Whether you are a simple hobbyist or a business owner running a sign or sticker shop, you cannot fully function without one of the best vinyl cutting machines around. Regardless of your design or skill level, a good vinyl cutter can make a huge difference.
Although there are plenty of models to choose from, vinyl cutters greatly vary in terms of features. You have to look closely enough before finally deciding on which machine to get. The purpose of this short list is to get you acquainted with the top 5 best vinyl cutting machines on the market today.
#1. Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine – Embedded Bluetooth for Wireless Cutting
The first thing you will like about the Cricut Explore 2 is the choice of colors. That is by no means a big deal but if you are going to prop a hulking piece of an appliance on your desktop, you might as well choose a good-looking one.
You should notice right away that it has built-in Bluetooth functionality, which is an improvement over its predecessor, the Cricut Explore. As you explore and test the menus out, you will find that the controls are very intuitive and easy to use. The overall interface is very user-friendly. You will not find it difficult to figure it out even if you are new to vinyl cutting machines.
This model is also quick at picking up wireless transfers. In fact, speed just might be its strongest asset. The Cricut Explore 2 cuts incredibly faster than many other models in its price range. That is when it is set to regular mode. As if that were not enough, Cricut went ahead and put a “Fast Mode” feature in this unit. However, they recommend using that functionality only for less intricate designs.
Naturally, you are curious about the quality of the cut. A fast cut is useless if you have to redo it for quality. In the case of the Cricut Explore 2, you will not be disappointed. It cuts smoothly and precisely. Weeding should not take too long because there is very little resistance. This is not surprising as the Cricut Explorer 2 uses a German-made carbide blade. You cannot go wrong with anything that has “German” and “carbide” in the same sentence!
It works with a wide variety of materials. You have the basic ones like paper, vinyl, and fabric, and then you have the tougher ones like leather, various metals, and foam. You will need to get specialized blades for these tougher materials, though.
The maximum cut the Cricut Explore 2 can make measures 11.5in by 23.5in, which is a bit smaller than the average cutting capacity we are seeing from other products in this price range.
The software that comes with the Cricut Explore 2 is the Cricut Design Space, which is really the only software you can legitimately use with Cricut cutters. The software is easy to use and offers all of the basics. However, it may be too plain for more advanced projects. The other good things about Design Space are that they convert your own images for free, they have an extensive library of ready-to-cut projects, and they are cloud-based so you can send designs to it wirelessly. There are also 100 automatic settings to choose from depending on what material you are working with.
Our Conclusion: Overall, we think the Cricut Explore 2 is an ideal machine for small businesses because of its speed. What is even better is that it manages to make high quality cuts despite being so fast.
#2. Silhouette CAMEO 3 – Wireless Cutting Machine
The Silhouette Cameo 3 has dual carriages, which allow you to cut and print without having to stop the machine and swap out the blade or the pen. The few minutes it shaves off of your total work time may not seem like much when you are working with one or two small pieces. However, it all adds up when you are cutting sheet after sheet.
One more thing we like about the Silhouette Cameo 3 is that its software sends an image for printing to your printer and leaves very little registration marks. The cutter easily picks these marks up once the material is loaded and knows where to start cutting right away.
The Silhouette Cameo 3 also has the so-called PixScan technology. You place an image on the PixScan cutting mat, which has the registration marks. Then, you take a picture of the image on the mat and upload the photo to the software.
This vinyl cutter comes with three different blades: standard, deep cut, and autoblade. The last blade automatically adjusts itself based on the thickness of the material it is cutting. This blade technology simply takes the guesswork out of cutting certain materials for the first time.
The Silhouette Cameo 3 can cut a nice array of materials including paper or cardstock up to 350 gsm in thickness, iron-on transfer, foam, light fabric, and rhinestone templates. Although the software has a feature dedicated to cutting thicker materials, it still does not change the fact that the Silhouette Cameo 3 does not seem to be optimized for thick materials.
The manufacturer’s proprietary Studio software is compatible with Windows and Mac. it has an impressive suite of features you will find useful if you are an intermediate or advanced cutter. If you are new to vinyl cutting, you may find Studio a little intimidating but tutorials are just a few keystrokes away.
Our Conclusion: To sum it all up, we would not declare the Silhouette Cameo 3 to be the most versatile vinyl cutter out there because of its limitation in terms of material thickness. However, if you mostly work with thin materials, then, by all means get yourself (or your shop) a Silhouette Cameo 3. It has and does all of the basics plus some extras that you will not find in other cutters in this price range (offline operation, powerful software).
