Buyers Guide: The Best Vinyl Cutting Machine for T-shirts (in 2020)

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  • Making T-shirts for yourself or for your friends is a great way to express your style, passion and sense of humor 
  • Using a vinyl cutter and HTV is a cheap, fast way to make high-quality, unique shirts
  • If you are looking to start a small business or side hustle, options like the Graphtec CE LITE-50 is a top choice for the best vinyl cutting machine for t-shirts

T-shirt businesses are the ultimate side hustle of the internet age. Not only are t-shirts are great gifts or walking advertisements, but t-shirts are the uniform of a young generation that make bold statements. Making t-shirts for yourself or for sale has never been easier, which is why we ranked the best vinyl cutting machine for t-shirts to help you get started.

Pressing t-shirts with heat transfer vinyl is an easy way to make great looking garments with high buyer appeal. You have your choice of dozens of colors and finishes of vinyl. Literally, your imagination is the limit.

Even if you want to make t-shirts for a special event like a family reunion or your rec sports team, a vinyl cutter can turn your project into a really special keepsake. So keep reading for our 7 best vinyl cutters for t-shirts, plus our helpful buying guide.

Vinyl Cutter for T-shirts Comparison Chart

Product Name

Suggested Retail Price

Best For

$249.99

Crafters and Beginners

$299.99

Crafters and Home Business

$349.99

Teachers and Students

$219.99 to $479.99

Entry Level Small Businesses

$899.99

Expert Crafters and Small Business

$1,995.00

High Speed Cutting for Small Business

$1,295.00 to $4,695.00

Commercial Vinyl Cutter

Cricut Explore Air 2: Best T-Shirt Vinyl Cutter for Beginners

Cricut Explore Air 2 Specs List 

  • Machine type: Craft cutting machine
  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, up to 2 mm deep
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.2" x 7" x 6"
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Warranty: 1 year warranty
  • Software: Cricut Design Space
  • Support: Support by phone, e-mail, or online chat
  • Extra Features: free trial subscription to Cricut Access with purchase

The Cricut Explore Air 2 is a bestselling vinyl cutter machine for home crafters. But it’s also especially well suited for t-shirt making. It’s well made, it has decent software to help you design and import projects, and you don’t need a million accessories to get started.

The Explore Air 2 runs on Cricut Design Space software, newly available as a desktop app for both Windows and Mac computers. As creative software goes, it’s fairly basic, but it’s got all you need to get started making text-dominant shirt designs. If you are making more graphic-intensive designs in other software, you can import SVG files into Design Space for cutting.

Cricut Explore Air 2 vs Maker

Why do we recommend the Explore Air 2 over its next-level sibling, the Cricut Maker? If t-shirts are what you are focusing on, the Explore Air 2 has all of the features you need. The Maker boasts an array of 12 different tools. You only need the basic blade to do all of your vinyl cutting, and you can do it as well on the EA2 as on the Maker.

Both machines cut at the same speed, both are capable of performing 2X faster cutting on vinyl, and the both take the same size mats. They both use the same software, they both have wireless connection options and you can use either with a tablet or with an iPhone.

The Explore Air 2 is about $150 less than the Maker, and it has all of the cutting capability you need for cutting heat transfer vinyl for t-shirts.

Does the Explore Air 2 do Matless Cutting?

That’s not to say the EA2 isn’t without its drawbacks for t-shirts, especially for making them at a larger scale. Because the Explore Air 2 requires a mat to cut, you have to be present to change mats between cuts if you are cutting multiples of the same design. Other vinyl cutters that can do roll-fed matless cutting run multiple copies of the same design without interruption.

If you are making t-shirts as gifts or for yourself, the Explore air 2 is a great choice. You can get a great machine that will meet all of your vinyl cutting needs for t-shirt graphics, including cutting printed vinyl.

