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What is a Cricut machine and which one should you buy?

Which would be the best Cricut machine for you? Find out all you need to know about the Cricut Maker, Cricut Expore and Cricut Joy Cricut machines right here.

3 cricut machines on a table
Published: February 28, 2022 at 9:00 am
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It used to be that if you wanted a bespoke mug or t-shirt made, you had to go to a specialist shop. You'd pay for them to do it, hoping against hope you'd ordered far enough in advance for them to turn it around in time. We all blunted our craft knives – not to mention our brains and our eyes – hand-cutting intricate paper shapes. We'd cramp hands getting perfect calligraphy lettering. We'd go wonky cutting and scoring cardstock hoping our makes would not look as wonky as we felt trying to keep things straight.

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With Cricut's computerised digital cutting machines, the waiting, worry and strain is taken out of crafting. You are free to get creative while the machine does all the fiddly bits. There are 3 Cricut machines for today's crafters to choose from. Which is the best Cricut machine for you? Here they are in a nutshell – though we have plenty more to say about them later in this article, too.

best machines explore maker

The most versatile machine is the Cricut Maker. It works with heavy-duty materials like wood, leather and thin metal as well as more papercraft-friendly ones like vinyl, cardstock and vellum. This opens up a massive world of crating. There are options for embossing and engraving, as well as fabric cutting – wow!

The Explore machines are a good fit for crafters who like papercraft and card making, or vinyl-cutting projects. They work like the Maker for paper, card and vinyl. They just don't cut the heavy-duty items. Both machine can handle cuts of up to 12 inches wide. The Explore 3 and The Maker 3 both work with rolls of Smart Materials.

The Cricut Joy is the entry-level crafting machine. It's great for everyday card making and label making. Its maximum cutting width is 5.5 inches, so narrower than the others. But it can cut without a cutting mat using a roll of Smart Materials for long cuts of up to 20 feet!

best cricut machine group plain

Think a Cricut machine could be the right choice to up your crafting game? We think so too. Let's take a more in-depth look at just what these machines can do and which could be the best one for you. If you want to go straight to a particular section, just click on the links below to jump straight there.

What is a Cricut machine?

At their heart, these are computerised cutting machines – but that is only the beginning of what they can do. They look a bit like desktop printers. Open up the Cricut machine and they can look quite empty inside, especially with the larger Maker and Explore machines.

bet cricut machine inside explore

This is because the machine needs space to work. You'll see two metal bars going across the centre of the space. There's a metal box with clamps on its front – two clamps for the Maker and the Explore, and one for the Joy. When the machine is working, the bottom bar turns to move the materials you are cutting forward and backwards. The box with clamps moves from side to side on the second metal arm. This means a 2D shape can be created by the two bars working together. The clamp/clamps on the front of the Cricut machine hold different tools. This is usually a cutting blade or a pen. These cut or draw onto the material below. You tell the machine what material you are using. It then knows how deep to cut or the right pressure to apply to produce the perfect results.

What can you do with a Cricut machine?

All three of the Cricut machines can cut lightweight materials like card, papers, and vinyl. They all let you write and draw using a Cricut pen. The machines work with Cricut Design Space software, which you can add to your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. Use Cricut Design Space to upload and create your own designs, or dip into the library for ready-designed projects. There are over 1300,00 images in the Cricut Design Space library. Some images are free to download, some have an individual charge or can be cut when you have a monthly subscription set up. Increasingly, you need to be a subscriber to use the built-in designs. The range of free designs has become a lot more limited. But you can still upload your own designs free of charge. The machine links to your device via Bluetooth – or plug in the USB if you prefer.

