If you’re trying to decide between the Cricut Maker and the Explore Air 2 (or thinking of upgrading to the Maker from the Air 2), this is the article for you!
We took a look at the features of each Cricut cutting machine, weighed up the pros and cons of each model, and found that – while we’re big fans of the Explore Air 2 as a low-budget option; we had to crown the Cricut Maker as the clear winner in this head-to-head…
Let’s take a look at why.
Cricut Explore Air 2 vs Cricut Maker: What’s the big difference?
Cricut is one of the most well-known craft brands for tabletop cutting machines.
Lauded for their early cartridge-driven models, Cricut became the favorite of scrapbookers and papercrafters everywhere. Now they have a much larger fanbase of crafters.
- The Explore Air 2 was a quick favorite for vinyl and HTV users, since it let users cut vinyl and iron-on twice as fast as any of Cricut’s existing models.
- It was also (along with its predecessor the Explore Air) one of the first models to offer Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
- The Cricut Explore Air 2 is a fantastic option if you are on a limited budget.
- The Cricut Maker made waves in the sewing community with its partnership with Simplicity and its ability to mark and cut fabric for sewing patterns.
The Maker was a much-needed breath of fresh air, since Cricut had gotten into the habit of making small changes to their machines and branding it as a whole new model.
The Maker changed that by bringing several new features and accessories to the table for a brand new set of crafting possibilities.
Key differences between the Maker and the Explore Air 2
- Accessories: the Maker has way more available accessories than the Explore Air 2, making it a much more versatile option.
- Materials: the Maker and Explore Air 2 can cut many if the same staple materials, but there are a few differences. With the rotary tool, the Maker can easily cut through fabric with no stabilizers while the Explore Air 2 can only cut fabric with interfacing.
- Cutting force: since the Maker has more accessories that allow it to use much heavier materials than the Air 2, it needs more cutting force as well to compensate.
The Cricut Maker is the workhorse of hobbyist cutting machines. Lauded for its many new accessories and a partnership with Simplicity to appeal to the sewists, the Maker was quick to gain popularity.
Cricut’s agreement with Simplicity gives Cricut Maker users access to 50 digital Simplicity sewing patterns. Said patterns are specifically formatted so the Maker can recognize both cut lines and marking lines.
This means you can cut out your pattern with the Cricut blade and draw your sewing lines with a marker in one step. The machine takes care of all the prep work so you can spend more time actually sewing.
It’s also super easy to use! Since the lines are preformatted, you can just choose a pattern and send it straight to the Maker. No need to change any settings in the software
The Maker also introduced some exciting new blades and tools. Two of the most popular accessories that are exclusive to the Maker are the knife and rotary tools.
- The knife tool is great for making deep cuts or for cutting through tough materials that previous blades couldn’t handle. The knife blade can cut through materials up to 3/32” thick and can handle things like balsa and basswood, thick chipboard, and leather.
- The rotary wheel allows users to cut through fabric without any interfacing, which makes it much easier for sewists to use. It comes included with the machine as a nice complement to the integrated Simplicity patterns. This feature was especially appealing to sewists, who haven’t been able to do much with previous Cricut models.
The Cricut Maker also introduced a whole lineup of new accessories that you can purchase for your machine:
- Scoring wheel: the scoring wheel is a step up from previous model’s scoring stylus attachments. The scoring wheel allows you to easily score lines for optimal folds and bends. You can choose between a few different thicknesses to make different types of score lines.
- Wavy blade: the wavy blade cuts wavy or scalloped lines. It is perfect for when you want a more decorative look without having to design each scallop.
- Engraving tool: one of the more exciting accessories, the engraving tool allows users to etch or engrave on everything from acrylic sheets to metal.
- Perforation blade: the perforation blade lets you easily add tear away lines to your designs.
- Debossing pen: the debossing pen, well, debosses. It allows you to make intricate 3d textures on your paper crafts, and is perfect for making your own cards, invitations, and business cards.
In addition to all the new features and accessories, the Maker can still use the fine point and deep cut blades from previous models. These are great for your all-purpose cutting needs when you are working with basic materials like vinyl, cardstock, iron-on, and paper.
What we like:
- Tons of accessories: as we mentioned above, the Maker has several more available accessories than previous Cricut machines.
- Access to sewing patterns: the partnership with Simplicity means that you get access to 50 Simplicity sewing patterns preformatted to use with your Maker.
- Compatible with more materials: all the extra accessories mean you can cut, score, and mark more materials than ever.
What we don’t like:
- Must use a cutting mat: the Maker only works with the use of a cutting may, so your projects cannot exceed the size of the mat.
- Design Space could use some work: Cricut’s Design Space software is easy to use for beginners, but it is not very intuitive for more advanced uses.
