serious crafters or anyone considering starting a crafting business will probably want a Cricut Maker.
- Use for a huge variety of creative projects
- Cuts, writes, scores, debosses, engraves, and more with over a dozen tools
- Easy to use
- Works with over 300 different materials
- Design Space software could be better
The middle is the just-right spot for many people. The Cricut Explore Air 2 does almost as much as the Cricut Maker, but costs a bit less. For the home crafter or even a seller within certain genres, the Explore Air 2 will do the job.
- Does almost as much as the Maker, but costs less
- Cuts, writes, and scores with five different tools
- Cuts over 100 different materials
- Easy to use
- Not quite as versatile as the Maker
- You still have to use Design Space software
The Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2 can be a tough call, as they are (older versions of) the top two machines that Cricut makes. They are quite similar in size and productivity. Most of the materials and tools you use are interchangeable. You can do most of the same projects on either machine, so deciding between the two can be tricky.
Ultimately, it 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 the edge because it offers more versatility and room to grow as a crafter. But if you're not looking for such a financial commitment to crafting, the Explore Air 2 is a less-expensive option.
Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2: Key Differences
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The Cricut Maker is the top-of-the-line Cricut machine. You can make just about any project that you can dream up using this machine. The Cricut Explore Air 2 does nearly as much as the Maker 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||Cricut Explore Air 2|
|Works with Design Space app||Yes||Yes|
|Maximum material width||12 inches||12 inches|
|Maximum material length||24 inches||24 inches|
The Cricut Maker 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 Air 2 as you do in the Maker, up to 12-by-24-inches.
However, instead of over a dozen tools, you can use just five in the Explore Air 2. You can cut, write, and score but not deboss or engrave. You can use over 100 different materials with the Explore Air 2, and you cannot use very thick materials like leather and basswood.
Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2: How they fit in the Cricut lineup
Cricut makes three tiers: Maker, Explore, and Joy. The Cricut Joy is a pint-sized "sidekick" or beginners' machine that has its own line of accessories, tools, and materials. It's great for travel or anyone not looking to devote a lot of space to their crafts. It also costs the least of the three.
Serious crafters are going to look at the Cricut Maker and the Explore lineups, which are the top of the line and the medium-priced machines, respectively. Many of the accessories, tools, and materials are interchangeable; certainly, everything you can use with the Explore Air 2 you can use with the Maker as well. 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, an intricate doily, and other paper cutout shapes, fabric iron-on projects, paper flowers, and Infusible Ink t-shirts. I am a beginner who has barely attempted the tip of the iceberg; there is so much more that 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.
All three machines connect to your MacBook, iPad, 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.
Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2: Cricut Maker does more
If you are a serious crafter, have a crafting business or online storefront, or plan to do so, the Maker is the way to go. You can do more with the Maker than you can with the other machines, as you'd expect from the heftier price point. Unique to the Maker is the ability to cut leather, matboard, and basswood.
Since you can cut leather with the 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 cuts about three times as many different materials as the Cricut Explore Air 2. There are also more than twice as many tools that you can put in the Maker, such as a Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, and more. You can also engrave and deboss with the Maker.
Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2: Which should you buy?
While you can't cut very thick items with the Cricut Explore Air 2, 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 Air 2 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 Air 2; you just wouldn't be able to cut the thicker materials like leather and wood.
Note that each machine has newer versions, the Cricut Maker 3 and the Cricut Explore 3. However, I think the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 are still very worthwhile purchases, especially since they are substantially cheaper than the latest models.
Our top choice
For the serious crafter or anyone looking to sell their work, it's probably worth investing in this more expensive and extensive machine.
Enough for many
Quite a few serious crafters get everything they need from the Cricut Explore Air 2; it's certainly no slouch. If it does everything you'd like to create, why spend more money on the Maker?
Cricut Design Space for Mac (opens in new tab) (Free at Cricut)
This flexible software lets you create anything you can dream up for your Cricut machine.(opens in new tab)
Cricut Design Space for iPhone/iPad (opens in new tab) (Free on the App Store)
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Karen is a contributor to iMore.com as a writer 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. She's also a contributor at CNET. Before joining iMore in 2018, Karen wrote for Macworld, AppAdvice, 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 also a part-time teacher and occasional movie extra. She loves to spend time with her family, travel the world, and is always looking for portable tech and accessories so she can work from anywhere.
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