Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2: What’s the difference?

The Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 machine may seem similar, but there are some key differences. The most notable differences between the two cutters are regarding cutting force and the Adaptable Tool System.

If you want the short and sweet answer the Cricut Maker is a stronger and more versatile machine. It has more tools available and can cut more different types of material. If you are only interested in cutting paper, vinyl and iron-on (HTV) and price is a big factor then the Explore Air 2 is a great machine.

Update: Cricut recently introduced the Cricut Maker 3 and Cricut Explore 3. Generally, the differences between the Maker line and the Explore line are the same as outlined in this article. The Maker is still a stronger more versatile machine. To learn more about the new machines, check out my comparison article: Maker vs. Maker 3 and Explore Air 2 vs Explore 3.

Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2 – the differences

Below you can see the differences between the Cricut Maker and the Cricut Explore Air. See which machine is best for you.

Cricut Explore Air 2

Cricut Maker

Cutting Width

12 inches by 24 inches

12 inches by 24 inches

Cutting Force

350 grams

4000 grams







Print then Cut

White Paper Only

White/Medium Color Paper

Pressure Setting

Smart Set Dial

Adaptive Tool Set

Double Tool Holder



Knife Blade



Rotary Blade



Scoring Wheel



Debossing Tool



Wavy Blade



Perforation Blade



Engraving Tip



Wireless Bluetooth



Mobile Docking Station




Cricut Design Space

Cricut Design Space




Cricut Explore Air 2 Overview

Cricut Explore Air

The Cricut Explore line comes with 3 machines, Cricut Explore One, Cricut Explore Air, and Cricut Explore Air 2. All the machines are fairly similar. The key differences are is that the Cricut Explore One has one carriage, while the Cricut Explore Air and Air 2 machines have dual carriages.

The Cricut Explore Air 2 offers the most capability of the Cricut Explore machines. The dual carriages allow crafters to draw and cut without having to stop to swap out the tools. The smart dial on the side of the machine allows users to easily choose the material they are cutting to adjust the blade pressure.

Read more about the Cricut Explore Air 2 in my full review of this awesome cutting machine.

Cricut Maker Overview

Cricut Maker

The Cricut Maker has all the capability of the Cricut Explore machines, and more. The main differences between the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air 2 are cutting force and tools. The Cricut Maker is 10x stronger than the Cricut Explore. The Cricut Maker also comes with tools that aren’t backward compatible with the Cricut Explore.

The Knife blade cuts thicker materials up to 2.4mm thick, while the Rotary Blade is used for cutting fabric. With the Rotary Blade, you don’t have to worry about tearing the fabric. Both of these tools are controlled by the Adaptive Tools System, which automatically controls the pressure and direction. This Adaptive Tool System eliminates the need for a smart dial, which is no longer a feature on the Maker machine.

There is also a new debossing tool that lets you easily create embossed effects on your projects. The Explore Air 2 can’t easily emboss but there is a workaround.

I’ve written a full review of the Cricut Maker and explain why it’s the best cutting machine.

Which is better, the Cricut Maker or Cricut Explore?

The Cricut Maker overall is a better machine. It’s more versatile, having the Adaptable Tool System system, better tools, and more cutting pressure. If you are going strictly on price, however, then the Cricut Explore Air 2 will be your better choice.

I find the best place to buy any Cricut machine is directly from the website. They frequently have sales, free shipping and great bundles to get you started with your new machine,

Which machine is right for you?

Cricut Explore vs Maker Differences

40 thoughts on “Cricut Maker vs Cricut Explore Air 2: What’s the difference?”

  1. I have the cricuit explore air 2 but I think I would like the cricuit maker. Can I purchase the knife blade , rotary blade,
    And scoring wheel for my explore air 2. I just got it when they came out with the cricuit maker. I would like to make some Lazer cut wood light boxes.

    • What type of wood can the cricut maker cut?

      I am looking to purchase a cricut but unsure which one. We are looking to make shirts, wood signs, decals.

      A family member is interested in doing wood engraving would the cricut maker do that?

  2. What are the must have accessories when you first buy one of these machines? It looks like they have accessories for days!! How do I know what I really need, right away and what might be nice to have at some point?

