Are you trying to decide between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Maker? Want to know which is the right machine for you?
I’ll compare everything about the Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2, so you can make the best decision about which to purchase.
What exactly is the difference between these two cutting machines?
Well, the Cricut Maker can do a whole lot more than the Explore Air 2 can but comes with a bigger price tag to match.
I’ll go over all the most important features of these two machines, so you can decide if the upgrade is worth it for you and the crafting you do the most.
Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2: a comparison
Cricut Maker vs Explore Air 2 – a quick glance
The Cricut Maker was announced in 2017, about a year after the Explore Air 2, to a whole heap of excitement from the Cricut community.
At the release, there were even quite a few grumbles from those who had recently bought an Explore Air 2, wishing they had known a better machine was coming out.
The Maker adds greater cutting power and works with a whole suite of exclusive tools that make it the top choice for fabric, 3d paper art, and cutting thick or exotic materials. However, the Maker sacrifices a bit in design and costs a fair bit more.
- Cutting technology: The Cricut Maker features the innovative Adaptive Tool System, which offers 10x the cutting power of the Explore Air 2. This lets the Maker cut three times as many materials as an Explore machine.
- Price: The Explore Air 2 is a much better value, especially for cutting paper and vinyl. It costs ~30% less than the Cricut Maker.
- Design: The Explore Air 2 has a sleeker design that weighs less, comes in more colors, and keeps the cartridge slot and materials dial that are missing from the Maker.
- Fabric: While the Explore Air 2 can cut bonded fabric, the Cricut Maker uses the Rotary Blade to cut all unbonded fabric, making it the definitive choice for quilters and seamstresses.
- Tools: Both machines use the same basic blades for paper and vinyl, and the same pens for drawing. But the Maker has specialized tools for fabric, really thick materials, and for unique functions like scoring, perforating, and wavy cuts.
(If you’re looking for a larger comparison, I have a new article on Cricut vs Silhouette which goes over all of their machines)
Cricut Maker overview
- Adaptive Tool System gives 10x the cutting power to give you the most versatile and powerful craft cutter available
- Best machine for cutting fabrics with the included Rotary Blade and Sewing Pattern Library
- Knife Blade can precisely cut materials up to 2.4 mm thick
The Cricut Maker was released just a year after the Explore Air 2, and proved to be one of the biggest upgrades to a craft cutter we’ve seen.
(At least, since everything went digital!)
The Maker does a lot more than basic paper and vinyl cutting. It provides significantly improved cutting for fabric, 3d paper art, thick and dense materials, as well as other creative functions like embossing, engraving, and perforating.
Below, I’ve outlined some of the key attributes that make the Cricut Maker such an amazingly versatile machine. If any of these new features seem like must-haves to you, the Maker is the machine for you.
Adaptive Tool System
The Adaptive Tool System in the Cricut Maker gives you 10x the cutting power, and lets you cut over 300 different types of material.
Do you really need all that?
Well, these new tools are actually able to lift and turn while cutting, which is unlike any other cutting tool we’ve seen. So even when cutting thin paper and vinyl, you get cleaner curves and can cut smaller fonts more precisely.
However, the Adaptive Tool System really shines for powering through thick or tough material like leather and wood, for cutting unbonded fabric, and for scoring, engraving, and embossing more deeply than ever before.
The Maker can be used with the Knife Blade (sold separately) which has a steeply angled edge for cutting dense materials up to 2.4 mm thick. You won’t just be making puzzles or fun shapes out of craft foam. With the power of the Adaptive Tool System and the Knife Blade, you can actually cut fine details out of tough leather, matboard, and balsa wood.
All the tools
Cricut has released a wide array of fun and useful tools to use with the Adaptive Tool System in the Cricut Maker:
- Scoring Wheel (and a Double Scoring Wheel) that gives crisp folding lines for 3d paper art and custom cards make out of cardstock.
- Debossing Tip actually has enough power behind it to imprint deep, gorgeous designs on your foils or papers for scrapbooking.
- Perforation Blade so you can make tear-out stickers.
