You don’t need to splash the cash to start crafting — a cheap vinyl cutter is a great investment.
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 many electronic cutting machines. Plus, a bunch of manually operated cutters, too.
How to choose which one?
Should you go with a big brand? What’s the best affordable Cricut alternative?
Well, we’ve got you covered…
Below we’ve compiled a list of the top budget vinyl cutters that are perfect for the entry-level crafter or simply those with less to spend. We have picked six affordable vinyl cutters in total, and our number one recommendation goes to the Cricut Explore Air 2.
But, wait… isn’t the Explore Air 2 one of the more EXPENSIVE cutting machines? It sure used to be. But the machine is currently available at a great discount since Cricut has launched a brand new Explore 3 model. The Explore Air 2 has dropped in price as its no longer the latest model, even though it still boasts some of the best cutting technology on the market.
However, there are still cheaper choices available.
If you are willing to work with a smaller maximum cutting width, the Cricut Joy and Silhouette Portrait represent the ‘cheaper’ models from their respective product lines. You might also consider the Sizzix Big Shot Express or the Gemini Junior, two popular cheap vinyl cutters – albeit without the bells and whistles of their great rivals, Cricut and Silhouette.
Prices range from under $100 to around the $300 mark. Hopefully you’ll find something that fits in with your budget here.
Let’s take a closer look at the candidates!
6 of the Best Cheap Vinyl Cutters
Looking for value for money? The best vinyl cutting machine on a budget?
Here are our top recommendations:
Note: If you’re looking for the out-and-out best cutters on the market today, see our pick of the best current vinyl cutters. Some of them were too expensive for inclusion on this list!
Cricut Explore Air 2
If you’re in the market for a cheap vinyl cutter, the first option that comes to mind probably isn’t Cricut Explore Air 2.
That’s because the Explore Air series is traditionally marketed as a premium flagship cutter by Cricut.
But in the same way that iPhones are expensive too, you can get a cheaper one by buying an older one. And that’s exactly what we’re suggesting with the Explore Air 2, which has recently been succeeded by the Explore 3 model.
While the Explore 3 is a worthy upgrade — it boasts twice the cutting speed, and the ability to work with Smart Materials — those improvements don’t justify the huge difference in price. The Explore 3 is usually around 50% more expensive than the older Explore Air 2, and that’s just with the starter package!
By opting for the Explore Air 2, you’ll be getting a super-modern electronic cutting machine that has only just been replaced. In the same way that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 are both great phones, so are these two cutting machines.
If you’re on a budget, choose the slightly older version!
Note: The caveat here is that Cricut will likely discontinue the Explore Air 2 soon, so you may find stock harder to come by. We still found plenty of machines available, but that may change over the coming months.
- Can cut one image up to 4″ wide and 4′ long or repeated images up to 20′ long
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Works with 50+ materials
- Can cut and draw/write
- Works with Smart Materials for matless cutting
- Works with Card Mat for making quick, custom cards
- Print and Cut sizes are reduced (see our review for precise details)
- It’s quite loud
Read our full Cricut Explore Air 2 review.
The Cricut Joy is one of the latest cheap vinyl cutting machines on the market and it’s a doozy.
It’s ideal for quick and simple cutting on the go and is the *perfect* machine for card making (or making stickers). Small, under 4 lbs and able to cut wirelessly. What more could you need for occasional craft projects?
Its low price means that this is one of the most attractive craft cutters for people on a budget. While the Cricut Joy is limited by its 4 inch cutting width — compared to the 11.5 inch offered by the Cricut Explore Air — it retains all of the modern tech embellishments that you’d expect from a flagship Cricut machine.
It’s not only a budget machine — innovations like matless cutting using Smart Materials and Card Mat means that the Joy is really ahead of the curve in its technology.
A really impressive pocket rocket.
- Matless cutting with Smart Materials is super easy and convenient
- You can make quick custom cards with Card Mat
- Can cut 1 image up to 4″ wide and 4′ long, or repeated images up to 20′ long
- Can cut over 50 materials
- Bluetooth connectivity means no stray wires
- Very easy to use so ideal for beginners
- Extras like Card Mat and Smart Materials need to be bought separately
- Can only cut and write, and can only do these one at a time so it’s not entirely efficient
- Cricut Design Space software can be a little frustrating to use
See our full Cricut Joy review.