What We Like

  • Low price, high quality
  • 1 year warranty
  • Simple software that imports SVG files
  • Simple material setting using the Smart Set Dial
  • Windows and Mac compatible
  • Tablet and Smartphone compatible
  • 2X cutting speed option for vinyl

What We Don't Like

  • No option for matless cutting
  • Limited cutting width (12”)
  • Limited ability for Print-and-Cut projects (9.25" x 6.75")

Three options to buy
the Cricut Explore Air 2:

Silhouette Cameo 4

Silhouette Cameo 4 Specs List 

  • Machine type: Craft cutting machine
  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, up to 3 mm thick
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.4" x 6.7" x 7.7"
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Warranty: 1 year limited warranty on hardware
  • Software: Silhouette Studio (free download with paid upgrades)
  • Support: Support e-mail or online chat
  • Extra Features: Double blade holder holds tools for cutting, scoring, or writing

If you are looking to an alternative to the Cricut Explore Air 2 that is capable of matless cutting, then the Silhouette Cameo 4 is a worthy choice. This vinyl cutter is the flagship of the Silhouette brand, and it’s ready to be your t-shirt making workhorse right out of the box.

The Cameo 4 has a built in roll feeder that will give a boost to cutting multiple vinyl transfers without you needing to change and reload mats. Cutting straight from the roll will allow you to schedule multiple projects or repeat the same cut over and over. The cross-cutter on the back of the Cameo 4 lets you slice off each cut as it’s completed so you can keep your projects sorted out.

What Cameo 4 tools do I need for cutting vinyl?

The Cameo 4 comes with the Autoblade, which is a self-adjusting blade used for cutting vinyl and paper. That’s all you need to get started cutting heat transfer vinyl for t-shirts. The Cameo 4 offers other blades for cutting fabric and thicker materials (the rotary blade and the Kraft blade, respectively) but the Autoblade is all you need for all kinds of heat transfer vinyl.

(Silhouette also sells the Punch tool, which creates punch holes in the negative space of designs to make weeding easier. This tool could be very useful when you are cutting complex designs for your shirts.)

What Silhouette Studio license do you need for cutting vinyl?

The Cameo 4 is powered by the Silhouette Studio desktop app. This software has its positives and negatives. First, it is more designer-focused than Cricut Design Space. It requires a bit more time to master, but it has more features that will let you create more professional looking designs.

However, Silhouette Studio is “freemium” software. The free version lets you do many functions (certainly more than Cricut Design Space), but to access certain advance functions you need to pay for a license. For example, the free version of Silhouette Studio does not let you import SVG files, nor does it let you save your original designs as SVGs to share with friends.

The price of the Cameo 4 is generally slightly higher than the Cricut Explore Air 2, but less than the Cricut flagship model, the Cricut Maker. Still, the cost of software and extra tools can drive the price up quickly for a machine that has a slight edge over the Explore Air 2.

What we like about the Silhouette Cameo 4

  • Matless cutting and roll feeder for more efficient t-shirt vinyl cutting
  • Self-adjusting Autoblade for cutting vinyl
  • Free version of Silhouette Studio has lots of designer-friendly features
  • Optional Punch tool to make weeding easier
  • Compatible with Windows or Mac computers
  • 1 year warranty

What we don't like about the Silhouette Cameo 4

  • Free version of software can’t import or export SVG files
  • No tablet or smartphone app

Three options to buy
the Silhouette Cameo 4:

Brother ScanNCut2: Best Vinyl Cutter for the Classroom

Brother ScanNCut 2 Specs List 

  • Machine type: Craft cutting machine
  • Cutting Size: Cuts on 12” x 12” or  12” x 24” mats, up to 2 mm thick
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 22.8 x 10.1 x 10.5 inches; 10.5 lbs
  • Connection: via USB or wireless via Bluetooth
  • Warranty: 1 year limited parts and labor, 2 year limited on electronic components and printed circuit boards
  • Software: Brother Canvas Workspace software
  • Support: phone or online chat
  • Extra Features: Touch screen pad to create or edit designs right on the machine

Brother has been quietly making very fine home craft cutters geared towards quilters for years, and has recently released the Scan-N-Cut2 craft-cutting machine. For people looking to make t-shirts, this machine may not be the most obvious choice, but it has a few features the Cameo 4 and Explore Air 2 lack that may fit your situation.

Does the Brother ScanNCut 2 require a computer?

