Cricut Explore Air 2 Review: The Best Desktop Cutter

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It’s that time of the year again, Cricut fans —¬†upgrade time!

That’s right, the Cricut Explore Air 2 is here, ready to take the craft cutting world by storm.

We’ve got our fingers on the buy button, ready to take the plunge when it becomes available on October 21 2016. Once it’s arrived, we’ll give it a thorough testing before we bring you an in-depth, impartial review.

You can buy the Explore Air 2 on the Cricut website now or order through Amazon.

UPDATE:¬†Our Explore Air 2 has arrived and we’ve had a couple of weeks to play with it! Read on for our full review below.

cricut explore air 2

Everything you need to know about the Cricut Explore Air 2

In the meantime, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about this brand new electronic cutting machine, including how it measures up against the Explore Air.

In August 2017, Cricut released the brand new Cricut Maker — the ultimate smart cutting machine. Check out our guide here.

Cricut Explore Air 2 Launch Guide

The Explore Air was released all the way back in February 2015, so this latest upgrade has been a long time coming from the Cricut family.

Here’s a (pretty cheesy!) video from Cricut on¬†the release:

We love that there’s a choice of 3 colors —¬†we can be pretty superficial when we want to be.

The baby blue, peach pink and mint green are chic and sleek — the perfect addition to any desktop.

The crafting community have been pretty excited about the release too…

Blog coverage of the Explore Air 2 release

  • Ken’s Kreations:¬†An early review of the Explore Air 2 from prominent craft blogger Ken with a handy video
  • Lisa Is Busy Nerding:¬†Another early review featuring side-by-side photos and comparisons with the Explore Air

One thing that has annoyed crafters is that Cricut really kept this new release on the down-low.

While an update to the Explore Air was expected, Cricut have kept the details of the Explore Air 2 under wraps until now.

Comments like these on the Facebook announcement were pretty common:

cricut explore air 2

We get it.

Cricut Explore Air 2 Specs

What’s in the box

  • Cricut Explore Air 2 machine
  • Cricut Design Space software and app
  • German carbide premium blade
  • USB cord and power cord
  • Accessory adapter
  • 100+ free images
  • 50+ free projects
  • Getting Started guide
  • Pen and cardstock sample
  • Cricut 12″ x 12″ StandardGrip cutting mat

What materials can it work with?

Just like the Cricut Explore Air and the Silhouette Cameo 3, the Explore Air 2 is incredibly versatile — it’s able to work with over 100 different materials!

This includes all the usual suspects like cardstock, vinyl, paper and fabric — which can be selected on the Smart Set Dial — as well as more specialist media like metals, leather and foam. You may need to buy an additional deep cut blade for these thicker materials though.

Automatic settings for different material can be accessed through the Smart Set Dial on the front of the machine for the most commonly used materials, while the ‘custom material selection’ within the Design Space software has an additional 80 different automatic settings available too.

Here’s a full list of the materials the Explore Air 2 can tackle.

Cutting Width

The maximum cutting size of the Cricut Explore Air 2 is 12 inches wide by 24 inches long. In reality, this translates to 11.5 by 23.5 inches.

Sure, it’s certainly not the biggest vinyl cutting machine available, but it should be perfectly serviceable for the needs of most hobbyist crafters. It’s certainly one of the best sizes we’ve found from a desktop machine.

Unfortunately though, the cutting size diminishes quickly when you use the Print Then Cut function for your own imported designs (as opposed to those you buy direct through the Cricut Image Library). How small the cut size depends on your browser:

  • Google Chrome: 5.5″ x 8″
  • Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari: 6″ x 8.5″

cricut explore air 2 review

Software

One of the major bugbears that some crafters have with Cricut is the Design Space software. You can’t use any other software with Cricut products (at least, not without manufacturing any weird software hacks).

This is still the case with the Cricut Explore Air 2.

This will either be a deal breaker for you or it won’t.

Personally, we don’t mind Cricut Design Space. Sure, it’s not nearly as powerful as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw, but it’s certainly easy to use and a great stepping off point for beginners.

We like that you can upload your own images and convert them for free — great news for more advanced designers.

The software also contains a host (3,000+) of ready-to-make projects and quick cuts to help you get started ASAP.

