The Best Cricut Machine 2022

This article contains affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support! Read our full disclosure here.
  • Cricut is the most popular and beginner-friendly brand of craft cutting machines
  • Cricut cutters allow you to create professional-looking results for projects using vinyl, cardstock, paper, fabric, and hundreds of other materials
  • There are 3 current models, including 2 newly designed machines: which is the best Cricut for you?
cricut maker 3 thumbnail

Maker 3

  • Most advanced Cricut
  • 13 tools including engraving and debossing
  • Cuts the widest range of materials including fabric, crepe paper, and wood
  • Matless cutting of Smart Materials

Explore 3

  • Beginner-friendly Cricut
  • 5 different tools
  • Cuts a wide range of vinyl, paper, and cardstock
  • Matless cutting of Smart Materials

Joy

  • Specialty Cricut
  • 2 tools
  • Fast cardmaking, decal cutting, and label making
  • Tiny and portable
  • Matless cutting of Smart Materials

You’re here because you’ve heard about Cricut machines and all the cool stuff they can do, right?

Cricut machines are computer-controlled cutters that can cut hundreds of different materials (paper, cardstock, vinyl, fabric, even wood) to make stickers, decals, mugs, T-shirt designs, cards, small sewing projects, models, scrapbooking materials, and any other project you can imagine.

Cricut machines can also be used to write and draw, score, do foil embellishment, and one of their machines (the Maker 3) has even more capabilities – engraving and debossing.

As of June 2021, Cricut has redesigned its two main machines: the Explore Air 2 has been replaced by the Explore 3, and the Maker 3 replaces the original Maker. The Joy got a nifty new tool but no machine update.

Each of the 3 current Cricut machines has its own strengths, and they vary in terms of what they can do and which materials they can handle. We’ve created this guide to introduce you to the Cricut lineup and to help you choose which one is right for you!

Cricut Maker 3: Best for Advanced Craft Cutting

cricut maker 3 thumbnail

Cricut Maker 3 Specs

  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats
    • matless cutting, up to 12 feet long (Smart Materials only)
    • cuts materials up to 2.4 mm thick
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.1″ x 7.1″ x 6.2″
  • Machine Weight: 15.4 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Capabilities: cut, write/draw, engrave, deboss, perforate, score, foil embellishment
  • Materials cut: 300+; paper, vinyl, crepe and tissue paper, fabric of all kinds, cardstock, wood…

The Maker was introduced by Cricut in 2017, envisioned as the ultimate version of the company’s cutting machines. The Maker 3 has added matless cutting, but the three unique features that distinguish Makers from other Cricut machines remains the same:

  • The Adaptive Tool System allows next-level, precision control of the Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, and QuickSwap tools; this technology is unique to the Maker and is not found in any other craft cutter
  • QuickSwap Tools allow fast blade changes to easily go from one tool type to another
  • Expanded capabilities – tools (and the motors that control them) exclusive to the Maker 3 allow for cutting of both thicker materials like wood, and more delicate materials like light fabrics and crepe paper; in addition to cutting, the Maker 3 can deboss and engrave

What’s Included with the Maker 3?

  • Maker 3 machine
  • Power adapter
  • USB cable
  • Fine-Point Blade and housing
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access
  • 100 ready-to-make projects in Design Space
  • Materials for a practice project

Cricut Maker 3’s included tool

  • Fine Point Blade for cutting vinyl and paper

6 optional tools for the Maker

  • Rotary Blade + drive housing for cutting fabric and delicate papers
  • Knife Blade + drive housing for cutting dense materials up to 3/32” (2.4 mm) thick
  • Deep Point Blade for intricate cuts on thick material
  • Bonded Fabric Blade for cutting fabric with a backing material
  • Scoring Stylus
  • NEW Sept. 2020  – Foil Transfer Tool for adding foil embellishments to cardstock and paper

Cricut Maker 3’s 6 optional QuickSwap tools

The Maker was the game-changer of the craft cutting world. There are plenty of cutting machines that cut using drag knives (like Cricut’s Fine Point, Deep Point, and Bonded Fabric Blades), but the Maker’s Rotary and Knife Blades really kicked the doors wide open for a whole array of new materials. The Maker 3 has all of these capabilities and more.

Cricut Maker 3 Blades and Tools

Combined with a drive motor capable of delivering 4000 g of downward pressure, the Rotary Blade can cut the most delicate of materials (gossamer, chiffon, lace, crepe or tissue paper), materials that have stretch (lycra, rib knits, jersey), and heavy fabric (denim, burlap, oilcloth, felt, monk’s cloth).

