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Cricut Explore Air 2 digital cutting machine review

Cut paper, card and vinyl in any shape you like with the Cricut Explore Air 2 digital cutting machine, or use it to draw, emboss, foil and more with programmable precision for a perfect result every time

Our rating 
3.8 out of 5 star rating 3.8
Cricut Explore Air 2 electronic cutting machine review

Our review

An electronic cutting machine lets you cut any shape you can imagine. Unlike a die cutting machine, where you will need to buy different cutting die for each shape, you program any shape you like into your electronic cutting machine, and the digital system moves the cutting blade to cut it. You can also add an embossing tool or pen into the machine, to let you emboss or draw detail onto your surface at the same time. It opens up a whole new world of paper possibilities, but does require some computer software or the Cricut Design Space phone app to program the machine. We love the possibilities this machine opens up, but the computer interphase can be off-putting for some crafters. And the Cricut Design Library requires a monthly subscription to access the ready-to-go project shapes with very few free designs available.
Functionality
3.5 out of 5 rating 3.5
Ease of use
3.5 out of 5 rating 3.5
Look
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Quality/durability
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Portability
3.0 out of 5 rating 3.0
Value for money
3.5 out of 5 rating 3.5
Pros: As well as cutting, the machine will emboss and foil, with more functions available by purchasing extra accessories
Once programmed, the machine will produce identitical shapes each time, ideal for perfect results and mass production
The machine can cut any shape you want, only limited by the size of your cutting mat area
Cons: Much more expensive than a die cutting machine
You need to learn to program the shape you need into the Design Space software
Adhesive mats lose their stickiness with use and have to be replaced

What is the Cricut Explore Air 2 electric cutting machine

The Explore Air 2 is Cricut’s mid range electric cutting machine, designed to cut paper, card and vinyl. You program the shape you want into the Cricut Design Space software, stitck the material you want to cut onto the adhesive cutting mat, and feed the cutting mat into the machine. The machine uses rollers to move the mat back and forth, and move the cutting blade from side to size to cut the shape you want. As well as the cutting blade, there’s an extra clamp that holds pens, embossing stylus and other tools to let you precisely add embellishment detail and score lines to your make at the same time. The Explore is the best Cricut machine for cutting  large paper, card and vinyl projects like gift boxes and t-shirts. Find out more about the Cricut machine range and the different functions in our Cricut machine guide.

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What does the Cricut Explore Air 2 do?

It cuts paper and card into any shape you program, limited only by the size of your cutting mat area  – typically 12 x 12 inches.  As well as paper and card, it will work with iron-on vinyls to let you decorate clothing and fabric, or use it to cut decorative vinyl to add to mugs, mirrors and other flat surfaces.

  • Cuts 100+ materials from cardstock, vinyl & iron-on to glitter paper & bonded fabric
  • Compatible with 6 tools for cutting, writing, foiling & more (sold separately)
  • Fine-Point Blade for cutting a wide variety of popular craft materials
  • Works with Foil Transfer Tool adds pro-level foil embellishments
  • Works with Scoring Stylus and Deep-Point Blade
  • Bluetooth wireless technology connects to design software cable-free
  • Built-in storage in the machine holds the tools you need
  • Free design app for Windows and Mac computers and iOS and Android devices

How much is the Cricut Explore Air 2?

The Cricut Explore Air 2 has an RRP of £249. But with the Cricut Explore 3 now available, there are some great deals around for the Explore Air 2, which has all the functions of the Explore Air 3 apart from the ability to use rolls of Smart Materials. So for crafters looking for a cheaper option, the Explore Air 2 is a bargain. Stock up on a spare cutting mat now and you’ll be able to keep using the Explore Air 2 to cut paper, card and vinyl beyond Cricut branded ones for years to come.

Is the Cricut Explore Air 2 good value for money?

With the lower prices on offer now that the the Explore 3 has launched, we think the deals on offer give you great value for money with the range of functions from the Explore Air 2. Cricut have moved away from cutting mats to produce their materials as Smart Materials. These Smart Materials feed directly into the machine, so no cutting mat is used. But this also means that you can only use Smart Materials in the new Cricut machines.

The Explore Air 2 uses an adhesive cutting mat, which you stick your vellum, card or paper on to, and then load it in to the machine. Over time, the sticky layer on the mat wears out, and it needs to be replaced, which has been annoying in the past. But now I appreciate all the different brands of craft material the adhesive mat system lets me use. You can use a whole range of different brand with your Explore Air 2 as opposed to the Explore 3 which needs Cricut-branded Smart Materials.  We think this means that this older machine offers even better value for money than the updated version. Stock up on a spare cutting mat now and you’ll be able to keep using the Explore Air 2 to cut paper, card and vinyl beyond Cricut branded ones for years to come.

