Cricut Machine Comparison: Explore Air vs Explore One vs Expression vs Cuttlebug

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Alongside Silhouette, Cricut is the most popular brand for hobbyist craft and vinyl cutting machines.

They’ve got quite a selection to choose from — so many, in fact, that you might be wondering which is the best for your needs.

Wonder no more! This Cricut machine comparison will lay out the pros and cons of each cutter and will help you decide which one to purchase.

explore air vs explore one

We’ll go through each machine one by one and then finally compare them against each other to see how they stack up.

Ready? Let’s begin…

The Machines

Cricut’s flagship¬†machines are the Explore line of craft cutters:

  1. Explore One
  2. Explore Air
  3. Explore Air 2

The Explore Air 2 is the latest machine to light up the craft cutting world, and is proving very popular indeed so far!

They’ve also got a few smaller machines from their older product line that you can still buy on Amazon:

  1. Expression 2
  2. Expression
  3. Cuttlebug
  4. Mini

We’ll take a look at these as well shortly.

Cricut Explore Air 2

The Explore Air 2 was launched in October 2016 and definitely rivals the Silhouette Cameo 3 as the best desktop craft cutter on the market right now.

>> Read our full review and rating of the Explore Air 2

cricut explore air 2
Here’s what you need to know about the machine:

  • Maximum cutting size of 11.5″ x 23.5″
  • Works with¬†100+ materials
  • Bluetooth enabled
  • Dual carriage¬†that can cut and write, or cut and score in 1 step
  • Automatic settings¬†(via SmartSet dial and software) for 80+ materials
  • Equipped with¬†premium German carbide blade
  • Twice as fast¬†as the Explore Air in Fast Mode for vinyl, iron-on and cardstock materials

The new Fast Mode is the only major improvement of the Explore Air 2 over its predecessors but, boy, it’s a good one. Waiting around for your machine to finish cutting and writing can be super tedious — we’re not sure we’ll be able to go back to a slower machine after trying this one out!

This video does a neat side-by-side comparison of the speed difference between the Explore Air and the Explore Air 2:

There is a compromise that comes with extra speed, however — it’s a little noisy.

But not noisy enough to be a deal breaker.

At least, not for us!

explore air vs explore air 2

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Explore Air

Before the Explore Air 2, came the Explore Air, which we decided was our favorite craft cutter for beginners.

We’ll be breaking down the similarities and differences in Explore Air vs Explore Air 2 but, basically, it’s the same as the Explore Air 2, just without the Fast Mode.

Released back in February 2015, it was one of the first cutters to offer wireless cutting capability thanks to the Bluetooth connectivity. We love a company that is always moving forward with new technology.

>> Read our full review and rating of the Explore Air

explore air vs explore air 2

Here’s what you need to know about the machine:

  • Maximum cutting size of 11.5″ x 23.5″
  • Works with¬†100+ materials
  • Bluetooth enabled
  • Premium German carbide blades
  • Dual carriage¬†for cutting and writing/cutting and scoring in one step
  • Automatic¬†settings¬†for 80+ materials via SmartSet Dial and software

There are a couple of small issues with it:

  • It needs a handle for easy transportation
  • Smaller cutting area than the Silhouette Cameo

explore air vs explore air 2

cricut expression vs expression 2

We should also mention another version of the Explore Air — the Explore Air Gold.

It’s exactly the same as the Explore Air in every way, except it has a pretty bling gold trim. And a correspondingly more expensive price tag.

cricut machine comparison

Cricut Explore One

The first in the Explore line from Cricut was the Explore One — a more basic version of the later iterations of the machine.

It doesn’t have the same bells and whistles of the Explore Air and Explore Air 2, but it’s still a popular machine and decidedly low cost considering its capabilities.

Cricut market it as “the best value in DIY” —¬†but we suppose they would do!

explore air vs explore one

Here’s what you need to know about the machine:

  • Maximum cutting size of¬†11.5″ x 23.5″
  • Works with¬†100+ materials
  • Automatic settings¬†with the Smart Set dial
  • Equipped with premium German carbide blades
  • Low cost

Of course, being older and cheaper comes with a few compromises, namely:

  • It’s quite¬†slow as there’s no Fast Mode nor dual carriage
  • It’s¬†not Bluetooth enabled¬†(although you can buy a dongle to make it so)

explore air vs explore air 2

If it’s out of stock on Amazon, you can also buy it from the Cricut website:

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Expression 2

The Expression 2 is one of those machines where you either love it or you hate it.

What’s cool about it is that you don’t need to connect it to a computer — it’s a stand alone cutter. That being said, you can’t design your own creations without a computer so you have to use Cricut cartridges to get designs.

UGH. Are we the only ones who are not down with the cartridges?!

cricut explore vs expression

If you do want to create, you’ll need to hook it up to a computer and create an online account with the older Cricut Craft Room software.¬†You can only use the Cricut images you already own on the cartridges.

