Cricut Maker vs. Cricut Explore Air 2

From bestreviews.com
By
Tammy Tilley
BestReviews

The Cricut Explore Air 2 is easier to use and costs about 30% less than its Maker counterpart. On the other hand, the Cricut Maker is much more powerful and can cut more materials than the Explore Air 2.

Cricut Explore Air 2 or Cricut Maker: Which one should I buy?

If you want to make awe-inspiring crafts for family and friends or for a home-based business, the Cricut design and cutting machine is an essential tool. Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Maker afford users a compact, high-quality die cutting machine. But choosing between the two will depend on how versatile and powerful a machine you want. While the Cricut Explore Air 2 is easier to use and costs about 30% less than the Cricut Maker, the Maker is four times as powerful, allowing you to make deeper cuts on many more types of materials.

What is a Cricut Cutting Machine?

A Cricut is a computer-assisted, Bluetooth-compatible die-cutting machine for at-home crafting DIYers. It reads design files from a computer or smartphone, then cuts out the schematic on the material loaded into the machine. Cricuts can be used on paper, vinyl, fabric, sticker paper and other materials to make custom die-cut graphics. 

Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 similarities

Small footprint for at-home use

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Maker sit on a table or desktop, as each machine measures less than 2 feet wide and less than 1 foot tall. They take up very little office space so you can set up at home or in a studio without having to turn the surrounding area into a workshop.

Specialized cutting with accessories and add-on bundles

Both machines use a variety of added tools and materials to make crafts; sometimes they come as a bundle with the machine, or they can be purchased separately online or at local craft stores.

Both the Explore Air 2 and the Maker can draw, write, score and add foil effects (using the foil transfer kit, purchased separately). 

Finally, both come in a variety of colors and can cut different materials up to 12 inches x 24 inches using a cutting mat. These mats help by preventing the material from sliding around as the Cricut cuts. They use different blades for different kinds of cutting. 

Cricut app and printer connectivity

The Explore Air 2 and Cricut Maker work with Cricut Design Space, an application where you make and store your design. It comes with a number of free designs. You also can pay a monthly fee and subscribe to Cricut Access where you have access to every project and design Cricut offers.

There is a bit of a learning curve to using these machines; however, if you’re slightly computer savvy, you will be able to operate them. The two machines come with a first project to help familiarize yourself. You can also find many step-by-step tutorials online.

They can be connected to a printer for the option of printing images before cutting.

Differences between the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2

The main difference between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Maker comes down to cutting versatility and cost. The Maker can cut a much wider variety of materials with a number of different compatible blade types, whereas the Explore Air 2 is limited to thinner substrates such as vinyl and paper. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Maker is the better buy. Depending on your DIY needs, each has its pros and cons. 

Cricut Explore Air 2 Pros

The Cricut Explore Air 2 machine hit the market in 2016 as a faster, stronger choice over the Explore Air 1. 

Speed and Cutting 

The Explore Air 2 has a dual carriage that holds a blade and a pen, giving it the ability to cut and write simultaneously.

It has a cutting force of 350 grams and can cut 4 inches per second. It also has a fast-speed mode that cuts at twice the speed of the regular cut mode. It can cut up to 1.5 millimeters of thickness. This makes it a great tool for custom cards, stickers and other simple batch projects.

The Explore Air 2 offers three blades for specialized cutting: the machine comes with the fine-point blade, but you can purchase the deep point blade for thicker materials and the bonded-fabric blade for fabrics separately.

Functionality and Price 

The Air 2 uses an easy SmartSet dial that you turn to choose the appropriate material you’re cutting, such as paper or card stock. Additionally, through its accompanying software, you can select up to 100 different materials.

The price of the Air Explore 2 is around $200 for just the machine and includes a fine-point blade already installed, fine-point pen with the accessory adapter pre-installed, a 12-inch by 12-inch standard-grip cutting mat, power cords, getting started guide and sample cardstock. 

Cricut Explore Air 2 Cons

Volume

The machine is somewhat noisy and the fast-mode option is louder yet. The noise level can be frustrating for some crafters.

Function Limitations 

Not all designs and materials are suited for the 2x fast mode; fast mode is used only for iron-on, cardstock and vinyl. This limits your use of the fast mode to fewer projects. 

Although it cuts twice as fast as its predecessor, the Cricut Explore Air 1, it cuts much more slowly than the Cricut Maker which will add more time to your projects.

Even though the machine can cut many different materials, deep cuts require the machine to make more passes and for so many materials, you have to change out the blades, all of which adds time and extra effort.

Material and Tool Limitations

While it can cut through fabric, it must be bonded fabric, meaning you can’t use regular fabric, which limits your craft.

And if you want to score your projects, you must do so manually. A scoring blade is available for the Maker, which enhances the overall look of your projects as you don’t have to do everything by hand.

Cricut Maker Pros

The Cricut Maker was released in 2018 and was lauded for offering commercial-grade performance. 

Speed and Cutting

The Cricut Maker is a much more powerful machine, boasting 10 times the cutting power of the Explore Air 2. It cuts faster and through denser materials up to 2.4 millimeters. It has 4,000 grams of cutting force, which opens up a much wider variety of materials to use with your projects.

Functionality 

This machine also offers more blade options. Along with the three blades shared with the Explore Air 2, it also uses the knife blade, rotary blade and the scoring wheel. It has an adaptive tool system that makes changing the blades quicker and easier and eliminates your need to set a SmartSet dial. And the Maker automatically controls the blade’s pressure and direction.

You can use the Cricut Maker to deboss and engrave, two functions that the Explore Air 2 cannot perform. This is a much more robust machine. The Maker uses a dozen different insertable tools and blades, compared to the Air 2 that uses five.

Tablet and phone connectivity

The machine houses more storage than its predecessor and a docking slot where you can charge your phone or tablet while you work.

More projects and materials

Some of the added materials you can use to make projects include balsa wood, chipboard and many unbonded fabrics, totaling 300 different materials. That’s three times as many materials as the Air Explore 2. 

Cricut Maker Cons

Price

Because it does so much more than the Explore Air 2, the Cricut Maker is much more expensive, pricing out at $329. 

That said, when breaking down the cost, you’re not just getting a more capable machine. In addition to the Maker, you receive two 12-inch by 12-inch mats (a light grip mat and a fabric grip mat), a rotary blade along with the fine point blade, both with their housing units, a black fine point pen and instruction manuals. 

You also receive a few small pieces of materials for a practice project, a free 1 month trial of Cricut Access if you are a new subscriber and 50 free project designs.

Weight

The Cricut Maker is comparable in size to the Explore Air 2, but it weighs in at a hefty 30 pounds, making it a little more burdensome to transport.

No Increased Cutting Area 

The cutting area is still set at a maximum of 12 inches by 24 inches, which limits how big of materials you can use.

Which Cricut is right for you?

Buy the Cricut Explore Air 2 if you are a beginner or casual crafter or if you are on a limited budget. If you plan on using your machine primarily for paper, cardstock and vinyl projects and want to keep projects fairly simple, this is the machine for you.

Buy the Cricut Maker if you can afford to spend more money, want to take your crafting skills to a whole new level and are considering creating a business. If you want to cut thick materials such as wood, leather or fabrics, or if you want to create intricate designs, this is the machine for you.

Tammy Tilley is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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