Shopping for a Cricut? Compare Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore vs Cricut Joy and decide which is the best Cricut machine for you.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine. This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for details.
So, you want to buy a Cricut. But which one?
As someone who shares a lot of Cricut projects online, I am frequently asked which Cricut machine is the best. It can be difficult to choose which machine to buy and to understand the difference between each Cricut model. And that’s where today’s post comes in!
I put together this in-depth Cricut comparison guide to help you compare Cricut machines and choose the best one for you. We’ll dive into the similarities and differences between each machine and I’ll share some guidance on who each machine is best for.
Ready? This post is jam-packed with information and I hope it helps you decide which Cricut machine is best for you!
Bookmark this page! I will update this page any time a new Cricut machine is released or an old machine is discontinued. Hover over the image below to save this comparison guide to Pinterest so you have it for reference in the future!
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Table Of Contents
In a hurry? Use these clickable quick links to jump to specific sections (and to quickly refer back to them later).
- Cricut Basics
- Cricut Comparison Chart
- About Each Cricut Machine
- Conclusion: Which is the best Cricut machine?
Looking for more Cricut information? Take a look at my Mega Cricut Gift Guide – The Must-Have Accessories & Materials For Cricut Joy, Explore & Maker
What is a Cricut and what can it do?
First, you might be wondering what exactly a Cricut machine is. An easy way to think of it is that a Cricut is a lot like a printer only instead of printing designs using ink, a Cricut machine cuts designs using a small blade.
Beyond simply cutting designs out of paper, a Cricut can do so much more. Cricut machines have different tools that can cut, draw, print and cut, engrave, perforate, deboss, and add foil detailing. All from a machine smaller than most home printers!
And Cricut projects can go well beyond basic papercrafts. Cricut machines are capable of cutting things like thick leather, fabric, felt, thin wood, vinyl, aluminum, chipboard, and more. You can make projects like labels, greeting cards, clothing, party decorations, wedding favors, wall decor, jewelry, and much much more. Take a look at my project archives for some examples!
You can choose from a large library of 100,000+ pre-made designs, images, and fonts or design your project from scratch using the free Cricut Design Space software on your computer or mobile app. Many of the designs and fonts are free and some cost a small one-time fee. You can also get a Cricut Access subscription if you want access to even more pre-made designs and fonts.
Current Cricut Machines
There are currently five Cricut cutting machines on the market:
There are also a few machines that have been discontinued but are still supported by Cricut and work with the current version of Cricut Design Space. These include the Cricut Explore, Cricut Explore One, and Cricut Explore Air.
And there are several legacy machines that are no longer sold and no longer supported by Cricut. These include the Cricut Cake, Cricut Expression, Cricut Expression 2, Cricut Gypsy, and Cricut Personal.
Cricut Comparison Chart
I put together this handy comparison chart to help you compare Cricut machines at a glance. Click below to download the PDF.
About Each Cricut Machine
Here’s a little overview of each of the five current machines, along with some pros and cons to consider as you determine which Cricut is best for you.
What is the Cricut Joy?
The Cricut Joy is the smallest in the line-up of Cricut machines. It was released in 2020 and designed to be simple and easy to use. Its small, portable size is awesome for those limited on space for craft supplies.
The main thing to note about Cricut Joy is that its compact size means it has a maximum cutting width of 4.25 inches (the other machines can all cut up to 11.5+ inches wide). This may be a factor to consider depending on the size of projects you plan to create.
Cricut Joy uses “Smart Materials” so although your project width is somewhat limited, this machine can cut a continuous design up to 4 feet long (or 20-foot repeated designs).
What can you cut with a Cricut Joy?
The Cricut Joy cuts a wide range of materials including most of the long-time Cricut favorites plus the newer “Smart Materials”. Smart Materials don’t require a cutting mat which simplifies the cutting process and means you can cut longer designs.
With a Cricut Joy, you can cut most common materials like paper, cardstock, vinyl, iron-on, and sticker paper. Cricut Joy is the only machine with a specialty Card Mat that allows you to easily create greeting cards.
Cricut Joy is unable to cut some of the heavier materials like balsa wood, fabric, leather, and chipboard. It also can’t “print and cut”, a process where you print an image on your printer and then the Cricut scans it and cuts out specific sections of the design.
