Which vinyl cutter is the best

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

  • Cricut makes two full-size smart cutting machines with different capabilities.
  • The Explore 3 and Maker 3 both cut materials like vinyl, card stock, and heat transfer vinyl.
  • However, the advanced features of the Maker 3 make it a better choice for any hobby crafter.

Cricut is a brand that manufactures and sells smart cutting machines for home crafters. With these machines you can create just about anything you want with paper, vinyl, leather, felt, wood, etc.

The company currently offers three models:

  • The little Cricut Joyperfect for making small tags and cards ($180)

  • The Explore 3a life-size model ideal for projects with thin materials like paper and vinyl ($320)

  • The Manufacturer 3another full-size model that cuts a full range of materials with advanced tools ($430)

Of these three, the Explore 3 and Manufacturer 3 are similar in size and do many of the same things, you may be wondering which machine is best for you. We’ve compared the two full-size models to see which offers the best value.

Both machines have a learning curve, but once you’ve mastered it the possibilities are endless with a Maker 3, but you can quickly outgrow the capabilities of the Explore 3 and want to do more with your Cricut. While it really comes down to personal preference and what you plan to use the machine for, we found the $110 price difference to be well worth it to get the top-of-the-line Maker 3.


Two cutting machines with a green leaf on the left and a blue leaf on the right

Angela Tricarico/Insider

The Maker 3 and Explore 3 are nearly identical in size; the differences come down to tenths of an inch. For this reason, it is difficult to make a judgment one way or the other. If you’re concerned about the larger size of the machine, you might want to consider the much smaller one Cricut Joywhich measures only 8 x 5.4 x 4.3 inches.


Generally, the Maker 3 can do everything the Explore 3 can do. So, in addition to the more than 100 materials the Explore 3 cuts, which includes various textured vinyls, cardstock, sticker paper, heat transfer vinyl, Cricut’s infusible ink, and foil transfers, the Maker 3 can cut about 200 more.

Cricut’s Maker 3 Material Collection on the website includes sheets of leather, felt, chipboard, aluminum and wood. All of these are compatible with the Maker 3 and its extensive suite of supported tools. You can create crafts such as engraved metal wall signs, felt flower bouquets, leather keychains and wooden bookmarks with the Maker 3, as well as t-shirts, stickers and cards simpler.


Side by side collage.  The left side shows two pens and the right side shows five tools for Circuit Maker 3.

On the left are four of the six basic Explore 3 and Maker 3 tools, while the right shows five of the more advanced Maker 3 exclusive tools.

Angela Tricarico/Insider

The Explore 3 and Maker 3 support six basic tools. The fine point blade is ideal for basic projects with thin materials like vinyl and paper, while the deep point blade is ideal when your project requires a little more pressure. There’s also the Bonded Fabric Blade, the Foil Transfer Tool, which uses pressure to transfer foil designs onto card stock, and the Marking Stylus, which marks the paper without cutting it so that it can be easily folded. Both machines also support pens and markers; in addition to making cuts, you can also program your Cricut to write and draw on a number of materials.

In addition to these six, the Maker 3 supports seven other tools: Rotary Blade, Knife Blade, Single and Dual Wheels, Engraving Tool, Debossing Tool, Wavy Blade, and Perforation Blade. All of these tools are part of Cricut’s “Adaptive Tool System” which allows users to easily change the blade or tool they are using – this system is exclusive to the Maker line and should primarily be used with the exclusive materials Maker 3.

cutting force

The Explore 3 has what Cricut considers standard cutting strength. Due to the adaptive tool system and thicker materials supported by the Maker 3, it also has more powerful cutting. Especially with something like the Knife Blade, which cuts particleboard up to 2mm thick, the Maker 3 will cut with up to 10 times more force than standard pressure.

Smart materials

Blue Cricut Maker 3 with smart materials

The Maker 3 is shown here with the Smart Materials Roll Holder attached.

Angela Tricarico/Insider

With the release of the Explore 3 and Maker 3, Cricut has also introduced full-size smart materials. Originally only compatible with the Cricut Joy, Smart Materials simplifies the process of cutting vinyl, card stock, and heat transfer vinyl by removing the need for a sticky cutting mat. It also allows you to cut a pattern up to 12 feet long. Since both of these machines use smart materials in exactly the same way, you’ll benefit from this capability no matter which machine you buy.

What does using the Explore 3 look like compared to the Maker 3

Side by side collage.  The left side depicts a shimmering blue keyring and the right side depicts a keyring with a red design next to a blue flower.

On the left is a keychain I made with vinyl and the Explore 3, and on the right are two more advanced Maker 3 projects.

Angela Tricarico/Insider

Overall, the process of using Explore 3 and Maker 3 is similar, as both rely on Cricut Design Space, a program that allows users to create all of their designs before the Cricut machine cuts, draws or engraves them. Both machines have USB and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect the machine itself to Design Space.

Cricut’s website states that both machines cut twice as fast as previous Explore or Maker models, respectively. Although there is no comparison for the cup speed of two different device line data on the Cricut website, I did my own test with a Maker 3 and an Explore 3.

As in my Explore test, I installed the Explore 3 and the Maker 3 side by side and prepared the exact same cup: same shape, material and size. The Explore 3 finished 35 seconds faster than the Maker 3. Even so, the cut, which was quite complex, only took three minutes and 35 seconds to cut on the Maker 3.

The bottom line

Ultimately, the Cricut Maker 3 can do everything the Explore 3 can do, and more. There’s a $110 price difference between the mid-range Explore 3 and the high-end Maker 3, but in my opinion, it’s worth paying a bit more for the Maker 3. Once you master the basics, you’ll be able to do just about anything you dream of with the Maker 3, while the possibilities with the Explore 3 stop at the bare essentials.

Unleash your creativity with the power, versatility, and speed of Cricut Maker 3, the ultimate smart cutting machine.

The Cricut Explore 3 is the best mid-range smart cutting machine on the market. Combining new elements with what worked best with the Cricut Explore Air 2 makes the Explore 3 the best option for people looking to get into crafting with smart machines.