- Engraving Tip can carve out of wood, metal, leather, and acrylic.
- Wavy Blade, just for fun!
And best of all, with the Maker you’ll be futureproof: Cricut plans to continue to develop and release additional tools for this machine.
The Cricut Maker is the best machine for cutting fabric, making it the top pick for seamstresses and quilters. It comes with a Rotary Blade for cutting unbonded fabric, just like the handheld rotary cutters that you’re used to.
It’s also the only Cricut that comes with access to Cricut’s Sewing Pattern Library, with over 500 digital sewing patterns, complete with markings for seam allowances.
Cricut sells has washable fabric pens so you can cut and mark your fabric in one sweep, without anything getting out of alignment.
5 Key Features of the Cricut Maker
- Adaptive tool system gives 10x cutting power
- Knife blade for precision cutting of dense materials up to 2.4 mm thick
- Best for cutting fabrics: Rotary blade and access to the Sewing Pattern Library
- Top choice for 3d paper art: Scoring Wheel and Debossing Tip give improved performance on cardstock, paper, and foils
- New, unique tools continue to be released
- Most powerful craft cutter you can buy
- Includes all of the best Explore Air tech: Bluetooth, dual tool holder, and 2x fast mode
- Cuts over 300 different kinds of material
- Works with great new tools for fabric, leather, wood, metal, and more
- Future-proof: Cricut’s new tools will be designed for the Adaptive Tool System
- Built-in mount and charger for your phone or tablet, plus additional storage
- No cartridge slot
- No dial for selecting material settings
- Increased price, plus accessories cost more
Cricut Explore Air 2 overview
- Best value on a Cricut for cutting paper and vinyl
- Bluetooth for wireless cutting
- Dual tool head and 2x fast mode to make your cuts a breeze
The Cricut Explore Air 2 was released in 2016, as the absolute fastest version of the Explore series. Since then, Cricut has released the Air 2 in some amazing and vivid new colors. Other than that, there haven’t been significant improvements to the Explore line of vinyl cutters. They remain some of the best priced machines for cutting vinyl and paper, especially since they are almost always on sale these days.
Just below I’ll take you through the features that the Explore Air 2 has to offer. Most of the advanced features of the machine make it easy to use, and improve your quality of life, as you cut out your creative projects.
The Explore Air 2 features embedded Bluetooth for wireless cutting. In fact, that’s the “Air” in Air 2. You don’t technically need Bluetooth to cut, you can always leave your phone or computer tethered to the machine via USB cable instead.
But for me, having wireless cutting is essential. I don’t have enough space on my cutting station to park my laptop next to the cutter, and, well, I just don’t want to give up my phone for 20 minutes while it cuts out a big project.
Dual Tool Holder
The Air 2 also has a dual tool holder that can hold two different tools: blades, pens, or the scoring stylus. This means you can cut & draw in a single pass, or write out a birthday message & score the card for folding in a single go. It’s so much easier not having to change out tools between each individual use. And it really enables you to create more multimedia projects than you otherwise would even consider.
2x fast mode
And best of all, the Cricut Explore Air 2 is the speediest cutter from the Explore line. It has a 2x fast mode for cutting thin materials like vinyl and paper at twice the speed of the old Explore. This saves so much time, whether you are making a whole run of stickers for your volleyball team, or cutting out a long complicated vinyl decal to put on your bedroom wall.
The more time you save cutting means the more projects you’ll get to do!
On the top of the machine body, you’ll notice features missing on the Cricut Maker vs Explore Air 2: the Smart Set Dial and the cartridge slot. The cartridge slot lets you easily insert your old Cricut cartridges so you can link them to your Cricut account and access the designs within Cricut Design Space.
The Smart Set Dial is a smooth knob where you can select the material you’ll be cutting, and the machine automatically selects the appropriate cut settings for Design Space to use. The Smart Set Dial enables you to easily cut over 100 different types of material with this craft cutter.