As far as tools go, the Joy is compatible with its cutting blade, pens, markers, and the foil transfer tool. It does not work with some of the specialty tools such as the knife, perforation, and engraving blades (most casual crafters won’t be hindered by this).
For a full list of materials compatible with Cricut Joy, take a look at this blog post.
Who is the Joy for?
Now let’s talk for a second about who exactly is a good fit for the Cricut Joy.
- Beginner Cricut users – The Joy is a great machine to start with if you’re brand new to Cricut. It’s beginner-friendly and easy to start creating right out of the box. Plus, it’s the most affordable machine.
- Moms – The Joy is quick to set up and fantastic for labeling backpacks, toy bins, water bottles, school supplies, sports gear, and more.
- Teachers – The Joy would be very useful in a classroom! Nametags, bulletin boards, labeling bins and supplies, etc.
- Kids & College Students – Between school projects, greeting cards, labeling school supplies, simple personalized gifts…even younger kids who are creative or tech-savvy would do well with this. And its portability is perfect to take with you to college.
- Professional Organizers – The Joy makes quick work of custom labels and it’s portability makes it perfect for toting around to jobs.
- Avid Cricut Users – Those who do frequent Cricut projects will find the Cricut Joy to be a nice companion to their larger Cricut machine(s). This petite machine is a nice addition to a Cricut craft room.
Cricut Joy Summary
Cricut Joy is a small machine great for beginners and casual crafters. Those who need a portable machine or don’t have a dedicated craft space will enjoy its compact size.
Cricut Joy has a smaller cutting width and can’t cut some of the heavier materials that other machines can, but most casual crafters won’t have an issue with these limitations.
As the most affordable machine in the Cricut family, the Joy is a great way to get started with Cricut. It’s also great for those who are already avid Cricut users as it can be a nice companion to the larger machines.
- Answers To Your Cricut Joy FAQs
- Cricut Joy Shopping Guide – What Supplies You Need & What You Don’t
- What is the Cricut Joy and what materials does it cut?
Cricut Maker 3
What is the Cricut Maker 3?
The Cricut Maker 3 was released in 2021 and is Cricut’s premium cutting machine. If you want a Cricut with all the bells and whistles, this is the one. It’s hands-down the most ultimate smart cutting machine on the market.
The main difference between the Cricut Maker 3 and the original Cricut Maker is that the Cricut Maker 3 can cut Smart Materials which means you can cut without a mat so you are not limited by your mat size. It also cuts up to 2x faster and is quieter than the original Cricut Maker.
Besides those differences, the Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Maker capabilities are the same. The Maker’s adaptive tool system was developed by Cricut to accommodate new tool types that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. The current assortment of Maker tools is already impressive and larger than the mid-tier Cricut Explore (more on that machine below).
With its array of tools, the Maker can cut the largest assortment of materials of all Cricut machines.
What can you cut with a Cricut Maker 3?
Cricut carries a very large selection of materials and the Maker 3 can cut all of them.
The Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Maker can cut thick materials (up to 3/32″) including balsa wood and thick leather thanks to its Knife Blade. It can also handle the most delicate materials such as thin crepe paper, tissue paper, etc.
Those who enjoy fabric and felt projects will love the Maker. Its Rotary Blade cuts felt and unbonded fabrics beautifully.
The Maker can also cut all sorts of specialty materials thanks to tools for engraving, debossing, scoring, wavy lines, and perforating.
For a full list of materials compatible with Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Maker, take a look at this blog post.
Who is the Cricut Maker 3 for?
If you are a serious crafter wanting to use a larger variety of materials, I would definitely recommend the Cricut Maker 3. It is the most powerful, versatile machine and will grow with you.
Here are some people I think are well-suited for the Cricut Maker 3:
- Serious Crafters Who Want It All – Crafters who work with a variety of materials and/or make large projects will love the versatility of the Maker 3. If you want a machine that does it all, this is the one!
- Small Businesses – If you sell your crafts, you’ll likely find the Maker 3 to be the best option for you. Its power, versatility and fast cutting speed are all pluses, as is the ability to work with a large assortment of materials.
- Sewists – Its fabric cutting capabilities and ability to handle both delicate fabrics and heavy-duty fabrics make the Maker 3 a no-brainer for those who work with fabric and soft materials.
- Woodworkers – For those who create wood projects or models, the Maker 3 offers the ability to cut a variety of thin wood materials.