- Most features must be purchased separately: most of the accessories listed in this guide are not included with the Maker machine.
Like previous models, the Maker uses the Cricut Design Space software that is compatible with your PC/Mac, phone, or tablet.
Its Bluetooth capabilities mean that you can wirelessly connect and print from your mobile devices, which is handy if you like to travel with your machine or don’t want to keep a computer in your craft room.
All in all, the Maker is an extremely functional machine with enough options for projects and materials to keep you crafting as much as you want.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 has long been considered one of the best valued cutting machines due to its impressive functionality and affordable price. It is best known for being one of Cricut’s first models with built-in wireless capabilities.
It was also the first machine to use the Smart Cut 2 technology, which made it two times faster than previous models.
What we like:
- Affordable price: the Explore Air 2 is priced very well for a digital cutting machine with its capabilities, making it one of the best low-budget options on the market.
- Fast carriage speeds: the Explore Air 2’s Smart Cut 2 technology allows it to cut vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock twice as fast as Cricut’s previous models, making it ideal for users who do a lot of cutting with those materials.
- Sleek design: with a pastel-colored body and chrome accents, the Explore Air 2 looks really nice. And while looks aren’t everything, the modern design aesthetics are a nice touch to an already loaded machine.
What we don’t like:
- Loud while operating: for everything the Air 2 gained in speed, it lost in discretion. This machine is noticeably much louder than other Cricut models when in use.
- Have to use a cutting mat: like the Maker, the Explore Air 2 requires a cutting mat to work. This restricts projects to no more than 12 inches by 24 inches in size.
The Explore Air 2 can use both the fine point and deep cut blades to cut a variety of materials. The fine point blade is good for light and easy cutting while the deep cut blade works best for thicker materials.
You can also purchase the Cricut scoring stylus to make scored lines for easy bends and folds. The stylus only allows for a single line thickness, but this should still be enough to cover most of your needs.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is an outstanding budget cutting machine for beginners or advanced users who need a more affordable option.
The Explore Air 2 is an updated version of Cricut Explore Air, which is still a popular model. Find out more about the main differences between Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Explore Air 2 in our separate post on the topic.
Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2: Head to head
The Maker and the Explore Air 2 are both great machines, but how do they compare to each other?
Well, for starters, the Maker has a lot more options than the Explore Air 2. Machine-wise, they aren’t that different. It’s the accessories that make these two models stand apart.
The Air 2 is fairly limited in terms of available tools and accessories. It works with deep cut and fine cut blades, the scoring stylus, and Cricut pens and markers.
The Maker, on the other hand, works with all of those accessories and several more.
The Maker is by far the most versatile cutting machine Cricut has ever produced; the rotary blade and kraft blade alone make it far more capable than the Air 2 or any other Cricut model to date.
The extra accessories like the perforation blade, wavy blade, and debossing pen serve to further the divide of what the two machines are capable of.
The Maker is capable of handling a larger range of materials than the Air 2 because of its added accessories and stronger cutting weight. That is not to say that the Air 2 isn’t a versatile machine itself. It can handle over 100 different materials and is capable of making 1000s of different projects.
However, when compared to the Maker, the Air 2 just doesn’t have the same capabilities.
The Explore Air 2 and Maker have most of the same functionality.
Both are wireless capable with built-in Bluetooth technology. They can work up to 15 feet away from their controlling device, so you don’t even have to keep your computer in the same room as long as it is within that range.
Both machines use the Cricut Design Space software. This makes them compatible with most PCs, Macs, tablets, and mobile devices.
Both machines are also very beginner-friendly. Since you can simply choose a premade design from the Cricut catalog, you don’t need much technical or design knowledge to make beautiful things with your Cricut machine.
In terms of affordability, the Explore Air 2 is the obvious winner in that category.
While the Maker has more functionality than the Air 2, it is also more expensive. While the higher price-tag will be money well-spent to people who are looking for a truly versatile die cutting machine, it may be more than some people need.
The Explore Air 2 is a good option for those seeking a cutting machine that can do many of the basics and beyond at an affordable price.
The Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 are both great machines. They are easy to use and great for beginners and advanced users alike.
However, the Maker has a considerable advantage over the Air 2 in terms of accessories, materials, and functionality.
The Air 2 is good for cutting thin materials, making score lines, and drawing with Cricut markers and pens.
It can only cut fabric with interfacing or some other backing material, and any sewing patterns used with it need to be entered and programmed manually in the software.
The Maker can cut fabric without interfacing, make score lines in multiple widths, cut through thick materials like leather and balsawood, and engrave metal, acrylic, and other hard surfaces.
It comes with Simplicity sewing patterns preformatted for the Maker, so you can get started with very little knowledge of the software or die cutters in general.
Do you have a Maker or Explore Air 2? Let us know what you think of it in the comment section below!