If you’re looking to buy a Cricut machine, you have probably already encountered two of their most popular models: the Explore Air and its successor the Explore Air 2.
Like many users, you may be wondering what the main differences are between the two and if the Air 2 is actually a better option than the original.
In this guide, we’ll look at the features and benefits of each machine, the key differences, and which choice is the best option.
In our opinion, the Cricut Explore Air 2 has a slight advantage over its predecessor, but both options are a solid machine.
And if you also want to learn how Cricut Explore Air 2 compares to Cricut Maker, check out our post on the topic.
Cricut Explore Air vs. Cricut Explore Air 2: What’s the big difference?
Cricut is well-known as the brand that brought die-cutting to the crafting niche. Their original Cricut model used cartridges and metal dies that we’re more reminiscent of industrial die-cutting processes.
Now they are one of the most widely known manufacturers of hobby cutting machines and have a whole line up of digital cutters.
The Explore Air and the Explore Air 2 are some of Cricut’s most popular models. They were both designed to be a lightweight yet powerful digital die-cutter for crafters.
The Explore Air was Cricut’s first take on a wireless die-cutter. With built-in Bluetooth technology, the Explore Air made it easier than ever to connect and create.
The Explore Air 2 was released shortly after the Explore Air as a faster option. Cutting up to two times as fast as its predecessor, the Explore Air 2 was meant to boost user’s creativity and productivity.
Key differences between Cricut Explore Air and Cricut Explore Air 2
The two don’t have many differences, but the ones they do have can really change the user experience.
|Cricut Explore Air||Cricut Explore Air 2|
|SmartCut technology||SmartCut 2 technology|
|White color design with no accents||7 pastel color options with chrome accents|
|Fabric option||Bonded Fabric option|
|Less loud when running |
(comparing to Explore Air 2)
|Loud when running|
(comparing to Explore Air)
|Check latest price||Check latest price|
Similarities between the Explore Air and Explore Air 2
In a sense, the two machines are nearly identical save for the differences listed previously.
- Both machines are wireless capable thanks to built-in Bluetooth adapters.
- Both machines use the Cricut Design Space software.
- Both have a double carriage to cut and score or write at the same time.
The Explore Air 2 was meant to be an upgraded option from the Explore Air, rather than a complete reinvention.
Smart Cut vs. Smart Cut 2
As mentioned earlier, the Explore Air runs on SmartCut technology while the Explore Air 2 uses Smart Cut 2. You may be wondering what the difference is between the two options.
- The Cricut Smart Cut feature refers to the machine’s ability to automatically adjust to the most suitable settings based on which material was selected on the Smart Set dial.
- The Smart Cut 2 is the same, except it also features a fast mode that allows it to cut vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock up to two times faster than the original Smart Cut.
Cricut Explore Air Overview
The Explore Air is Cricut’s first wireless smart cutting machine. While the Explore One model before it had an optional Bluetooth add-on, the Explore Air comes with it built-in.
Thanks to said Bluetooth technology, the Explore Air can be controlled from a mobile device instead of a Mac or PC using the Design Space app.
This is an excellent upgrade for users looking for more portability or who don’t want to have to keep a computer in their craft room.
The Explore Air’s body is thin and long. It has a small compartment to place tools like scissors, weeding tools, or extra markers on one side and the machine controls and Smart Set dial on the other.
The Explore Air has a relatively small storage footprint, so it won’t take up much space while not in use. The front panel folds up to hide the blade carriage during storage.
While in use, the Explore Air takes up much more space. Since it feeds the cutting mat through the front of the machine and out of the back, it needs room on both sides to accommodate the size of the mat.
The Air has a double carriage system that allows the machine to use a Cricut cutting blade and a marker or scoring tool simultaneously. This saves time and makes more complex projects easier to do.
As stated above, the Smart Cut and Smart Set features make the Explore Air incredibly easy to use.
Since it has preset settings for a number of different materials, you can simply tell the machine what materials you are using and it automatically uses the best settings.
The Smart Set dial has the following options for the most frequently used materials: paper, vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, light cardstock, fabric, and custom.
This takes away some of the most technical (and confusing) aspects of using a cutting machine since you don’t have to calculate blade depth, cutting pressure, etc. for each separate medium.