It also works with the traditional Cricut cartridges, which is good for long-term Cricut fans.

Probably our favorite thing about the software is that it’s cloud based (and free!) — you can be designing on the sofa with your iPad and iPhone before sending your creations wirelessly to the cutter.

Thankfully, the 2.7.1 update for the Design Space iOS app means that you can now cut and design while you’re offline — great news for crafters that struggle to get a WiFi connection!

Sadly, we’re still waiting on the app to be developed for Android. Come on Cricut — pull your finger out!

Cricut Explore Air 2 Review

cricut explore air

The Positives

There’s only really one major¬†improvement on the Explore Air — but, boy, it’s a major improvement.

Twice as Fast

The major benefit of the Explore Air 2 is that it’s¬†faster.

Cricut are marketing it as a “DIY speed machine” that can cut and write up to¬†2 x faster¬†than the Explore Air.

I’m sure we’re not alone in impatiently waiting for our machines to cut our designs. When you’re a serious hobbyist or are running a small craft cutting business, time is money.

Cricut knows that, hence the invaluable ‘fast mode’ setting now available.

Hallelujah!

Check out this video from TheNonCraftyCrafter to see a real-time side-by-side cutting speed competition between the Explore Air 2 Fast Mode and the Explore Air:

As you can see, the design took 2 minutes 9 seconds to be cut on the second generation Explore Air 2, and 3 minutes 23 seconds on the Explore Air. Those minutes really add up over time!

We tested the fast mode on a number of different simple and intricate designs and it worked perfectly, keeping the precision of the slower mode despite cutting at a lightening pace. The writing function was particularly quick in comparison to the Cricut Explore Air, which we found a little tedious at times on large drawing projects.

Note that the fast mode only works with vinyl, iron-on and cardstock. Thankfully, these are the materials we use the most!

Of course, with the extra speed comes a compromise — the Explore Air 2 is a little¬†louder¬†than the Explore Air. Not loud enough to be a deal breaker in most cases, but worth considering anyhow.

It’s Looking Good

Another improvement of the Cricut Explore Air 2 on its predecessor is that it looks amazing.

The original Explore Air looked good, but this looks better.

It’s available in 3 different pastel colors:

Cue the drooling from product design geeks.

We went for the mint edition, but we’re just itching for an excuse to buy the baby pink and powder blue as well.

It’s also a little sleeker than the Explore Air: the Smart Set dial is more integrated into the machine and there’s a cute pop of glitz with the thin gold-colored band running around the bottom of the cutter.

Pretty damn chic.

It’s Kept all the Pros of the Explore Air

The Explore Air 2 is essentially just the Explore Air, but better.

It’s got the same wireless Bluetooth connectivity, storage space for tools, auto-settings, dual carriage for writing and scoring or writing and drawing in one step, and — most importantly — the same precision cutting from the German carbide premium blade.

Where Cricut excels over its competitors (most notably Silhouette) has always been in the strength of its cutting. It’s good to see that they haven’t compromised quality for speed in the case of the Explore Air 2.

It can still cut over 100 different types of material too (although the Fast Mode setting is only available for vinyl, cardstock and iron-on).

Cricut have put together this handy comparison table between the Explore, Explore Air and Explore Air 2:

cricut explore air 2

The Negatives

Where’s the Android App?

It feels like we’ve been looking at this sign on the Cricut website for a lifetime:

cricut explore air 2

When is ‘soon’, Cricut?

Although the machine and Design Space software can still be used on PCs, it’s annoying that Android users aren’t yet able to enjoy the experience of using Cricut’s products from the comfort of their phone or tablet.

This is one of the major positives of the Explore range from Cricut, so they should really get their act together and make sure that this feature is accessible to everyone, regardless of the make of your phone.

UPDATE:¬†There is now a Beta version of the Cricut Design Space app for Android which you can download here from the Google Play store. It’s primarily been designed for Samsung Galaxy devices and is US only right now. Let them know what you think!

It’s a Little Louder

We personally don’t think that it’s loud enough to be a dealbreaker, but the Cricut Explore Air 2¬†certainly operates louder than the Explore Air.

Which product you choose will depend on whether you’d prefer speed or quiet. Are you willing to accept the compromise?

Personally, we are. The speed benefits are significant and we keep our electronic cutting machines in a separate room anyway.