This video tutorial shows you how the Expression 2 works:

Here’s what else you need to know about the machine:

  • Maximum cutting size of¬†12″ x 24″
  • Compatible with all Cricut cartridges
  • Comes preloaded with¬†2 cartridges
  • LCD touchscreen display with a stylus
  • Cuts a wide range of materials

Compared with the Cricut Explore range, the Expression 2 is a pretty old-fashioned machine and simply doesn’t have the functionality and creative capability of the more up-to-date machines.

We’re¬†sure we’ll be saying the same thing in 5 years about the Explore Air 2!

Here are a couple of things we don’t like about the Expression 2:

  • You’re restricted to only using Cricut fonts, even in the Craft Room software
  • The software can only be accessed with an internet connection, so you can’t design if you don’t have WiFi

The Expression 2 has now been discontinued by Cricut, but you can still find it occasionally on Amazon.

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Expression

Even older than the Expression 2 is the original Expression.

We’ll be doing a full comparison of the machines later in Cricut Expression vs Expression 2, but in the meantime, it’s safe to say that the Expression is an even more basic version of its later iteration.

cricut expression vs expression 2

Just like the Expression 2, you can use it either with or without a computer. If you want to access the Cricut Craft Room software, you must hook up to the computer, and you can still only design with the images you already own on the Cricut cartridges.

The Expression has a screen with a somewhat confusing keypad overlaid instead of an LCD touchscreen.

Here’s what else you need to know:

  • Maximum cutting size of¬†12″ x 24″
  • Comes with¬†250+ free images¬†preloaded

Again, it’s been discontinued, but you can still find it occasionally on Amazon (if you really want to…)

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Cuttlebug

The Cuttlebug is unlike anything else in the Cricut line of cutting products.

Instead of being an electronic cutting machine, the Cuttlebug is a crank operated die cutter and embosser. You’ll need to buy dies and embossing folders separately to cut the designs you want to use.

cricut expression vs expression 2

Despite its somewhat basic appearance, the Cuttlebug is surprisingly popular and has a bit of a cult following in the craft cutting community. Scrapbookers, in particular, love it. Plus, it’s super cheap!

This is a great machine for kids and beginners.

Here’s how it works if you’re feeling confused:

Here’s what you need to know about the machine:

  • Accepts all dies and embossing folders
  • Very¬†compact¬†and easy to carry with a pop-up handle
  • Comes with all the¬†cutting pads¬†you need to start
  • Low price
  • Maximum cutting width of 6″

There aren’t really any drawbacks to the Cuttlebug, as long as you accept it for what it is: a basic, crank operated die cutter. It does exactly what it says on the box and is supremely easy to use.

cricut expression vs expression 2

You can buy it in a stylish mint color if you buy direct from the Cricut website.

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Mini Cutting Machine

Another older machine, the Cricut Mini is exactly what it sounds like: a smaller version of the standard Cricut products.

We have the same issue with it as we do with the Expression machines, however: you have to use the cartridges and there’s no option to create your own original designs.

cricut machine comparison

If you like using the cartridges though, and if you value a smaller, cheaper and more portable Cricut product, then the Mini could be right up your alley.

Here’s what you need to know about the machine:

  • Maximum cutting size of¬†8.5″ x 12″
  • Connects to¬†Cricut Craft Room software
  • Cuts a¬†wide range of materials, including cardstock, paper, vinyl, vellum, fabric, chipboard and foils

The Mini has been discontinued on the Cricut website, but you can still buy it from Amazon.

cricut expression vs expression 2

Cricut Software

One aspect we haven’t mentioned is the design software that accompanies the Cricut machines.

For the Explore series, that’s Cricut Design Space.

For the Expression series and the Mini, that’s Cricut Craft Room.

It’s really important to analyze the software before buying a cutting machine, as designing is half the battle (and the fun!) when it comes to craft cutting.

Cricut Design Space

cricut machine comparisonCricut Design Space attracts a lot of criticism from the craft community as it can be a little buggy, and it doesn’t offer the same advanced design options that Silhouette Studio does, for instance.
It’s not all bad though — beginner crafters often love Design Space as there’s an easy learning curve and it’s relatively simple to design in the software.

With the latest software update, you’re now able to access Design Space even when you’re not online — good news for those that struggle with a WiFi connection!

We like it too — you can upload your own designs to the software for free before transferring them to the cutter. We routinely create our designs in Adobe Illustrator before uploading them to Design Space. This gets around the issue that the software isn’t as well equipped for more advanced designers.

There’s also an app available for iOS (sadly, not Android yet) so you can design on your iPad or iPhone on the sofa, before sending your design via Bluetooth straight to the machine. Ideal!

cricut explore vs explore air 2Cricut Craft Room

Craft Room is the software that accompanies the Expression machines and the Mini.

