Cutting Machine Basics: What You Need To Know To Get Started

We’re back to basics in this article, answering the question ‘What is a cutting machine?’ Because no, it is not only my nickname when I’m out trimming the hedge. There are always those who are just becoming interested in cutting machines for vinyl (or for any number of other craft activities) and so this article is for them.


cutting machine basics - everything you need to know to get started



Cutting Machine Basics


In many ways, cutting machines are similar to a printer (they certainly look alike!). However, instead of putting ink onto a page, they hold a blade, a scoring stylus or a pen. They cut, score or draw onto a variety of different surfaces.


Like a printer, these machines are usually controlled with a computer through which you send the design input to the cutting machine which proceeds to perform the task. The Brother Scan N Cut 2 is one machine that can be used without a computer.


Stahls’ vinyl cutter buying guide video:



What Can A Cutting Machine Cut?


You would probably be surprised by how many different things these machines can cut, score, etch or draw on – there are literally hundreds of items!


As they apply to t-shirt design and heat transfer creation, these machines can:

  • Cut all types of heat transfer vinyl, such as glitter, flocked, or something like regular Siser EasyWeed
  • Be used to cut out individual designs on all types of transfer paper
  • Be used to create your own rhinestone transfers
  • Cut fabric based heat transfers


Besides these options for your heat transfers, here and here are links to lists of surfaces you can cut with electronic craft cutting machines.


Common Design Usage For T-Shirts


Here are some of the most common uses of these machines in t-shirt design:

  • They are used to cut vinyl decals
  • As a cutting machine for vinyl letters and numbers
  • As cutting machines for vinyl monograms


The most common of these uses is for cutting vinyl for lettering and numbers. How many cool t-shirts do you see out there with words or quotes in a funky font? They seem to be everywhere at the moment! They look especially cool on baby onesies.  


The Range Of Craft & Hobby Cutting Machines


If you are reading this introductory article on cutting machines, it probably means you’ll be looking to buy one of the entry-level models. There are three very popular brands of entry-level or craft cutting machines. Let’s take a brief look at those.


Silhouette Cutting Machines


Silhouette is arguably the most popular brand of craft and hobby cutting machine. Their machines perform well and are suitable for cutting a wide range of materials. The Silhouette Cameo is one of their latest and most popular machines.



Cricut Cutting Machines


Cricut are another manufacturer of quality craft cutters. Their machines are (in my opinion) more elegant than the Silhouette models, and rival them in performance. We have an extensive article on the Cricut Explore Air 2, an excellent machine to start with. Cricut have also recently released a new, more advanced (and more expensive) machine called the Cricut Maker which has made crafters salivate the world over.



Brother Cutting Machines


Brother’s machines are probably not quite as well known or prestigious, but they certainly deserve a mention none-the-less. The Scan N Cut 2 is their latest offering, and we have written a complete review of that machine here. This machine is unique in that it also contains a scanner, a function that has many cool applications.



USCutter Cutter Plotter Machines


USCutter sell a number of cheap wider format cutting machines. Their machines are more specifically for the t-shirt designer or sign-writer, but I do know of many home crafters that have been blessed with one of these beauties.


One of their most popular models is the MH 34 inch cutting machine. The vinyl that comes with this machine is no good for heat transfer onto t-shirts etc. It comes with sign vinyl. The other negative with this machine is that it is not compatible with Mac computers.


They also have many other cutting machines for sale on Amazon or on their website. They also have cutting machine bundles which come with a heat press machine and heat transfer (sign) vinyl.


Expensive Cutting Machines


If you were thinking of starting a thriving and busy t-shirt business, then there are more expensive and better machines available. The most gourmet cutting machine brand is probably Graphtec. They have a range of options starting at about $1000 and going well over $6000.  


Splash out on a machine like this if you have a guaranteed stream of orders. 


Other Cutting Machine Resources





If you’re new to cutting machines, do not fear. Yes, it will take time to familiarize yourself with your machine, but with practice anyone can become an expert. You will discover free resources all over the web.


If you’re also thinking of purchasing a heat press, you must also check out our list of the 5 best 15 x 15 machines! We’ve done the hard work for you.


(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy here.)


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