Cricut Maker 3 Review: The Ultimate Craft Tool

The Cricut Maker 3 manages to improve accessibility and ease of use without isolating users. With the introduction of Cricut Smart Materials, another small barrier to use is removed; users can instead focus on creating and improving their crafting fundamentals. If you can tolerate some minor issues and limitations with the Design Space software, the vast design possibilities will offer something for everyone.

Key Features
  • With Cricut Smart Materials, cuts up to 2x faster than the original Maker (up to 12 ft)
  • Cuts over 300 materials
  • Supports 13 tools (cutting, writing, scoring, foiling, and embellishing)
  • 10x cutting power compared to Cricut Explore Air 2
  • Brand: Cricut
  • Dimensions: 22.6 x 7.09 x 6.22 inches
  • Weight: 22.7 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth
  • Great for making small-batches of customized items
  • Suitable for a wide variety of skill levels
  • Improved cutting speed makes tackling multiple jobs faster
  • Tools are easily swappable and can be stored on the machine itself
  • Much longer cuts with Cricut Smart Materials
  • Occasional Design Space freezes
  • Print resolution diminished on Print then Cut jobs
  • Print Then Cut sizing restriction (9.25" x 6.75" maximum)

The Cricut Maker 3 provides a slew of useful updates. Now there's faster and stronger cutting plus new materials that forgo the mat requirement. However, with accessibility being one of Cricut's major focuses, does it deliver there?

We'll look at how this Cricut Maker upgrade delivers on its improvements to crafting and creating for differing skill levels.

Cricut Maker 3 Design

For those unfamiliar with the prior generation Maker, it's a pretty streamlined, unassuming machine. When closed up, there's a split tool cup to help organize any tools and accessories. At the rear of the unit, there's a power and USB port.

After lifting up on the lid, you'll reveal the major operational pieces of the Maker 3. You'll get your first glance at the operational buttons of the unit plus its rollers, accessory clamp, and blade clamp along with its material guides and additional crafting storage compartments. The groove at the top also provides ample spacing for a tablet if you're working directly with Cricut's Design Space software on Android or iOS.

For those already familiar with the original Maker, nothing will surprise you here. However, compared to the Maker, the Maker 3 is only available in a pale blue robin's egg color at present. Still, there's definitely more color to the unit while still remaining subtle.

Cricut Maker 3 Technical Specifications

The Cricut Maker 3 shares much with the original Cricut Maker at its fundamentals. The Maker 3's dimensions still measure out at 22.6 x 7.09 x 6.22 inches like the original Maker. However, it does offer some technical boasts on the hardware operation front.

First off, the Maker 3 cuts two times faster when working with the new Cricut Smart Materials versus fast mode on the previous model of the Maker. If you've used the previous Maker or watched footage of it cutting, you'd already think the unit cuts quite fast. However, with Cricut Smart Materials, there's a notable speed improvement even when cutting intricate details.

Furthermore, the Maker 3 has ten times the cutting force compared to the Cricut Explore Air 2. Given its ability to cut over 300 materials, this is quite important when tackling harder materials. You'll still need to tweak some settings such as cutting force and number of cuts depending on the job; the power is there to make it simpler.

Key Differences Between Cricut Maker and Maker 3

When looking at Cricut Maker differences, it effectively boils down to the benefits of Smart Materials and convenience. Firstly, the Maker 3 has updated the design of its operating buttons. This specifically affects the load/unload button and the Go button.

As a first-time user, I appreciate the note to visual clarity. Previously, the Go button was the Cricut logo. While Cricut's Design Space overall makes it natural to follow along and click the appropriate button, I did catch its functionality from the get-go with the more universal symbol.

With that said, the new Smart Materials make for two-times faster cutting, matless cutting, and improved cut size. Previously, the Maker had to work with either Cricut's 12" x 12" or 12" x 24" mat sizes to cut their materials. On top of the sizing, there were also different grip variants to manage and purchase.

