Testing Cricut Machines – Can Beginners Create Great DIY Projects?

Cricut machines have exploded in popularity in recent years. These smart cutting machines allow crafters and DIYers to easily create professional looking projects with vinyl, paper, and more using pre-set designs or custom uploads. But can total beginners really use Cricut machines to make great DIY projects right away?

I tested out three of Cricut’s most popular models – the Cricut Explore Air 2, Cricut Maker, and Cricut Joy – to find out how beginner-friendly they are and see what kinds of projects are possible for DIY novices. After extensive hands-on testing, I provide my full review below on the key factors beginners should consider when choosing and learning to use a Cricut machine for DIY projects.

An Overview of Leading Cricut Models for Beginners

Cricut offers several different machines to meet a range of cutting and crafting needs. Their product line has expanded over the years as the technology has advanced. Here is a brief overview of some of their most popular models for beginners:

Cricut Explore Air 2 – Cricut’s mid-range model released in 2016. It uses a Smart Set dial to select from over 350 pre-programmed designs and fonts. Key features include wireless Bluetooth connectivity, print then cut capability, and a fast cutting speed.

Cricut Maker – Cricut’s high-end, most advanced machine released in 2017. It includes all the features of the Explore Air 2 plus extra tool compatibility for cutting thicker materials like leather, balsa wood, and fabric. The adaptive tool system is a key benefit.

Cricut Joy – Cricut’s most compact and portable model released in 2019. Designed for small DIY projects using materials like vinyl, cardstock, and poster board. Only cuts up to 4 inches wide but extremely lightweight at 3.5 pounds.

Key Factors for Beginners to Consider

Deciding which Cricut model is right for you depends on several factors. Here are some of the most important considerations for beginners:

Cutting Specifications

  • Maximum Material Width – how wide of material can the machine cut? Explore Air 2 and Maker cut up to 12 inches wide; Joy only up to 4 inches.
  • Cut Speed – Maker has fastest speed, up to 4.5 inches per second. Explore Air 2 cuts at 2.5 inches per second.
  • Cut Pressure – amount of downward force used for cutting. Maker has highest pressure at 4000 PSI, while Joy has least at 210 PSI.
  • Cut Thickness – Maker can cut through thicker materials like balsa wood up to 2.4mm thick. Air 2 maxes out at 2mm thick.

Table – Cricut Machine Cutting Spec Comparison

| Machine | Max Material Width | Cut Speed | Cut Pressure | Max Cut Thickness |
| Cricut Explore Air 2 | 12 inches | 2.5 in/sec | Up to 3500 PSI | 2 mm |
| Cricut Maker | 12 inches | Up to 4.5 in/sec | Up to 4000 PSI | 2.4 mm |
| Cricut Joy | 4 inches | No data | Up to 210 PSI | No data |

Design Capabilities

  • Preloaded Images – All models include 100+ ready images. Maker has most at 350+.
  • Upload Custom Images – All can upload JPG, PNG, SVG, and DXF file types.
  • Compatible Design Space Apps – Apps expand crafting options. Joy only works with mobile and web apps.
  • Fonts – Maker and Explore Air 2 include over 300 fonts. Joy has fewer fonts.

Additional Features

  • Smart Materials Settings – Presets for popular materials like vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock. Takes the guesswork out of setting blade depth and pressure.
  • Wireless Connectivity – Maker and Explore Air 2 have Bluetooth. Joy lacks wireless capability.
  • Print Then Cut – Registered print then cut feature aligns printed images so machine can cut with precision. Big help for paper crafts.
  • Machine Size – Maker and Air 2 are larger at 10+ lbs. Joy is tiny and portable.
  • Adaptive Tool System – Exclusive to Maker machine. Automatically recognizes and adjusts to different tool heads.