Compared to Design Space, it’s very limiting as it¬†only lets you design using the images you already own from the Cricut cartridges.

Some people love using cartridges — especially beginners and those who find the fun in the actual cutting rather than the designing process. If that’s you, Cricut Craft Room should definitely cater to your needs.

Design nerds (like us!) will likely find it basic and restrictive.

Cricut Machine Comparison

Explore Air vs Explore Air 2

explore air vs explore air 2

As the newest releases from Cricut, it seems natural to compare the Explore Air vs the Explore Air 2 together.

These two craft cutters are very similar. They share these characteristics:

  • Dual carriage for cutting and scoring/cutting and drawing at the same time
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Premium German carbide blade
  • Automatic settings for 80+ materials with Smart Set Dial
  • Cuts 100+ materials
  • Use Cricut Design Space software

In fact, the only major difference between the machines is that the Explore Air 2 has a Fast Mode.

Fast Mode enables cutting and drawing to be completed up to twice as fast on vinyl, iron-on and cardstock materials.

It literally leaves the Explore Air in the dust.

The Explore Air 2 also has a distinctively chic look — cloaked in a pastel mint color and looking just a bit more sleek than the Explore Air.

Winner: Explore Air 2

Explore Air vs Explore One

explore air vs explore one

The next round in our Cricut machine comparison is between the Explore Air and the Explore One.

There are some major differences between the two cutters.

While both have the same precision cutting, both use Design Space and both can work with over 100 materials, only the Explore Air has the following features:

  • Bluetooth Connectivity
  • Dual carriage for cutting and writing/cutting and scoring at the same time

With that in mind…

Winner: Explore Air

Explore Air vs Explore Air Gold

explore air vs explore air gold

We get this question a lot: which machine is the best — Explore Air or Explore Air Gold?

Well, we hate to break it to you but…

They’re exactly the same.

Actually, that’s not true. They’re exactly the same except the Gold has a — you guessed it — gold band around the bottom and is often priced more expensively than the normal Explore Air.

Don’t get us wrong, the Gold certainly¬†looks¬†cool. We’re just not sure that there’s much of substance to prefer it over the original.

Winner: Explore Air

Cricut Explore vs Cricut Expression 2

cricut explore vs expression

When the Explore One first came out, Cricut fans were clamouring over themselves to try and see how much better it was than the Expression series.

The answer is: a lot.

First off, the Explore One connects to the Design Space software which, as we’ve already mentioned, is superior to the Expression’s Craft Room software as it allows you to create your own designs and upload your own artwork.

You’re much more restricted in terms of design with the Expression 2.

You can also only use Craft Room when you’re hooked up to the WiFi. With Design Space, on the other hand, you can design offline and using the iOS app.

Even if you prefer using cartridges, you’ll still be satisfied with the Explore One as it’s compatible with all Cricut cartridges.

Both machines can cut a wide range of materials, but we think that the Explore has the edge over the Expression as its cutting is more precise and accurate, thanks to its premium German carbide blade.

It’s really a no-brainer.

Winner: Explore One

Cricut Expression vs Expression 2

cricut expression vs expression 2

If you’re really feeling old school with your cutting, you might be wondering which machine wins out in the battle of the Cricut Expression vs the Expression 2.

There are some important upgrades that came with the Expression 2 that make it a much easier to use machine than its predecessor.

For instance:

  • The Expression 2 has an LCD touchscreen instead of the awkward overlaid keyboard of the original Expression
  • The touchscreen shows you where the images will be placed on the mat before cutting and provides a detailed preview
  • It’s much easier to flip images, rotate and resize them on the Expressions 2

While we look back on the Expression 2 as an old fashioned machine, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary it seemed when it first came out. We were all using cartridges back then and an LCD touchscreen really seemed to be cutting edge.

Sure, the technology has been overtaken with the Explore series, but we’ve got a lot of respect for the Cricut Expression 2.

Winner: Expression 2

What About the Cuttlebug and the Mini?

We haven’t included any comparisons with the Cuttlebug and the Mini because they stand alone in their own distinct categories.

If you want a small, crank operated die cutting machine, then the Cuttlebug is the only choice in the Cricut machine comparison.

Similarly, if you want a compact electronic cutter at a low cost, the Mini is a no-brainer.

Soon we’ll be doing an in-depth comparison of the Cricut Cuttlebug vs Sizzix Big Shot, in order to see who truly wins out in the battle of the crank-operated cutters.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve read this¬†mammoth comparison of (almost!) every Cricut cutting machine, you should be clued up on which machine is the best for you.

As you can probably tell, we wholeheartedly recommend the Explore series for most general craft cutting. And in the battle of Explore Air vs Explore Air 2, our money is on the latest Air 2, everytime!

P.S. We also give an honorable mention to the Cuttlebug.

 

Which is your favorite cutter in our Cricut machine comparison?


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One Response

  1. Charity August 30, 2017

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