Best Vinyl Cutter in 2020: Cricut Explore Air 2
Dec 10, 2023
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Think of a vinyl cutter as a digitally controlled scissor, shaped like a printer with a computer's brain. Instead of printing images, a vinyl cutter carves letters and shapes from sheets of vinyl or other materials. You first upload an image — either premade or your own design — and adjust font, sizing, etc. Then, load the machine with a sheet of vinyl from which your design will be cut. Adjust the cutter's settings (e.g., speed, knife depth, cutting pressure) if your cutter model doesn't do this automatically. Push start: The machine carves the image before ejecting the sheet with your design cut out.
Sound too simple to be true? It isn't, especially if you choose the right model for your needs. Consider size (to accommodate your projects); speed (especially when producing multiple copies); output quality (precision in cutting), versatility (in materials it can handle and in its functions), and software (user-friendliness and library of designs); and connectivity (wired vs. wireless, online vs. offline functionality).
It may seem like a lot to think about, but don't worry — plenty of crafters recommend watching YouTube tutorials on vinyl cutter use and searching project ideas online. Just be sure not to use copyrighted images on items you plan to sell. After reading crafter reviews and interviewing users, we compiled this list of top vinyl cutters for different needs.
Best overall: Cricut Explore Air 2, $199.99 at CricutThe Cricut Explore Air 2 is fun to use, precise, versatile, and fast for quick jobs.
Best on a budget: Silhouette Cameo 3, $449.99 at AmazonThe Silhouette Cameo 3 delivers more than expected for its price — it holds two tools at once, can scan and print, and is able to work offline.
Best with a scanner: Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine, $299.95 at WalmartThe Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine is perfect if you want to hand draw and scan in your own original designs; it's also great for quilters.
Best portable vinyl cutter: Silhouette Portrait 2, $179 at AmazonSmall but mighty, the Silhouette Portrait 2 packs versatility and functionality inside a little machine.
Best for big projects: USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in, $349 at AmazonStraddling personal and commercial use, the USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in is useful for both hobbyists and small-business owners with its large capacity for project size and volume.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 is fun to use, precise, versatile, and fast for quick jobs.
Owners gush over the Cricut Explore Air 2. It's able to cut many different materials (e.g., vellum, card stock, leather, fabric, balsa wood, etc.), opening up endless possibilities for projects. Also, it's multifunctional — it cuts with a German carbide premium blade (included), writes with a black pen (included), and even scores and embosses with a stylus (sold separately).
The Cricut Explore Air 2 also comes with a cutting mat and materials for conducting a test-run project as well as practicing using the pen with the blade. It features two compartments for holding accessories, a magnetic strip for grasping extra blades, and a cup-holder-like area for stashing pens or tools. Best of all, this model comes with Bluetooth for cord-free connections to computers, phones, or tablets.
The Explore Air 2 uses Cricut's Design Space software, which contains more than 100 free images and fonts (available for Mac and Windows computers, and iOS and Android mobile devices). Because Design Space is only accessible through the manufacturer's website, you will need access to the internet. However, the iOS version of Design Space lets you download content for offline use.
Nonetheless, when all systems are go, this model cuts intricate designs with accuracy and surgical precision. And if you are in a hurry, simply switch it to Fast Mode for cutting and drawing at twice the speed.
Pros: Versatility, precision cutting, Bluetooth connectivity
Cons: Needs to be connected to internet for downloadable content, software has learning curve for some
The Silhouette Cameo 3 delivers more than expected for its price — it holds two tools at once, can scan and print, and is able to work offline.
The Silhouette Cameo 3 is a super-handy cutter that offers nearly limitless possibilities in creating projects and supports a variety of materials. In fact, with the Silhouette Deep Cut Blade (sold separately), it can slice through materials up to 2 millimeters thick.
This model has a dual-carriage system that holds two tools at once (e.g., two blades or one blade and one pen) for efficient multi-functionality. For example, you can cut card stock with the blade and then embellish it with the pen, in one pass — no need to change tools manually. Simply tell the machine which tool to use.
And there's more: The Silhouette Cameo 3 has a Print and Cut feature that lets you create a design using the included Silhouette Studio software and print it out. Then, feed the printed design into the cutter for scanning; the cutter then carves out your design.
What users really find convenient is that the Silhouette Cameo 3 doesn't have to be connected to the internet in order to operate. As a stand-alone machine with Bluetooth, it offers lots of freedom during use.
Pros: Dual-carriage holds two tools, has Print and Scan feature, able to work as a stand-alone machine
Cons: Software takes a bit of studying for some
The Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine is perfect if you want to hand draw and scan in your own original designs; it's also great for quilters.
Fast and portable, the Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine comes loaded with 631 built-in designs, including 100 quilt patterns. This model not only cuts these images, but also scans and carves out any original designs you create. With its 300 dots-per-inch scanner, you can scan in practically anything (a magazine clipping, photos, your own drawings, etc.), save it to the machine's memory, and then cut out its image.
