Guide to Cricut™ machines: what is a Cricut machine and which one should you buy?

Looking to find out about Cricut machines and which would be the best Cricut machine for you? Find out all you need to know about the Cricut Maker™, Cricut Expore Air 2™ and Cricut Joy™ Cricut machines right here.

best cricut machine group

We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years. It used to be that if you wanted a bespoke mug or t-shirt made for a birthday, hen or similar fun occasion, you had to go to a specialist shop and pay for them to do it, hoping against hope you’d ordered far enough in advance for them to turn it around in time. And we all blunted our craft knives – not to mention our brains and our eyes – hand-cutting intricate paper shapes, cramping hands trying to perfect elegant calligraphy lettering, or cutting and scoring cardstock in the hope that our creations would not look as wonky as we felt trying to keep things straight.

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

best machines explore maker

The most versatile Cricut machine is the Cricut Maker, which works with heavy-duty materials like wood, leather and thin metal as well as more papercraft-friendly ones like vinyl, cardstock and vellum to open up a massive world of crating, with options for embossing and engraving, as well as fabric cutting – wow!  The Explore Air 2 machines are a good fit for crafters who favour papercraft and card making, or vinyl-cutting projects as they have the same functions as the Maker in these fields and both machine can handle cuts of up to 12 inches wide. The new Cricut Joy is the entry-level crafting machine, great for everyday card making and label making – but there is nothing basic about this beautiful Cricut machine! Its maximum cutting width is 5.5 inches, but, unlike the other two machines, 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 Cricut machine 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 its heart, the Cricut machine is a computerised cutting machine – but that is only the beginning of what all 3 of the Cricut machines can do! They look like desktop printers, all be it far more colourful and exciting looking version of your average home printer. Open up the Cricut machine and at first they can look quite empty inside, especially with the larger Maker and Explore Air 2 machines.

bet cricut machine inside explore

This is only because the Cricut machine needs space to work. You’ll see two metal bars going across the centre of the space, with a metal box with  clamps on its front – two clamps for the Maker and the Explore Air 2, and one for the Joy. When the machine is operating, the bottom metal bar turns to move the materials you are cutting forwards and backwards, while the box with clamps moves from side to side on the second metal arm, so 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 – most commonly a cutting blade or a pen – to cut or draw onto the material below. You tell the machine what material you are using so it knows how deep to cut or the right pressure to apply to the tools in the clamps to produce the perfect results.

What can you do with a Cricut machine?

With all three of the Cricut machines, you can cut lightweight materials like cardstock, papers, vinyl and iron-on, and write and draw using a Cricut pen. The machines are designed to work with Design Space software, which you can add to your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, and either upload and create your own designs, or dip into the Design Space library to use ready-designed projects. There are over 1300,00 images in the 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. The machine links to your device via Bluetooth  – or plug in the USB if you prefer!

best cricut machine Joy kitchen

Use all three Cricut machines to create personalised cards, mugs, window decals, or iron-on designs to decorate t-shirts and other clothing, including stretchy items. As well as cutting blades and pens, 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 – more than 300 different materials – all the way from delicate papers and unbonded fabric through to the heavy-duty items like matt board, leather and even wood sheets! Use it to to create leather panels with intricate cut-aways, engrave detail into metal sheets, cut wooden shapes to make 3D structures like dinosaurs or storage pots and simple patterns using unbonded fabric.

best cricut machine maker

The Explore Air 2 will cut fabric, but unlike the Maker, it doesn’t have a a rotary cutter tool so you need to use bonded fabric – where the fabric has an added stabiliser to stiffen and support it – but this still lets you craft hair bands, facemarks and other small fabrics makes. But it’s the epic paper and card projects where the Explore Air 2 really excels. Craft giant paper flowers, animal gift boxes, intricate paper-cut lanterns and large iron-on and vinyl designs, big enough cover the whole front of a t-shirt or big window panel decal. The Joy is great for smaller vinyl project like kitchen labels and stickers, 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! Keep an eye on the Gathered website for an exclusive free project using the Cricut Joy before the end of the year.

The Maker and the Explore Air 2 also have a print and cut feature, where 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!

How to use a Cricut machine

Check out how How to use a Cricut machine step-by-step walkthrough guide where we show how to use the Explore Air 2  to cut a paper panel to use to add an address to  the front of a square envelope, 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 Design Space software. Start by adding a square from the shapes panel on the left to the canvas workspace and 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 Design Space. Position the text over the square cut layer, adjust the text to the size you want, and change this to a Draw layer in the Writing style version of the font.

Step 3

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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, and 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 Air 2. 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 which 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 and watch as your Cricut machine gets to work!

Which Cricut machine should you buy?

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

Cricut Joy

best cricut machines joy

Best for everyday crafting of cards, labels and vinyl stickers

Features

  • The only Cricut machine that can 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 Air 2

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

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 Air 2 can cut  over 100 materials including paper, vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, 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.

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 Air 2 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 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, matboard, 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.

Best accessories for your Cricut machine

best cricut machines joy pig

So many accessories, so little time! Our very favourite accessories, specifically for the Cricut Joy are the rolls of Smart Materials, which 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, and lets you create intricate full-sized cards within the cutting size restrictions of the Joy – 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 InkTM is a recent Cricut development that deserves celebrating here, 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 then peeling them off and applying them individually to your make sounds like a recipe for the spacing to all 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, as this opens up a whole world of ready-to-craft projects for you to explore! You get month’s free trial, and then it costs £7.49 per month, which you can cancel at any time, so you only need to pay it when you are actively making.

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 Hobbycraft 

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

Buy Cricut machines online from Hobbycraft

Buy Cricut machines online from John Lewis

Buy Cricut machines online from Very

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Buy Cricut machines online from Littlewoods