Compared: Cricut Maker line vs Cricut Explore line

Whether you’re a passionate crafter or starting your own small business and want to handle the merchandising yourself, Cricut machines can help you create some truly impressive projects. Here’s how each model compares to the next and which one you should check out.

Cricut Creator

Maybe you’ve known Cricut for a while, from marketing the company to crafters. Or maybe you’ve only recently seen them at your local big box store and are suddenly interested in what this machine can do.

If you’re looking for one of these devices, we’ve compiled a helpful guide that walks you through the differences between the machines, which can help you make a more informed buying choice based on your needs.

The Cricut lineup at a glance

There are a few things to keep in mind before buying a Cricut. First, you need to make sure you have enough space, as most machines can be quite large.

Second, of course, you’ll want to make sure the machine you buy works for the projects you want to complete. If you plan to cut primarily paper, vinyl, and card stock, a model from the Explore line will work well here.

Cricut Explorer 3 |  Image Credit: Cricut
Cricut Explorer 3 | Image Credit: Cricut

For cutting thicker materials – or if you need to cut fabric – the Cricut Maker Series will be a better bet.

If you’re new to machine cutting or want to buy a machine for a younger member of your family, the Cricut Joy might be for you too.

It’s a smaller, more portable machine that you can use to complete smaller projects. For example, the Cricut Joy is primarily used to cut smaller stickers and decals, cards, and labels.

Here’s a handy chart that provides a bit of machine information at a glance:

Cricut Joy Cricut Explorer Air 2 Cricut Explorer 3 Cricut Creator CricutMaker 3
8x4x4 22.6 x 7.1 x 6.2 22.6 x 7.1 x 6.2 24×9.5×9.5 22.1 x 7.1 x 6.2
(pound sterling)
3.9 10.9 10.9 10.7 15.4
Maximum material width
4.5 12 13 12 13
Maximum cutting length
20 1.9 12 1.9 12
Hardware compatibility Basic,
Specific smart materials
Basic Basic,
Smart materials
Smart materials
Tools 3 6 6 13 13
Print then cut function No Yes Yes Yes Yes

Cricut Tools

Cricut allows users to quickly swap various tools to multitask. Most of these tools are miscellaneous knives and blades, but the Cricut can do more than just cut.

In fact, the Cricut draws, marks, punches, engraves, debosses and can also do sheet transfers – depending on the machine.

Tools that work on both Explore and Maker ranges

Whichever machine you choose – with the exception of the Cricut Joy – there are a few tools that work with both machines. These include:

  • Fine tip blade
  • Deep point blade
  • Bonded fabric blade
  • Notation pen
  • Cricut branded pens and markers
  • Foil Transfer Tips

Maker Exclusive Tools

However, in addition to the tools listed above, the Cricut Maker line has several other tools it can use. These include:

  • Pointing wheel
  • Double pointing wheel
  • Wavy blade
  • Knife’s blade
  • Rotating blade
  • engraving tip
  • Debossing Tip

Tools compatible with Cricut Joy

Because the Cricut Joy is smaller, it actually only takes Cricut Joy branded tools. He cannot use any of the tools that work with other machines.

Cricut Joy
Cricut Joy | Image Credit: Cricut

Tools that work with Cricut Joy are:

  • Cricut Joy Blade
  • Cricut Joy Sheet Transfer Kit
  • Cricut Joy Markers

Compatible materials

Although Cricut does not use “basic” or “advanced” terminology, it should be noted that there is a fairly significant difference between the Explore and Maker lines. The Maker lines, for example, can cut over 300 materials, while the Explore line cuts around 100.

You’re probably still wondering what basic and advanced materials are, so we’ll break down what that means below.

Basic materials

Most average craft projects are going to involve basic materials. These are materials that can be cut with either the fine or deep point blades, and they include:

  • Vinyl including iron-on, permanent, removable, metallic, stencil, chalkboard and whiteboard vinyl
  • Card stock, including but not limited to glitter, foil, and textured card stock, as well as photo paper
  • Adhesive sheets
  • Certain fabrics, including burlap, bonded fabrics (fabrics to which an adhesive adheres, making them stiffer), paper-thin faux leather, thin felt, iron-on fabric, thin leather and suede
  • Mylar
  • Gift wrap

The general rule of thumb is that if you think you can cut it relatively easily with a box cutter, you might be able to figure out how to cut it with a Cricut Explore machine.

Advanced materials

There may be cases where you want to cut through unglued fabrics or particularly difficult materials. For that, you’re going to want to snag a machine from the Maker range. The Maker can process all base materials, as well as:

  • Softwoods up to 2.4mm thick, including balsa and basswood
  • Wood veneers
  • Craft foam
  • Loose fabrics (using the rotary blade)
  • Particle board up to 2 mm thick
  • Mat up to 1.5 mm thick
  • Workplan
  • Leathers up to 2.4 mm thick

Typically, these materials require specialized blades, such as the Rotary Blade for loose fabrics or the Cricut Knife Blade for thick materials.

Additionally, the Cricut Maker can engrave soft metals, engrave leather and paper, and use tools such as the Perforation Blade and Wavy Blade.

Smart materials

Cricut has also created a new line of materials called “Smart Materials”. They are designed to be used without a cutting mat, which means they can have a much longer maximum cut.

This is especially useful when you need to make a cut longer than 1.9 feet. In fact, you can cut up to 12 feet in one go using Smart Materials. However, this is only useful if you are creating banners, signs, or wall art.

Smart materials are available in a variety of material types, including vinyl, self-adhesive, and iron-on types.

Only the Cricut Explore 3 and Cricut Maker 3 are compatible with the main line of Smart Materials. There is, however, a limited range of smart materials specific to Cricut Joy.

The app

All Cricut machines, including Cricut Joy, can use Cricut Design Space. It is the only software that can be used to control your Cricut.

Design Space is available on Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad and Android.

We go into detail in our Cricut Maker review on Cricut Design Space.

Go big or go home

In our opinion, it’s probably better to buy from the Cricut Maker range rather than something from the Explore range. Often, Amazon and Cricut have sales that make the price between the Cricut Maker and the Cricut Air Explore 2 somewhat negligible.

Unless you plan on creating wall art or signage, the Maker 3 isn’t a significant upgrade from the Maker. The slightly faster cutting speed coupled with the ability to use the smart materials isn’t worth the extra $150.

Unless you have a very small space or only plan to cut small projects, the Cricut Joy is probably a bit too limited for the average home user.

If you want to snag your own Cricut, you can get the following machines from the Cricut website or with two-day shipping on Amazon:

Cricut Explore Air 2: Available from $179.00, with price variations depending on color
Cricut Explorer 3: Available from $249.00.
Cricut Creator: Available from $229.00, with some price variations depending on color
CricutMaker 3: Available from $378.00.
Cricut Joy: Available from $119.00

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Virginia C. Taylor