First off, the Brother SNC2 does not require a computer or internet access to cut files. It has a built-in touchscreen interface that allows users to create, import, edit, cut and save projects right on the machine.

This is a great feature if you are looking for a vinyl cutter for classroom projects or other small maker spaces. Multiple users can design projects on their own computer, save the design on a USB drive then plug the drive into the Scan-N-Cut 2 for cutting or drawing. It’s also great to get ready-to-cut artwork from clients that you can just plug into the machine and start cutting right away.

This is also a great feature for people who are not confident learning new software. You can still design text art and use the built in designs and fonts to create sharp looking designs.

The Scan-N-Cut2 also features a single tool carriage, as opposed to double tool carriages on similar Cricut and Silhouette machines. If you are primarily focused on cutting vinyl for t-shirts, however, this detail and the lack of other tools available for this cutter shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

Brother Canvas Workspace App features

The SNC2 works with Brother Canvas Workspace software, a free and user-friendly design app that has most of the same features as Silhouette Studio, except that you can import SVG files in the free version.

On the downside, the SNC2 is a more expensive cutter than the Explore Air 2 or Cameo 4 (suggested retail price of about $350), and it can’t do matless cutting. Brother does sell 12 x 24” mats for larger cutting projects, but a 12 x 12” mat comes standard with purchase.

The Scan-N-Cut2 works with Windows and Mac computers and can connect via Wi-Fi or USB cable. Similarly, tablet and smartphone users can download the Canvas Workspace app and use their mobile device for cutting projects.

What we like about the Brother ScanNCut2

  • Cuts without a computer
  • Good for multiple user situations like classrooms
  • Touch screen interface for creating, editing and saving designs
  • Easy to use software that can import SVG files
  • Compatible with Windows or Mac computers
  • Design app for mobile devices
  • 1 year warranty

What we don't like about the Brother ScanNCut2

  • Expensive option for cutting t-shirt vinyl
  • No matless or roll-fed cutting option
  • Single tool carriage

Two options to buy
the Brother ScanNCut 2:

US Cutter MH Series: Best Home Business Cutter for T-Shirts

US Cutter MH Series Specs List 

  • Machine type: entry level vinyl cutter for small or home business
  • Cutting Size:
    • MH365 (14 inch): 10” x 8 ft (96”)
    • MH721 (28 inch): 24.63” x 8 ft (96”)
    • MH871 (34 inch): 30.63” x 8 ft (96”)
    • MH1351 (50 inch): 49.5” x 8 ft (96”)
  • Connection: via USB or serial cable – no wireless connection
  • Compatibility: Windows (Mac hacks possible)
  • Warranty: 1 year warranty with option to purchase additional 1 year extended warranty
  • Software: VinylMaster Cut (Basic Edition) with optional paid upgrades to Vinylmaster Pro or VinylMaster  Letter
  • Support: Free lifetime phone support and lifetime access to USCutter online support. Online support includes access to knowledge base and active user forum.

If you are looking for an inexpensive wide format vinyl cutter for t-shirts, banners or signs, the MH series from US Cutter could be the right fit for you.  There are four different widths of MH series cutters that can be used as desktop cutters or with a stand.

  • MH365 (14 inch): cuts 10” wide x 8 ft (96”) long – starts at $220
  • MH721 (28 inch): cuts 24.63” wide x 8 ft (96”) long – starts at $300
  • MH871 (34 inch): cuts 30.63” wide x 8 ft (96”) long – starts at $350
  • MH1351 (50 inch): cuts 49.5” wide x 8 ft (96”) long – starts at $530

MH Series: Entry level commercial vinyl cutter

This model of vinyl cutter is a great choice if you are starting a small or home based t-shirt business. You can cut multiple projects at once for higher volume efficiency, although the MH series can’t do contour cutting (print-then-cut) projects.

The MH series comes bundled with VinylMaster Cut software, which is another “freemium” design program. You can accomplish a lot with the free version, but paid upgrades can expand the type of projects you can do. VinylMaster cut works only with Windows OS, but you can get the MH Series to work with Mac computers if you use paid design software like Sure Cuts a Lot.

