Cricut Maker 3 review: New Smart Materials make crafting faster + easier than ever before

I’ve spent the past few weeks with the Cricut Maker 3, and I have to say it’s actually a fairly impressive upgrade. Coming from the original Maker, which was already quite impressive, the Maker 3 could very easily be an upgrade that many at-home crafters make. From the introduction of the new Smart Materials to other upgrades like faster cutting, the Maker 3 helps at-home crafting become much easier. So, should you buy or upgrade? Let’s take a closer look in our hands-on review of the Cricut Maker 3.

First impressions

When first unboxing the Cricut Maker 3 during this review, there wasn’t much different from the original Maker that my wife and I bought back in late 2019. You’ll find the power and USB cable at the top, with the machine underneath that, and then a sampling of materials as well. Unboxing is quite simple and straightforward, which is welcomed.

Initial setup is also just as easy. Simply plug the Maker 3 into power, then connect the USB cable to your computer. From there, install Design Space and follow the in-app setup instructions. Once you’ve configured the Maker through a computer, it can be connected to via Bluetooth for a cleaner, wireless cutting experience.

Design Space will walk you through using some of the included demo material for a sample cut, should this be your first Cricut machine. It’s fairly easy to do and showcases some of the machine’s features, so we recommend doing it to get started sooner. Watching the Maker 3 cut and plot is so neat the first time around, and honestly, it never gets old. After owning a Cricut for several years, sometimes it’s still fun to sit there and watch how precise it is when doing designs.

The most capable plotting cutter

There are many plotting cutters on the market. In fact, we recently gathered several options into one article for those in the market. However, there aren’t many machines as capable of the Maker 3. It’s compatible with over 300 materials and 13 different tools, allowing you to cut a variety of items.

Personally, we’ve used our Cricut Maker/3 to cut leather, wood, vinyl, chipboard, card stock, printer paper, Infusible Ink, and more, as that’s just the beginning. Whether you’re a paper crafter, looking to make custom bumper stickers, or even a woodworker (like myself), Cricut can easily become your favorite shop assistant. You’ll be surprised at just how many things Cricut can do, even with simple tasks like writing a card that you typed out but looks handwritten. This is especially nice for me since my handwriting can sometimes be confused with Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Smart Materials make creating even easier

Something that was always a tad annoying but required (and understandably so) with the original Maker, and most plotting cutters, is the requirement of using mats for projects. Typically, you’d take a mat (one of three sticky levels) and attach up to 12 by 24 inches of vinyl/paper/etc. to it. Then, you’d feed the mat into the Cricut, and it would cut. This limited your project size to just 12 by 24 inches at max, and if you needed to do a longer cut, you’d have to string together multiple pieces.

Well, the Cricut Joy introduced the ability to cut without a mat on certain materials. This was revolutionary for Cricut, but given the Joy’s size, it was also quite limiting for substantial projects. However, with the Maker 3 (and Explore 3), Cricut has taken this a step further. Smart Materials now come in rolls 12-inches wide and up to 75-feet long. These Smart Materials, which come in Smart Vinyl, Smart Iron-On, and Smart Paper Sticker Cardstock, have the backing built-in and require no mat. This not only reduces prep time for crafting but also removes one consumable from your setup (the mat) and lets you cut much longer projects, which we’ll take a closer look at right now.

Longer projects no longer require lining up multiple cuts

With the introduction of Smart Materials for the Maker 3/Explore 3, you can now cut up to 12-foot-long projects. This means that we’ll now be able to make large signs, wall decals, and more. With the Maker, when creating anything over 24 inches, you’d need to cut multiple pieces and line them up together. We’ve had to do this before, and it’s never easy. Now, as long as the project is smaller than 12 inches by 12-feet, you can cut it.

The process is simple: set your Design Space workspace to Maker 3 or Explore 3, build your project, then cut. When you insert Smart Material into the Maker 3/Explore 3, the machine will pull the required amount through itself while it measures it to ensure you have enough for the project. This is thanks to a new sensor on the cutting surface that lets it measure material optically. Once it ensures there’s enough, it then begins the cut and lets you know when it’s done.