#3. Brother CM350 ScanNCut 2 – Home & Hobby Cutting Machine
Like many vinyl cutters today, the ScanNCut 2 allows for wireless design transfer, which is extremely helpful if you have a cramped workspace. The wireless transfer feature works between the software and the machine, as well as your tablet. The unit also supports direct transfer via USB connection. Unfortunately, no USB cable is included.
In addition, the ScanNCut 2 lets you import SVG files without having to convert. Its software will do the conversion for you. The software that comes with this model is called the ScanNCutCanvas. It is cloud based and completely free. However, it is still unlike professional design software like Illustrator and CorelDraw, which you may be more comfortable with if you have been into vinyl cutting a long while.
The ScanNCut 2 can cut up to 11.7 inches in width using a Japanese-designed, German-made carbide blade. Although very tough, the blade does not damage thin fabrics and manages to make precise and consistent cuts. All in all, this machine has over 600 built-in designs and 7 built-in fonts.
Our Conclusion: Brother’s ScanNCut 2 is an ideal machine for individuals starting out in vinyl cutting and those who cut a lot of fabric. The machine and the software deliver the essentials but the software is far from professional grade.
More: The Best Studio Monitor Speakers – Buying Guide.
#4. Vinyl Cutter USCutter MH 34in BUNDLE – with Design & Cut Software
USCutter’s 34-inch vinyl cutter is recommended for you if you mostly do easy small-scale projects. This model is slightly more affordable than other cutters in the same size range but offers a good cutting capacity. Its speed is 39 inches per second and the maximum cut size is 32 inches by 10 feet.
One downside of the MH871 is the limited array of materials it can handle. You can cut cardstock, standard, and heat transfer vinyl, as well as paper and paint mask. However, it does not handle laminates, tints, and reflectives well. Obviously, leather and similar materials are out of the question.
This vinyl cutter works best when used for small runs at a time. If you try to go over that, you can overwork the machine and cause it to break down. The software that comes with the bundle is called VinylMaster Cut and has all of the essentials expected of a design and cut software. The interface is easy to understand and use even for new cutters.
Despite looking a little outdated, the software is actually not bad at all. It can pull off a wide range of basic cutting designs including pinstriping, lettering, and logos using its suite of text, curve, and object feature suite. Its vectorization tools can be used on all major file formats. The image trace feature, meanwhile, converts nearly any image file into a ready-to-cut format.
The other advantage of the VinylMaster Cut is that each license applies to an unlimited number of units. This is especially beneficial if you have multiple computers in your shop or office.
The MH871 is not restricted to just the VinylMaster Cut unlike other vinyl cutters. You can use it with SCAL, and SignBlaser, for example, and it will work just as fine.
Our Conclusion: If you are a beginner vinyl cutter or a business working with mostly small operations, the MH871 is a practical option for you. This vinyl cutter performs well and the free version of its software, VinylMaster Cut, contains the bare essentials of vinyl design and cutting. However, you have to keep the limitations of the machine in mind. It is best to run the MH871 for small batches at a time to avoid causing the machine to bog down due to overloading.
#5. USCutter MH721 28in – Vinyl Cutter and Plotter with Stand and Sure Cuts
If you are into sign making and regularly have to cut out intricate patterns, you may find the MH721 very helpful. Not only does it cut fast, it cuts well too. The software bundled with it is the popular Sure Cuts A Lot (SCAL), which contains all of the basic features you will need if you are new to vinyl cutting. However, it tends to freeze randomly and shut down on its own sometimes, which can be annoying.
The MH721 is optimized for projects ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty. The power of the machine is able to handle small- and medium-scale projects smoothly. You can cut around 500 to 700 decals a day and the cutter will go through it all effortlessly.
You can cut sheets measuring 24 inches at most. However, you have to double check the clearance each time because the blade tends to be set too deep into the cutting space in some cutters. That will be a problem when cutting large sheets because the blade may cause the sheet to crumple, ruining the whole sheet.
The frustrating things about the MH721 are assembly and software setup. The assembly instructions are unclear so you eventually have to rely on guesswork and advice from online forums and communities just to put the thing together. Getting the software, your computer, and the vinyl cutter itself can also be difficult. There are helpful instructions and guides online but not from USCutter.
Our Conclusion: The MH721 has a complete set of starter features that should help you ease into more complicated vinyl cutting projects smoothly if you are a beginner. For its price, the MH721 is very robust and definitely gives value for money. Although relatively cheaper, the MH721 offers a great set of benefits you will hardly come across in this price range.