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?
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.
The original Explore Air is one of Cricut’s older machines nowadays, but it still offers great value for money and is an all-round great contender for the best budget vinyl cutter out there.
If you are stretched for cash, it’s always worth checking eBay for deals on this older model. It can be picked up second-hand for some great prices, although you may have to accept reliability issues as a trade-off.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what we love (and aren’t so keen on) with this classic 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!
Inferior to the Explore Air 2 but not significantly cheaper (unless you buy used)
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
Silhouette’s Cameo 3 was the major rival to the Cricut Explore Air 2, up until release of the new Cameo 4 which has become Silhouette’s flagship cutter.
We really like the Cameo 3 and consider it a cracking upgrade on the Cameo 2, although not as powerful as the Cameo 4 (and therefore cheaper!) — Silhouette fans will not be disappointed.
This is another machine that is difficult to pick up at the top retailers. Many choose only to stock the newer Cameo 4 model. You still might find a few of them for sale on Amazon, otherwise your best bet is to search eBay.
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
The maximum cutting size is 12″ wide and 10 feet long
We find the cutting force a little weak — the Cricut has a edge on Silhouette here
The machine has been surpassed by the latest Cameo 4 model
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.
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
For most people, the Big Shot is the number one cheap vinyl cutter from Sizzix, but we think that the Eclips 2 has a lot to offer as well.
This is the electronic cutting machine that was designed to rival the Silhouette Cameo and Cricut Explore. We’re not convinced that it’s quite as good as those two market leaders, but it’s certainly got a dedicated fan base nonetheless.
Unfortunately the machine is hard to find these days. We’ve seen several of them in local craft stores, but your best online option is likely to be eBay.
Excellent precision cutting
Can combine multiple shapes and letters in one cut
We’re back with Silhouette again and the Portrait 2 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 lower price point, easy to use software and general operation.
The Portrait 2 is the successor to the immensely popular original Portrait machine. You won’t find the original Portrait available in many retailers these days, but it can still be picked up on eBay and in some smaller craft stores.
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 cheaper than the Cameo and has much of the same functionality
The Silhouette Studio software is reasonably easy to use
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
I’m a life long crafter with a passion for vinyl cutting — it’s been both a hobby and a career for me over the past 5 years. Everyday I love testing new machines, materials and techniques and passing my tips and reviews along to my crafting friends and readers. I don’t like to play favorites, but it’s hard to deny that the Silhouette Cameo and Cricut cutters hold a special place in my heart! When I’m not in my craft room (and sometimes when I’m in it), you’ll find me playing with my baby daughter and my two furball puppies.