If you are using a special material besides the ones available on the Smart Set dial, you can set the machine to the Custom setting and configure the machine controls manually.
That is best saved for when you already understand how to use the machine well, since it has a lot of different settings that will need to be configured.
What we like:
- Easy to use: this machine was made with beginners in mind! All of the controls are straightforward and the software guides you through the whole cutting process.
- Versatile: the Explore Air can cut through a lot of different materials, making it easy to stay inspired.
What we don’t like:
- Long cut times: this machine is pretty slow. It takes a few minutes to cut even small designs, so if you need to cut out a lot of designs, it is going to take a while.
- Limited project sizes: being confined to a cutting mat really restricts how big you can make your projects, things designs for things like wall decals or vinyl for signs are very limited.
The Explore Air needs a cutting mat in order to function. The mats are sticky on the top in order to hold the material in place while the machine is cutting.
The mats are necessary because the Cricut uses a series of small rollers to feed the material into the machine, much like a printer does to feed through the paper.
The mat is long enough to catch on all of the rollers, so it will feed through the machine smoothly even if you are only using a small piece of material. However, it is also important to keep your Cricut mat clean to ensure accurate cutting.
Cutting mats for the Explore Air come in two sizes: 12 inches by 12 inches and 12 inches by 24 inches. So your project size cannot exceed 12 by 24 unless it is cut in multiple pieces.
That is certainly a bit of a downside for some applications. However, it makes the machine easier to use and more forgiving to beginners, so it really depends on your personal needs.
The Design Space software is also built with beginners in mind. It allows you to customize the size, color, and fonts of your designs without being overly complicated.
It also allows you to pick from a catalog of premade designs, so if you don’t want to even think about designing anything, you don’t have to.
The Explore Air is a great little machine. While it has some drawbacks, it is still a capable and versatile option for most crafters.
Cricut Explore Air 2 overview
The Explore Air 2 has many of the same features as the Explore Air.
The body style is nearly identical. The main difference is that the Explore Air 2 comes in one of three pastel colors and has chrome accents on the body and Smart Set dial.
Otherwise, the Air 2 is roughly the same shape and size as the original Air.
The Air 2 can either connect to a computer through a USB cable or to a Bluetooth capable mobile device or computer.
Like its predecessor, the Explore Air 2 requires a cutting mat to work. Both machines use the same cutting mats, so the Air 2 is also limited to a maximum 12 inch by 24 inch cutting space.
What we like:
- Pretty design: the muted colors mixed with the chrome accents really make this machine stand out.
- Fast cutting speeds: the faster cut times are a big time saver.
- Wireless: the bluetooth connectivity is a nice option, especially if you just want to do a quick design from your phone.
What we don’t like:
- Noisy: this thing is LOUD. Night owl crafters won’t be using this machine into the early hours of the morning unless they live alone.
- Restrictive cutting sizes: we still don’t love the idea of being limited to the size of the cutting mat.
The Smart Set on the Air 2 dial mostly has the same settings as the one on the Explore Air: vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, light cardstock, paper, and bonded fabric.
The Smart Cut 2 technology means that the Air 2 will cut vinyl, iron-on, and cardstock twice as fast as the Explore Air.
The machine is definitely much faster, but the trade off of all that extra friction is that the Air 2 is also much louder than the Explore Air when in use.
If you don’t mind the additional noise, the Air 2’s speed really does cut down your overall project times, especially if you are doing several cuts in one session.
Overall, the Air 2 is a capable machine and the best value for its price.
Head to head: Which one should you buy?
Now that we’ve looked at all of the features of both machines, it is pretty obvious that the Explore Air 2 has a slight advantage over the original Explore Air.
The faster cut speeds make it much nicer to work with, and the pretty design looks nice in almost any craft room.
If you are looking to buy your first Cricut (or upgrade from an outdated model), we definitely recommend the Air 2.
If you already have an Explore Air and are thinking about upgrading, it really depends on your needs.
Unless you do a lot of cutting on your machine and must find a way to do things more quickly, upgrading to the Air 2 probably isn’t necessary.
Wrapping it up
While there weren’t many differences between the two machines, the Air 2 was the obvious winner thanks to its faster cut times and sleek design.