This vinyl cutter doesn’t offer wireless connections and you can’t connect to a mobile device either. It has just one tool carriage but it cuts with Roland blades, the commercial standard for vinyl cutters. They last a long time and are cheap to replace.

The MH series is cheap, but don’t mistake low price for poor quality. These machines come with a 1 year warranty with an option to extend for a second year. Additionally, US Cutter offers lifetime phone support and access to their user forum for troubleshooting. You can even order replacement parts like motors, motherboards and carriages to extend the lifespan of these machines.

What we like about the US Cutter MH Series

  • Business quality machines for low prices
  • Wide format cutting
  • Commercial quality cutting blade
  • One year warranty
  • Lifetime phone support
  • Replacement parts available for DIY repair
  • Lots of great bundle options available
  • Try before you buy software

What we don't like about the US Cutter MH Series

  • Windows only software
  • No wireless connection
  • No print then cut

Two options to buy
the US Cutter MH Series:

Graphtec CE LITE-50 20" Desktop Vinyl Cutter

Graphtec CE LITE-50 Specs List 

  • Machine type: wide format desktop vinyl cutter 
  • Cutting Size: 19.5" w x 118" long (roll-fed) or 13" x 19" with carrier sheet
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 30.9 x 9 x 6.5 inches; 17.6 lbs (8 kg)
  • Connection: via USB  – no wireless connection
  • Compatibility: Windows & Mac; standalone cutting (no computer) also available
  • Warranty: 1 year warranty 
  • Software: Graphtec Studio (Mac), Graphtec Pro Studio (Windows) and Graphtec Cutting Master 4 plugin for Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw included with purchase
  • Support: phone and email support available. In person service available at authorized service centers across US and Canada

If you want to step up your commercial production to the next level, the Graphtec CE Lite is a compact workhorse that can turn your hobby into a business. This vinyl cutter can make short work of detailed cuts for multi-layered t-shirt designs, but the CE-LITE really excels at contour cutting printed graphics.

Like all Graphtec cutters, the CE-LITE includes the latest version of the ARMS (Advanced Registration Mark Sensing System) that makes print-then-cut projects painless and fast. The optic reader can read registration marks from a printed sheet as well as perform contour cutting from printouts without marks.

The CE-LITE also has a barcode reader capability so you can print your graphic with a unique code, scan it with the sensor and recall cutting data from stored memory. Files can be read from a USB drive, so no computer hookup is required.

Wide Format Desktop Cutter for T-shirts

The CE-Lite is large for a desktop cutter (20 inch cutting width) and can cut from a roll feed up to 3 meters long. This is an excellent cutter for all finishes of heat transfer vinyl, especially printed HTV.

As far as software for the CE LITE goes, there are several options for users of all skill levels. Included with purchase is a copy of Graphtec’s Studio Pro design software, or designers will be happy with the Cutting Master 4 Plugin for Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw (also included). The software is compatible with Mac computers, although there is no compatible mobile app.

Graphtec provides a 1 year warranty on the CE-LITE as well as training videos and lots of support to get your machine set up and cutting properly.

What we like about the Graphtec CE LITE-50

  • High speed cutter for vinyl, paper or cardstock
  • 1 year warranty
  • Outstanding print-then-cut capability
  • Reads cut files from USB drive for offline cutting
  • Touch screen panel
  • Standalone software or plugin for Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw
  • Cuts from vinyl sheets or rolls
  • Excellent price for a 20” cutting machine
  • Works with Mac and Windows computers

What we don't like about the Graphtec CE LITE-50

  • Can only make 3 meter cuts from roll feeder
  • Not compatible with mobile devices
  • Only connects via USB cable (no wireless connection)

Three options to buy
the Graphtec CE LITE-50:

Roland CAMM1 GS-24 High Speed Vinyl Cutter

Roland CAMM1 GS-24 Specs List 

  • Machine type: entry level commercial cutter
  • Cutting Size: 23” wide by 82 feet long
  • Machine Dimensions (l x w x h): 33.5 x 12.2 x 9.2 inches; 30 lbs (13.5 kg)
  • Connection: via USB  – no wireless connection
  • Compatibility: Windows; Mac only with Adobe Illustrator plugin
  • Warranty: 3 year warranty 
  • Software: Roland CutStudio. Mac OS users must use the Adobe Illustrator plugin to use this cutter
  • Support: email support and user forums

If you are looking to upgrade to a professional-quality cutter for growing your t-shirt business, the CAMM1 GS-24 is a great choice. It is a fantastic machine for cutting printed vinyl and HTV, but also capable of cutting thicker materials for signs and displays.