To get the most of your machine, you need a subscription to the Cricut Access design library in your Cricut Design Space software. This gives you the option to use thousands of pre-programed creative templates and fonts with your machine for a monthly feee of £7.49, or £71.88 per year. You can purchase designs individually for a pound or two if you prefer. Cricut seem to be moving their machines more towards the subscription model, with only a very small  number of free designs available compared to earlier years. There is also not a lot of space to store your own templates within the software. So to get the most of this machine, you do need a subscription to the Access Library. Compare this with Brother Scan N Cut, where it is much easier to scan in your own templates and with more space to save them, and the Cricut Design space software seems a little lacking without the library subscription. Find out more in our Brother Scan N Cut SDX2200 review.

Cricut Explore Air 2 functions

Cricut has 3 main models of electric cutting machine – the Maker, the Explore and the Joy. The Explore is the midrange machine, designed to cut thinner materials like paper, card and vellum, with the full cutting width of the top-of-the-range Maker, but without the full scope of materials that the Maker will cut.  Find out more about the Cricut machine range and the different functions in our Cricut machine guide.

The Explore Air 2 is a quality machine that is built to last. You will occasionally need to replace the cutting blade and the cutting mats, but can otherwise expect reliable and exact cuts for many many years.

It is simple to select the correct cutting depth for the material you want to stick to your cutting matt. You turn the selection knob on the right of the machine to the material you want to cut. It will cut paper, vinyl, iron-on, light card stock, regular card stock, bonded fabric and posterboard. There is also a custom setting where you can program in the cutting depth of a different material up to a maximum of 1.5mm if you are using the deep point cutting blades.

You typically get Cricut pens included with the machine, which let you draw and emboss with your Explore Air 2. You can purchase extra blades that let you cut bonded fabric and the deep cut blade for thicker materials up to 1.5mm. You can purchase a foiling tool that lets you add foil details to your shapes as well. You can purchase a scoring stylus that lets you score and emboss with the machine too.

The Explore Air 2 is available in a range of different colours. I  have the yellow one which I adore. But they all look incredible and will add a really professional focal point to your craft space. The built- in storage lets you store your spare blades, and tools inside the machine, with a storage well on the left for larger tools like rollers. There is a closable section for using with design cartridges too, which extends the number of shapes you can cut with this machine.

Is the Explore Air 2 easy to use?

Getting to grips with the Design Space software is the hardest part of getting the machine set up from the box. But there is a Getting Started guide included along with the materials and simple process you need to cut and create your very first card. It is really helpful having this easy make as a demonstration of the machine and what it can do. Once you’ve fired up your first project, and got to grips with the cutting mat and how to load the machine it feels a lot less intimidating

Explore Air 2 optional extras

You can purchase extra cutting mats for the Explore Air 2 that let you use different materials or to increase the size of the shapes you can cut. The standard cutting mat measures 12×12 inches, but you can purchase a longer mat at 12 x 24 inches for longer designs. Buy a high tack matt and a deep cut blade to use bonded fabrics with your Explore Air 2.

Explore Air 2 quality / durability

The only weakness in durability of the machine is the cutting mat. Over time, the stickiness wears out, and you can’t secure your materials to be cut. Keep it covered when not in use to extend its life massively. We have extended the life of ours by using a repositionable adhesive spray when the sticky starts to fail. But you will need to replace your cutting mat every 100 projects or so, even if you take perfect care of it. The cutting blades will dull over time too and could need to be replaced. But after 3 years of crafting with my machine, I have never had to replace a blade, so they have proven to be very durable. This is quality machine and you can expect many years of service from it.

How big is the Explore Air 2 and how portable is it?

  • Dimensions: 24″ wide by 9.5″ tall by 9.5″ deep
  • Weight: 14 pounds

This machine is not very deep (9.5 in) but it is wide (24 in). So it will sit quite happily at the back of most craft desks, closed up, and will only need space around it when it is open and in use. It has internal storage compartments for tools as well as a storage hole space built into the body of the machine, which keep everything nicely together and looking very sleek and stylish when not in use.

The Explore Air 2 needs to be plugged in to function and is not designed to be portable. We would not recommend you taking it out and about with you, even if you had a power source to plug it in. But at just 14 pounds, it is lighter than many manual die cutting machines, so would not be heavy to transport if you needed to.

Our verdict: should you buy the Explore Air 2?

With the sale prices on offer with the Explore Air 2 at the moment, this is a good time to buy. Pick up some extra cuttings mats while these are still easily available. And be prepared to pay to access the Cricut Access Design Library when you want to make the most of your machine. But as far as value for money goes, comparing this with the updated Explore 3, this is still the machine we would buy to make the most of non-Cricut-branded lightweight materials .

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Where to buy the Cricut Explore Air 2