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Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2: Which is best for you?

Cricut Maker Hero
Cricut Maker Hero (Image credit: Windows Central)

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

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 MakerCricut Explore Air 2
Material compatibility300+100+
Insertable tools12+5+
CutsYesYes
WritesYesYes
ScoresYesYes
DebossesYesNo
EngravesYesNo
Commercial-grade performanceYesNo
Print-then-cutYesYes
Works with Design Space appYesYes
Bluetooth connectivityYesYes
USB connectivityYesYes
Maximum material width12 inches12 inches
Maximum material length24 inches24 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 Explore Air 2 Lifestyle

Cricut Explore Air 2 Lifestyle (Image credit: Karen S. Freeman / iMore)

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.

Serious crafters are going to look at the Cricut Maker and the Explore Air 2, which are the top of the line.

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.

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

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.

Cricut Design Space For Mac Screenshot

Cricut Design Space For Mac Screenshot (Image credit: Cricut)
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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.

Cricut Design Space App Logo Render Cropped

Cricut Design Space App Logo Render Cropped (Image credit: Cricut)
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Cricut Design Space for iPhone/iPad (opens in new tab) (Free on the App Store)

Karen S Freeman
Contributor

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.