Simple to use
Fun, pre-programmed projects
Tools run down quickly
Finicky Bluetooth connection
Extra accessories can get pricey
We purchased the Cricut Explore Air 2 so our reviewer could put it to the test in her home. Keep reading for our full product review.
Whether you’re new to die cutting or a pro, you’ll likely come across the Cricut brand when searching for a machine to add to your craft room. One of the latest offerings from the brand, the Cricut Explore Air 2 promises faster speeds and a simple, easy-to-use design for even the most novice of crafters. Whether you’re looking to make stand-out cards, special invites for your child’s birthday party, seating tags for a wedding, or even Halloween favors, this machine’s options are practically limitless. We decided to test out the Explore Air 2 to see if it lived up to its reputation and to find out whether or not its performance matched its high-end aesthetic. Keep reading for our thoughts.
Instructions and Setup: Straightforward, but connecting is tricky
Many of the Cricut Explore Air 2’s features prove intuitive, and the instructions that come with the machine are detailed and easy to follow. You definitely want to read them carefully, though, as there are a lot of good tips that will ensure everything goes smoothly, especially in regard to actually producing your projects.
The machine comes assembled, so to get started, simply plug it in with the included power adapter. Then, you’ll want to download the free Design Space software on your computer, tablet, or phone (compatible with Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android). The machine comes with a USB cord and also has built-in Bluetooth for wireless connections. We could only get the Bluetooth to work from our Samsung S7 phone fifty percent of the time, which proved frustrating when we were ready to get crafting and couldn’t. Other online reviewers noted similar problems, so this seems like a widespread issue on Cricut’s part.
Once you get the app connected to the machine, setting up a project happens in a snap. Before you start processing a project, simply turn the dial on the front of the machine to indicate what type of material you’ll be working with. All options are clearly printed around the dial and it includes settings for everything from bonded fabric to vinyl to poster board. From there you load (and unload) your mat with the arrow button, pushing the Cricut “C” button to start the process.
One benefit to purchasing a Cricut product is the wealth of information you can find about it online. In addition to the official Cricut YouTube page, which contains tons of tutorials, there’s a large community of users who post their own videos and ideas in social media groups. We like that we’ll never have problems finding troubleshooting tips or design inspiration.
Design: Super sleek
The Cricut makes crafting chic—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a die cut machine as pretty as the Explore Air 2. Measuring 22 x 7 x 6 inches, it features clean lines and a smooth, shiny finish. It does weigh around 21 pounds, though, so it’s not the most portable machine on the market. It’s available in a variety of colors, from cherry blossom and lilac to mint and matte black.
With an almost-silent click of a button, the oblong machine opens up to reveal the cutting and tracing mechanism inside, which looks a bit like a printer but way cleaner. Even after running multiple projects through the device it looked good as new on the interior, almost as if it hadn’t been used at all. The encased fine-point blade is designed to cut over 100 materials, including cardstock, iron-ons, vinyl, leather, foam, cork, and glitter paper.
The carriage features a dual accessory adapter, which comes pre-installed, meaning you can cut and score or write at the same time. Another aspect we like is how safe it is to use. Because the blade is encased, one would have to remove it or try hard in order to get pricked, which means having kids around while working the device is just fine. You also don’t have to worry about fingers getting caught in anything as it runs.
You can store accessories in the cup holder on top of the machine or in two handy compartments located inside. The smaller one is specifically designed to store the accessory adapter and there’s also a magnetic strip where you can keep replacement blades. The larger storage pocket can store additionals tools. These clever storage options give the Cricut a put-together look and keep your workspace from becoming too chaotic. The machine features a Cricut cartridge port (cartridges sold separately) so you can load pre-stored images. A 12 x 12-inch sticky cutting mat is also included with your purchase.
Performance: Quiet and quite precise
The good looks of the Cricut Explore Air 2 only hint at what the machine can do, and there are plenty of free projects to get your creative juices flowing. Once you find one you like, it’s easy to load it onto the machine and follow the instructions. We tried out a simple Halloween favor design that utilized the pen and blade our machine came with, and the resulting web and bat color pages turned out exactly like the images advertised.
The machine remains fairly quiet while working, barely giving off any sound as it cuts, writes, scores, and shifts about the paper. In terms of supplies, we saw the best results when using cardstock. When we tried it with basic construction paper, it resulted in utter failure. Just make sure you look at the project first to know the size of the sheet you’ll need, otherwise the machine will be cut through to your mat rather than just through the paper. Note that the directions indicate that when your project is complete, you should peel the paper off the sticky mat upside down and on a hard surface to avoid curling the cardstock. We found heeding this advice saved us some frustration.
The overall performance of this Cricut machine was smooth and professional, though in some small spots the blade pulled the paper and didn’t leave a fine line. For example, we made Russian doll cards and some of the delicate eyelashes didn’t come through correctly because the cardstock bunched and tore when the blade ran over it. We were able to salvage the design, but one of the ladies needed minor cosmetology work.