The Knife Blade can cut thicker, dense materials like balsa wood, basswood, chipboard, and matboard.

[Note that Knife Blade projects are not compatible with iOS or Android devices. This is because the Knife Blade works by making multiple passes over thick material, requiring increased time over Bluetooth connection to complete the cuts, which would prevent the use of mobile devices for a long period of time (see here for an explanation of Knife Blade cut times).]

Do you want to engrave metal tags or bracelets, deboss a fancy design for your wedding invitations, create a book of perforated tickets, or create beautiful borders on your cutting projects? QuickSwap tools have expanded the Maker’s capabilities into all kinds of crafting.

The QuickSwap tool system was introduced with the rotary scoring wheels (there are two, a single and a double scoring wheel), then in July 2019, four additional QuickSwap tools were released: the engraving, debossing, perforation, and wavy blade tips. The QuickSwap system allows you to easily switch from one tool type to another, and the system allows Cricut to expand the Maker toolset without an entire machine redesign.

The Maker 3 can also use the Foil Transfer Tool, which adds to the already-impressive papercraft toolset for this machine (scoring wheel, debossing, perforation, and wavy blade tips).

Other Cricut Maker 3 Features: upgrades and matless cutting

Print Then Cut

Like the Explore 3, the Maker 3 can do Print then Cut. Using Design Space, you can create printable image(s), send it to print on your inkjet printer, and then cut out the image(s) using your Maker 3. According to Cricut, the sensors in the Maker 3 have been redesigned and are more advanced, allowing better detection and accurate contour cutting of images on colored backgrounds (like colored paper and cardstock). You are still limited to a 6.75″ x 9.25″ maximum image size.

Fast Mode

The original Maker, like the Explore Air 2, can do certain cutting jobs at 2X the normal speed using the Fast Mode option (which shows up as a toggle switch in Design Space when you make your project). Fast Mode can be used for some vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock projects.

The Maker 3 has done away with optional Fast Mode, and automatically cuts at higher Fast Mode speeds when cutting certain materials on a mat. The new machine also cuts at increased speeds when doing matless cutting using Smart Materials.

Maker 3 Matless cutting with Smart Materials™

Matless cutting is a new feature for the Maker 3, but it can only be used with Cricut’s own Smart Materials, which were originally developed for the Joy. The Maker 3 can cut Smart Vinyl, Smart Iron-On, and Smart Paper Sticker Cardstock without a mat.

Smart Materials are 13″ wide (the same width as a Cricut cutting mat), although the cutting area of the Smart Materials is still just 11.7″ wide. You need to cut a minimum of 6″ length of these materials in order to cut without a mat, but then you can cut up to 4 feet of Smart Iron-On, and up to 12 feet of Smart Vinyl. The Maker 3 will actually run your loaded Smart Material through the machine to measure and make sure you have enough length for your project before it begins to cut.

Cricut roll feeder in action. source: cricut.com

If you want to do a lot of large matless cutting projects, you might like the separate Roll Holder with built-in crosscutter that attaches to the lowered front of Maker 3 machine. The roll holder can organize and align rolls of Smart Vinyl from 4 to 75 ft long and is sold separately for $49.99.

Mobile device charging

The Maker and Maker 3 both have a USB charging port right on the machine so you can charge your mobile device during operation. This port is not a data transfer port, however.

What We Like

  • Huge number of tools allows for all kinds of different crafting, not just cutting
  • Cuts fabric and delicate materials with ease
  • Good investment

What We Don’t Like

  • No longer includes Rotary Blade with purchase

Cricut Explore 3: Best for Beginners

Cricut Explore 3 Specs

  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, materials up to 2 mm thick; matless cutting up to 12 feet long (Smart Materials only)
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.17″ x 7.01″ x 5.91″
  • Machine Weight: 10.98 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Capabilities: cut, write/draw, score, foil embellishment
  • Materials cut: 100+; paper, vinyl, bonded fabric, cardstock…

The Explore Air 2 was Cricut’s most popular machine, and the newly designed Explore 3 expands on its predecessor’s capabilities. While lacking the enormous tool range and specialty cutting capabilities of the Maker, the Explore 3 is still more than capable of handling paper, cardstock, and vinyl. The Explore 3 has the same ability as the Maker 3 to do Print then Cut and matless cutting of Smart Materials.

Ideal for beginners, the Explore 3 has a streamlined tool set for crafting with the most popular materials: 3 different blades, the Scoring Stylus, and the awesome Foil Transfer Tool. Like the Maker 3, the Explore 3’s dual tool carriage allows you to cut and score or cut and write without changing tools, and Cricut Design Space automatically matches cutting force to material and tool type – no need to guess.

