It is not an exaggeration to say Cricut products have unlocked a creative person within me. I've never been good with a paintbrush or sewing machine or even digital art, but I can spend hours with my Cricut and feel like I've created some very cool things. With the Smart Materials I
If the Cricut Explore 3 is so great, why spend $100 more for the Cricut Maker 3? I've spent the last couple of weeks looking for the answer, and what I found was a ton of new ways to be creative.
- Premium build materials and a ton of supported tools come together to give you a reason to make something.
- This machine would be a lot more useful if the Marker tool slot was multipurpose.
Everything you already love, just more of it
There are a lot of people who think of Cricut as "just a vinyl cutter" but the truth is even the comparatively simpler Explore 3 is considerably more than that. There are a ton of materials you can cut with all of the different blades available, or you can swap out the base cutting tool and do something like foil transfer onto paper or leather with a quick swap of the tools. And with a quick search, you can see people making incredibly creative things with every model Cricut. Some are as simple as a set of stickers you can put on your car or water bottle or laptop, but others can be as complicated as 3D pop-up cards using four different kinds of materials in just as many colors, more intricate than anything you'll see on a shelf in a store.
Every Cricut unlocks a certain level of creativity within its owner, but the Maker series is for people who want to push themselves even further. The Maker line allows you to use way more tools and offers a lot more control with those tools. The QuickSwap tool system includes a gear at the top of the housing which is used for controlling the direction the tool is facing. This means you can use a rotary tool for precision cuts of fabric, or cut into thicker materials with a deep point blade. And unlike other Cricut machines, the Maker 3 can use many of these extra tools without requiring a safety mat thanks so the Smart Materials system Cricut uses to feed the machine precision depth information.
What does all of this mean? The Cricut Maker 3 does a whole lot more than its predecessors without adding an enormous amount of extra expense. I have engraved metal, cut perfect pockets to sew onto shirts and made super cool shirts to give to family members without any more effort than it took me to make a fun sticker for my friend's water bottle. I've even started exploring with acid-etching glass with the help of the vinyl creations in a Cricut, something I never would have considered within my skillset until recently.
More than what it's capable of, the Cricut Maker 3 both looks and feels like a more premium Cricut. The textures used in the outer plastic feel nicer, the weightier top platter makes holding tablets on top easier and the base tray more easily supports accessories like the Smart Materials roll. That roll also works with the Cricut Explore 3, but when connected to the Maker 3 it's a more secure fit and requires a little less management to use. You may not see it in photos of the two Cricut machines sitting side by side, but the Maker 3 is clearly a better made machine in person.
My only real complaint with the Cricut Maker 3, a machine designed to give me more options to do more faster, is how limited I am by only having one tool slot. Every Cricut Explore and Maker has two slots for accessories, but one of them is always dedicated to using pens. Having the pen slot is awesome, especially for making cards. The ability to just and draw without having to swap anything is super handy, but the Maker 3 would be so much more useful if I could have two QuickSwap tools loaded instead of one. When I'm making a card, for example, I need to first load the Scoring tool to press in to the cardstock and establish nice folds before removing that tool and putting the cutting tool in to cut out the card. This entire process would be considerably faster if it were possible to load two of these tools at once.
The software pulls it all together
What really sets Cricut apart form its competitors is its Design Space software, and this constantly evolving experience has improved dramatically even since I reviewed the Explore 3 earlier this year.
With Design Space on my phone I can see something out in the world, take a picture of it and edit that photo to add to a design I have in the app. I can create wherever I am and if I need a bigger screen or more tools to finish my design I can save my work with my account and it's immediately available on my laptop. If I have multiple pieces I need to but in multiple colors, I can point my phone at my cutting mat and make sure all of the vinyl pieces I have line up correctly before cutting.
It's possible to do most everything from Design Space on my phone and in fact between my phone and my tablet I do most of my creating from my couch. But if you have a laptop, the Design Space app offers a number of useful shortcuts and improvements. For example, if I have an image I want to edit the Mac or PC app has some machine learning for automatically removing the background. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but it's considerably faster than doing it myself on my tablet.
Regardless of which Design Space you have access to, Cricut is big on pushing its Cricut Access subscription. This service offers up tons of ready-made projects and additional fonts depending on which tier you pay for. This can be as simple as a quick design for a coffee mug or as complex as a massive wreath for my front door and just about everything in between. Even if all you do is browse Cricut Access for inspiration and never spend a dollar, this service is worthwhile. It's such a great way of looking at what is possible with these machines and a constant reminder there's a lot more than just vinyl cutting possible with the Maker 3.
Serious creators and would-be pros start here
What is the Cricut Maker 3 for? Honestly, I'll probably spend the next six months answering that question for myself. That's what's so cool about this platform and if you take a look at Etsy or Pinterest you can see hundreds of people who already make a living creating things for other people to buy. Walk into any Walmart or Target and you'll see a huge Cricut section. Walk into any craft store, and you'll see an even bigger version with tons more options. It's never been easier to turn an idea into something indistinguishable from what you could buy in a store -- and usually a lot more clever.
While it's not a requirement to spendto start selling things you've made, it's clear this machine makes it easier just with the sheer number of tools you have at your disposal. And it's not difficult to imagine someone using a Maker 3 for a few weeks and finding themselves looking into what it would take to start an Etsy account and share their creations with other people. It's the machine you get when you know you want to do more than just cut vinyl, even if you don't know exactly how far you want to take it.