5 Key Features of the Explore Air 2
- Bluetooth for wireless cutting
- Dual tool holder, so you can cut & draw in a single pass
- 2x fast mode for quick cuts on paper and vinyl
- Cartridge slot for linking your old Cricut cartridges
- Smart Set Dial automatically selects machine settings to cut 100+ materials
- Best value of any Cricut for cutting thin materials like paper and vinyl
- Weighs less than the Maker
- Gorgeous design comes in a vibrant array of colors
- Deep-point blade for cutting material up to 1.5 mm thick
- Easily upload your own images, fonts, and SVGs to Design Space for cutting
- Doesn’t work with the Rotary Blade for fabric or the Knife Blade for very thick materials
- The Scoring Stylus doesn’t score as strongly as the Maker’s Scoring Wheel (used with the Maker)
- Fabric must be bonded to a stiffener before it can be cut
Feature Comparison of the Cricut Maker vs Explore Air 2
Cutting technology: Adaptive Tool System vs Smart Set Dial
First, let’s take a look at the cutting technology that each machine uses. When buying a craft cutter, what’s more important than how it cuts?
The Maker is one of the first Cricuts to actually use an entirely new control system for controlling the tool heads. This is where you’ll find the most important differences between these two models of Cricut.
The Maker uses the innovative Adaptive Tool System to cut, draw, score & more. This system moves left, right, up, and down, and it also lifts and turns the cutting heads as it navigates your design. This lets the blades use more pressure with finer control, giving 10 times the cutting power of the previous Explore series. The Maker can cut 300+ different materials.
The Adaptive Tool System design also lets you use rotary tools, which simply don’t work with the Explore. The cut settings are controlled entirely from within the Cricut Design Space software; there is no longer a materials setting dial on the top of the machine.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 uses a drag blade technology that moves up and down and cuts side-to-side. It works similarly to other brands of home vinyl cutter, to give clean cuts on over 100 different materials. It has a dual tool holder so you can cut & draw, or cut & score in the same pass.
The Air 2 also features a Smart Set Dial so you can easily select the material type. By just turning a knob, the machine will automatically select the appropriate cut settings for your chosen material.
Verdict: the Maker
This one is no contest. Both machines have dual tool holders, and a fast mode for cutting vinyl and paper. While the Explore Air 2 cuts similarly to other popular home cutters, the Cricut Maker is absolutely in a league of its own.
The Maker utilizes an incredible new technology to truly open up a new world of cutting. You can cut 3x as many materials, including dense leather, matboard, and wood. It engraves better, scores better, and debosses better. It even cuts paper and vinyl more accurately, as the turning technology of the Adaptive Tool System lets you cut out smaller lettering out of thing materials.
Looking past all the bells and whistles, something that must be on your mind is price. How much do these machines cost? Is the more expensive Maker actually worth it? Which is a better value for what you get?
The Cricut Maker is the most expensive personal cutter on the market. It typically costs about 1.5x as much as the Explore Air 2. However, there is a lot of utility packed into those extra dollars.
The value of the Maker will depend on what you want to do with it. As just a regular vinyl cutter, it is overpriced, even if it does cut a bit more nicely than the Explore Air 2. But if you want to cut fabric or make 3d paper art or if any of the new functions are appealing to you, then you may decide that the additional cost is worth it.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 is a fantastic cutter, at a fantastic price. It actually ranks as my top overall pick for best vinyl cutter. And what pushes it over the edge is that it is simply an awesome value for what you get. Most of its utility is geared towards making paper and vinyl cutting easy and successful, and so it proves to be a great value for that purpose.
Since the machine is a few years old now (released in 2016), it always on sale, and actually keeps getting cheaper and cheaper!
Verdict: Explore Air 2
Okay, you can probably guess this one. The Explore Air 2 is not just more affordable, but I also think it’s the better value. As much as I dearly love the Cricut Maker, I just can’t ignore its price tag. For most people who just want to make simple vinyl and paper projects, the Cricut Maker will be overpriced and overkill. But for those who will take advantage of the versatility and power, it will be worth it.
Seamstresses and quilters were some of the early Cricut fanatics, and for good reason. It is just so useful to have the cutting taken care of for you, so you can get straight to the business of sewing your work together. And of course the digital designs provide so many fun patterns for applique, as well as sewing plushies, pillows & more.