- Leather Crafters – Those working with leather will enjoy the specialty tools of the Maker 3 and the ability to cut thick leather material.
Cricut Maker 3 Summary
At a price point of $399, the pro-level Maker 3 is an investment. But if you’re a serious crafter or someone who works with some of the specialty materials mentioned above, the Maker 3 is absolutely the best Cricut machine for you.
If you can afford it, you won’t regret this purchase. There’s no argument that this is the best cutting machine on the market.
What is the Cricut Maker?
The Cricut Maker was released in 2017 and an upgraded version, the Cricut Maker 3, was released in 2021.
The original Cricut Maker is still a fantastic machine and has almost all the same capabilities as the new Cricut Maker 3. The main difference is the original Cricut Maker cannot cut Smart Materials, meaning it is limiting to cutting materials that fit on a cutting mat.
The Maker is at the top of the Cricut lineup and a great choice for serious crafters and pro-level makers.
What can you cut with a Cricut Maker?
Besides the newer Smart Materials that don’t require a cutting mat, the original Cricut Maker can cut all of the types of materials Cricut carries. You can read more about those materials up above in the Cricut Maker 3 section, or check out this blog post for a full list of Cricut Maker compatible materials.
Who is the Cricut Maker for?
The Cricut Maker is for the same type of people as listed above in the Cricut Maker 3 section. These include serious crafters, small businesses, sewists, woodworkers, and leather crafters.
Cricut Maker Summary
For those wanting a top-of-the-line cutting machine that truly does it all, the Maker is the best on the market. You can’t go wrong with this purchase.
If you can afford it, I’d go ahead and spend the extra to get the newer Cricut Maker 3. But if you’re looking for savings, the original Cricut Maker is still an amazing way to get all of the premium Cricut capabilities (besides matless cutting) at a slightly lower price.
Related: What materials does the Cricut Maker cut?
Cricut Explore 3
What is the Cricut Explore 3?
The Cricut Explore 3 was released in 2021 and is Cricut’s new mid-level machine. In terms of features and price, it sits nicely as a middle option between the petite Cricut Joy and the premium Cricut Maker 3.
The Explore 3 is very similar to the older Explore Air 2, but it has been updated with a few new capabilities. The main difference between the Explore 3 and Explore Air 2 is that the new Explore 3 can cut without a mat using Cricut Smart Materials. Matless cutting means you are no longer limited to the length of your cutting mat and your machine can cut up to 12 feet of material at a time. The Explore 3 cuts up to 2x faster than the Explore Air 2.
The Explore 3 also received a few physical updates. With the Explore 3, you won’t have the older style dial on your machine and will instead select your material settings inside Cricut Design Space. It also has a slot inside the lid for propping up your phone or tablet, plus a larger tool cup.
Besides those differences, the Cricut Explore 3 and Cricut Explore Air 2 capabilities are the same. For those wanting a full-size Cricut machine at an affordable price point, the Cricut Explore 3 is a great value.
What can you cut with a Cricut Explore 3?
The Cricut Explore 3 and Cricut Explore Air 2 can both cut all of the popular Cricut materials that most crafters will be interested in. You can cut over 100 materials with this machine, and there are six tools for cutting, writing, scoring, and foil.
You’ll be able to cut paper, vinyl, iron-on, and more including light- to medium-weight fabrics (just note that, unlike the Maker’s capabilities to cut unbonded fabrics, you’ll need to stabilize your fabric with fusible interfacing first to cut it with your Explore 3).
Who is the Cricut Explore 3 for?
Crafters and DIYers who want a full-size machine for larger projects but don’t necessarily want or need to invest in the premium Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Maker will enjoy the Cricut Explore 3. This is the machine I recommend for most people.
If you plan to cut mostly paper, cardstock, vinyl, and iron-on then this is the machine for you. It can’t cut some of the more delicate or thicker materials, but that’s a non-issue for most users.
Here are some people that will enjoy the Cricut Explore 3:
- Crafters & DIYers – Those who enjoy a variety of crafty projects will love having the Explore 3 in their DIY toolbelt.
- Cricut Beginners – Those just getting started with Cricut and looking for a full-size, reliable machine at a good value.
- Paper Crafters – Crafters who primarily work with paper materials.
- Scrapbookers – Scrapbookers will be able to create all of the paper shapes and embellishments they want.
