Update Oct 2023: A lot has changed over the past year, so I have completely rewritten this article to update all the information on vinyl printer/cutter combo machines for entrepreneurs, small businesses and crafters. This article will be regularly updated to reflect changes in vinyl printing and cutting technology.
Printing on vinyl has a lot of applications these days. Adhesive vinyl can be printed to create full color signs, vehicle decals, window displays, and high volumes of stickers or labels. Heat transfer vinyl can be printed to create complex, full-color designs that would be too laborious to produce using layering. All of those applications also require a vinyl cutter to finish the job via contour cutting.
I’ll cover the printer/cutter options for small or medium-sized commercial users as well as home crafters, including:
- combination eco-solvent printer + vinyl cutter machines geared towards small business
- 2-machine solutions for higher productivity: separate wide-format printers (eco-solvent or latex) and wide-format vinyl cutters
- inkjet printers for home users with 12″ craft cutters
I’ve tried to distill this to the most salient points like affordability, reliability and versatility. I really wanted keep the list of recommendations short and on point to keep it from being overwhelming.
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Top picks at a Glance: Best Vinyl Printer & Cutter Combinations For Small Business and Home Users
Best Desktop Eco-Solvent white ink Printer/Cutter Combo
Brand new Desktop CMYK-only Printer/Cutter
Original Desktop Eco-Solvent Printer/Cutter Combo
Desktop CMYK-only Printer/Cutter
Best 2 machine Printer + Cutter Combination
Best small biz 24" Eco Solvent Printer
(includes 2x CMYK ink)
Best small biz cutter for print and cut
Best Printer for Cricut Maker and Silhouette Cameo
Best 11 x 17 Printer for Cricut Maker and Silhouette Cameo
Combination eco-solvent printer-cutters: compact powerhouses
There are only 2 brands (Roland and Mimaki) that make a vinyl printer and cutter in one machine at an entry-level price point. The machines in this section are all entry level commercial eco-solvent printers with built-in cutters.
There are real benefits to combining the function of a printer and cutter in a single machine:
- an affordable entry point into commercial printing for smaIl operators
- allows users to produce personalized artwork with professional quality material and ink in a short timeframe
- unlike larger print shops with high minimum order quantities, you can use a combo machine to produce small-run customs for premium prices
The Roland BN-20 has had a decade of being the most popular combo machine for small business, and the BN-20A was introduced in 2021 with a lower price point and more basic ink set. I will be discussing the new, upgraded Roland machines (BN2-20, BN2-20A) as well as the original machines, because I have been told there are no plans to discontinue them.
The second type of machine I cover is the Mimaki CJV entry-level printer/cutter. It has a similar print quality to the BN20 family, but is capable of printing wider (up to 32″) media.
The Roland BN20 family: the original desktop eco-solvent printer/cutters
The BN20 from Roland is a top choice for many entrepreneurs getting started with commercial quality printing on vinyl. In a nutshell, the BN20 family is a small desktop printer–cutter (20″ wide) that prints with 5 inks (cyan/magenta/yellow/black + white or metallic) with very high resolution. It isn’t super fast, but the quality is great, and it is affordable to purchase or finance for talented artists or plucky entrepreneurs starting a side business in their homes. The first BN20 was sold in 2011 and about 10 years later a new “lite” version (the BN20A) with just CMYK ink was released and was an immediate hit.
Fast forward to September 2023. Roland released new versions of the 4 and 5 color printers, the BN2-20 and BN2-20A, and when I say new, they completely reimagined the look and features of the BN20 machines. I’m going to walk you through the second generation machines in this article, and then introduce you to the older machines. The section on the new BN2-20 draws a lot of comparisons to their predecessor (naturally), so if you need to read about the first generation to acquaint yourself, keep scrolling or click here.
The Roland BN2-20 and BN2-20A: the next generation of desktop eco-solvent printer/cutters
What we like
- Faster cutting speed. Thanks to new servo motors, the BN2-20 prints up to 4x faster than the previous generation BN-20
- Competitive price. The BN2-20 starts at $7,295, and the BN2-20A starts at $6,495
- Simplified software workflow. Users can automatically generate cutlines and print from a special edition of Roland’s Flexi Designer software.
- Improved cutting functionality. Roland has replaced the old corkscrew cutting head with a faster solenoid cutting head. It now cuts at a speed comparable to the VersaStudio-GS2-24 vinyl cutter
- Front loading access. The taller body accommodates vinyl loaded from the front. This actually makes the footprint of the machine smaller, since the printer can be pushed right to the wall.