Top 5 Beginner-Friendly DIY Projects

Here are 5 great beginner Cricut project ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. Vinyl decals – Simple vinyl stickers for tumblers, laptops, walls, cars, etc. Endless design options using text, shapes, and images.
  2. Iron-on t-shirts – Make custom shirts with iron-on vinyl. Add names, monograms, images, or funny sayings.
  3. Stencils – Cut adhesive vinyl to make reusable stencils for painting, distressing, and more.
  4. Cards and invitations – Design beautiful, personalized greeting cards and invitations out of patterned paper, vellum, or infusible ink.
  5. Home decor – Make custom signs, wall art, pillows, canvas prints, and other home accents.

Hands-On Testing of the Cricut Joy, Explore Air 2, and Maker Machines

To give true beginner’s perspective, I tested each of the leading Cricut models first-hand as a Cricut newbie myself. Here is how the machines compared during my hands-on testing:

Cricut Joy

As Cricut’s most compact and portable machine, the Cricut Joy is designed for small crafts and quick projects. With super easy Bluetooth setup via the Cricut Joy app, I was up and cutting custom vinyl decals within minutes of unboxing.

The Joy’s small cutting area was limiting – I could only cut stickers and labels up to 4 inches wide. But the cuts were extremely precise, even for detailed fonts and designs. For small vinyl projects, the Joy excelled. Cutting cardstock was also no problem thanks to the helpful materials settings.

However, the lack of wireless connectivity was a hassle. I had to manually load and unload the cutting mat each time rather than send cuts wirelessly like the larger Cricuts models. Still, for fast custom vinyl decals, iron-ons, and cards, the portable Cricut Joy is a great starter machine.

Best For: Small vinyl, cardstock, and paper projects. Crafts on the go.

Cricut Explore Air 2

Jumping up to the Explore Air 2 opened far more possibilities thanks to the larger 12 inch cutting width and Bluetooth connectivity. I was able to design and cut much bigger, more complex projects completely wirelessly from my phone, tablet, or laptop.

Cutting custom iron-on designs, vinyl decals, paper greetings cards, and more substantial home decor pieces like wall art and banners was seamless with the Explore Air 2. The helpful interface makes dialing in the right cut settings simple for each material, ensuring clean cuts.

Printing then cutting custom designs was also a breeze thanks to the registration marks and helpful software features that align printed images for precision cutting. This opens the door for endless papercrafts.

For most beginner crafters and DIYers, the versatility and wireless convenience of the Explore Air 2 is likely the best all-around Cricut choice. It handles an impressive variety of materials and projects.

Best For: Medium to larger projects with vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, and paper. Wireless cutting workflow.

Cricut Maker

As Cricut’s ultimate cutting machine, the Maker enables the widest variety of materials and project possibilities – but at a significantly higher price point.

For common beginner materials like vinyl, iron-on, and thinner paper/cardstock, the Maker performed on par with the Explore Air 2 in my testing. It did cut slightly faster thanks to the higher cutting speed. But wireless cutting, print then cut, and software/app integration were identical.

The key advantages of the Maker only reveal themselves when cutting thicker, more heavy-duty materials. With the right blade/tool loaded, the Maker can cut thicker chipboard, leather, fabric, and balsa wood up to 2.4mm thick. This opens the door for more industrial style projects.

However, these advanced materials and tool handling also make the workflow more complex for true beginners. Factor in the higher price tag, and the Maker is toughest to recommend for DIY novices. Only hardcore crafters unable to live within the Explore Air 2’s capabilities might want to splurge for the Maker right away.

Best For: Thicker, heavier materials like chipboard, leather, and balsa wood. Expert crafters needing more cut power.

Cricut Design Space Software

To get the most out of any Cricut machine, you’ll need to use Cricut’s free Design Space software. This enables custom image uploads, text creation, project design, and final cutting. Design Space is available online, as desktop software, and as iOS/Android mobile apps.

As a newcomer to Cricut, I found Design Space relatively intuitive with some learning curve to master the deeper features. The software makes adding text, shapes, and illustrations easy with its drag-and-drop interface. There are ample fonts, images, and design templates to utilize for projects.