Silhouette Portrait 3
It’s only 3.5lbs but really packs a punch and is a great option if you’re looking for a cheap vinyl cutting machine. Or at least… cheaper than the flagship models.
It offers a little more size and versatility than the Cricut Joy, and is able to cut materials up to 8 inches wide and a whopping 60 foot long.
Matless cutting is available in two different configurations, it can be used with Print & Cut, and it’s got automatic tool detection and the AutoBlade that we love in the Cameo models.
If you are on a tight budget, you might be wondering… “Do I really need to buy the Portrait 3? What about the Portrait 2? Maybe there are even better deals on the original Portrait 1!”
And the answer is, yes, you can find some great deals on the older Portrait models — but they are hard to find. You won’t find discontinued models sold through the Silhouette site, and they’re rarely available on Amazon or in Walmart.
Your best bet is looking on eBay for a used model.
- Bluetooth connectivity for painless wireless cutting
- Two different options for matless cutting
- Super easy to use thanks to the automatic tool detection and AutoBlade
- PixScan and Print & Cut compatible
- Impressive 2mm clearance for thicker materials
- It’s a mini version of the Cameo 4 – and can even use the same tools!
- Very lightweight and compact
- Offers a bigger cutting area than the Cricut Joy
- You’ll need to buy adaptors if you plan on using Cameo 4 tools
- No dual carriage so it’s slower than the big machines
See our full Silhouette Portrait 3 review.
The options above are what we would consider the best budget vinyl cutters on the market today. But we’ve got three more honourable mentions that are worth your consideration…
USCutter 14 Inch MH Craft
The 14″ MH Craft is the bestselling machine from USCutter, which makes sense when you consider that it is one of their cheapest.
Don’t mistake cheap for low quality though. The MH series has a reputation for being a durable workhorse. It is favored by many small businesses, and particularly users who want to move in to the signage business.
One thing we need to point out is that the name of this machine is misleading… to say the least.
Do not buy the 14″ model thinking you’ll be able to cut up to a width of 14 inches. The actual working area (max cutting width) is just under 10 inches. If you want to maximise your cutting area, you’ll need to upgrade to the 24 inch model — which is more expensive and certainly outside the realm of ‘budget vinyl cutter’.
Please also note: This machine’s software (VinylMaster Cut) is not compatible with Mac.
Gemini Junior from Crafter’s Companion
Now here’s a craft cutter that you’ve probably never heard of if you’ve been a long-time fan of Cricut and Silhouette machines.
The Gemini Junior is a popular vinyl cutter in the UK that has slowly been gaining traction in the US and EU markets.
It’s an introductory machine for anybody just getting started on their embossing or die cutting journey. The powerful little Gemini can work with cardstock, vinyl, foil or even multiple layers of fabric. It has a 6″ x 9″ work area that is comparable with smaller cutters like the Cricut Joy or Silhouette Portrait.
While the Gemini Jr lacks the polish and performance of those big-hitting names, it’s still a useful little machine that comes at a budget-friendly price.
Sizzix Big Shot Express
Finally, we have the trusty Big Shot Express. A machine with a big heart.
It might not look like the sturdiest of machines, but the general rule of thumb is that your Big Shot Express will cut through any material that you’d be able to cut with a pair of paper craft scissors.
It has a maximum cutting width of up to 6 inches, which gives it more space than the Cricut Joy, but not as much as the Silhouette Portrait — or any of the flagship cutters (Cameo, Explore, Maker, etc).
Unlike the original Big Shot, the Express is fully electric. There’s no manual crank. Everything works at the touch of a button, which takes away some of the charm of the original model (especially for kids), but is certainly an upgrade if you are working on a project that requires… well, a lot of cutting.
The Sizzix machines are something of an acquired taste in the die-cutting world. You either love them, or run straight back to your Cricut.
Personally we think they’re a great budget friendly option for those seeking a simplified craft cutting experience.
See our full Sizzix Big Shot Express review.
What’s your favorite cheap vinyl cutter under $200?
Still can’t decide which cutter is right for you? Be sure to check out the rest of our detailed machine comparisons.