Cricut Machines

Comparing Cricut Machines

The main reason that I am writing this is because I found an article comparing Cricut machines that was not totally accurate. When I find false or misleading information I like to make sure that my readers have a source where they can get the correct information. If you are reading any article comparing Cricut machines and it does not at least list the Cricut Maker and one of the Explore Cricut machines, then you can know for sure that it is not a current up to date review and you might not want to trust the information 100%.

I will not tell you which one you should purchase. This is a personal decision you need to make on your own. It depends on why you want a Cricut, what will you be using it for and how much you would like to spend.

Cricut Machines

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Cricut Maker 3

I am going to start off by talking about the Cricut Maker 3 since this is the newest of the Cricut machines, as of June 2021, and that is being promoted as the top of the line of Cricut machines. I personally have not been able to use one of these yet, but a friend of mine who is also a moderator in my Teach Me Cricut Design Space Group on Facebook just received a Maker 3 and here are her totally honest opinions and observations. The Maker 3 has the ability to cut longer lengths of material and when you use the Cricut Smart Materials you can cut them without the use of a cutting mat.

The packaging is similar to the prior Cricut machines. On top is an envelopes containing a Get started card with the web address to set it up and on the back is the web address for “help” and a 6″ piece of Smart vinyl for your first project. The Cricut Maker 3 is shrink wrapped in clear plastic to keep it from getting scratched up. Under it you will find the power cord and USB cord as well as a package of additional materials (12×12 sheets of Smart Vinyl, Smart HTV, Smart Paper, and a transfer sheet to be used with the vinyl) and the power cord.

Noticeably missing, when compared to the original Maker, is the fabric cutting wheel and a cutting mat. While it was stated that the new Cricut Maker 3 is the same suggested retail price as the original Maker was when it was introduced, I personally feel that the additional materials aren’t of the same value as what they are now leaving out.

Case – on the outside it just says “Cricut” rather than “Cricut Maker”. Guessing this is because both new machines use the same outer case. But on the blade carriage on the inside it does indicate Maker 3.

Buttons – The button you push to make it cut is now just a triangle, rather than the Cricut C, so I guess I’ll get used to calling it the “Go” button rather than the “Cricut” button.

Power Supply/cord – It is definitely a different power supply and specifically indicates Cricut Maker 3 on the bottom of it, so they are not interchangeable with the other machines. The power cord on the Cricut Maker 3 is noticeably thicker.

USB cord – no longer has the Cricut C at each end of it. Guess that does make it more obvious that it is just a standard cord.

Cutting Size – One of the benefits of the Cricut Maker 3 is that you are able to cut larger images, without the use of a cutting mat. The maximum you can cut is 11.7” wide and 12 FEET long without a mat when using the Cricut Smart materials.

The material/mat guide along the left side is a great aid for getting either the cutting mat or the Smart materials lined up in exactly the correct place and inserted straight.

First Project – Before setting up the Cricut Maker 3, I cut a fairly detailed design on plain copy paper using the Maker and recorded a cutting time of 3 minutes; 20 seconds. I cut the exact design on plain copy paper on the Cricut Maker 3 and it actually took a tiny bit longer – 3 minutes; 44 seconds. I then cut it again using Smart Vinyl and this time it was much quicker – taking only 2 minutes; 18 seconds. But the thing I really noticed was that the new Cricut Maker 3 was much quieter and the process was smoother. No more bouncing from one place to another when cutting. It started at the top and worked its way down the design.

When using the Smart materials, it initially measured the material I had inserted and indicated that it wasn’t quite long enough. My image was 5″ tall, the piece I had inserted was only 6″ but it told me I needed 6.5″. This is because it needs an inch or so at the top to stay under the rollers in place of the top empty edge of the mat and then a little bit at the bottom so that it doesn’t accidentally cut off that edge.

I know that the Smart materials will cost more than regular materials plus a mat, but it is nice for a few reasons: 1) you can cut items longer 23.5″ without the mat and 2) there are no worries about your material curling up or coming loose from a mat that is no longer sticky enough. 3) It is nice to be able to weed the vinyl on the Smart material backing paper rather than the thin paper backing or while still stuck to the mat.

I know that there have been comments made about the ‘waste’ related to throwing away the backing from the Smart vinyl. But I plan to keep those pieces and use them when I send cards with thick gems, bows or other embellishments – that extra layer trimmed to fit inside the envelope will help the card get through the mail without any damage to it or to the envelope.

Cricut Maker

The Cricut Maker is faster and can cut a larger variety of items than the Explore. It has a larger variety of accessories and blades that can be purchased to use with it. The different blades will allow you to more easily cut a larger variety of materials.

One huge benefit of the Cricut Maker that I see is that you can more easily cut fabric with the rotary blade. You can also engrave on metal with the engraving tip.

To use the Cricut Maker you will need to learn the Design Space software. Luckily for you, have handbooks and an online course that will teach you everything you need to know about using Design Space. You can use Design Space from a computer, iPad, tablet or phone. If you would like to know the exact system requirements you can click HERE.

Due to the added features and materials you can work with on the Maker, it is the most expensive of the Cricut machines. If you are the type of person that always wants the top of the line device, or is looking to never have to purchase another Cricut machine again then the Maker is that machine.

If you own Cricut cartridges that go with the Legacy machines, which I will talk about later on, you can continue to use those by linking them to your Cricut Design Space account.