If you are looking for a workhorse for papercrafting and vinyl cutting, the Explore 3 may be right for you.

What’s Included with the Cricut Explore 3?

  • Explore 3 machine
  • Power cord
  • USB cable
  • Fine-point blade and housing
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access
  • 100 free ready-to-make projects
  • Material for a practice cut

Cricut Explore 3 Included tool

  • Fine Point Blade for cutting vinyl and paper

Cricut Explore 3 optional tools

  • Deep Point Blade for intricate cuts on thick material
  • Bonded Fabric Blade for cutting fabric with a backing material like interfacing
  • Scoring Stylus
  • NEW Sept. 2020  – Foil Transfer Tool for adding foil embellishments to cardstock and paper

Explore 3 blades and tools

The blades used for the Explore 3 are drag knives, a type of blade that is used in a wide variety of cutting machines. They are known as 30 degree (Bonded Fabric Blade), 45 degree (Fine Point Blade), and 60 degree (Deep Point Blade) blades (often called Roland or vinyl cutter blades). Replacement drag knives are sold in inexpensive multi-packs on cricut.com or Amazon.

These blades are more than enough to make cards, stickers, decals, gift tags, cake toppers, banners, labels, nail decals, gift boxes, paper flowers, etc.

The Explore 3 can also use the Foil Transfer Tool, which I highly recommend if you want to take your papercrafting to the next level. The Scoring Stylus is also an excellent papercraft tool.

Explore 3 Extra Features

The Explore Air 2 had Fast Mode to cut at twice regular speed. Fast Mode can be used when cutting simple designs without a lot of detail out of some vinyl, iron-on, or cardstock. The new Explore 3 has automated fast mode speeds for cutting select materials on a mat, and runs at even faster speeds for matless cutting of Smart Materials.

Thanks to improved optical scanners, the new Explore 3 can do Print then Cut on both white and colored materials like paper, printable vinyl, magnet sheets and cardstock, so you can use your inkjet printer to produce images that the machine can scan and cut around (contour cutting).

Explore 3 Matless cutting with Smart Materials™

The Explore 3 has every matless cutting capability that the Maker 3 does: it can cut Smart Paper sticker cardstock, Smart Iron-On, and Smart Vinyl without a mat. It can cut these Smart Materials as fast as the Maker 3, at twice the speed of previous machines.

As I said in the Maker 3 section above, you can cut up to 4 ft of Smart Iron-On or 12 ft of Smart Vinyl (adhesive vinyl) at a time to make big batches of decals or shirt designs, or to make large signs, wall decals, and banners. The new Cricut Roll Holder (sold separately) also fits onto the opened front panel of the Explore 3 machine.

Does the Explore 3 use cartridges?

No, the Explore 3 does not use cartridges at all, it exclusively uses Design Space for all projects, fonts, and images. It also has no dock for old cartridges.

What We Like

  • Basic toolset can do a huge number of projects
  • Easy to learn
  • Great for papercrafting and vinyl projects without being too expensive

What We Don’t Like

  • Not very good at cutting any kind of fabric

Cricut Joy: Best Specialty and Portable Cutter

Cricut Joy Specs

  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 4.5” x 6” or  4.5” x 12” mats, or matless cutting up to 20 feet
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 8.40″ x 4.25″ x 5.50″
  • Machine Weight: 3.85 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Capabilities: cut, write/draw
  • Materials cut: 50+; paper, vinyl, cardstock…

Are you intimidated by the complexity of the Explore 3 and the Maker 3? Do you feel like you’ll never get around to doing anything if there is too much of a learning curve? Confused by too many tool options? Or maybe you just want a tiny, portable cutter that makes small projects fast and easy. The Joy is actually a very popular choice for people who already have Explore or Maker machines, but want a machine to do quick jobs with less setup hassle.

The Joy was introduced in March 2020. This compact cutter weighs in at under 4 pounds and is made to be ultra-portable. If you want an easy way to make cards, stickers, and decals, the Joy just may be the right fit for you! The only caveat is, the single tool holder means that you must switch between the blade and pen or Foil Tool, and the Joy does not do print and cut, so you won’t be able to make printed stickers to cut out. But if you want to do a lot of small projects – cards, stickers, and decals – then the Joy is a great choice!

What’s Included with the Cricut Joy?