- Home Decor Enthusiasts – Those who enjoy decorating their home and want to make decor like wooden signs, vinyl decals, and DIY art.
- Teachers – Teachers looking to make bulletin board designs, nametags, labels, and classroom decor.
Cricut Explore 3 Summary
The Explore 3 is a great choice for those who enjoy a wide range of crafts and DIY projects. This machine is a good midway point between the petite, low-cost Cricut Joy and the advanced, pro-level Cricut Maker 3.
I recommend purchasing the Explore 3 over the older Explore Air 2 if you can afford it. Both are great machines, but the updated features and new matless cutting ability make the Explore 3 an appealing choice. But if you’re already pushing your budget, the Explore Air 2 will still give you the popular Cricut features you’re looking for at a lower price point.
Cricut Explore Air 2
What is the Cricut Explore Air 2?
The Explore Air 2 has been Cricut’s most popular machine for years. Due to the launch of the new Cricut Explore 3 in 2021, the price is now even lower on the Explore Air 2. The Explore machines are in the middle of the Cricut line-up.
The older Explore Air 2 is still an all-around fantastic machine for those wanting to get into Cricut crafting. Like I mentioned up above about the Explore 3, these two machines have very similar capabilities. The main difference is the older Explore Air 2 cannot cut matless Smart Materials, meaning you’re limited to the length of your cutting mat.
While matless cutting and a few other upgrades are nice, I personally do not consider them must-haves. I do think the new Explore 3 is worth buying over the older Explore Air 2 model if cost isn’t an issue. But if you’re on a budget, the Explore Air 2 is still a great machine and gets you all of the popular Cricut features for a great price.
What can you cut with a Cricut Explore Air 2?
Besides the new Smart Materials that don’t require a cutting mat, the Cricut Explore Air 2 can cut all of the popular Cricut materials. You can read more about its cutting capabilities up above in the Explore 3 section.
Who is the Cricut Explore Air 2 for?
The Explore Air 2 is for the same type of people as I listed in the Explore 3 section up above. This list includes crafters and DIYers, Cricut beginners, paper crafters, scrapbookers, home decor enthusiasts, and teachers.
Cricut Explore Air 2 Summary
Most crafters will find everything they need in the Explore machines. This mid-level machine is what I recommend to most people. After the release of the Explore 3 in 2021, the older Explore Air 2 price dropped which makes it an awesome value buy.
If you’re looking for a Cricut machine that can handle a wide range of craft projects at a great price, this is the machine for you.
If you can afford the newer Explore 3, I recommend spending the extra to get the upgraded model. But if you’re really looking for a basic Cricut at a low price point, the Explore Air 2 is a great option and will give you the ability to do the most common Cricut crafts.
Conclusion: Which is the best Cricut Machine?
My personal favorite Cricut machine?
If you’re asking me personally, my personal go-to machine is the Cricut Joy. It’s a perfect fit for the kinds of quick, smaller projects I like to make such as vinyl labels and greeting cards. Plus, it’s small and quick to set up which works great for me since I’m usually working at the kitchen island or on projects around the house (no fancy craft room here).
I also own the Cricut Maker and it really is the ultimate cutting machine. I’ve created some neat projects with leather and balsa wood using my Maker, and if I could only keep one machine I’d keep my Maker since it can essentially do every project my Joy can plus so much more.
Which Cricut should I buy?
This really depends on your personal needs and preferences, plus your budget. You honestly can’t go wrong with any of the Cricut machines, they are all amazing crafting tools.
For the majority of people who want to make popular projects like vinyl labels, iron-on designs, and papercrafts, the Cricut Explore 3 is what I recommend. If you’re a casual crafter who wants to do a range of projects, this machine is very versatile while still being more affordable than the premium Cricut Maker 3.
With that said, I listed some people in each section above that I think will love each of the different machines.
A lot of my readers are really into organizing, and if your primary goal is to create pretty vinyl labels and the occasional greeting card then I recommend the smaller, more affordable Cricut Joy.
On the other hand, if you want a machine with all the bells and whistles that can grow with you then the Cricut Maker 3 is definitely the way to go.
If you have any questions about choosing a Cricut machine that’s best for you, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help! You’re also welcome to message me on Instagram and we can chat there.
Looking for more Cricut information? Take a look at my Mega Cricut Gift Guide – The Must-Have Accessories & Materials For Cricut Joy, Explore & Maker
Have a fantastic day!
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