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- Cricut makes two full-size smart cutting machines with different capabilities.
- Both the Explore 3 and Maker 3 cut materials like vinyl, cardstock, and heat-transfer vinyl.
- However, the Maker 3's advanced functions make it a better choice for any home crafter.
Cricut is a brand that makes and sells smart cutting machines for home crafters. With these machines, you can create pretty much anything you want out of paper, vinyl, leather, felt, wood, and more.
The company currently offers three models:
- The small Cricut Joy, perfect for making small labels and cards ($180)
- The Explore 3, a full size model that's great for projects with thin materials like paper and vinyl ($320)
- The Maker 3, another full size model that cuts a full range of materials with advanced tools ($430)
Of these three, the Explore 3 and Maker 3 are similar in size and do a lot of the same things, so you might be wondering which machine is right for you. We compared the two full size models to see which one offers the best value for its price tag.
Both machines have a learning curve, but once you've mastered it, the possibilities are endless with a Maker 3, but you may quickly outgrow the Explore 3's capabilities and want to do more with your Cricut. While it really depends on your own personal preferences and what you think you'll be using the machine for, we've found that the $110 difference in price is absolutely worth it to get the top of the line Maker 3.
|Cricut Explore 3||Cricut Maker 3|
|Size||22.2 x 7 x 5.9 inches||22.1 x 7.1 x 6.2 inches|
|Cut force||Standard||10X standard|
|Support for Smart Materials||Yes||Yes|
The Maker 3 and the Explore 3 are nearly identical in size; the differences come down to tenths of an inch. Because of this, it's hard to make a judgment one way or another. If the larger size of the machine is a concern for you, you may want to consider the much smaller Cricut Joy, which is only 8 x 5.4 x 4.3 inches.
As a general rule, the Maker 3 can do everything that the Explore 3 can. So in addition to the 100+ materials that the Explore 3 cuts, which includes different textured vinyls, cardstock, sticker paper, heat-transfer vinyl, Cricut's Infusible Ink, and foil transfers, the Maker 3 can cut around 200 more.
Cricut's Maker 3 materials collection on the website includes sheets of leather, felt, chipboard, aluminum, and wood. All of these are compatible with the Maker 3 and its expanded suite of supported tools. You can make crafts like engraved metal wall signs, felt floral bouquets, leather keychains, and wooden bookmarks with the Maker 3, as well as simpler t-shirts, stickers, and cards.
Both the Explore 3 and the Maker 3 support six basic tools. The fine point blade is best for basic projects with thin materials like vinyl and paper, while the deep point blade is great when your project requires a little more pressure. There's also the bonded fabric blade, the foil transfer tool, which uses pressure to transfer foil designs onto cardstock, and the scoring stylus, which marks paper without cutting through so it can be easily folded. Both machines also support pens and markers; in addition to making cuts, you can also program your Cricut to write and draw on a number of materials.
In addition to these six, the Maker 3 supports seven more tools: rotary blade, knife blade, single and double scoring wheels, engraving tool, debossing tool, wavy blade, and perforation blade. All of these tools are part of Cricut's "adaptive tool system" which lets users easily change out the blade or tool they're using — this system is exclusive to the Maker line and are mainly to be used with the Maker 3 exclusive materials.
The Explore 3 has what Cricut considers a standard cut force. Because of the adaptive tool system and the thicker materials that the Maker 3 supports, it also has a more forceful cut. Especially with something like the knife blade, which cuts chipboard up to 2mm thick, the Maker 3 will cut up to 10 times more forcefully than standard pressure.
With the release of the Explore 3 and the Maker 3, Cricut also introduced full-size Smart Materials. Originally only compatible with the Cricut Joy, Smart Materials make the process of cutting vinyl, cardstock, and heat-transfer vinyl simpler by removing the need for a sticky cutting mat. It also lets you cut a design up to 12 feet long. Because both of these machines use Smart Materials in the exact same way, you'll be getting this capability no matter which machine you buy.
What it's like using the Explore 3 vs. the Maker 3
Overall, the process of using the Explore 3 and the Maker 3 are similar, since both rely on Cricut Design Space, a program that lets users make all of their designs before the Cricut machine cuts, draws, or engraves them. Both machines have USB and Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to connect the machine itself to Design Space.
Cricut's website states both machines cut two times faster than previous Explore or Maker models, respectively. Though there's no comparison for the cup speed of two different device lines data on Cricut's website, I did a test of my own with a Maker 3 and an Explore 3.
Like in my Explore test, I set up the Explore 3 and Maker 3 side by side and prepared the exact same cut: same shape, material, and size. The Explore 3 finished 35 seconds faster than the Maker 3. Despite that, the cut, which was fairly intricate, only took three minutes and 35 seconds to cut on the Maker 3.
The bottom line
When it comes down to it, the Cricut Maker 3 can do everything the Explore 3 can do, plus so much more. There's a $110 price difference between the mid-range Explore 3 and the top-of-the-line Maker 3, but in my opinion, it's worth paying a little more for the Maker 3. Once you master the basics, you'll be able to make pretty much anything you dream up with the Maker 3, while the possibilities with the Explore 3 stop at the basics.
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