Guide to Buying a Cheap Vinyl Cutter (a review of 4 popular machines)
A short while back we ordered in 10 of the most popular vinyl cutting machines in the industry. We purchased several inexpensive units, mid grade units, and top of the line units in the 24” width. Since we purchased these, our very own cutter expert Nick Horvath has been putting them to the test.
We’ve taken his feedback and comprised all types of content that will guide you into what vinyl cutter to buy for your business.
Keep in mind that we do not sell any of the cutters discussed in this particular review, so the information you are receiving is real and unbiased.
Thanks for reading and enjoy Nick’s comparison of four cheap vinyl cutters.
Interview with Vinyl Cutter Expert Nick Horvath
Josh: What is the main difference between an inexpensive cutter (under $500) and a mid-grade unit?
Nick: Mainly the motor. Inexpensive units will have a Stepper motor. Not as durable as a Servo motor on mid grade or pro grade units, and quite a bit louder, but a stepper does the job for cutting vinyl nicely.
Josh: So what does a servo do that a stepper does not?
Nick: It stands up to tough to cut stuff over time. You really do not want to use a machine with a stepper motor to constantly cut Twill, Rhinestone templates, Sandblast material, etc. So if that is your main business, look elsewhere.
Josh: What else might an inexpensive vinyl cutter lack?
Nick: These usually will not have an optic eye. An optic eye makes cutting around an image printed on vinyl/paper very easy by reading crop marks that are printed along with your design. There is software to allow cutters without an optic eye to do this, and there is even a model with a laser attached near the blade holder, but it is not as accurate as using an optic eye.
Also – Many of these cutters state a large downforce maximum. I have personally found that while a cutter may state say 500 grams of force that does not necessarily equate to being able to cut thicker materials, nor does it reference the durability of the motor to constantly withstand the maximum force.
Josh: I see, so what cutters have you tested that you consider inexpensive?
Nick: The US CUTTER Refine Series model MH721, Creation PCUT 24, GCC Expert 24, and US CUTTER Laserpoint 24.
Josh: Given that there are many more in this price range, why did you pick these units?
Nick: I feel that this is a good representation of cutters in this price range and to be honest a lot of the other options within this range and even the mid grade range are these units relabeled.
Josh: OK, so tell us about the US Cutter Refine unit…
Nick: The MH721 ($349) has a maximum downforce of 400 grams and speed of 48 IPS. It has an LCD control panel that I like. It’s very easy to use. The only setting that you cannot set on the machine is offset. You need to adjust this setting in your software, which in the case of this cutter is SignBlazer Elements. It came packaged with the unit.
The cutter does work well with SignBlazer Elements. However, I was not able to get this cutter to work with graphics software such as Corel Draw.
The machine also has a USB, Serial, and an LPT port for connection – this is good, lots of options. An interesting note is that the unit has a red button on each side of the cutter carriage. If the cutter head runs into it, the whole machine resets or locks up. I didn’t like this feature and it seems to be the case with many of the inexpensive brands. My take on it is that the manufacturer was aware that these machines will not communicate perfectly with all software, so they have these buttons as a failsafe in case the machine runs the head to the side of the machine. This way the unit either locks up or resets instead of possibly ruining the motor. That’s my take.
Josh: OK, so what about the Creation P-CUT 24?
Nick: This machine sells for about $350. It has a maximum downforce of 500 grams and a speed of 20 IPS. It also has a material detector, to tell the machine when there is material loaded.
It has USB and Serial ports available.
This unit also has the “red reset buttons” on either side of the carriage.
The cutter was also easy to set up with SignBlazer Elements. However, you are not able to set this unit up as a printer in Windows, so you are unable to send jobs to it from graphics software such as Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator.
It has a functional control panel with an LCD screen. You are able to set all major settings on this panel. The unit is a lot like the Refine. I would place them both in the same category.
Josh: And how did the Laserpoint 24 compare?
Nick: This machine is identical to the PCUT 24 in almost every way. The only difference is that the control panel is on the right side as opposed to the top right, and it also has a laser pointer mounted next to the blade holder for contour cutting. Also, it only has a maximum of 400 grams of downforce, where the PCUT 24 has a maximum of 500. The Laserpoint 24 is also slightly slower at a maximum speed of 16 IPS.
Once again it has the “red reset buttons” on both sides of the carriage.
It has USB and Serial ports available.
The main draw of this machine is the laser pointer, which as stated is for contour cutting.
Josh: How much does that contour cutting capability cost?
Nick: The machine is equipped with it. The unit sells for $419, so I guess you could say that it costs about $70 since this is the difference between the price of this machine and the PCUT.
Josh: OK, and lastly what about the GCC Expert 24?
Nick: This one is $400. The cutter has a maximum downforce of 250 grams, and speed of 16 IPS right on par with the others.It has USB and Serial ports as well and it has the material sensor to tell the machine whether or not material is loaded.
The unit was very easy to set up compared to the others. It can be set up as a printer in Windows, which means that you can send jobs directly from graphics software such as Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator. This also opens it up to work with a wider range of cutter driving software you can use. This compatibility is a big plus in my book.
The downside to this machine is the fact that you cannot set any of your settings on the control panel. Actually, this machine does not have an LCD screen on the unit itself. Instead, you need to adjust your settings through a program that comes with the unit called VLCD.exe or a virtual LCD on you computer. In this program you can adjust Downforce and Offset.
You may also adjust settings in the actual printer driver by right clicking on the unit’s driver in printers and faxes. In this you can adjust Downforce, Offset, and Speed.
During my experience learning the machine, I found GCC to have excellent tech support. When I called them regarding an issue, they not only advised me but took over my computer to help correct/fix the issue. This is very important to note as you will be sure to run into some setup issues with any of these inexpensive cutters.
Josh: So summarize the results for us, what would you pick?
Nick: Looking at all these machines and weighing in on all that I would look for if I were starting up or looking for a backup, I think that the best unit to pick would be the GCC Expert 24.
The flexibility to be able to work with graphics software directly as well as many other cutter driving software by having a printer driver is very valuable.
That is not to say that the other cutters mentioned here are not worth purchasing. I just did not find them as user-friendly and easy to set up as the Expert 24. They do all have an LCD screen while the Expert 24 does not but the virtual LCD is actually quite easy to adjust from the computer and may be preferred.
Also, the buttons on the side of the other units scream failsafe to me and make me feel like they are there because of a shortcoming of the machine rather than as an added benefit.
Josh: Great information. Any other final thoughts to share?
Nick: Wrapping up I would say that regardless of the unit you pick look for a cutter that is easy to set up, has the most versatility with which programs it will work with, and has good tech support. This way your new vinyl cutter will be trouble free and if problems do arise, they will be easily resolved. After all, a vinyl cutter is no good if you can’t use it!
Thanks for reading and best of luck with your new cutter purchase – please leave a comment below with your feedback on these machines or this interview.
As you are considering your investment of a cutter, I’d also ask that you give us strong consideration as your supplier for heat applied film and be sure to try Stahls’ for heat transfer vinyl, direct from the manufacturer.