The CAMM1’s excellent features are its combination of simplicity and speed. It operates from a computer connection or as a standalone machine. The touch controls let you adjust speed, cutting depth and force as you cut.

From a shirt designer’s perspective, it’s the speed that really matters. The CAMM1 cuts at 20 inches per second, letting you make short work of large volume projects.

What file types are supported by CutStudio software?

Roland also bundles its CutStudio software with the CAMM1 GS-24. Unfortunately, this software is not free to download before purchase ( no try before you buy). It also does not support SVG files, although it will work with BMP, JPG, STX, AI and EPS file formats.

This software only works with Windows operating systems. To use the CAMM1 GS-24 with a Mac, you need a software plugin for Adobe Illustrator. (The Illustrator plugin also works with Windows.) A Corel Draw plugin is also available; it also only works on Windows machines.

Finally, The GS-24 has a stellar 3 year warranty and an optional 5 year service contract cover phone support, access to training videos, free driver updates and replacement blades and cutting strips (in year four and five of agreement).

What we like about the Roland CAMM1 GS-24

  • Fast and accurate light commercial cutting machine
  • 24 inch cutting width
  • Cuts 20 inches per second
  • Cut projects up to 82 feet long
  • Excellent print-then-cut contour cutting
  • 3 year warranty (with product registration)
  • Optional 5 year premium technical support plan
  • Standalone operation option

What we don't like about the Roland CAMM1 GS-24

  • CutStudio software doesn’t work with Mac or mobile devices
  • CutStudio doesn’t support SVG files
  • No wireless connectivity

Two options to buy
the Roland CAMM1 GS-24:

Graphtec CE7000 series: Best Pro-level Vinyl Cutter

Graphtec CE7000 Specs List 

  • Machine type: Professional-level vinyl cutter for home or small business
  • Cutting Size:
    • CE7000-40 – 15” x 164 feet
    • CE7000-60 – 24” x 164 feet
    • CE7000-130 – 50” x 164 feet
  • Machine Dimensions (length x width x height):
    • CE7000-40 – 30.4" x 11.5" x 12.3"; 27.7 lbs
    • CE7000-60 – 39.6" x 23" x 43"; 51 lbs.
    • CE7000-130 – 67" x 32" x 48"; 112.4 lbs
  • Connection: via USB 
  • Warranty: 2 year standard warranty, 5 year extended warranty
  • Software:
    • Cutting Master 4 – plugin for Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw Suite. 
    • Graphtec Studio – standalone design software for Mac and Windows (included with purchase)
    • Graphtec Pro Studio – for Windows (included with purchase)
    • Pro Studio Plus – Windows only – available as add-on with purchase 
  • Support: phone and email support available. In person service available at authorized service centers across US and Canada

If you are really looking to launch a serious t-shirt business featuring printed vinyl, then the new CE7000 series from Graphtec could be perfect for you. Paired with a high quality, wide format printer, these cutters make cutting printed vinyl t-shirt designs in high volume effortless and speedy.

Capable of cutting projects up to 164 feet long(!), the CE7000 series is available in 3 different widths for shop of all sizes.

  • CE7000-40: cuts 15” wide x 164 ft
  • CE7000-60: cuts 24” wide x 164 ft
  • CE7000-130: cuts 50” wide x 164 ft

Graphtec cutting software features

The CE7000 series is also capable of barcode reading for easy offline, stand-alone cutting projects. It is also one of the few commercial-quality cutters on the list with Mac compatible software. Cutting printed vinyl quickly and accurately is paramount; the Advanced Registration Mark Sensing system (ARMS) version 8.0 is new and improved for print-then-cut projects.

These vinyl cutters are pricey compared to other models on the list, but their quality ensures this is a sound investment in your t-shirt business. Graphtec offers a 2-year warranty with an option to extend up to 5 years.  