This lightweight model operates as both a stand-alone machine and a Wi-Fi-ready device. The cutter's design software is CanvasWorkspace, a free cloud-based web application that comes with a library of images, shapes, and fonts. Using this collection as well as the machine itself presents a learning curve that crafters say is well worth climbing in the end.
The versatile Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine easily slices through diverse materials with precision and speed to produce intricate designs. Its hardworking German carbide blade can cut materials up to two millimeters in thickness. Although it cuts through fabric — and even adds a seam allowance in quarter-inch increments for sewing — some users noted its performance on felt is only so-so.
The Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine has a 4.85-inch touch-enabled display for convenient on-device editing. You can see the scanned images on the screen and then make any adjustments. Just use the stylus to resize, reshape, reposition, rotate, and/or combine images before cutting.
Pros: Worth the investment, scans as well as cuts, great for quilter and sewers
Cons: Library of images fine for some but only basic for others
Small but mighty, the Silhouette Portrait 2 packs versatility and functionality inside a little machine.
The compact Silhouette Portrait 2 is a fine, fun tool for beginners to dip their toes into the world of vinyl crafting. Sleek, light, and easy to transport, it takes up little space and is convenient for toting around for on-the-go crafting. The downside of its cute size is a restriction on project size. Although limited to cutting 8-inch-wide sheets, this model is great for making decals and stickers.
The Silhouette Portrait 2 is durable and economical, reportedly lasting years under constant use. It comes with an 8-inch cutting mat and an AutoBlade, which cuts cleanly and works well on small, intricate designs. With the Silhouette Deep Cut Blade (sold separately), you can slice through materials up to 2 millimeters thick.
In addition to a Bluetooth adapter, the cutter comes with Silhouette Studio software, 50 exclusive designs, and a one-month Silhouette Design Store subscription. With its Print and Cut feature, the Silhouette Portrait 2 allows you to create a design with the Silhouette Studio software and print it out. You then feed the printed design into the cutter, which scans and cuts it out. Also, PixScan technology allows you to scan and cut your own images.
Pros: Compact, light, economical, easy to use, custom design functions
Cons: Limited to 8-inch-wide sheets
Straddling personal and commercial use, the USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in is useful for both hobbyists and small-business owners with its large capacity for project size and volume.
Perched on a floor stand, the large USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in accommodates big projects like signs, banners, and automotive and window decals. It has a maximum feed width of 34.2 inches, a cutting width of 30.63 inches, and a cutting length of 96 inches (8 feet). It has a cutting speed of up to 48 inches per second – ideal for high-volume businesses.
Cutting accuracy isn't sacrificed for speed, though. During operation, the USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in is a bit loud but cuts cleanly. It comes with three blades (one for use and two replacements) and a backlit display for entering commands, controlling speed and pressure, and making adjustments. It also has a pen holder for switching out the knife for a pen and turning the cutter into a plotter. Many users praise this model's vectorization and tracing abilities.
USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in utilizes VinylMaster Cut software but also can run other popular design software like Sure Cuts A Lot, Flexi, SignBlazer, and SignCut Productivity Pro. Setup and software use are fairly smooth if you follow instructions and watch manufacturer videos. Although some reviewers consider this model to be "entry level" as a commercial tool, others feel that it is best for advanced users.
The included sign-making kit offers plentiful supplies: five 2-by-5-foot rolls of Greenstar vinyl (black, white, red, green, and yellow); two 1-by-2-foot sheets of blank magnetic signs; one 6-by-10-yard roll of TransferRite Ultra Clear 1310G (Grid) Medium Tack Application Transfer Tape; and one 1-by-1-yard roll of TransferRite Ultra 592U Paper Application Tape. This large bundle makes this cutter's price a decent deal.
Pros: Handles large jobs (both in size and volume), cuts and plots, great vectorization abilities
Cons: Loud operation, basic software, incompatible with Mac computers
Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals.You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here.Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected].Best overall: Best on a budget: Best with a scanner: Best portable vinyl cutter: Best for big projects: The Cricut Explore Air 2 is fun to use, precise, versatile, and fast for quick jobs. Pros: Cons: The Silhouette Cameo 3 delivers more than expected for its price — it holds two tools at once, can scan and print, and is able to work offline. Pros: Cons: The Brother CM350 ScanNCut2 Electronic Cutting Machine is perfect if you want to hand draw and scan in your own original designs; it's also great for quilters. Pros: Cons: Small but mighty, the Silhouette Portrait 2 packs versatility and functionality inside a little machine. Pros: Cons: Straddling personal and commercial use, the USCutter Vinyl Cutter MH 34in is useful for both hobbyists and small-business owners with its large capacity for project size and volume. Pros: Cons: