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If you’ve just entered the world of craft cutting, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. So many designs! So much software! And — as if you could forget — so damn many electronic cutting machines.
How to choose which one?
If you’re looking for the best budget vinyl cutter, fear not — we’ve got you covered. We’ve compiled this list of the top 5 craft cutters under $250 that are perfect for the entry-level crafter or simply those on a budget.
Some of them are *so good* we’re shocked that they’re really this cheap.
If you want a really comprehensive rundown of all the best vinyl cutters for both personal and commercial use, check out our guide to the very best vinyl cutting machines in 2016.
Or, if you just need a quick guide to everything you need to know about vinyl cutting, check out Vinyl Cutting 101.
Now, without further ado…
|Cricut Explore Air||$$|
|Silhouette Cameo 3||$$$|
|Sizzix 660425 Big Shot||$|
The best budget vinyl cutter
The latest offering from Cricut — the Explore Air — is undoubtedly one of our favorite desktop craft cutters.
We’ve written a full review of it here, but here’s a quick snapshot of what we love (and aren’t so keen on) about the machine.
- It’s Bluetooth enabled so you can just send your designs straight from your iPad/desktop to the cutter without messing around with wires and USB ports
- Despite its low price, it cuts really well — precise, good on small and intricate designs and equipped with long-lasting German carbide blades
- Dual carriage means that it can cut and write, or cut and score, in just one step
- The Smart Set Dial allows you to automatically select automatic settings for the most popular cutting materials, while the software has auto-settings for an even wider range
- It works with over 100 different materials
- It’s super easy to use
- It looks good!
- You have to have a steady WiFi connection to use both the craft cutter and the Design Space software
- You can only use the Cricut Design Space software with the machine. It’s perfectly serviceable and easy to use for newbies, but more experienced crafters may find it a little basic
- Cricut Design Space isn’t yet compatible with Android tablets and phones
Silhouette’s Cameo 3 is the major rival to the Cricut Explore Air above, and most crafters have a favorite between the two brands. It’s usually priced below $250, although price can vary up to around $300 (forgive us — it’s too good to miss out!).
We really like the Cameo 3 and consider it a cracking upgrade on the Cameo 2 — Silhouette fans will not be disappointed.
We’ve written a full review of the machine here, but here’s a brief look at our pros and cons of the Cameo 3.
- The AutoBlade setting allows you to automatically calibrate your settings depending what material you’re using — great for beginners
- You can now use thicker materials as cutting clearance has been doubled to 2mm
- It comes with a fancy touchscreen, that’s simple to use and even has audio alerts
- Dual carriage allows you to cut and draw, or cut and score, in one step
- It has a roller locking mechanism and guidelines making feeding material super easy
- Lots of storage compartments
- It looks sleek and chic
- We find the cutting force a little weak — the Cricut has a edge on Silhouette here
- We’re still waiting for Silhouette Studio 4.0 software that has the long-awaited Bluetooth technology
The Sizzix Big Shot has something of a cult following in the craft cutting world — and with good reason.
It’s a real diamond machine for small projects like stickers and card-making (it can only cut up to 6 inches wide), and is great for both cutting and embossing. Best of all — it is a truly budget vinyl cutter. Check out this price!
What’s kind of quirky about the Sizzix is that it’s not an electronic cutting machine — it’s operated by a crank. Yep, that’s right — a crank. If you like a little manual labor with your craft cutting, you will love the Big Shot.
Check out what we love and what we’re not so keen on with the Sizzix Big Shot.
- Super cheap — under $100, hello!
- Good for both cutting and embossing
- Comes with a 3 year warranty
- Very small and portable — great for desktop use
- Kid-friendly and a great starter kit for small crafts makers
- It can only cut up to 6 inches wide — it’s pretty damn small and you won’t have the accuracy of a more expensive cutter
- Crank operated — you either love it or you hate it
We’re back with Silhouette again and the Portrait is one of the best budget vinyl cutters on the market right now.
Just like the Sizzix Big Shot, this is another great machine for small crafts makers — card and sticker makers will love it. It’s also great for beginners, thanks to its low price point, easy to use software and general operation.
We’ve written a full review of the Portrait here, but check out our pros and cons of the machine too.
- It’s super compact and great for small cuts
- It’s very easy to set-up and install the machine — great for beginners
- It cuts a large range of materials, including paper, vinyl, cardstock, fabrics, heat transfer materials, vellum and wood paper
- It’s much cheaper than the Cameo 3 and has much of the same functionality
- The Silhouette Studio software is reasonably easy to use
- It can only cut a maximum of 8.5″ wide
- There have been a few issues reported with calibration and alignment
Our final entry is yet another offering from the brilliant Silhouette — the Curio.
This budget cutter is more of an ‘add-on’ to other more hardcore vinyl cutters as it actually specializes in a few unique tools that you can’t use with other Silhouette products. Tools like embossing, stippling and etching.
Major bonus, it can be used on a wide variety of materials including stuff like metal, leather and even WOOD.
For crafters who like to do their cutting with a side of embossing, the Curio is really all you need. For hardcore cutting crafters, the Curio is a lovely desktop machine for a bit of experimental side action.
Here’s what we love (and don’t love so much) about the machine.
Great for embossing, debossing, stippling and etching
- Good to experiment with thicker materials — it has a 5mm clearance
- It has 3 different embossing methods: path emboss, score & emboss, and print & emboss
- Good for small, intricate designs
- Works with the Silhouette Studio software which is reasonably good and easy to use
- The dual carriage can create multicolor sketch art
- Comes with a deep cut blade that’s made of tungsten alloy for durable, deep cuts
- Can only produce designs of a maximum 8.5″ x 6″
- The quality of the embossing is not consistent
What’s your favorite best budget vinyl cutter?