Cricut Explore

There are several Cricut Explore machines, so they are often referred to as the Explore Family. When the Explore first came out, you needed to connect it to your computer with a cable or through a bluetooth connection. Later Cricut built the bluetooth right into the Cricut Explore, which is the Cricut Explore Air. The Air parts is what tells you that the bluetooth is built in.

Next up was the Explore Air 2, which cuts twice as fast as the Explore or the Explore Air. Now that you understand the difference between all of the various Cricut Explore machines, now we will talk about what the machines in the Explore Family can do.

All of the Cricut machines in the Explore family use Cricut Design Space. Again, you can use Design Space from your computer, ipad/tablet or phone. The Explore machine will still cut a large variety of materials. This is the machine that I personally have. It is great for cutting cardstock and vinyl, which is what I use it for. If I ever decide to try cutting wood or fabric, I will definitely be upgrading to the Maker.

If you own Cricut cartridges that go with the Legacy machines, which I will talk about later on, you can continue to use those by linking them to your Cricut Design Space account.

Cricut Explore 3

As of June 2021 there is also a Cricut Explore 3, which does everything that the other Explore machines does but also allows you to cut the Cricut Smart materials without the use of a cutting mat.

Cricut Joy

The Cricut Joy machine is the newest and smallest of the Cricut machines. It was created to be a portable option for Cricut users. This is an excellent machine if you plan to use your Cricut for card making, since it has a special card cutting mat. It is also great for cutting small decals since it can only cut items 4 1/4″ wide. If I was a crafter that sold things at shows and wanted a portable machine that I could bring with to personalize items at the show, the Cricut Joy would work great for that.

As far as materials that the Joy can cut, you are basically limited to cardstock and vinyl. It does not have the power and pressure needed to cut thicker materials. You also cannot do any print then cut projects with it, since it does not have the scanning sensors built into it.

The Joy also uses different accessories than the Maker and Explore family of machines. If you already have the pens and blades for the other machines, you will need to purchase the ones specifically for the Joy as they are not interchangeable. Currently you cannot score with the Joy.

The Joy is Bluetooth only. You cannot connect to a device through a cable Also, it does not have any buttons on the actual machine. Instead of pressing the load/unload buttons and the Go button on the machine to cut, you do everything through screen prompts in Cricut Design Space. Also there is no power button so you need to unplug it when not in use instead of just powering it down. If you have cartridges from the Legacy machines, there is absolutely no way to link your cartridges to Design Space through the Joy. You need to contact Cricut support for that.

Cricut Legacy Machines

There are a whole group of machines that are no longer produced or supported by Cricut. These are considered the Cricut Legacy Machines. None of these Cricut machines work with Design Space, so you are dependent on using Cricut Cartridges and can only cut the images and font on those cartridges.

I see a lot of these machines being sold on ebay or Facebook. You will not be able to find these machines sold in stores since they have not been produced for years. There are a few ways to tell quickly if the machine you are looking at photos of is a Legacy machine.

All of the Legacy machines have a keypad. This is how you selected which images or letters you wanted the Cricut to cut. I have the keypad indicated with a blue arrow pointing down in the image below.

Since the Legacy Cricut machines all use Cricut cartridges, you will see a slot for the cartridge to be inserted. It is usually on the front right side of the machine (see the lower blue arrow in the image above) I also show an image of what comes with a cartridge. If the person selling you a used Cricut shows you any of these items, it is a Legacy machine.

List of Cricut Legacy Machines

  • Cricut Personal Cutting Machine – This is the very first Cricut machine ever produced. The cutting mats that go with it are only 6″ wide.
  • Cricut Create – Same small size with a slightly nicer design and a touch of color on the exterior.
  • Cricut Expression and Expression 2 – This is when Cricut moved up to a machine that cut larger sizes. There was a 12 x12 and a 12 x 24 inch cutting mat for the Expression machines. The big difference between the Expression and the Expression 2 (or E2 as it was commonly called) was the addition of a tilt up screen to preview your designs before cutting.
  • Cricut Imagine – This was the one and only Cricut machine that could print images. Now, this is different than the Print Then Cut feature of today’s machines, where you print from a home printer and then cut on your Cricut. This machine actually had a place to load ink so the printing came from the actual Cricut machine. You needed special cutting mats that had a black border around the outside edge for the machine to scan in order to know where to cut. You can to purchase ink specifically made for the Cricut Imagine, which was a tri-color cartridge so if your red ink ran out you had to replace the whole tri-color catridge.
  • Cricut Mini – This was the first Cricut machine that used a computer. It was smaller, and more portable and was marketed to those crafters that wanted to take their Cricut machines with them. The Mini worked with the Cricut Craftroom software, which is also obsolete.
  • Cricut Cake – This machine was specially designed for food crafters. This was marketed towards the home bakers for cutting fondant and decorating cakes, cookies and cupcakes. The accessories for it were food safe.

Read Reviews

It is also good to read several reviews and do your research. For example, fellow blogger Rachel Tveit from CraftingSpree.com did Cricut machine comparison that you can read HERE. Talk to people you know that own a Cricut and ask them what they like and do not like about their current machine. Ask them if they could go back in time would they pick a different Cricut machine for their first purchase.


If you found this helpful, you should join my Teach Me Cricut Design Space Facebook Group. You can ask me questions and I will share all of my best tips and tricks with you.

I also have a lot of great resources on my Classes page of this website including my Teach Me Cricut Design Space Online Course. In this course I take you step by step through how to use every button and function in Design Space. I have compiled the most frequently asked Cricut questions along with the answers to those questions into one online course. This is my most in depth and detailed Cricut resource ever! It contains over two years worth of Cricut knowledge and research in one course!

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