What we like about the Graphtec CE7000 series

  • High volume cutting machine for business
  • Best Vinyl cutting machine for printed HTV
  • 2 year warranty (and option to extend to 5 year warranty)
  • Try before you buy software
  • Mac compatible software
  • Superior print-then-cut performance

What we don't like about the Graphtec CE7000 series

  • Catch basket sold separately

Two options to buy
the Graphtec CE7000 series:

Buying Guide: How to shop for a Vinyl Cutter for T-shirts

If you are looking for a vinyl cutter just for t-shirt making, you don’t need to worry about machines with a lot of features meant to entice crafters and hobbyists. Many of those fancy extra tools just don’t apply to cutting vinyl and you don’t need to worry if your machine is fully loaded. What you need to focus on is a machine that can make accurate cuts, but not necessarily cut with blinding speed.

Roll feed vs. Mat feed Vinyl Cutters

If you are cutting more than a couple of t-shirt designs at a time, you are quickly going to appreciate the value of having a roll-fed cutting machine. This allows you to schedule multiple jobs to be cut in succession or cut several copies of the same design in a row.

If you are doing mat-fed cutting, you have to be on standby to peel and weed each piece of vinyl as it comes off the machine before you can use the mat to make your next cut.

One solution to this is to have multiple mats, but that’s a stopgap solution compared to the convenience of using a roll-fed cutter. However, not all roll fed machines are created equal; Different machines have different capabilities, from the Silhouette Cameo (capable of 10 feet of roll cutting) and the Graphtec CE7000 vinyl cutter, capable of cutting up to 164 feet.

Printing Vinyl for T-shirts

If you are planning t-shirt graphics with photos, you will need to consider the print-then-cut capabilities of the cutting machine you select. Most of the vinyl cutters we’ve listed perform contour cutting of printed images; some have limitations.

The Cricut Explore Air 2, for example, can only cut 9.25" x 6.75" printed images. You might find that to be too small for t-shirt graphics you have in mind. Commercial-grade cutters often specialize in print-then-cut projects, so if this is something that you are going to be doing a lot of, an upgrade to a commercial machine would be worth it.

Vinyl Cutting Software for T-shirts

Before you buy a vinyl cutter, we recommend you download and experiment with the software to see comfortable you are. Most companies offer try-before-you buy options for their software, as well as tutorials and how-to videos to help you master the basic, easy to learn design elements.

By starting your purchase research with the software, you’ll save yourself lots of headaches when you actually unbox your vinyl cutting machine. Countless makers with years of experience have shared that they put off starting projects with their new machines because they found the software too intimidating.

Try a few different programs out and make a few designs from scratch. The software is the gateway to making your t-shirts, and if you master the learning curve early, you’ll be ready to start your projects as soon as your machine arrives.

Warranty, Returns and Support Policies

You should always check the warranty details before buying a new piece of tech, including vinyl cutters. Most companies offer at least 1 year warranty, but you will want to read the fine print to see if there are any exceptions. If you are considering a commercial-quality cutter, there are some machines that come with 2 or 3 year warranties, plus options to extend up to 5 years.

You’ll also want to check out the returns policy for any vinyl cutter before you buy, especially if you are purchasing one as a gift. Read up on of restocking fees or other surprises before you buy. If you are purchasing from a third-party retailer, you may have to pay your own shipping on a return.

There are also differing levels of support for vinyl cutters. Some companies offer phone, email and chat support, some just offer support by email or chat. If you have a strong preference for getting phone support, make sure you confirm it’s available before you make your purchase.

Conclusion

Finding the right vinyl cutter to make custom t-shirts doesn’t have to be that hard. While there are lots of craft cutting machines available for home and small business users, cutting vinyl for shirts doesn’t require the machine with the fanciest features and biggest array of tools.

We think the most important factors are quality of cut over speed, the most comfortable software for the user, and the best ability to cut printed vinyl. If you take these three factors into consideration for your projects, you’ll be sure to get a top selection of vinyl cutter for your t-shirt projects.

Related: Read our buying guide for Best Heat Press Machines here.



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