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Cricut Explore 3 vs Cricut Explore Air 2 (2021): Should You Save or Upgrade?

If you’ve been gearing up to buy the Cricut Explore Air 2, you might want to reconsider because Cricut just came out with a new and improved version of it. Enter the Cricut Explore 3, said to be faster and more powerful than its predecessor. That said, the Cricut Explore Air 2 is already an impressive machine in its own right so is it really worth spending a hundred dollars more for the Cricut Explore 3? To help you answer that question, here’s an in-depth comparison of the two models, covering their design, material compatibility, and tool compatibility.

Cricut Explore 3 vs Cricut Explore Air 2 Comparison Chart

ModelCricut Explore 3Cricut Explore Air 2
 Cricut Explore 3 White, MintCricut Explore Air 2, Mint
PriceCheck PriceCheck Price
Material CompatibilityOver 100 materialsOver 100 materials
Smart Material CompatibilityYesYes (but mat is needed)
Maximum Cutting Width13 inches12 inches
Maximum Cutting Length12 feet1.9 feet
Tool Compatibility6 Cricut tools6 Cricut tools
Adaptive Tool SystemNoNo
ConnectivityUSB and BluetoothUSB and Bluetooth

Design

The design differences between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3 are subtle.

Cricut Explore 3 vs Explore Air 2 design
The Cricut Explore Air 2 (right) has a material dial while the Cricut Explore 3 (left) doesn’t.

In terms of design, there aren’t too many differences between the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Explore 3. However, there is one obvious change and that’s the fact that the Explore Air 2’s material dial wasn’t carried over to the Explore 3. This means that you need to use Design Space to change the material settings on the Explore 3. But because there’s no material dial to take up more space, the Explore 3 has room for a bigger tool storage cup. The Explore 3 also has a little ledge on its lid where you can place your phone or tablet while you’re working, a feature that’s missing on the Explore Air 2.

While not very noticeable, the Explore 3 has also ditched the Explore Air 2’s glossy surface for a textured finish. This is actually quite a nice touch because fingerprint smudges are no longer an issue. As for Cricut Explore 3 colors, it’s only available in powder blue which is quite disappointing given that the Explore Air 2 comes in a bunch of different hues. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more colors later on in the year.

Another difference between these two models is their names. You’re probably wondering why the new model isn’t named Cricut Explore Air 3 after its predecessor. That’s simply because when the Explore Air 2 came out, Bluetooth was still fairly new territory for Cricut machines but now it’s a standard feature for all models.

Material Compatibility

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Explore 3 can cut over a hundred materials.

Cricut Explore 3 vs Explore Air 2 materials
The Cricut Explore 3 (left) doesn’t need a mat to cut Smart Materials while the Cricut Explore Air 2 (right) does.

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Cricut Explore 3 are able to cut over a hundred materials, the most common ones being paper, vinyl, card stock, poster board, sticker paper, and craft foam. While 100 is a pretty impressive number, you might want to look elsewhere if you’re keen on using fabric (the Cricut Maker 3 is a great alternative). The Explore Air 2 and Explore 3 aren’t compatible with the Rotary Blade so working with fabric isn’t the most pleasant experience. It’s not impossible though as you can always stiffen the fabric and then use the Bonded Fabric Blade.

While they’re tied in terms of material compatibility, the Explore 3 does have a couple of advantages over its predecessor. With the Explore 3, Smart Materials are fed directly into it which eliminates the need for a mat. The only other Cricut machines with this feature are the Maker 3 and the Joy. Because the Explore 3 doesn’t need a mat to cut Smart Materials, this allows it to cut much wider and longer pieces. While the Explore Air 2 is limited to a maximum cut width of 12 inches and length of 1.9 feet, the Explore 3 can cut a maximum width of 13 inches and length of a whopping 12 feet.

In addition, the Explore 3 is so much more powerful and efficient than the Explore Air 2, able to cut Smart Materials twice as fast. So if you’re all about saving time, then you might find it worthwhile to spend more on the Explore 3.

Tool Compatibility

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3 are compatible with six of Cricut’s tools.

Cricut Explore 3 vs Explore Air 2 tools
Both the Cricut Explore 3 (left) and Cricut Explore Air 2 (right) come with the Premium Fine-Point Blade.

The Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Explore 3 are all tied up yet again when it comes to tool compatibility. They’re able to work with six of Cricut’s tools and blades, all of which are interchangeable between the two models. The Deep Point is one of the six, commonly used for thicker materials like stiffened felt, magnets, chipboards, and foam sheets. The Foil Transfer Tool is another one that’s compatible with both Explore models, used for adding foil effects to all kinds of materials. The Scoring Stylus is usable with them as well, able to create fold lines on boxes, envelopes, and more.

Do note, however, that the mentioned tools don’t come with either the Explore Air 2 or the Explore 3 and need to be bought separately. The only tool that’s included with both models is the Premium Fine-Point Blade plus housing. This tool is quite basic and is good for general arts and crafts projects. Speaking of inclusions, other things that come with the Explore models are a USB cable, power adapter, some materials to practice with, as well as ready-to-make projects.

Verdict

Splurge on the Cricut Explore 3 if power, efficiency, and bigger cutting sizes are important to you. Otherwise, save your money and go for the Cricut Explore Air 2 instead.

The Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3 are similar in a lot of ways. They sport nearly identical looks, save for a couple of details, and they’re compatible with the same tools and materials. So why is the Explore 3 more expensive than the Explore Air 2 by a hundred dollars? It seems like the difference in price is justified by the Explore 3’s power, efficiency, and ability to cut much bigger sizes. It’s completely up to you if those three things are worth the extra money. But if you don’t mind a slower and more basic crafting experience, then the Explore Air 2 should be good enough for you.

If you’re wondering how the Cricut Explore 3 stacks up against the other new Cricut machine, take a look at our Cricut Explore 3 vs Maker 3 comparison.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ How many materials are compatible with the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3?

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3 are able to work with over a hundred materials. This includes paper, vinyl, card stock, poster board, sticker paper, and craft foam.

๐Ÿ“Œ How many Cricut tools are compatible with the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3?

Both the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3 are able to work with six Cricut tools. This includes the Deep Point, the Foil Transfer Tool, and the Scoring Stylus.

๐Ÿ“Œ What are the maximum cutting sizes of the Cricut Explore Air 2 and Cricut Explore 3?

The Cricut Explore Air 2 has a maximum cutting width of 12 inches and length of 1.9 feet while the Cricut Explore 3 has a maximum cutting width of 13 inches and length of 12 feet.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one should you buy, the Cricut Explore Air 2 or Cricut Explore 3?

If you’re after power, speed, efficiency, and bigger cutting sizes, then it’s better for you to spend an extra hundred dollars on the Cricut Explore 3. But if you don’t mind a slower and more basic crafting experience, then save your money and pick the Cricut Explore Air 2 instead.

Last update on 2021-07-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Denise Jose

Senior Editor at Compare Before Buying. Researcher and yoga teacher passionate about article writing, photography, wellness, and mindfulness.