  • Joy machine
  • Power adapter
  • Joy blade and housing (Joy blade is machine-specific)
  • Fine-point pen (black, 0.4 mm; special Joy-only pen)
  • 4.5” x 6.5” StandardGrip Mat
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access
  • 50 free ready-to-make projects
  • Materials for a practice cut

Included Cricut Joy tool

  • Cricut Joy Blade

Recommended Cricut Joy accessories

Like a lot of Joy accessories, the Card Mat is exclusively for the Joy and is used with Cricut’s insert cards. Because the Joy has a smaller cutting area, cards are inserted in a folded position, with front and back of the card separated by a clear divider that is sticky on one side. If you give a lot of cards, this clever mat and Cricut insert cards could save you a ton of time and money. Plus, the mat is a great deal, with a retail price of only $5.99 at cricut.com.

Since the Joy is a fantastic way to make cards and gift tags, I also recommend the Foil Transfer Kit for this machine. This tool can really create beautiful embellishments for all of your paper crafting, which is where I think the Joy really shines.

If you want to use the Joy to do a lot of cardmaking, the Insert Card Bundle comes with a 5-pack (!) of card mats, 4 different insert card sets, and 6 Joy-only pens.

Special Cricut Joy accessories and Smart Materials

The Cricut Joy uses Joy-specific tools and accessories that do not fit any other machine. It requires a proprietary Cricut Joy blade, and has its own Foil Transfer Kit that Maker and Explore machines can’t use. Even the pens and markers for the Joy are exclusive to that machine.

Along with the Joy, Cricut introduced its first suite of Smart Materials, which have a special backing that allows them to feed directly into the Joy, allowing matless cutting. You can choose from Smart Label Writable Paper, Smart Label Writable Vinyl, Smart Paper Sticker Cardstock, and multiple types of Smart Vinyl and Smart Iron-On.

The Joy can cut a single image of 4.5″ wide and 4 feet long, and can make up to 20 feet of repeated cuts. So if you want to make a series of decals or labels, or one big banner, just load a roll of your Smart Material and get your project done fast!

What We Like

  • Ultra-fast cardmaking
  • Take it anywhere
  • Easy to set up and use right out of the box

What We Don’t Like

  • Very narrow material width
  • No print then cut

Cricut Maker 3 vs Cricut Maker Original: what’s the difference?

Cricut Maker vs Maker 3. source: cricut.com

As of this writing, it is still possible to get an original Cricut Maker through cricut.com, Amazon, and other sellers. Given the dependence of all Cricut machines on Design Space and firmware updates, we are at the mercy of Cricut as to how long older machines will continue to be supported, but since Cricut themselves are still selling them, I think they’re still OK.

Here’s what I love about the first Maker: you get extras right out of the box that you don’t get with the Maker 3.

Included with the original Maker:

  • Maker machine
  • Power cord
  • USB cable
  • Fine-point blade and housing 
  • Rotary blade and drive housing (a $35 value)
  • Fine-point pen (black) and accessory adapter 
  • 12” x 12” LightGrip Mat
  • 12″ x 12″ FabricGrip™ Mat 
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access
  • 50 free ready-to-make projects, including 25 sewing patterns
  • Materials for a practice project

Given how low the prices are right now for the Maker, I like this deal because you get the Rotary Blade and 2 mats. As of this writing, you can still get great deals on the Essentials or Everything Materials bundles, too, which include loads of extras – trust me, you can never have too many mats.

What are the new features offered with the Maker 3 that the old one doesn’t have? There are new motors and new optical scanners in the Maker 3, which allow for faster operation and more accurate Print then Cut. In practical terms, the area for print and cut hasn’t increased, so you’re not really getting a huge improvement. In terms of speed, the Maker 3 is only faster than the Maker when doing matless cutting of Smart Materials.

If you want to do a lot of matless cutting with the new Smart Materials, I’d say that’s the biggest difference between Maker machines. Can you imagine yourself wanting to quickly cut big designs from adhesive vinyl for signs or decals? Or perhaps you’d like to cut multiple Smart Iron-On designs for team or family T-shirts? The Maker 3 adds larger-scale project making to its repertoire of abilities.

Cricut Explore 3 vs Explore Air 2: what’s the difference?

Cricut Explore Air 2 vs Explore 3. source: cricut.com

Like the Maker, you can still buy the Explore Air 2 from cricut.com, Amazon, and other sellers for a steep discount. So is this a deal you should jump at?

The styling and many features of the new Explore 3 are quite a departure from the Explore Air 2. The Explore 3 no longer has a Smart Set Dial on the exterior of the machine, making it look a lot more streamlined, like the Maker 3. All material settings are now adjusted in Design Space, which is fine since you end up having to do that quite a bit with the Air 2 anyway.