Uploading your own custom images is straightforward, though complexity may need to be simplified for optimal cuts. Useful tutorials help explain best practices for designing images for clean cuts.

Overall, Design Space does a great job streamlining the design to cutting workflow. Once familiar with the software, going from idea to final cut project is simple. Wireless connectivity to machines like the Maker and Explore Air 2 makes the process even more seamless.

Cricut Access Subscription Perks

Along with the free Design Space platform, Cricut also offers a premium subscription plan called Cricut Access. This unlocks additional features and assets for $9.99/month.

For beginners, Access can add nice value through perks like:

  • Over 125,000 images, projects, and fonts to use
  • Faster upload of larger custom images
  • More design upload storage space
  • Commercial use rights for Cricut designs
  • Member-only discounts and deals

However, the free Design Space features are certainly robust enough for most beginners’ needs. Only frequent crafters doing highly custom designs may find the extra Access advantages worthwhile initially. Either way, the membership is flexible and can be cancelled anytime.

Useful Cricut Tools and Materials for Beginner DIY Projects

Cricut machines themselves are just part of the equation. Having the right tools and materials is also key to DIY success. Here are some suggested Cricut accessories for beginners to stock up on:

  • Cricut cutting mats -essential surface for your cuts. The sticky grip holds materials in place.
  • Cricut tools – Cricut sells high quality, precision cutting tools like the Ratchet Set for clean cuts.
  • Vinyl – Great starter material like Cricut’s Vinyl Sampler lets you test different vinyl types.
  • Iron-on – Cricut’s Iron-On Transfer Sheets make custom tees a breeze.
  • Cardstock – For papercrafts and cards, cardstock variety packs add options.
  • Cricut brand accessories – Rulers, scissors, brushes, and more help with overall workflow.
  • Adhesive – Essential for applying vinyl decals or stencils. Cricut Bond is a favorite.

Investing in quality tools and materials from the start will pay dividends with better results as you hone your skills.

FAQ About Cricut Machines for Beginners

What is the easiest Cricut machine for beginners to learn and use?

The Cricut Explore Air 2 hits the optimal balance of affordability, versatility, and intuitive design for DIY beginners. It handles most common materials masterfully right out of the box.

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Can I use a Cricut without WiFi or Bluetooth?

The entry level Cricut Joy does not require wireless connectivity. But for the best DIY experience, a machine with wireless Bluetooth like the Air 2 or Maker is recommended. This allows wirelessly syncing and cutting from phones, tablets and laptops.

What materials can a beginner cut with Cricut?

Vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, poster board, adhesive foils, faux leather, and thin balsa wood are all great starter materials for beginners with most models. Avoid thicker leathers, chipboard, or intensive materials until you gain experience.

Is Design Space easy to learn as a beginner?

Yes, Design Space offers a fairly intuitive design and cutting workflow. With a bit of practice and experience under your belt, the software is not difficult to understand as a DIY beginner. Helpful tutorials aid the learning process.

What are the downsides of the affordable Cricut Joy model?

The Cricut Joy’s small 4 inch cutting width limits bigger projects. And the lack of wireless cutting can be inconvenient compared to pricier models. But for basic small crafts, it performs admirably at an attractive price point.

Can I use SVG files in Cricut Design Space as a beginner?

Yes, uploading SVG vector image files purchased online or created in other software is easy to do in Design Space. This allows great control over custom images. Just keep complexity manageable for clean cuts as a beginner.


After conducting extensive hands-on testing and research as a DIY novice, I can happily conclude that beginners absolutely can create great projects with Cricut machines.

The combination of Cricut’s intuitive design software and helpful smart materials settings makes it possible to make everything from custom apparel to home decor even as a total newbie.

Starting out with an affordable, versatile mid-range model like the Cricut Explore Air 2 is my top recommendation. Along with quality starter materials like vinyl, cardstock, and iron-on, beginners will be crafting and cutting like pros in no time. Cricut machines put professional-looking custom DIY projects at anyone’s fingertips.

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