Want to know the best cheap vinyl cutting machines? Electric cutting machines are the love of every crafter and t-shirt maker… at least when they’re behaving themselves! There’s something satisfying about cutting your design, pulling back that excess vinyl, weeding out the unnecessary bits, and being left with your heat transfer.
We have previously written an extensive article on the Cricut Explore Air 2, and will continue to do larger articles on the other cutting machines listed below. In the meantime, consider this article to be simply a summary of your options.
Many of you will be familiar with these machines (if so, skip the first section), but for those who are not, let me start by giving you a quick run down.
The main function of cutting machines is fairly obvious: they cut. But that’s not all! Many can etch, draw and score as well.
Etching (or engraving) is often used on metal surfaces like dog tags, plaques and jewelry. The drawing tool can be used on anything! This feature allows you to draw incredibly intricate and complex designs onto the likes of birthday cards. You could also write ‘Happy Birthday’ and then perfectly cut it out and use it as a raised feature on a card. The scoring feature is great for creating the fold in cards.
But it is the cutting feature that is my favorite feature.
These machines are used to cut all sorts of items, including:
Some bonded fabrics
But as this is howtoheatpress.com, we are most interested in their ability to create and cut heat transfers!
These machines are particularly useful for the t-shirt creator as they can cut:
These machines are often called or sold under many different names, including:
Vinyl cutting machines
Vinyl lettering machines
Letter cutting machines
Vinyl die cut machines
Digital die cutting machines
Vinyl monogram machines
Vinyl decal-maker machines
Craft cutting machines
Home vinyl cutters
And on top of this, they can also be referred to simply by their brand name. For example, ‘my CAMEO…’ when referring to one’s model of Silhouette.
When I was in the sign writing industry we referred to them as plotters and I was known as the ‘Plotter Master’ (though I think my workmates were being charitable with this name). As I’ve transitioned into the t-shirt design industry, I find them more commonly referred to as cutters.
Cheap Vinyl Cutting Machines
Let’s start exploring some cutting machine options! If you click through many of the following links, you will be taken to Amazon where you can read further reviews and buy the product, if you so wish.
Silhouette Cutting Machines
The Silhouette brand of cutters are synonymous with excellence in the personal cutting machine category. Silhouettes are all electronic cutting machines. Their range has sold many thousands of units and has had great success. They continue to do well, in large part, because of the praise of their customers. These machines are capable of cutting vinyl and other heat transfers for use in a heat press machine. The free software included is compatible with both Mac and PC computers.
Here are some of their products:
The Portrait is Silhouette’s entry-level cutting machine. It is their smallest and their cheapest cutter. It can cut media up to 0.8mm thick and has a maximum cutting area of 8 x 12 inches. This machine is best for the beginner with limited use.
The next machine is the Silhouette Curio, one step up from the Portrait. There are a few differences in the performance and features compared with the Portrait, but they are very similar.
A smaller cutting area
It can perform a deeper cut
New embossing features
Silhouette CAMEO 3 Wireless Cutting Machine
The Cameo 3 is up next. There is a bigger leap in performance between this one and the Curio. As you go up in price, you get a more precise and faster cut. They are also able to perform more tasks.
The Cameo 3 is Silhouette’s latest cutting machine. The main difference between this machine and the Curio is that this one can be used wirelessly and can hold two tools. It has the largest cutting space of all their machines.
Cricut craft cutting machines are another brand at the top of the field. Silhouette and Cricut are the top two major companies in the personal die cutting machine category. They are one another’s greatest competitors. Most people who have been around cutting machines a while will have their favorite brand that they are loyal to.
Here are a couple of their machines:
Cricut Explore Air Wireless Cutting Machine
This is a great machine with bluetooth capabilities and the ability to hold two tools at a time (meaning you possibly won’t need to change things around as much). It can cut up to 60 different materials.
Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine
The main difference between these two machines is that the Explore Air 2 can go twice as fast as the previous machine. It is by far their quickest machine. This doesn’t mean you can cut everything on high speed, however. More delicate and intricate designs need to be done slowly. Especially if it is with a material that has a backing, like vinyl. Going too fast can cause the bits you want to lift!
As we said above, we have a more complete piece written on this cutter. It is one of the best cheap vinyl cutting machines for t-shirts – cheap at least when compared to some machines, but still rather pricey if you’re on a tight budget.
Further Cricut Resources
Let’s Learn Cricut Explore is an active community on Facebook with almost 80,000 members. Users share projects, seek advice and help one another in a lively fashion. You will need to request to join and wait until you are approved.
Cricut Design Space is another Facebook page with almost twice the members of the previous group.
Sizzix are another brand of craft cutting machine. Their marketing is not particularly directed toward the t-shirt community, nor are their machines specifically designed for cutting t-shirt vinyl – although some are capable of doing so.
Here is one of their electronic cutting machines:
Sizzix Eclips 2
The Eclips 2 has a cutting area of 12 x 12 inches. Perhaps if you’re thinking of doing small transfers on small items of clothing, like baby onesies or childrens t-shirts, this might be for you. Of course, you’ll be needing a small heat press like the Promo Heat 12 x 10 inch machine.
Brother Cutting Machines
Brother are another company that have given home and hobby cutting machines a go. Their machine is well reviewed and has many happy users.
Brother CM350 Scan’N’Cut2 Cutting Machine
This machine is special because it has a scanner as well. With this you can hand draw whatever you like, scan your image and then have the machine cut it (as seen in the video below). This machine does not use software and connect up with a computer, it is stand alone with a touch screen. You can bring in outside images via a USB.
This machine, as with the others above, can cut heat transfer vinyl for heat pressing onto t-shirts, etc. We have a written a complete review of the Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 here.
Further Brother Resources
Brother’s cutting machine website has some project ideas.
That is all the machines that we will look at in this post. We aren’t going to say one is better than another either! (Though if you have the money for it, get the new Cricut Maker!). In this post we simply wanted to get all the cheaper electronic cutting machines for crafts and home hobby together – at least the ones available on Amazon.
We will have fuller reviews of all these machines coming in the near future. Let us know what you think of them in the comment section below. We’d love to consider your opinion too.
(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy here.)