Highly versatile. Quilters can cut fabric without using heat and bond. Also works with delicate fabrics like lace. Can use customized designs. Designed with a new rotary blade for fabrics that glides and slices through most materials. Convenient dock holds tablets or smartphones while browsing.
Some owners are frustrated by the software, saying it is not as user-friendly as they would like.
Upload your own images, or access a good selection from Cricut's free library. Cuts through foils, leather, vinyl, and many other materials. Has a Fast Mode to cut time in half, which is a big help for high-volume projects. Comes in 5 colors.
Access to the extended graphics and font library requires a pay-per-image fee. Some users had problems with software.
Dual motor system offers reliable precision cutting. Beginner bundle comes with 26 Orocal vinyl sheets, transfer paper, guides, and sketch pens. Includes a set of 4 tool adapters for cutting versatility. Convenient Bluetooth connectivity offers a seamless design-to-cutting experience. Low-profile, space-savvy design.
Has a modest learning curve and costs more than other vinyl cutting machines.
Large 34-inch feed width and 30-inch cut width allow for business-level production and performance. Capable of cutting signage, banners, and heat transfer patterns. Three pinch rollers are speed- and pressure-adjustable. Bundle includes vectorizing and cutting software, plus blanks, tools, and vinyl.
Incompatible with macOS. Doesn't do contour cutting.
Built-in scanner simplifies workflow. Converts art directly to a cut file. Wireless-capable; connects to smartphones or PCs. Accepts USB input of additional patterns. Sensor technology detects material thickness. Automates blade cutting and control. Cuts materials up to 3 mm thick. Offers free software.
Some users note inaccurate cuts. Mat can be too sticky.
After going through an intensive research process to narrow down our short list of top products in this space, we tested most of our top five — the Cricut Maker and the Cricut Explore Air 2 — to be sure that these products are worth your time. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter and test to verify manufacturer claims.
Vinyl cutting machines have opened the crafting world to new creative possibilities. Today’s models do far more than simple shapes, and their uses go well beyond vinyl. These machines have become the go-to tool for home crafters who want to expand their design options while creating professional-quality home décor, quilts, and vinyl lettering.
New technology has allowed the makers of vinyl cutting machines to expand and improve the performance of their products to rival some commercial models. The most advanced machines allow you to create custom designs and cut hundreds of different materials.
Before you buy, take a step back and look at what you want to make and how often you plan to make it. Daily crafters will have far different needs than someone who only intends to pull out the machine every few months.
Electric vs. manual
The vast majority of vinyl cutting machines are electric. Their power and cutting speeds make them ideal for anyone who cuts frequently or in large quantities. However, there are some solid manual machines that use a crank to move materials through the cutter. Manual models are incredibly economical and do a fine job of cutting through their approved materials. These machines are meant for the casual crafter who’s okay with a limited number of workable materials.
While vinyl cutting machines aren’t huge (about the size of a printer), models that straddle the line between home and commercial use can take up a sizable chunk of counter and storage space. If you’ve got limited space, manual machines are smaller and more portable. Some manufacturers also make compact versions of their most popular models that take up less space. However, smaller machines have a smaller cutting surface, which does limit your designs to some extent.
The size of the cutting surface will determine the maximum size of your designs. Machines intended for home use typically cut designs 6 to 12 inches wide and anywhere from 8 inches to 10 feet long, depending on the make and model. That’s a wide range, so you’ll need to consider the purpose and size of your designs before purchasing a machine.
Whether you’re casual about your crafts or you a run a home-based business, you’ll want to take a close look at cutting speeds. Manual machines are slower. Electric machines are not only faster but also offer the most speed options.
Machines with variable speeds provide better control over your results. Top-of-the-line machines have an automatic cutting speed adjustment, eliminating some of the guesswork. Basic models require you to manually adjust the speed setting. Keep in mind that these don’t usually cut as quickly and may not have as many speed adjustments as more expensive models.
Automatic adjustments (depth, pressure, and space optimization) make cutting so much easier! Some machines take the trial and error out of finding the right cutting depth and pressure while optimizing the design placement so you get the most out of your materials.
For years, crafters were limited to the designs created by the manufacturer. Cartridges and online libraries were the only way to access new designs. While these methods are still the norm, the latest machines on the market allow you to vastly expand your options by creating custom designs either with the manufacturer’s software or by importing them from a design program. Some machines even allow you to scan in and edit designs using the machine’s touchscreen.