What we don’t like
- Connection only through ethernet cable. BN2-20 users must use the Roland DG Connect hub to monitor the status of the machine and run Versaworks and FlexiDesigner. This software requires an ethernet connection rather than the USB connection used by the original BN20.
- Software remains Windows compatible only.
Roland BN2-20 pricing options
The new generation of BN2-20 has a higher price tag than its predecessors. However, they are still extremely competitively priced for eco-solvent printer/cutter combinations. The BN2-20 has a base price of $7,295; that’s only $500 more than the previous generation of BN20. Of course, that doesn’t include ink. A five cartridge set of CMYK+White ink costs $477. Users are looking at an initial price of $7,800 to get the machine and get set up.
(The BN2-20A has a base price tag of $6,495 without the ink. That’s considerably more than the $5,295 base cost of the original BN20A machine.)
BN2-20 Printing and Cutting Speed
The biggest takeaway from the BN2-20 launch is the big upgrade in printing speed. Speed has been the Achille’s heel of the BN20 for a long time. The new model has replaced the stepper motors of the previous generation with faster servo motors.
According to Roland the new machines print more than 4x faster. (The BN2-20A prints up to 2.34 m2 per hour, compared with 0.54 m2/h for the BN20A). The upgrade also adds full resolution bi-directional printing for the BN2-20 and BN2-20A. The previous generation of BN20 cannot do bi-directional printing, and the BN20A can only print up to 720dpi in bi-directional print mode.
The other big improvement for productivity is the upgrade of the cutting tool. Previous generations had a cutting head that had a corkscrew type of engagement. The cutter would move into position, the blade would screw downwards, perform the cut and then screw upwards to before moving to the next cut.
The cutting itself is fine, but the slow up and down between cuts is a drag on productivity. The new cutting head on the BN2-20 functions just like any other commercial vinyl cutter. The speed is more than acceptable for contour cutting.
Roland BN2-20 and BN2-20A Ink options
The new BN2-20 has a 5 cartridge ink capacity, same as the previous generation. Unlike the original BN20, the BN2-20 uses Roland’s EcoSol Max 2 ink, not the original EcoSol Max. Users can choose between CMYK and a second Magenta cartridge or CMYK plus White ink.
The Metallic ink option is no longer available on the BN2-20. According to Roland, the Metallic option has fallen out of favor with the majority of users. Instead, users are turning to metallic, holographic and chrome finish printable vinyl films to add lustre and value to finished products. Using a metallic substrate offers a better result at a lower price point than metallic ink.
Then BN2-20A has the same 4 ink CMYK configuration as its predecessor, and it also uses the EcoSol Max 2 ink.
Because of the physical reconfiguration of the BN2-20, the ink cartridges are now housed inside the printer cabinet. While this offers a tidier look, this also means that the extra capacity 440ml cartridges will not work in either the BN2-20 or BN2-20A.
BN2-20 Front loading feature
Besides the upgraded printing speed, the biggest change in the BN2-20 is the total re-imagining of the physical appearance. My first thought was that it looked like a giant Epson Eco-tank, but the tall cabinet allows the material to be loaded from the front.
By having the vinyl rolls feed from the front, the BN2-20 requires less clearance in the back. It also eliminates the need for a rolling stand. Vinyl can be loaded from the front, the printer can be pushed back to the wall, and the overall footprint of the printer is reduced. This is a really big advantage for entrepreneurs getting ready to turn part of their living space into a work space.
Software for the BN2-20
The BN2-20 uses the DG Connect, a hub that connects the BN2 Utility software, VersaWorks and FlexiDesigner with the printer for printing, cutting and maintenance functions.
The BN2-20 comes with Roland Versaworks software and FlexiDesigner. The version of FlexiDesigner allows you to import artwork (or create origins designs) and add contour lines around raster images. You can also send your designs directly to the printer from FlexiSign, bypassing the VersaWorks RIP software.
FlexiSign will also auto-nest your artwork to maximize your media usage and reduce waste while you print and cut.
The utility software tracks job progress, ink use and waste, and maintenance. It also lets you move your project around on the sheet. The move function is especially handy because you can move your prints to free space on the vinyl sheet, allowing you to reduce waste.
Not to be overlooked: like the rest of Roland’s software, DG Connect, VersaWorks and FlexiDesigner are available only on the Windows platform. If you are using a Mac, you are out of luck.
Other considerations for the BN2-20 and BN20A
- Because the BN2-20 is now integrated with the DG Connect software, it requires a dedicated internet connection. Unfortunately, Roland has decided the best way to do this is with an ethernet connection, not a WiFi connection. This actually makes sense, because nothing would be worse than setting up an eight hour print job and leaving the printer to run, only to come back later to find it has quit because the WiFi was interrupted.
- The BN2-20 also includes a dryer to help speed up your post production time. Eco-solvent is often criticized because it requires drying time between printing and lamination and/or cutting. A new dryer provides heat up to 38ºC to speed up ink curing time and increase efficiency.
Final word on the BN2-20
Roland certainly seems to have taken user feedback to heart when considering the design of this new combo printer cutter. Speed (or lack thereof) has long been the biggest knock on the BN20 family. But upgraded motors mean the printer and cutter functions are way faster compared to previous generations of this printer.
The print quality of this machine remains the same as the predecessor (1440 dpi). The added dryers means upgraded post printing production speed. Reconfiguring the cabinet to allow for front loading material means a smaller footprint and printer/cutter better suited to a small office. The power requirement remains the same (110v), and no special ventilation is required.
The machine is still small (20” media) but the improved software allows you to maximize your vinyl use to reduce waste.
Overall, Roland has addressed key issues with their re-design. Small business owners looking to purchase or upgrade to a BN2-20 will benefit from a faster printer, improved cutter and better software workflow.
Roland VersaStudio BN-20: the Original Desktop Eco-Solvent Printer-Cutter
What we like
- Lowest price for eco-solvent printer + cutter combination machine
- High quality ink and high definition printing for commercial quality results
- White ink and Metallic ink options available
- Versatile: great for small batch stickers, decals, apparel, labels, signage with quick turnaround
- Small footprint, 110v power supply and GreenGuard certified inks make the BN20 easy to set up in a non-commercial space
- Straightforward self-maintenance
What we don’t like
- Lamination on eco-solvent ink recommended for best results
- Windows only software
- No wireless connection
- Limited media width (20″)
- Overall slow printing and cutting speed
The Roland BN20 printer cutter is the the starting point in most small entrepreneur’s research. It has a number of advantages for makers making the leap into commercial printing. However, there are a few important caveats that don’t necessarily make it a lock for first-time buyers.
Here are the big benefits that attract attention from buyers:
- Price – The BN20 starts at around $6,800 USD. (The BN20A has a basic price of about $5,000). Alternatives like the HP Latex115 printer and cutter start at around $10K.
- Print quality – Like other Roland printer/cutter machines, the BN20 uses eco-solvent ink. This ink is specifically formulated to deliver high quality results on vinyl. Users can make professional quality stickers, labels, t-shirts, window displays and more in small batches.
- Power consumption – the BN20 uses a regular 110v power supply and doesn’t generate a lot of heat while printing. Other options require dedicated 220v power supply (like an oven or dryer)
- Small footprint – The BN20 is a desktop printer and can be set up in a home workspace.
Roland BN20 price options
The BN20 has a MSRP of $6,795 USD. This price includes basics like the blade and blade holder, and maintenance kit. Roland also includes VersaWorks RIP software (for printing) and R-works design and cut software. (Both for Windows only. Sorry Mac users.)
Normally, the ink for the BN20 is purchased separately from the printer. Ink cartridges cost $89 per unit (for CMYK; white ink is $122 and Metallic ink is $250). SwingDesign.com offers the BN20 + CMMYK ink or the BN20 + CMYK+White ink for just the regular base cost of $6,795! ($445 and $478 savings respectively.) Or you can get the BN20 plus the Metallic for just $99 ($6,894 total, or a $507 saving.)
Financing is also available for Swing Design shoppers through Affirm.
Ink and print quality for the Roland BN20
The BN20 uses Roland ECO-SOL Max ink cartridges and has 3 different configuration options. You can opt for CMMYK (2 magenta cartridges), CMYK + White ink cartridge or CMYK + Metallic ink cartridge.
The eco-solvent ink option can deliver very finely detailed prints in vivid colors. Adding a white ink option allows you to offer a wider range of prints on transparent media. Metallic ink offers extra value for customers wanting stickers, decals or other graphics with a sheen.
Eco solvent ink is water, scratch and UV resistant on its own. There’s a prevailing sentiment that printed materials for outdoor use should be laminated to maximize durability. If you get the BN20, your customers may expect (or be persuaded to pay a premium for) laminated finished products.
Maintenance and ventilation for the BN20
The maintenance requirements are probably the most important considerations for potential buyers of the BN20. Idle time of more than 1-2 weeks can result in clogging that can require extensive flushing and cleaning.
The good news is that frequent use is the most basic and effective maintenance habit you need. This will be a familiar news to sublimation printer owners. Roland recommends leaving the machine powered on to allow the machine perform self maintenance of the print head. Keep the cover closed when the printer is not in use. This prevents dust and debris from getting into the machine.
Otherwise, there are simple tasks you can do keep the BN20 running at a high level. Clean around the print head, ink cap and wiper and shake the Metallic ink cartridge so it doesn’t settle.
The flipside to this is that you really need to have the business demand to keep your production steady. If your orders don’t materialize, you run the risk of the BN20 costing you money in ink for maintenance cycles. You can lose your investment if the printer sits idle too long and requires a replacement printhead ($2,500).
This is why we caution against buying used Roland BN20 machines off of places like eBay or Facebook Marketplace. The machine may have been sitting unused, out of warranty and in need of a major parts replacement. Always get the owner to run a test print in front of you. Buyer beware!
Is special ventilation required to operate the BN20?
According to Roland, Eco-Sol MAX inks are GreenGuard certified for “low chemical emissions” and require no special ventilation. But, as they say, your mileage my vary. Some experienced users recommend at least some form of ventilation or air quality measures. Even though the ink may be rated for low emissions, the vinyl itself can off-gas.
Space and Electrical requirements for the BN20
One of the big advantages for BN20 operators is the small footprint. Starting a side hustle from your house (or apartment) is made much easier when your primary piece of equipment fits in a 40 inch by 24 inch space. You’ll find that storing different types of vinyl and other equipment for running a business can fill your space. The compact size of the printer will make your life easier.
Also, the BN20 requires just a regular 110 volt outlet. This means it’s better suited for use in a home office environment than a larger printer. (The HP Latex 115 requires a 220v outlet.)
Overall, this means that getting an BN20 means less disruption to your work (or home environment). You can devote more time to learning the software and running your business.
Other considerations before you buy the BN20
There are a few other key points to consider before committing to buy the BN20
- The BN20 runs VersaWorks 6 software from Roland, available only on Windows computers. No MacOS software available (no software for iPhone, iPad, or Android either).
- No wireless connectivity. USB connection only.
- Limited media width. The Roland BN20 can take media up to 20″ wide. This isn’t a particularly common width for printable vinyl rolls. If you can find a vinyl supplier that will slice a larger roll (e.g. 54″) down to size for a nominal fee, you’ll be in a good position.
- The BN20 is a slow printer and a slow cutter. This is mainly feedback from experienced operators who use more advanced commercial equipment. Many BN20 owners report that speed is not a dealbreaker.
Bottom line on the Roland BN20
Deciding to go commercial is always a big choice. Few people get to the point where they consider a purchase of this scale without being skilled, talented and motivated.
Users that I have talked to love the quality of the finished products and the versatility the BN20 offers. The BN20 offers the ability to personalize anything, in medium or small production runs in a short amount of time.
The BN20 may not be a blazing fast printer or cutter. The simplified workflow of one machine and integrated software ensures top quality print and cut results.
Another options from Roland: The BN20A – 4 inks 4 less $$$
Are you looking for a basic version of the BN20 with just cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink (CMYK)? Is the price tag of the BN20 is a bit out of your reach? Roland has another option for you.
The new BN20A is a “lite” version of the original, offering only the CMYK setup. It costs about $1,000-$1,500 less than the original.
The BN20A has the same specs as the BN20, although it is able to print bi-directionally at 720dpi. It can print on the same range of materials, using the same software and at the same speed. This recent addition to the BN20 family has earned praise from small business startups. It’s a good alternative for makers looking at making a more basic range of products.
Roland BN20-D: Direct to Film Desktop Printer Solution
Roland also has released a DTF printer under the BN20 product line – the BN20D. This printer is exclusively for the use of making film transfers, and it does not use solvent ink. It doesn’t really fit with the discussion we are having about print and cut solutions for small entrepreneurs. I think this video does a very good job of summarizing the pros and cons of the BN20D.