best cricut machine Joy kitchen

Use all three machines to create personalised cards, mugs, and window decals. They will all cut iron-on designs to decorate t-shirts and other clothing, including stretchy items. Different machines can work with tools for debossing, scoring, engraving, fabric cutting and perforations, too. The range of materials that each Cricut machine can use is based on the power it can exert for cutting. The Maker has the most tools available and can cut the most materials. The Maker cuts more than 300 different materials – from delicate papers and unbonded fabric through to the heavy-duty items like matt board, leather and wood sheets. Use it to to create leather panels with intricate cut-aways. Or engrave detail into metal sheets. Or cut wooden shapes to make 3D structures like dinosaurs or storage pots. It will cut small sewing patterns using unbonded fabric. The scoring wheel (sold separately) gets to work scoring foil, card and paper for your makes, too.

best cricut machine maker

The Explore will cut fabric. But unlike the Maker, it doesn't have a a rotary cutter tool so you need to use bonded fabric. Here the fabric has an added stabiliser to stiffen and support it. But it's paper and card projects where the Explore excels. Craft giant paper flowers, animal gift boxes and intricate paper-cut lanterns! The scoring wheel get to work scoring foil, card and paper for your makes. Or make large iron-on and vinyl designs, big enough cover the whole front of a t-shirt or big window panel decals.

The Joy is great for small vinyl project like kitchen labels and stickers. Try our or long vinyl borders to go around a big plant pot or to run across the length of a wall up to 20 foot long! We have an exclusive Cricut project using the Joy for cutting writing to make labels. Click for the cutting writing project and make these lovely kitchen items.

cricut machine linkout

The Maker and the Explore also have a print and cut feature. This means you can print out an image onto paper using your home printer, and the machine will cut it out perfectly for you. No more fiddly scissor work!

Which Cricut machine should you buy?

  • Best for easy everyday crafting of cards, labels and vinyl stickers: Cricut Joy (£179):
  • Best for pro-level DIY performance and versatility: Cricut Maker (£380)
  • Best for large paper, card and vinyl projects like gift boxes and T-shirts: Cricut Explore 3 (£259)

Cricut Joy

best cricut machines joy

Best for everyday crafting of cards, labels and vinyl stickers

Features

  • Cut without a mat using Smart Materials
  • Small and compact for easy everyday crafting
  • Can cut designs up to 20 feet long using the full roll of Smart Materials
  • Use the clever Insert Card mat with pre-scored card packs to cut impressive paper-cut cards up to 4.5 x6.25 in
  • Perfect for Cricut beginners

Pros

  • The lowest price point of the 3 smart cutting Cricut machines
  • Great if you don't have a lot of space
  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Perfect for everyday cards and vinyl stickers
  • Insert Card Mat and Card Packs mean you'll never need a shop-bought card again

Cons

  • The lowest powered machine cuts the smallest range of materials.
  • You can't use Cricut pens and tools intended for the Maker or Explore Air 2. You need Joy specific pens even if you have another Cricut machine
  • Width of cut designs is restrictected to 4.5 inches wide
  • The mat that comes with the machine only works for materials 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Larger mats are available to purchase separately
  • The unit only has a single clamp, so you'll need to swap tools if you want to both draw and cut on the same project

What can it cut?

Cricut Joy can cut over 50 materials including vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, peel-and-stick label paper, adhesive foil, deluxe paper, chalkboard vinyl, sticker paper, paper, iron-on, flat cardboard, foil paper, glitter cardstock, medium cardstock, sparkle vinyl, Infusible Ink transfer sheets, cardstock, vinyl, Smart Vinyl, Smart Iron-On, window cling.