While the Maker 3 can still utilize mats, you can cut a length of up to 12' with Smart Materials matless. However, if you have less than 6" of Smart Materials leftover, you'll need to then use a mat to cut it.

Introducing Cricut Smart Materials

Cricut Smart Materials allow for cut-ready materials right out of their packaging. Simply load the material in alignment with the left material guide, then slide it under the guides and up to the rollers before hitting the load button. While the extra step of adhering to a mat may not seem like much, Cricut mats do lose their stickiness over time, so you're now able to save on usage and upkeep.

Overall, if you follow Cricut's loading instructions, it's a very smooth process to load and get started. You'll want to make sure that you include adequate space behind the Maker 3, however, for material feed and measurement. In rare cases, you may find the material will bunch if you load the Smart Materials incorrectly; it's easy to unload and reload the materials to correct this error.

This is more likely to occur when working with a long roll of Smart Materials. If you do purchase the Cricut roll holder, however, it does a great job at keeping roll materials aligned while feeding them into the Maker 3. After completing your job, it's simple to clean up with the built-in trimmer that allows for a straight-cut trim of your materials.

Cricut Design Space and Canvas

When talking about the Cricut experience, it's paramount to discuss Design Space and Canvas. Overall, Design Space offers a very user-friendly experience that allows you to jump into creative tasks while getting some guidance along the way and setting parameters for what kind of crafting tasks you'll want to undertake. Furthermore, you can customize your experience towards your specific machine while looking at the projects the Cricut community is actively engaging in.

Besides the option to search for inspiration, you'll also handle the general machine tweaks here. You'll activate, calibrate, and update the firmware of your Cricut Maker 3 from the sidebar. For new users, you'll also have the option to activate a free trial of Cricut Access to unlock exclusive images, fonts, discounts, and benefits.

Otherwise, you're able to opt into Cricut Access Standard for $9.99 a month or pay into the yearly price for Cricut Access Standard or Premium.

With Canvas, you're working with an accessible, semi-simplistic design area. For those familiar with Photoshop or Illustrator, the lesser complexity makes it easy to hop into. However, for those learning to design and wanting to start their own projects, it's easy to poke around and get acquainted with its features pretty quickly via trial and error.

For its purposes, Canvas works really well in most cases. However, it will freeze sometimes---especially if overloaded with too complex of a design for the Maker 3 to handle. For lesser cases of non-responsiveness, the Force Reload option can come in handy versus always quitting out of Design Space.

Cricut Calibration and Print Then Cut

There are a few use cases in which you'll need to calibrate your Maker 3. If using the rotary tool, knife blade, or the Print then Cut option, it's best to do so to get the most accurate cuts. For testing, I opted to primarily stick with the premium fine-point blade, so I decided to calibrate for Print then Cut.

Overall, this was a pretty simple method that took a few repeat calibrations to get just right. In short, you print out the test sheet on standard copy paper then attach it to a Cricut mat. You'll note the cuts and their precision and follow the on-screen prompts until you get your Cricut Maker 3 properly calibrated.

To test Print then Cut, I opted to do a test run of a previous sticker design. After uploading my file to Design Space, I noted it as a complex image and set it up for Print then Cut. Like most of Design Space's prompts, it's a very simple process to follow what Cricut requests and to get things started.

However, there were two obstacles of note for this otherwise simple process. Design Space has a size limitation on all Print then Cut. Your image cannot exceed the max print area size of 9.25" x 6.75" therein.

If it does exceed it, you'll receive a warning in Design Space telling you to resize it. While it's definitely not a deal-breaker with all designs, it's a detail to keep in mind.

Cricut also won't print at the max resolution capability of your printer.

Before initiating the cut, Cricut will communicate with your printer to set up a print. At this stage, it's advised you enable Use System Dialog to get access to your printer settings. The system dialog may appear behind Design Space, so you'll need to minimize the screen if it doesn't pop up on top.