One of the highlights of the Explore Air 2 is its much-touted “Fast Mode” feature, which proved simple to use. All you have to do is move the dial to the proper material be that vinyl, cardstock, or an iron-on, and check the “Fast Mode” box from your device. It's much louder than the normal speed, but does indeed process quicker. Unless you're working on multiple projects and in a time crunch, it's not really necessary, though. Either way, the Cricut worked quicker than other machines we’ve used and the whole process felt smoother.
Software: So many options
The free Design Space software gives you tons of creative freedom. In addition to creating your own projects, other designs are available for purchase or you can choose something from the richly-stocked free section, which includes items like baby shower cards, tea towels, and festive banners. Each item comes with thorough details on everything you’ll need to make the final product, such as tools, paper size, and number of pieces of cardstock, as well as information like an approximate time frame and the ease of creating it (ranges from easy to intermediate to advanced).
Designing your own project is intuitive.
With your purchase, you’ll also gain access to a free two-week trial of Cricut Access, which is a library of over 100,000 images, fonts, and project designs. After the trial, you can purchase a subscription or buy projects individually.
Designing your own project is intuitive, and you can upload any image straight to the app on a smartphone, computer, or tablet with either a transparent or black and white background, and then create a template. If the image isn’t already transparent, the program will alter it to be so and then the cutting can begin. There’s not much to this aspect, and more advanced crafters will have a ball using all the digital tools to create something really special.
When working on a digital card or 3D object, the app’s instructions are extremely simple. For example, we chose to make a Russian doll card and the app specified everything down to the color of the paper you should use for each piece. You can obviously change the colors to your liking, but it helps to know what layer will go where. It also helps to have a list of supplies from the beginning. Illustrations also aid in the process, and the app shows exactly what tool you need to attach to the die cut machine.
Accessories: The more the merrier
Buying a basic Cricut Explore Air 2 gets you the machine, a fine-point pen, the blade, a StandardGrip Machine Mat, and a simple card project to get started. Though this seems like a lot, we found that it’s not nearly enough to really utilize your die cut device.
The Cricut worked quicker than other machines we’ve used and the whole process felt smoother.
For starters, buying a scoring stylus proved extremely useful since many projects call for one. This tool indents the paper for easy folding. Extra blades are also needed. After processing a few projects, we could already see the difference in how the original blade functioned verses a newer one. This was especially true when trying to cut fine lines and tiny circles out of our Russian doll’s paper clothes.
You will also need multiple mats to help multi-paper projects go faster and because the mats get marked and cut up fairly quickly. These sticky mats keep the paper firmly secured to the surface so, in theory, it won’t move as the tools jet around while working. The more they’re used the less sticky the mats become, which is why they’ll eventually need to be replaced.
Then there’s the paper or other material you want to cut, an obvious extra purchase. You can buy everything from speciality paper to vinyl, iron-on pads, vellum, leather, and so much more.
Price: Not everything is included
The Cricut Explore Air 2 costs roughly $230 to $300 depending on the color you go for. The device’s MSRP makes it one of the more pricey die cut machines on the market and you don’t get much in the way of accessories. Expect to drop another $50—at least—just to make some of the more advanced projects available. While the ability to create your own designs as well as the plethora of free projects adds value, you’ll also want to consider how much you’ll be using the machine and if a full membership to the Cricut Access library—which costs $9.99/month if you purchase an annual plan—is worth it.
Competition: More than one way to die cut
Silhouette CAMEO 3: Like the Cricut, the Silhouette CAMEO 3 has built-in Bluetooth and can cut over 100 materials. It’s PixScan compatible and uses the Silhouette Studio design software, which works great for projects you want to design yourself. As a bonus, you can find it for around $20 to $40 cheaper than the Explore Air 2 and you’ll get similar results. If you understand how die cut machines work and want to save a little money, go with the Silhouette. However, we found the ease of the Cricut to be invaluable.
Sizzix Big Shot Machine: On the manual side, there’s the Sizzix Big Shot Machine, a hand-cranked embossing and die cut machine. It doesn’t have the same capacity for intricate patterns and digital designs that Cricut does, and you can’t design your own projects, but it’s durable and great for beginners. It’s also about $100 less and is a great portable option as it doesn’t need to be plugged in, either.
Pay for pretty.
It’s worth it to shell out the extra money for the Cricut Explore Air 2 because you’ll get a truly beautiful machine that makes equally stunning projects. The name carries a lot of weight and having this device in your arsenal will step up your crafting game considerably. Sure, it has a few faults and connecting to it can be tricky, but overall, it’s a solid product.
- Product Name Explore Air 2
- Product Brand Cricut
- MPN CXLP202
- Price $299.99
- Weight 21 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 22 x 7 x 6 in.
- Color Twilight, Rose, Persimmon, Mint, Matte Black, Lilac, Cherry Blossom, Blue
- Warranty 1-year on electric components, 90 days on body