Cricut Explore

best cricut machine explore

Best for large paper, card and vinyl projects like gift boxes and t-shirts

Features

  • Fast Cut mode that's great for mass producing designs
  • Cuts a wide range of materials up to 2mm in thickness
  • Easy to use Smart Selector material sector dial lets you visually see your machine is set to the correct material
  • Coloured versions let you get a brilliant Sunflower Yellow, Mint or Peacock Blue Cricut machine
  • Lightweight but high-quality design
  • The Explore 3 model lets you use smart materials for cuts of up to 20 feet long

Pros

  • It can cut vinyls and decals up to 12 x 24 inches, which makes it great for designs intended to cover large areas, like the front of t-shirts or window panes
  • The machine will cut and score complex gift box designs for a quick and easy finish
  • The machine has two clamps so can use two different tools at the same time.
  • Built-in storage in the body and panels of the machine gives you a safe spot to store tools and accessories

Cons

  • The Fast Cut mode is very loud. For a quieter cut, use the standard cutting speed
  • It can't cut very delicate materials like tissue paper
  • You need to purchase a scoring stylus separately
  • Large machine with footprint only slightly smaller than The Maker, but with fewer materials it will cut

What can it cut?

Cricut Explore can cut over 100 materials including paper, vinyl, iron-on, card, poster board, foil, burlap, canvas, sticker paper, craft foam, cork, duct tape sheets, thin faux leather, felt, flat cardboard, light chipboard, glitter paper, parchment paper, washi sheets, wrapping paper, wax paper, vellum, bonded fabric and window cling. The Explore 3 can work with rolls of smart materials too.

Cricut Maker

best cricut machine maker

Best for pro-level DIY performance and versatility

Features

  • The Maker is the machine for you if you want to have the option to grow the tools and materials at your disposal as your craft skills grow
  • This is the most powerful cutting machine in the Cricut range, it will cut materials up to 2.4mm thick and applies up to 4kg of force

Pros

  • The Maker has all the functions of the Explore and more!
  • The machine comes with a rotary blade which lets you cut virtually any fabric as well as being able to cut delicate papers like tissue paper
  • It has a handy groove to stand up your tablet or phone if you are using the Cricut Design Space software from one of these
  • Built in storage in the body and panels of the machine gives you a safe spot to store tools and accessories
  • Once you get one, you'll never want to craft without it

Cons

  • You will need to purchase additional tools to make use of the more specialist functions of the Maker like engraving, perforating and heavy-duty cutting
  • Being the highest spec, this is the most expensive machine
  • As it needs to exert 4k of cutting power, it is the heaviest and largest machine
  • Once you get one, you'll never want to craft without it

What can it cut?

Cricut Maker can cut over 300 materials including leather, acetate, foil, balsa, bamboo fabric, basswood, boucle, broadcloth, burlap, calico, canvas, cardstock, cashmere, Chantilly lace, chiffon, duct tape sheets, copy paper, corrugated cardboard, cotton, craft foam, crepe paper, delicate fabrics like tulle, double knit, denim, EVA foam, faux fur, faux suede, felt, flannel, flat cardboard, flocked paper, iron-on, poster board, gauze, glitter cardstock, vinyl, gossamer, heavy chipboard, jersey, Kevlar, linen, Lycra, magnetic sheets, mat board, mesh, nylon, parchment paper, poster board, rice paper, satin silk, suede, tissue paper, tweed, vellum, velour, washi sheets, wax paper, wrapping paper and window cling. The Maker 3 can work with rolls of Smart Materials for cuts up to 20 feet long.

How to use a Cricut machine

Check out how How to use a Cricut machine step-by-step walkthrough guide! We show how to use the Explore Air 2 to cut a paper panel to add an address to the front of an envelope. We're working in the desktop version of the Design Space software. The IOS, Android and desktop versions have a slightly different layout. So your screen may look slightly different from our screenshots if you are using a different version.

Step 1

best cricut machine step 1

Start your project in the Cricut Design Space software. Start by adding a square from the shapes panel on the left to the canvas workspace. Use the corner arrows to drag it to the size you want. Making sure this is marked up as a Cut layer in the top tool bar where it says Linetype.

Step 2

best cricut machine step 2

Using the text tool on the left, add in the text you want. You can use fonts you have installed in your computer system, or download Cricut fonts in Cricut Design Space. Position the text over the square cut layer and adjust the text to the size you want. Change this to a Draw layer in the Writing style version of the font.