Another feature subtracted from the Explore 3 is the docking port for old cartridges; in its place is a bigger storage cup for tools and accessories. The Explore Air 2 has a dock for cartridges so you can transfer your old projects to your account. If you have cartridges from an older Cricut machine (Explore, Explore One, Explore Air), then only the Explore Air 2 can be used to transfer them into Design Space.

[PSA: if you link your old cartridges to your Cricut account, don’t throw the cartridges away! If for some reason your linked cartridges go missing from your Cricut account, support may ask you to send photos from each cartridge.]

Another styling change? The Explore 3 currently only comes in one color, seafoam, which is nice but I miss the huge color selection of the old Air 2 machines. I expect more colors will probably be added to the lineup eventually. There is also a little tray on the inside of the lid to hold your mobile device, which was a feature only the Maker had before.

The addition of matless cutting of Smart Materials is the most obvious upgrade for the Explore 3, but the new machine also features improved optical scanners so you can now do Print then Cut on colored materials rather than just white.

Unlike the Maker vs Maker 3, there isn’t a big difference in what you get with the Air 2 vs the Explore 3. You get a mat and a pen, and half as many projects.

Included with the Explore Air 2:

  • Cricut Explore Air 2 machine
  • Premium Fine-Point Blade + Housing
  • Fine Point Pen, Black
  • LightGrip Mat, 12″ x 12″
  • USB cable
  • Power adapter
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access (for new subscribers)
  • 50 ready-to-make projects
  • Materials for a practice project

Bottom line: The Explore 3 is a pretty big departure from the Explore Air 2, and now matches the Maker 3 for superior speed, optical scanning, and matless cutting. But the Explore Air 2 is still a great machine and you can get an Explore Air 2 Everything Bundle for less than the price of just the Explore 3.

Is a Cricut worth it?

Maybe you’ve already looked at Cricut machines and wondered if they are worth the money. What does this brand have to offer?

There are lots of digital cutters out there for a lot of different prices. Craft cutters like Cricuts, Silhouettes, the Brother ScanNCut, etc. are typically within the $200-400 range. More small business-focused cutting machines (Roland, GraphTec, US Cutter, GCC, etc.) are often larger-format but have a smaller range of capabilities – they are meant for high-volume cutting of fewer materials (mainly vinyl) – and they typically run well into the thousands of dollars.

In my opinion, Cricut machines are well-priced for the range of functionality they offer. You can’t cut fabric, wood, or crepe paper with a more ‘professional’ cutting machine, and Cricuts do a heck of a lot for a reasonable price.

Cricut: the most popular craft cutting machine brand

Cricut is a great choice for a craft cutting machine because Cricut is massively popular. Cricut machines and accessories routinely top Amazon’s bestseller lists in their category – this brand is not going anywhere.

When you buy a Cricut, you are joining a huge community of users. Cricut has over 2.6 million followers on Facebook, 1.3 million followers on Instagram, and over 10 million monthly views on Pinterest.

Looking for inspiration, feedback, or troubleshooting? There are thousands of other Cricut owners out there who can help, beyond Cricut’s own support. But if you do need Cricut’s support, you can get help via chat, e-mail, or by phone.

Design Space: Cricut’s easy-to-use software

All Cricut cutters use Cricut Design Space software, a basic but beginner-friendly app that functions on Windows and Mac computers and Android and iOS (iphone/ipad) wireless devices.

Cricut Design Space is where you can create, import, or purchase design projects for cutting/writing. Design Space is free, allows you to import svg (image) files, and is very easy to learn.

You might have seen other reviews stating that you can’t use Design Space without an internet connection, but that information is out of date. As of December 2019, Cricut Design Space was reintroduced as a desktop app that allows you to use Design Space without an internet connection.

The Cricut Maker 3 and Explore 3 can connect to devices either wirelessly via Bluetooth or using a USB connection. The Joy only connects wirelessly.

Try before you buy: You don’t have to wonder how Design Space works before you buy a machine. You can download Cricut Design Space for free here, and see how you like it before you purchase a Cricut. I highly recommend trying it out and seeing just how easy it is!

The Design Space manual for PC and Mac can be found here.

And for iOS/mobile here.

Conclusion

Cricut is the current king of craft cutters for a very good reason – they make sleek, stylish high-performance cutting machines that fit a variety of needs. Whether you’re a beginner just starting to learn how to use a smart cutter, an experienced crafter looking to expand your toolset, or a home business user needing a vinyl- and paper-cutting workhorse, one of Cricut’s three current machines will fit the bill.

Leave a Comment