The Cricut Maker was designed to elevate electronic fabric cutting to an entirely new level. It comes with the Rotary Blade for fabrics, which is able to cut unbonded fabric cleanly and precisely. It’s just like a rotary cutter you might use by hand.
No more ironing your fabric onto HeatNBond or freezer paper before cuts, which will save tons of time. The Rotary Blade is able to rotate around curves as it cuts, giving better cuts out of more difficult fabrics than a regular blade.
The Maker also comes with access to the Sewing Pattern Library with over 500 digital designs, from real designers.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 is able to cut bonded fabric, meaning fabric that is adhered to a stiff backing that makes it easier to cut. You can buy a special Bonded-Fabric Blade, though this is actually identical to the regular blade that comes with your machine, but in pink. Still, it’s useful to keep the fabric blade separate so it is only used on fabric and stays sharp.
Verdict: the Maker
Both machines prove quite useful for making neat fabric projects. Remember that they both do have the dual tool holder, so they can both cut fabric and label it with washable fabric markers in the same pass, without getting out of alignment. But if you’ll be doing more than the occasional fabric piece, the Cricut Maker is definitely the machine for you! It will save you so much time, and allow you to cut more fabrics than ever before.
Tools and accessories
Cricuts are defined by the tools they use. Initially they were solely electronic cutting machines (with cartridges!). Then Cricut added a pen holder and colorful pens to scribe fonts or drawings. After that came fabric cutters, deep-angled blades, and scoring tips. And now, the options have exploded with debossing, engraving, perforating, & more.
The Cricut Maker works with an ever expanding array of tools designed to work with the Adaptive Tool System. The Rotary Blade for fabric (discussed above), is the best electric cutter for fabric yet. The Knife Blade cuts through materials thicker than any other sharply angled blade, up to 2.4 mm thick.
The single and double Scoring Wheels can deeply score cardstock for 3d paper crafts. The Debossing Tip is essential for scrapbookers to create gorgeous foils. And there’s the Perforation Blade, the Wavy Blade, all the colorful pens, fabric pens, washable pens, plus whatever else Cricut dreams up next.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 has a standard lineup of tools you can use. There is a regular blade for thin and easy materials. The Deep-Point blade can cut thick materials like craft foam up to 1.5 mm thick. The Bonded-Fabric Blade (described above) is a pink version of the regular blade that is useful for keeping separate from your regular blade.
The Scoring Stylus can score into cardstock, though not as well as the Maker’s Scoring Wheel. And there are all the regular and fabric pens as well. Interestingly, because the Explore series has been around for so long, there are also a bunch of DIY hacks and off-brand tools you can try for embossing, engraving, debossing, and more.
Verdict: the Maker
The Maker is practically swimming in amazing tools to try out. And the tools work better than on the Explore Air 2. The scoring and debossing are sharper. The fabric cutting is easier and cleaner. The Knife Blade cuts deeper.
The Cricut Maker is the clear winner for selection and quality of tools. Best of all, with the Maker you’ll be at the forefront for new tools, as Cricut is continuing to develop fun additions for the Maker. It doesn’t look like the Air 2 will be getting additional tools any time soon (outside of new hacks that the community can try out).
For the design of these Cricuts, I’ll discuss how the machine bodies look and feel when you use them. Are the machines attractive? How big are they? What sort of storage and buttons and knobs are there?
The Cricut Maker is a solidly built machine, coming in at 21 lbs. The machine has a black base, a white body, and the lids come in a handful of colors: lilac, blue, rose, mint, and champagne.
Cricut has moved towards simplicity in the design of this machine. There is no button to open, you simply lift the lid and the rest of the machine unfolds. There is no more slot for cartridges, instead you’ll have to buy a special adapter.[Reader tip: You can also just email Cricut support with pictures to have your cartridges linked to your account!]
Similarly, Cricut removed the material dial, and instead the machine settings are set within the design program.