  3. Thanks for the information, it was plain, simple and precise and I understood so easily the difference between both machines. It will help me decide which one to buy.


    I went to Joanne’s and they were not able to help me figure out the difference. This was wonderfully simple and told me that I want the Maker!

  5. Thanks slot this is a very helpful, I really wasn’t sure what the true differences between the models. Great now I can choose with confidence and not be worried I made the wrong choice, Thank you

  6. I have the explore air 2 and want to make fabric labels for my quilts. is that possible to do with this machine?

  7. Hi – thank you for your post! I have not Owned a cricut yet. I am a teacher and would love to make things for my classroom and t-shirts for my family. I will never need to cut fabric for quilts. Since I do not understand what the terms you used really mean, besides cutting things for quilts what else would I need the maker for? In other words the explore sounds like all I need but I am not really sure what I would be missing out on since I don’t understand the language. I just do not want to buy the explore onto regret it later and wish I bought the maker. I just am trying to watch the cost. Thank you so much for your time!

  8. I’m wanting to get my mom one but idk which to get. She will probably use it to make shirt designs, magnets, ornaments, window decals. Which should I get

    • Hi Marie, the Cricut Maker is much more powerful than the Explore Air. If your mom is cutting fabric, especially leather or thicker materials like balsawood etc, then the Cricut Maker will be best. But if she is just cutting paper and vinyl or thinner materials, then the Cricut Explore will be fine.

    • Hi Evelyn, you can cut iron-on for t-shirts, but you’ll need an iron, heat press, or Easy Press to apply the design to shirt. And for labels, the Cricut Explore Air will be able to labels and vinyl no problem.

  9. All I see is cutting – does it print and cut? How would you make an iron on design with just cutting? Curious before I buy..

    • Hi Melody, the machines do have a ‘Print Then Cut’ feature, but the machines themselves won’t actually print anything. What the Print Then Cut feature does is allow you to print designs from your regular printer, then have the designs be cut out using the Cricut machines. Both the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore Air have this feature. Here’s more info about the Print Then Cut feature

      Both machines will make iron-on. You can create the designs in Design Space, then have it cut out the design. If you’re using a complex design with many different colors, you can cut out the different layers in Design Space and layer them on top of each other with the iron. Another option is to use your printer to print heat transfer vinyl and then use the Print Then Cut feature to cut it out to be ironed. You can learn more about printable HTV here

  10. Does the Cricut Maker require a monthly subscription? My understanding is that the Explore air 2 requires ongoing subscription to use it. I’m looking to buy as a gift and don’t want the recipient to have ongoing monthly subscription costs.

    • Hi Rhonda, both the Cricut Maker and Cricut Explore machines use the free Design Space software. The software is free, but a lot of people get confused because when you buy a new machine, it comes with a free trial to Cricut Access. Cricut Access is Cricut’s image library where you pay a monthly fee to access special designs. Lots of people get confused because they start using Cricut Access not knowing it’s a free trial and when their trial expires, they can no longer use the designs unless they pay. Cricut Access is completely optional though and you can use the Design Space software normally without paying. Here’s some more info

  11. I want to make signs for my upcoming wedding. I’m thinking of getting the Explore Air 2. It keeps talking about vinyl. Is that the white sticker looking stuff on wooden signs?

  12. This comparison is precise and easy to understand. I currently own a Explore air 2. I do not think that right now I need to change machines.

  13. Hi. Print and Cut Feature. For the explore it states “White only” and for the maker “light and medium color”. Can you please provide more details what this means? My daughter is a college art student and I’m hoping the Explorer will suffice.

    Thank you

  14. Hi. Great post, thank you. I am wanting to just use vinyl and invisible ink transfers for tshirts. Maybe eventually do mugs and tumblers. Is the air2 sufficient enough or do I need the maker? What can u create w maker u cant w air2? I’m not really understanding that part and been searching for that answer to know I’m making right decision. Thank you again.

  15. I am looking to be able to cut and emboss 28gauge copper sheets could the air 2 accomplish this or would the maker be better or will neither work with 28 gauge copper sheets?

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