Print Then Cut Sizes Are Restrictive

We love designing our own creations to cut using the Explore Air 2, but have found that using the Print Then Cut function limits the cut size even further.

  • Google Chrome: 5.5″ x 8″
  • Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari: 6″ x 8.5″

Those looking to use Print Then Cut on a larger scale may need to look to the Silhouette Cameo 3 for more suitable sizes.

Overall Verdict on the Cricut Explore Air 2

While we were a little underwhelmed at the announcement that the only major improvement on the Explore Air was the fact that it could cut up to twice the speed on certain materials, we have to say that after having used the Explore Air 2, this is a real game changer.

While fast mode is only available on vinyl, cardstock and iron-on materials, it truly is significantly faster than any other desktop craft cutter on the market right now.

Thankfully, it doesn’t compromise any of its precision cutting abilities with the extra speed, and is just as adept at intricate designs as it is on the normal speed setting.

We do have two very minor niggles with the machine: it’s a little louder than the Explore Air and we’re¬†still¬†waiting for the Design Space app for Android.

cricut explore 2 review

Where to Buy the Cricut Explore Air 2

The MSRP for the Explore Air 2 right now is $299, but there are already discount deals to be found online.

explore air 2 reviewed

Or you could buy the machine straight from the Cricut website:

cricut explore air 2

Bundle Deals

For the best deals, you can’t go wrong with a Cricut bundle.

These are usually priced pretty low and include the machine itself plus a host of other accessories.

Cricut Explore Air 2 + Deluxe Starter Set

cricut explore air 2 bundle deals

Includes:

  • Cricut Explore Air 2 machine
  • Deep Cut Blade with housing
  • Wildflower pen set
  • Candy shop pen set
  • Cutting mat variety 3-pack

Cricut Explore Air 2 + EVERYTHING Starter Set

cricut explore air 2 bundle deals

Includes:

  • Cricut Explore Air 2 machine
  • Cutting mat variety 3-pack
  • Deep Cut Blade with housing
  • Wildflower pen set
  • Iron-on glitter in black
  • Chalkboard vinyl
  • Scoring stylus
  • Premium German carbide replacement blade
  • Window cling in black
  • Multi pen set in black
  • Printable sticker paper
  • Printable fabric
  • Trimmer tool
  • Washi sheets in designer
  • Printable iron-on in light
  • Vinyl sampler in home
  • Dry erase vinyl
  • Poster board in metallic
  • Craft foam in distressed
  • Printable magnet sheets
  • Window cling in red
  • Transfer tape

Cricut Explore Air 2 + Ultimate Machine Set

cricut explore air 2 bundle deals

Includes:

  • Cricut Explore Air 2 machine
  • Deep cut blade with housing
  • Scoring stylus
  • Candy shop pen set
  • Tools basic set
  • Cutting mat variety 3-pack
  • Window cling in black

 

explore air 2 review

 

Will you be buying the Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine?

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43 Comments

  1. Hi I am buying my wife an electronic cutting machine for Christmas and she has asked for either this Explore 2 or the Cameo 3 (by Silhouette). She is a crafter although is a beginner at cutting. Which machine out of those 2 is best for a beginner?

  2. If you want to purchase accessories or items that can be used for the air 2. What would they be. My sister received the machine and I’d like to buy her Hingis to use with it but I’m. It at all familiar with it.

    • Hi Melis,

      Your best bet is to visit the Cricut website or Amazon and search for Cricut cartridges. These contain images, patterns and fonts in certain styles and themes. There are loads available so I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that suits her!

  3. So with the silhouette you can’t take a picture of something you’re working on and have it cut around the edges of what you need cut. Not just uploaded designs. Is that possible with the cricut? I think that would be the selling point for me if that isn’t an option.

    • Hi Sarah

      Both the Cricut and the Silhouette allow you to do Print and Cut — you print out the image that you want cut on your home printer, then load it into the cutter and it will cut around the edges. It’s easy to do this in the software of both machines.

