The Best Cricut Machine 2020

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  • Cricut is the most popular 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: which is the best Cricut machine for you?
cricut maker vs cameo 4
  • Most advanced Cricut
  • Sophisticated and precise
  • 12 different tools
  • Cuts the widest range of materials, including fabric, crepe paper, and wood
  • Most popular Cricut
  • Beginner-friendly
  • 4 different tools
  • Cuts a wide range of vinyl, paper, and cardstock
cricut joy portable vinyl cutter
  • Newest Cricut
  • Tiny and portable
  • 1 tool
  • Fast cardmaking and matless cutting

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 used to cut hundreds of different materials (paper, cardstock, vinyl, fabric, even wood) to make stickers, decals, T-shirt designs, cards, small sewing projects, models, scrapbooking materials, and virtually any other project you can imagine.

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

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: Best for Advanced Craft Cutting

Cricut Maker Specs

  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, materials up to 2.4 mm thick
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.6" x 7.09" x 6.22"
  • Machine Weight: 23.9 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Capabilities: cut, write/draw, engrave, deboss, perforate, score
  • 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 offers 3 unique features compared to other Cricut cutters:

  • New cutting technology: the Adaptive Tool System cuts differently from the Explore Air 2 and Joy, and offers the most precise cutting capabilities
  • QuickSwap Tools allow fast blade changes to easily go from one tool type to another
  • Expanded tool set – tools exclusive to the Maker 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 can deboss and engrave

What's Included with the Cricut Maker?

  • Maker machine
  • Power cord
  • USB cable
  • Fine-point blade and housing 
  • Rotary blade and drive housing
  • 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

Cricut Maker's 2 included tools

  • Rotary blade + drive housing for cutting fabric without backer material
  • Fine Point Blade for cutting vinyl and paper

Cricut Maker's 4 optional tools

  • 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's 6 optional new QuickSwap tools

The Maker is 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.

Cricut Maker Blades and Tools

Combined with a drive motor capable of delivering 4000 g of cut 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 papercrafting, 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 wheel (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.  

Other Cricut Maker Features

Like the Explore Air 2, the Maker 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. The Maker has a more advanced sensor to detect printed images, so you can use colored materials like paper or cardstock.

Like the Explore Air 2, the Maker can do certain cutting jobs at 2X the normal speed using Fast Mode. Fast Mode can be used for vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock projects. 

Another new feature of the Maker: it has a charging port right on the machine so you can charge your mobile device during operation. 


What We Like

  • Huge number of tools
  • Cuts fabric and delicate materials with ease
  • Good investment

What We Don't Like

  • No matless cutting

Three options to buy
the Cricut Maker:

Cricut Explore Air 2: Best for Beginners

Cricut Explore Air 2 Specs

  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, materials up to 2 mm thick
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.17" x 6.99" x 5.97"
  • Machine Weight: 21 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Capabilities: cut, write/draw, score
  • Materials cut: 100+; paper, vinyl, bonded fabric, cardstock... 

The Explore Air 2 is Cricut’s most popular machine, and it’s easy to see why. For a moderate price, the Explore Air 2 does a great job of cutting a wide array of paper, vinyl, and cardstock, the backbone of scrapbooking and other popular crafting projects.

Like the Maker, the Explore Air 2’s dual tool carriage allows you to cut and score or cut and write without changing tools, and the Smart Set Dial and Cricut Design Space automatically match cutting force to material and blade type – no need to guess.

Ideal for beginners, the Explore Air 2 has a streamlined tool set for cutting the most popular materials: 3 different blades and the scoring stylus.

What's Included with the Cricut Explore Air 2?

  • Explore Air 2 machine
  • Power cord
  • USB cable
  • Fine-point blade and housing 
  • Fine-point pen (black) and accessory adapter 
  • 12” x 12” LightGrip Mat
  • Free trial membership to Cricut Access
  • 50 free ready-to-make projects
  • Materials for a practice project

Cricut Explore Air 2 Included tool

  • Fine Point Blade for cutting vinyl and paper

Cricut Explore Air 2 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 Air 2 blades

The blades used for the Explore Air 2 are drag knives, a type of blade that is used in a wide variety of cutting machines and 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 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. 

Explore Air 2 Extra Features

The Explore Air 2 has Fast Mode, which will allow you to cut certain materials at twice regular speed. Fast Mode can be used when cutting simple designs without a lot of detail out of vinyl, iron-on, or cardstock. Even with a little less cutting force, the Explore Air 2 performs at the same speed as the Maker, zipping through your cutting projects in no time.  

The Explore Air 2 can also do Print then Cut, on white materials like paper, printable vinyl, magnet sheets and cardstock, where you use your inkjet to produce images that the cutting machine can scan and cut around (contour cutting). 

This might seem silly, but I also like that the Explore Air 2 comes in many different colors. Unlike the Maker, which only has a tinted lid, the entire Explore Air 2 machine offers a beautiful pop of color for your crafting space, and it comes in the largest array of shades offered for any cutting machine.

If you don’t care about cutting much fabric or wood and just want to stick to vinyl and paper types, then the Explore Air 2 is an excellent choice.

Does the Explore Air 2 use cartridges?

The Explore Air 2 uses Design Space, not cartridges, but it 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 it’s another good reason to choose the Explore Air 2.

[PSA: after linking 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.]


What We Like

  • Basic toolset can do a huge number of projects
  • Easy to learn
  • Lots of stylish colors to choose from

What We Don't Like

  • No matless cutting
  • Not very good at cutting fabric

Three options to buy
the Cricut Explore Air 2:

Cricut Joy: Newest Cricut, Best 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 Air 2 and the Maker? 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 the newest addition to the Cricut lineup, 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, and the Joy does not do print and cut, so you won’t be able to make printed stickers to cut out. But if writing and basic cutting fits the bill for your projects, then the Joy is a fast and easy way to make tons of small projects.

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 accessory

  • Cricut Joy Card Mat, 4.5" x 6.25"

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. 

Special Cricut Joy accessories and Smart Materials

Accessories and materials specific to the Joy are both the best and the worst thing about this machine. Basic blades for the Maker and Explore Air 2 can be replaced using standard vinyl cutter drag knife blades, routinely sold in packs of 10 or more for under $10 on Amazon. The Cricut Joy, however, requires a proprietary Cricut blade, so you won’t be getting replacement blades cheap – a single replacement blade without housing costs $12.99.

Along with the Joy, Cricut introduced a new 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, 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

  • Matless cutting
  • Ultra-fast cardmaking
  • Take it anywhere
  • Easy to make banners and big sets of decals and labels without reloading vinyl

What We Don't Like

  • Only 1 tool
  • Very narrow material width
  • No print then cut

Three options to buy
the Cricut Joy:

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 2.1 million followers on Facebook, 1 million followers on Instagram, and 4.3 million monthly viewers 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. 

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 and Explore Air 2 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 small business user needing a vinyl- and paper-cutting workhorse, one of Cricut's three current machines will fit the bill. 



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