A vinyl cutter for home or business use is a big investment. We’ve put together the 5 products we think will appeal to small businesses running a heat transfer vinyl business out of their homes. We think we’ve put together the very best options available when considering the best vinyl cutter under $300.
We reviewed 2 basic types of cutter that came in under $300
These machines typically operate using rolls of paper or vinyl. They generally have a predefined cut depth and can’t be used to cut exotic materials like metals, balsa wood or fabric.
Plotters work like a printer, so if you can print an image you can probably cut it out. They do require a compatible PC or Mac to operate and in this price range you’re looking at a wired connection only.
- Fast cutting
- Use rolls of material (cheaper to run)
- Don’t require cutting mats for different size projects
- Can’t cut more exotic materials
- Very large machines by comparison
- Typically the most expensive option
Scan/Cut machines are versatile and can cut a number of products. They also do a good job with vinyl and you can load SVG graphics and cut them out using a Scan/Cut style machine.
These machines really are both a scanner and a cutter. That means that you can often operate these machines without a computer, if you can print out an image you can cut it out using a Scan/Cut machine. You will be limited to the size of your cutting mat.
- Cut lots of different materials, not just vinyl
- Small and easy to operate
- May not require a PC at all to operate
- Limited cutting sizes
- Operates on sheets of material rather than rolls
- Often require special software to operate
You have more options than you might think, but it’s important to consider what you’ll be using the cutter for. If you’re looking to build or grow a business creating tee shirts with heat transfer vinyl then you need to make sure the machine you’re considering can do the job.
You also need to consider the size of your heat press and make sure the designs you cut will fit. We generally recommend a 15” x 15” heat press as a minimum. Some of the cheaper options for cutters are limited to only 9.5 inch widths.
How much will it cost to run your cutter?
Some of the budget or hobbyist machines we’ve reviewed can’t use rolls of heat transfer vinyl, they have to be loaded with pre-cut sheets that fit onto cutting mat.
You can still cut graphics for tee shirts but it may take extra time and increase waste if you’re limited to the size of your cutting mat.
A traditional cutter/plotter needs less margin on the sides of your images as well, so you may end up wasting a lot less vinyl if you get a larger, more capable machine.
Our Top Picks
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A 34 inch cutter is more than enough for a tee shirt business. It also give you the flexibility of making signs, stickers and vinyl decals.
It is a professional quality cutter/plotter but it’s also a really large machine.
If you’re running in a small shop or out of your home then it might make it hard to find the space. This machine is almost 3 feet wide and weighs almost 45 pounds.
This is really the only professional level machine we reviewed on this list. If you’re serious about making money from your cutter this is probably the one for you.
- Combination Cutter/Plotter
- Comes with it’s own software that users report is actually pretty good
- Max cutting width of 30.7 Inches
- Comes with a stand
- Not compatible with Mac
- Setup can be difficult
- Instructions could be better
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The Cricut Explore Air 2 comes with a lot of features that make it great for hobbyists. The design software comes with loads of pre-made designs, easy to use software and there are pre-made cartridges with professional quality graphics that can be easily cut out with the Cricut machine.
You can cut heat transfer vinyl and make tee shirts with a Cricut but you would probably be better off with a more professional machine if you intend to do any volume.
The maximum cutting width on the Cricut machine is 12 inches which could limit the size of the graphics you can print. The Cricut machine also doesn’t use traditional rolls of vinyl, instead you use pre-cut sheets on a cutting mat. The process isn’t at all the same as a traditional plotter/cutter.
- Simple and Easy to Use
- Tons of Included Design Resources
- Compatible with Mac and PC
- Paid Subscription is Required to Use the Software
- Wireless Use Requires Bluetooth, not wifi
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The Silhouette America Portrait 2 is very similar to the Cricut Explore Air 2. It’s a hobbyists dream but may not be the right choice if you plan to use the machine for a commercial use.
The software has a free basic version that allows you to cut text and some basic shapes, you are also able to import your own images and trace files.
The premium version of the software allows you to use clipart.
- Simple and Easy to use
- Smallest machine on our list
- Works with both PC and Mac
- Max cutting width is only 8 inches
- Requires a subscription to the design software
- Cannot use vinyl rolls
- 8” Vinyl is hard to come by
- Bluetooth only wireless
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Another great option for hobbyists. Comes with a 12×12 cutting mat but you can upgrade to a larger size.
It is a scan/cut machine meaning that you print out an image, place it onto the cutting mat and the machine scans the image and then cuts it out.
You can cut out an SVG image that you import into the included software.
- Actual WiFi capable wireless
- Software is free but there are additional purchases possible online
- Can be operated as a stand alone machine, not requiring a PC or Mac
- Complex but versatile machine that does have a steep learning curve.
- Direct download of images to the machines requires an additional purchase
- Cannot use Vinyl Rolls
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The US Cutter Cutter/Plotter fits right in the middle between the professional quality machines and the hobbyist machines.
It does take rolls of Vinyl so you don’t have to worry about cutting mats or specialty vinyl sheets. It is less versatile in that it can’t cut the number of different types of materials that a hobbyist machine can cut.
You won’t be using this on fabric or leather like you could with the Scan/Cut style machines.
The problem I have with the machine is that if I’m going to spend this much money I may as well spend just a little bit more and get the Vevor 34 Inch plotter we reviewed above.
- Does take rolls of vinyl with will save you money
- Comes with a Pen Adapter and 3 blades
- Small form factor fits on a desk or table
- Max cut width is only 10 inches
- Can’t cut other materials
- No wireless option
That rounds out our top choices for a vinyl cutter for heat transfer vinyl tee shirts. Ultimately you need to decide how much use your cutter is going to get and what types of materials you want to cut. If you’re just looking to make the occasional tee shirt then you might be better off with another process.
If you already operate a tee shirt business or you’re looking to get started then get the machine that will grow best with your business. I’m sure lots of businesses have started with a machine geared toward hobbyists but how quickly will you outgrow your machine if you don’t start with a professional quality machine?
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