  4. Donna Mefford on

    I have never used any cutting machine. I want to try my hand at paint chip art and was willing to punch 100’s of circles. My husband wants me to purchase the Explore Air 2. Will this machine cut circles on such a slim medium as a paint sample strip? If the paint strip has 5 different shades of one color, will it cut circles from all 5 chips in one pass? If so, how do I set-up the spacing? The reviews have me definitely convinced it is the piece of equipment I need, especially over hand punching. But, in all I have read I have not had my particular project addressed. Btw, your review has been the absolute most informative! Thank you.

    • Hi Donna,

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re not familiar with paint chip art but from your description, the Explore Air 2 will be fine for your needs. It can cut media as thin as tissue paper and, while there’s only one blade, it will cut all your circles that are on the same media sheet in one pass. Spacing can be easily adjusted within the Cricut software which comes free with the machine (called Cricut Design Space). Let us know if you have any more questions!

  5. Hi. Your review is very informative. I really want to buy one of these but have to first check if they are available in my India.
    I work mainly with felt and have to cut multiple pieces of different shapes and size in large number. I already have Sizzix big shot but now want to buy something where I can design and cut the same on felt. How easy will that be with these two machines? Or which one can do a better job for me.
    Sometimes the designs are so intricate that it’s difficult to cut it with scissors. That’s the reason I’m looking for an electronic machine.

    • Hi Megha,

      You can definitely cut felt with this machine. Cricut advise that it can handle wool felt, glitter bonded felt and stiffened bonded felt. We’ve found it much superior to the Sizzix Big Shot for cutting intricate designs.

  6. I bought this almost six months or more and have only used it to make 2 t-shirts. I find the supplies are expensive. A lot of times I get an error that the machine cannot cut because it can’t find the lines. The print and cut has never worked for me. I wish it would have like a word art feature so you could put words on a curve or circle etc it’s very difficult to move each letter. I’m very disappointed it’s frustrated me so I don’t bother anymore. I bought the expensive everything package and I feel like I just wasted my money. I have great ideas however they’re no good if I can’t get the machine to operate. I have been looking for classes in Charlotte NC and I can’t find any. I’m really frustrated so many things I want to make for my first Grandbaby boy.

    • Sharon, I am a first time user of the Cricut Explore Air 2. I have learned two ways to curve words. One is to use the circle shape, then after typing text in a text box, separate the letters and move them around the outside of the circle that has been sized to suit you. Then delete the circle shape. If you weld the letters, they will stay as you have placed them. The other is to go to Word on your computer, insert WordArt, and select the style you want. After saving this to your computer, you can then convert it to jpeg or png, then upload it to Design Space. In the interest of space, I have left off some steps for each method, but you can probably figure out the rest! Good luck.

  7. I’ve never used a cutter, I saw some pretty designs on mugs, glasswares and fabrics and would love to create mine. I don’t know what to buy as a beginer. What are the necessary things I would need asides the cricut explore air 2?

  8. Greetings,
    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “Unfortunately though, the cutting size diminishes quickly when you use the Print Then Cut function for your own imported designs (as opposed to those you buy through the Cricut Image Library). How small the cut size depends on your browser:

    Google Chrome : 5.5 “x 8”
    Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari : 6 “x 8.5″”

    Are you saying that if I use my own designs, the cutting area is limited to these sizes?

    If so, that seems very small.

    What if, for example, I want to cut out numbers for the back of a soccer jersey? The numbers tend to be bigger than the above measurements.

    Regards,
    Jason

  9. Hi, I want to get this for my girlfriend as a christmas gift, she loves doing small projects but all by hand and has never used anything like this, would you recommend it for first timers?

    • Hi Nico,

      Yes, we definitely recommend this Cricut machine for first timers. It’s very easy to use and master, but there’s also plenty of opportunities to grow with it and get more creative. We think it will make a fantastic gift for your girlfriend.

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  12. I have never used any sort cutting machine and I am a looking to get a machine that will cut vinyl for me to design apparel. I am looking to take it to local events where I can make custom shirts for customers. Is there anything I should know and areas I should be looking at. I want something cheap under 600 so I can buy the vinyl and the heat press to use for the events.

    Please help!

    Thanks!

  13. Could you tell me the best printer to use with printable vinyl? I am starting a sticker and decal business and would like to know the best type and value of printer for a small business?

  14. Do you happen to know the wattage the air2 uses. Got this a couple of years ago and I love it, but we are moving to Europe and I’m going to buy a converter. Need to know which one to buy for the machine.

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