For this test, I was using a Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-300 which is capable of producing very detailed and vibrant prints. I noticed this resolution degrade despite setting my print quality to the max. I also tried this across two different sticker paper grades to ensure they weren't a factor.

To most, the print resolution should work fine for personal use. However, if you're considering utilizing the Maker 3 for commercial purposes, it's a detail to keep in mind. There are some workarounds if you need a higher quality result; it's a trade-off in time at that stage to let the Maker 3 cut your project.

For those not concerned about maximizing print resolution, the Maker 3 does a good job at cutting out the printed material. With that said, I did need to edit the cut pressure and set multi-cut to two times to get the cut results I wanted.

Cutting Smart Materials With Cricut 3

Beyond the stickers, I want to talk specifically about cutting Cricut Smart Materials with the Maker 3. As one might expect, the straight cutting of stickers, decals, and iron-on designs is a very quick process with the improved speed of the Maker 3. I went with the default settings in Design Space; I got very clean, efficient cuts that were easy to weed and prep for transfer.

When uploading custom designs to Design Space, it's a good idea to prep the files beforehand. While Design Space does allow you to make some edits before uploading it for cutting, this makes the entire process a bit easier. However, for beginning users, there's still a slew of content on Design Space itself that can be tweaked via Canvas and its tools.

For the iron-on design, I didn't have any of Cricut's heat presses, but they aren't a requirement and instead just greatly simplify the process. I was able to transfer with a bit more care with a standard iron. However, if you're just learning with Cricut's heat presses, Cricut's heat guide can help make the process even easier.

Cricut Maker 3 Custom Art Draw and Cut

Another usage outside just cutting with the Maker 3 is Cricut's Draw then Cut. This allows you to load up the accessory slot with a Cricut pen to draw in your designs. To test this feature on the Smart Paper Sticker Cardstock, I uploaded a simplistic custom design that I could break into two colors.

Cricut, especially with Cricut Access, has a ton of fonts to choose from. Design Space also detects any system fonts that have been installed on your computer. To give this a go, I tried one of Cricut Access's fonts and set it to another color as well.

While the cutting process has the most variables to contend with, loading Cricut pens is a very simple process. When the Maker 3 is ready to move onto the next specified color of your design, you simply have to unload the pen and swap to the next before hitting the Go button again. After Maker 3 finishes drawing, it's followed up by another speedy cut-out process.

Extensive Material Options and Possibilities

When considering your purchase of the Maker 3, a large amount of value resides in simply the amount of materials you can work with. The Maker 3 is far more than a vinyl plotter and cutter machine, and it has the tools to prove it. With the thirteen machine tools compatibility, you can effectively tackle any project you can imagine.

Now the benefit therein lies in you can do this without overwhelming yourself. If you want to engrave materials later, for instance, then you can purchase the engraving tool separately at that time. It's all very paced towards what level of crafting you're ready to test out.

While the pre-included blade tackles a majority of materials, I decided to try debossing on some of Cricut's sample leather sheets. As these weren't a Smart Material, I just did a small sample debossing on the StandardGrip Cricut mat with a 12" x 12" leather piece. To deboss, I used Cricut's fine debossing tip to successful results.

The overall process wasn't as fast as working with the Smart Materials; it was still quite quick considering the tiny detail touches on the finished piece.

Should You Buy the Cricut Maker 3?

With all this talk of creation, should you buy the Maker 3? If you're a new user, the Maker 3 has upgraded and delivered on its ease of access. This may not be enough for everyone to consider upgrading; this will also depend on how frequently you're using your current Cricut machine.

From a price point, the Maker 3 doesn't cost much more than the current Maker. However, Smart Materials can inevitably save you time and money with their quick, matless cuts. For newcomers, Cricut also offers two Maker 3 bundles to help you get started with a variety of materials and essential tools.

So the question ultimately boils down to whether you can capitalize on the crafting convenience that Cricut offers. If you aren't bothered by the relatively minor limitations, there's plenty of creative space to explore with the Maker 3.

Older Post Newer Post