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Cricut Explore Air 2 Review
Able to cut and draw at twice the speed of the Explore Air, the Explore Air 2 might just well be America’s favorite desktop cutting machine. It still boasts wireless connectivity, precision cutting and a chic look perfect for your craft table.
We have a couple of niggles — it’s a little loud and it’s been overshadowed by the Cricut Maker in recent years — but there’s a reason why it’s still incredibly popular!
Automatic settings for over 80 materials
Bluetooth connectivity for wireless cutting
Quite loud, especially in Fast Mode
Print Then Cut sizes are restrictive
Design Space software — you either love it or hate it!
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is perhaps Cricut’s most popular vinyl cutting machine.
Probably the most popular cutting machine in the world, thinking about it. It’s available to buy on both Cricut’s own website and on Amazon.
It was released back in October 2016 but is showing no signs of fading, despite being overtaken by new releases like the Cricut Maker and the cheaper alternative, the Cricut Joy.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know about the machine before buying, including an in-depth, impartial review that will hopefully help you make the best decision for your circumstances.
Fast Mode = works twice as fast as the Explore Air with some materials
Premium German carbide blades
Dual carriage (cuts &writes/scores in 1 step)
The Deep Dive
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.
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 was originally available in 3 different pastel colors:
But Cricut have since released plenty of different colors and special editions.
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:
It's Quite Loud
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.
Cricut Design Space
Cricut Design Space, the proprietary software used with Cricut machines, has always been divisive.
It’s had a long history of being buggy, inconvenient to use and restrictive for more experienced users.
We think it’s really improved in the past couple of years, however, and would urge anyone to give it a try before writing it off completely. Bugs are rare, it seems much more intuitive and we would urge more experienced crafters to try out more sophisticated software like Sir Cuts A Lot, Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator and then import your designs into Design Space.
But there’s no denying that some people don’t get along with it so we think it’s worth including as a note.
Cricut are always open to hearing about potential improvements though so make sure you let them know any ideas you have — it’s the only way the program will get better!
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.
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″
We’ve already spoken about the divisive nature of Design Space.
It’ll 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, a recent update for the Design Space app means that you can now cut and design while you’re offline — great news for crafters that struggle to get a WiFi connection!
Cricut Explore Air 2 vs Cricut Maker
There’s no doubt that the Cricut Maker has somewhat overshadowed the Explore Air 2 since it’s release as, frankly, it is a much more sophisticated machine.
It’s much more versatile in terms of the materials it can work with and its design capability. We’ll admit that we use the Maker far more nowadays than its predecessor.
But the Explore Air 2 is still undoubtedly a great machine and there’s a reason why it’s still the most popular on the craft cutting market.
It’s cheaper than the Maker and will be more than adequate for the majority of home crafters who use their Cricut as a hobby. If you’re cost sensitive and not bothered about versatility, then the Explore Air 2 is probably the more suitable machine.
More experienced crafters and those running small businesses are likely to be much better suited to the Maker.
The Cameo 3 is the most obvious competitor to the Explore Air 2 and crafters are often split in two as to which machine they prefer.
The Explore Air 2 is arguably the superior machine thanks to the greater cutting force and faster speed but there are things to like about the Cameo 3 as well — namely the larger cutting size (up to 10 feet) and the more sophisticated software, Silhouette Studio.
I’m a life long crafter with a passion for vinyl cutting — it’s been both a hobby and a career for me over the past 5 years. Everyday I love testing new machines, materials and techniques and passing my tips and reviews along to my crafting friends and readers. I don’t like to play favorites, but it’s hard to deny that the Silhouette Cameo and Cricut cutters hold a special place in my heart! When I’m not in my craft room (and sometimes when I’m in it), you’ll find me playing with my baby daughter and my two furball puppies.