The latest vinyl cutting machines can connect to the internet via a USB cable, WiFi, and/or Bluetooth. Many people like wireless machines because they eliminate a cable from an already crowded workspace.
A select number of machines have a built-in scanner to directly scan and edit designs to the machine rather than uploading them. That means you can use family photos or your kids’ latest artwork in your designs.
Touchscreens simplify feature accessibility. A few machines allow you to edit designs from the touchscreen itself. This enables you to customize directly from the machine, providing a computer-free way to create designs. Keep in mind that touchscreen editing comes at a premium price.
Vinyl cutting machines cut far more than vinyl. There are some machines that can work with over 300 different materials, creating a list that’s too long to include here. Basic manual models may only cut a dozen or so materials, so be sure to check the approved list of materials for a particular machine before purchasing. Just to give you an idea of the possibilities, some of the materials include wood, leather, chipboard, vellum, fabric, felt, and tape.
Tools and accessories
Machines can usually be purchased alone or with a bundle. You can often save money when purchasing a bundle because it costs more to purchase the accessories and tools separately. Machines that include extra blades and writing tools offer the best value. However, bundles with extra cutting materials, mats, and scissors still save you money and let you get started immediately.
Design software and libraries
Many manufacturers have their own design software and online image, font, and design libraries. Some manufacturers have free images but may offer online subscriptions of varying levels for access to all images. Some software can be accessed with a laptop only, while others have apps that enable you to access software from your smartphone or iPad, too.
If you like to use design software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, there are machines that can import these images into their design programs. With other machines, you might have to print and then scan the design into the machine. The important point is that you can find ways to use your custom images, but you’ll need to figure out how it can be done on the machine you’re considering.
Manually operated vinyl cutting machines start at less than $125. These machines can usually cut vinyl, paper, vellum, and possibly cardstock (depending on the machine), though some can cut much more. Though the least expensive machines may have a small cutting surface, they still offer excellent cutting abilities. These machines may come as a part of a bundle with extra dies, mats, and blades.
The capabilities found in the $125 to $250 range are wide and varied. The most basic electric machines start at the bottom of this range and come with extras like blades and cutting materials. As you move up the price scale, WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities become more common.
At over $250, there are many of the same machines that are found in the mid-range, but these come with more extensive and specialized bundles like a vinyl, heat transfer, or starter bundle. Starting at around $325 are the top-of-the-line home vinyl cutting machines that can be fitted with blades capable of cutting wood and leather and etching glass. These have impressive cutting speeds and allow you to customize your designs with either the manufacturer's software or your own created in other design programs.
Buy extra mats. Vinyl cutting machines require a mat for putting all materials through the machine. Most machines include a few in different sizes, but if you cut frequently, you’ll find that the mats wear out pretty quickly. We suggest having a few extra on hand in various sizes so you’re never left without a mat halfway through a project.
Make sure you have the right blades, pens, and other tools for your projects. Pricier machines are capable of cutting hundreds of materials and can perform functions like writing and scoring, but you need the right tools like blades and pens to use those features. You’ll eliminate some frustration if you have extras for the functions you want to use.
There are some definite standouts in the vinyl cutting machine market, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great machines that didn’t make our list. We also considered the Silhouette Cameo 3, which has many of the same features as several of our top picks. It does have a feature that’s only found on a few machines, which is a dual carriage that holds a pen and scoring tool at the same time. This one feature allows it to pull double duty and decrease your work time. We also considered the Sizzix Big Shot because of its reliability and cult-like following. Much larger electric machines might overshadow this little dynamo, but for cutting and embossing small designs, it’s incredibly effective.
Q. Do vinyl cutting machines come with extra blades for materials of different thicknesses?
A. Some machines have different kinds of blades, such as a rotary or bonded fabric blade, but most don’t come with all of the blades they’re capable of using. You will need to buy them separately and occasionally replace them once they become too dull.
Q. Can I use my own hand-drawn designs on a vinyl cutting machine?
A. You can with some machines. Some machines can scan images and create a cutting pattern from them. Others have downloadable software in which you can create your own designs, but these aren’t quite “hand-drawn.” If you have the technical skills, you can import designs into the manufacturer’s software from other programs that allow freehand design as long as it’s formatted correctly.
Q. Can vinyl cutting machines cut through several layers of fabric or other materials?
A. There are definitely machines that can cut through more than one layer of material, a feature that can significantly shorten your cutting time. Be sure you have the right blade and that it’s sufficiently sharp.