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Cricut Explore 3 Smart Cutting Machine, With Photos

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I picked up a Cricut for the first time in July 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve always been a creative person who could think artistically, but my ideas never quite translated onto paper because I can’t draw.

Once I started using the Cricut, I found new ways to express my creativity by designing things on Cricut’s app, Design Space, and have made my own stickers and vinyl decals for everything from tumblers to welcome signs for my front door.

Side by side of Cricut Explore 3 products


Angela Tricarico/Insider


In June 2021, Cricut released two new machines, including a redesigned and upgraded version of the Explore Air 2 — which I’ve been using for the past year and a half — called the Explore 3 ($300). Cricut sent me the Explore 3 to test, and I’ve broken down the differences between the machines below.

The Cricut Explore 3 was redesigned slightly from the Explore Air 2.

Mint green Cricut Explore 3 machine with the top and front closed


Angela Tricarico/


Though the machine is roughly the same shape and size as the Explore Air 2, the Explore 3 has some aesthetic differences that remove useless features and change the way you set the machine up to cut.

For example, the cartridge port on the left is gone, replaced with an expanded storage cup. The material dial is also gone, which would let you adjust the machine to cut to the specifications of the material you were using, like vinyl or paper.

Instead, with the Explore 3, you simply choose the material you plan on cutting in the Design Space app before you press the go button. While I like this change, it does steepen the learning curve for new users a bit.

Mint green Cricut Explore 3 machine with an iPad resting on the device stand


Angela Tricarico/Business Insider


One of the best features of the Cricut Explore 3 is its matless technology.

The new machine placed an emphasis on Smart Materials, which eliminates the need for a cutting mat and had previously only been available to use on Cricut’s smallest cutting machine, Cricut Joy.

When you’re doing any kind of cut on the Cricut, you typically have to place your material (be it vinyl, heat-transfer vinyl, or cardstock) on a sticky cutting mat. If you choose to use Smart Materials, the roll of vinyl or piece of cardstock feeds right into the machine from a roll holder (which must be purchased separately).

After testing out rolls of smart vinyl and sticker cardstock on the new Explore 3, the matless technology has become one of my favorite features of the Cricut. You can’t beat the ease of Smart Materials, especially for bigger projects.

The Cricut Explore 3 cuts projects faster than ever before — and can accommodate physically larger pieces as well.

According to Cricut, the Explore 3 cuts up to two times faster than the previous model. To test this, I set it up side by side with my Explore Air 2 and prepped both of them to make the exact same cut: same image, same size, and same material. I pressed the start button at the same time, and the Explore 3 finished the cut one minute and 45 seconds faster than the Explore Air 2. While that might not seem like a lot of time, for bigger projects that require multiple material changes, the time saved adds up.

If you choose to use Smart Materials with the Explore 3, you can also cut longer projects. On previous machines, you could only cut an image that was 12 inches wide by 24 inches long. Thanks to this matless technology, you’re able to cut a single image or a repeating design that is 13 inches wide by 12 feet long.

The Cricut Explore 3 cuts over 100 materials, including Smart Paper and Smart Vinyl for even easier crafts.

Side by side of Cricut Explore 3 products


Angela Tricarico/Insider


I created these projects on the Explore 3 using Smart Paper and Smart Vinyl. Using Smart Paper, paper crafts are easier than ever because the paper has a sticker backing.

Cons to consider

If you’re planning on cutting thicker materials, like balsa wood and leather, you’ll need to upgrade to a Cricut Maker 3, which cuts over 300 materials with 13 tool options. The Explore 3 only supports six tools and is better suited to crafters who primarily use thinner materials like cardstock, vinyl, and iron-ons.

The bottom line

The Cricut Explore 3 is the best mid-range smart cutting machine on the market.

Combining new elements with what worked best about the Cricut Explore Air 2 makes the Explore 3 the best option for people who want to get into crafting with smart machines.

After using an Explore Air 2 for the past year and a half, I’ll definitely be upgrading to the Explore 3.

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