Step 3

best cricut machines 3

Highlight both layers and click the attach button in the bottom right corner to attach the cut and text layers together. Plug in your Cricut machine and power it on.

Step 4

best cricut machine step 4

Click the green Make it button in the top right corner of Design Space. The view will change to a screen telling you what mats to prepare. Prepare the mats by peeling off the clear protective sheet and sticking the paper onto the sticky surface of the mat.

Step 5

best cricut machines step 5

Make sure your laptop or device is connected to Bluetooth, and paired with your Cricut machine. Load the desired Cricut pen in the A bracket of the Explore. Turn the silver dial on the right-hand-side of the Explore Air 2 to the desired material – we are using paper. Insert the loaded mat between the two slots and press the flashing arrow button. This will make your machine take hold of the mat and get it in position for making.

Step 6

Press the flashing C symbol on your machine to start the making. Watch as your Cricut machine gets to work!

Best accessories for your Cricut machine

best cricut machines joy pig

So many accessories, so little time! Our very favourite accessories are rolls of Smart Materials. These come backed in a way that the machine recognises so you can cut directly from the roll without ever having to load or prepare a mat. We love this as the mats can lose their sticky over time. So using Smart Materials for your everyday makes really saves wear and tear and your mats. The Insert Card Mat for the Joy is a clever little accessory for this machine, too. The mat has a slot to tuck the card back inside and keep it away from the cutting area on the front. It means you can cut a design into the front of the card while the back stays safely tucked away inside the mat. It lets you create intricate full-sized cards within the cutting size restrictions of the Joy. This is brilliant, especially when you consider that similar cards like the ones you can make with this system can cost as much a five pounds a pop in stores!

Infusible Ink is a cool Cricut development, too. Traditional iron-ons have a tendency to crack over time – although Cricut do have a range of Iron-on for sportswear that has a bit more stretch in it. But with Infusible Inks, the design is embedded into the fabric rather than attaching to the surface of it. This means the design will move as the fabric below does. So no issues with cracking, however much you wear and wash the item.

best cricut machine bright pad

Cricut Transfer Tape is an accessory that many owners don't always know about. But this can make a massive difference if you are working with vinyls or decals that are cut in different sections – like individual letters of a name, for example. They may be equally spaced on your cut, but applying them individually could make the spacing go a bit wonky. Adding them to Transfer tape first lets you keep the positioning just as they were in the cut. So there are no frustrating wonky letters to contend with.

But we think the very best accessory for all the Cricut machines is a Cricut Access monthly membership. This opens up a whole world of ready-to-craft projects for you to explore! You get month's free trial. Then it costs £7.49 per month, or £71.88 per year.

Where to buy vinyl for a Cricut machine

You can purchase vinyl and other essential materials for all your Cricut machines at good craft stores, or online. Hobbycraft and John Lewis work closely with Cricut, so these stores and websites are great choices for all the latest colours and finishes, as well as your staple buys.

Buy Cricut Vinyl online from John Lewis

Where to buy Cricut Machines

You can buy Cricut machines online or instore at John Lewis and Hobbycraft. You can buy Cricut machines online from Very and Littlewoods

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Buy Cricut machines online from John Lewis

Authors

Hannah BellisKnitting Editor, Gathered

Hannah has worked on Gathered for 2 years, since our launch in 2019. At school Hannah learned to knit collaborating on dorcas blankets – now she edits our knitting section. She inherited her love of stitching and embroidery from her talented grandmother, and her passion for thread led her to be Editor of The World of Cross Stitching for six years. Card making is a more recent passion, developing from her position as editor of Cross Stitch Card Shop. She loves using kinetic techniques to make cards that move – she was editor of Papercraft inspirations magazine for over four years, creating loads of card making video tutorials at www.youtube.com/PapercraftTV.

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