With the extra space on the machine’s body, Cricut has added additional storage for pens and accessories (which you’ll need with all these tools!). There is also a dock for a phone or tablet, and a 3.0 Amp USB port for charging that device.
Cricut Explore Air 2
The Explore Air 2 has a gorgeous design that comes in an amazing variety of full-body colors. First were the original pastels, and more recently it was released in 8 additional imaginative colors like boysenberry, cobalt, fuchsia, sunflower, and persimmon.
The Air 2 automatically opens at the touch of a button. It has a Smart Set Dial (which I love!) to easily select machine settings without going into the software. It also has a cartridge slot to link Cricut cartridge if you still have some lying around, or pick up a batch at a yard sale.
Verdict: the Explore Air 2
I’ll be honest here, I was tempted to pick the Explore Air 2 as the winner here based solely on the color selection. But the basic design of the machine, beneath the colors, is more attractive as well. I also sorely miss having the material dial on the Maker, though the additional storage and iPad perch it has instead is quite nifty.
Final Verdict: the versatile and powerful Cricut Maker!
The Cricut Maker vastly outpowers the Explore Air 2 with the Adaptive Tool system. It is the better machine for fabric projects, 3d paper crafts, and for makers craving versatility out of their cutter.
Still, the Cricut Explore Air 2 is the best value cutter for a narrow range of use. If you will be cutting almost entirely paper and vinyl, then I recommend that you pick this more affordable option.
However, if you don’t want to limit your options or your creativity, then I recommend the Maker. It will cut unbonded fabric, score cardstock more deeply, cut thicker material, and allow you to more precisely cut a greater range of material than ever before.
Best Maker and Explore Air 2 deals and bundles (where to buy)
You can often get a great deal on a Cricut machine by picking out a bundle, which comes with a starting selection of vinyl, paper, tools, and guides. I’ve scoured the web and picked out some of the best bundles and deals for both the Explore Air 2 and the Maker.
Cricut Maker deals:
- Cricut Maker + Essentials Bundle (back in stock)
Cricut Maker Ultimate Cutting Machine bundle(sold out)
- Cricut Maker + Everything Materials Bundle (now available)
Cricut Explore Air 2 deals:
- Cricut Explore Air 2, + Beginner Bundle (in stock)
- Cricut Explore Air 2, + Everything Bundle (back in stock)
- Cricut Explore Air 2, with Vinyl Pack (in stock)
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I trade in my Explore Air 2 for credit towards a Cricut Maker?
A: Not that we’ve seen. Unfortunately, Cricut has remained completely silent on if they will ever offer a trade-in option for those who want to upgrade to the Cricut Maker. However, you could try to sell your used Explore Air 2 on eBay or Facebook Marketplace to get money to use towards a Cricut Maker.
Can I use the Rotary Blade or Knife Blade with the Explore Air 2?
A: No, the Rotary Blade and Knife Blade work with only the Cricut Maker. The options for the Air 2 are the Bonded-Fabric Blade and the Deep-Point Blade, which don’t cut quite as well as the Maker versions.
Which machine should I get for cutting felt?
A: The Maker is definitely better for cutting felt. It is able to cut all thicknesses up to 2.4 mm. The Explore Air 2 is good for dense, thin felt up to 1.5 mm, but has trouble cutting out smaller pieces and finer details. And with the Explore Air 2, weaker felt will need to be bonded like other fabrics in order to be cut.
I cut mostly foam sheets, do I need the Maker for that? Or is the Explore Air 2 enough?
A: The Maker is better for cutting foam sheets because you can move the rollers all the way to the sides, so they won’t leave indents on your foam. However, the Explore Air 2 is still able to cut foam, but only up to 1.5 mm thick. (The Maker goes up to 2.4 mm.)
Will the Maker be coming out in any other colors?
A: Probably! But no one knows yet! The Maker was first released with three colors, then they added an additional two more. It is still the best cutter that Cricut offers, so I’m guessing they will roll out some bright colors in the next year or two. However, their focus on the Maker seems to be for new tools, while the Explore Air 2 is getting all the new colors.