Longer cuts don’t have to take forever, either, as the Maker 3/Explore 3 can now cut even faster than their predecessors on supported material, which only Smart Material is in that list right now. But, it’s a noticeable speed boost compared to previous generation cutters, which means your projects will be finished even faster than before.

Can use Windows, macOS, iPad, iPhone, or Android to create

As we mentioned in the first impressions section, Maker 3/Explore 3 can be used with various devices. This means that, after initial setup, you’ll be able to pair over Bluetooth to a MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone, or even Windows. Of course, USB is always an option, as well, should you prefer that method.

Bluetooth connection, though available on previous generation cutters, is something that we’re finally taking advantage of. In my wife’s craft room, we have the Maker 3 at one side of her desk while her M1 MacBook Air is at the other. We used to have a cable running between the two but have since removed it as Bluetooth works quite well here. It also gives us the ability to pull the Maker 3 into another room or even take it to a location with us and only bring the power cord along for a simpler setup.

There’s an iPad/phone rest at the top of the Maker 3/Explore 3 as well, which is designed for those who don’t want to use a full-on desktop-based computer. Just pair your mobile device over Bluetooth, start the cut, and set it in the rest. From there, the Cricut will do the rest.

Indirect Design Space improvements are fantastic

As we mentioned above, Design Space is where you’ll be making all of your projects. In the past, building larger projects in the software was, well, abysmal. The program would become slow, frequently unresponsive, and it didn’t matter how powerful your computer was. However, with the Maker 3/Explore 3 gaining the ability to cut up to 12 foot long projects, the team at Cricut went back to the drawing board and refactored Design Space’s canvas from the ground up. Now, not only is Design Space itself faster, but it also handles larger projects even easier than before. Whether you’re working on a small greeting card or massive wall decal, Design Space will be fast and responsive.

Cricut Maker 3 or Explore Air 3?

I know that this review focused on the Maker 3, but let’s take a second to compare it to the Explore 3. We took a deeper dive into the differences in our original coverage, but here’s a quick overview.

The Explore 3 is really designed just for vinyl and paper cutting. It can cut over 100 materials, but the Maker 3 ups that to 300+ with the addition of things like wood, metal, leather, and more. If you want the most capable cutter around, Maker 3 is it, hands down. Though, if you never venture outside of paper/vinyl, Explore 3 will easily help you tackle those tasks with the same other benefits laid out above (Smart Materials, 12-foot designs, and other features.)

Should you upgrade?

Honestly, the Maker 3 is a fantastic machine. If you’re tired of using mats or frequently cut out projects longer than 24-inches, I’d say that the upgrade to Maker 3/Explore 3 would be an easy decision to make: yes. However, if you only make cards or smaller projects and don’t mind using mats, then it might be a bit of a harder sell. Maker 3 is faster than the previous generation, and the ability to cut larger designs is always nice, so I would absolutely consider that.

However, if you don’t have a Cricut yet, then I would absolutely say to buy the Maker 3/Explore 3 as your first machine. It’s fast, easy-to-use, and very capable.

9to5Toys’ take

The Cricut Maker 3 is a fantastic machine if you like to make signs, cards, or any other type of crafts at home. It’s compatible with hundreds of materials, and the upgrades in speed and features over its previous generation make it a compelling option for any at-home crafter. The Cricut Maker 3 has already gotten a lot of use in our household, and it’ll be used likely daily in the coming weeks and months to make greeting cards, signs, decorations, wall decals, and more, thanks to its increased 12-foot cutting ability.

Pricing and availability

The Cricut Maker 3 will retail for $399.99 and be available direct from Cricut, Amazon, Michael’s, JOANN, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wayfair, Target, and Walmart. The Explore 3 is also available for $299.99 from the same retailers listed above. Right now, the latest Cricut machines are available online only, but are slated to make in-store appearances later this month.

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