Alternatives to the BN20 – the Mimaki CJV150 Printer/Cutter
Are you are looking for a printer/cutter machine capable of higher volume production than the BN20? Consider the Mimaki CJV150 series. This eco-solvent printer/cutter offers a wider cutting area than the BN20 (32 inches). It also has better ink configuration options and built in heaters to speed up drying time for ink.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the key features of the CJV150 and how they can benefit a startup entrepreneur:
- Advanced ink configuration – CJV150 has 8 cartridge slots and can be configured for solvent, eco solvent or even sublimation ink. The solvent ink options include CMYK, light cyan, light magenta, light black and orange. This provides an super wide color spectrum for your graphics. Users can also add silver for metallic finish effects.
- Bulk ink options – The default cartridges double the capacity of the BN20 (440ml). There is an option for 2L bulk ink refills.
- Integrated heater system to dry ink faster. Faster dry time means less down time between printing, laminating and cutting
- Price – the bigger, faster printer cutter for small operators starts at about $10K
(external link to allprintheads.com)
Best Separate Printer and Cutter combination for Small Business Users
For users looking to scale up production, the better choice is two separate machines:
- a wide format printer using high quality ink capable of printing on sign vinyl, HTV and other commercial materials
- a high speed, wide format vinyl cutter with contour cutting ability
This combination allows operators to speed up production with with faster machines and larger media. Users can take on bigger orders (while still being able to do small, high value custom jobs).
Our Top picks for wide format printers for small business:
- HP Latex 115 54″ Printer and 54″ Basic Plus Vinyl Cutter
- Mutoh ValueJet 628 24″ eco solvent printer
Our Top picks for small commercial vinyl cutters:
- Graphtec CE-7000 series (24 or 50 inches wide)
- Roland GS2-24 inch Vinyl Cutter / GR2-540 54″ cutter
- Mimaki CG-60AR 24 inch vinyl cutter (also available in 54″ model)
Best Alternative to Eco-Solvent: the HP Latex 115 54″ Printer
What we like
- Latex ink doesn’t smell and isn’t toxic, so fume ventilation is not required (more on this below)
- Latex ink finish dries instantly. This can eliminate the wait time before laminating and/or cutting.
- 54″ print area on a wide variety of media. This will allow you to take on larger jobs and turn them around in a shorter timeframe.
- Single machine allows the printer to be working continuously on new jobs while a separate cutter cuts the finished prints. No downtime on one function while the other is engaged.
- Compatible with a number of other vinyl cutters (like Graphtec, Roland, US Cutter)
What we don’t like
- Latex printing is better suited to large format graphics like signage. The HP printhead produces larger ink droplets than the Roland printhead. That means that fine graphic detail and small print may not print as sharply.
- The HP latex printer has serious power requirement. It takes a 220v outlet and dedicated breaker.
- HP latex ink might not require ventilation because of fumes. But the printer generates a lot of heat, and vinyl can off-gas fumes when heated. Ventilation will likely be required to deal with heat and vinyl fumes, especially if set up in a residence.
- The 2 machine set requires a lot of dedicated space.
The main takeaways from the HP Latex printer is it’s a big printer. It prints faster than the BN20 (or other combo printer cutter machine). The latex ink is ready to laminate or cut right after printing. Latex has a reputation as being more scratch resistant and durable outdoors when unlaminated than eco-solvent ink. But latex is not capable of producing super-detailed graphics.
HP Latex Printer ink and maintenance
The HP Latex printer series (115 and 315) are 54″ printers capable of high resolution printing (up to 1200dpi). Each printer has a 7 cartridge ink configuration (CMYK + light cyan, light magenta and “ink optimizer cartridge“. The Latex 115 printer uses HP’s 821 cartridges, which cost about $110 each.
The HP latex printers are less finicky about sitting idle than eco-solvent printers. An idle latex printer won’t clog printheads or tubes if it sits for weeks. If it’s left on, it will perform maintenance cycles automatically.
The flipside is that the printheads are considered consumable like ink. They need to be replaced after printing 2-3L of ink (they are under warranty for 1000ml of ink.) The printheads will cost you about $100-$125 per replacement.
Power, ventilation and space considerations for HP latex printers
The other consideration for a small operator is that the HP Latex printer requires a commercial environment to work in. It needs a dedicated 220v outlet and breaker, and it generates a lot of heat. HP says the use of the latex ink does not require additional venting. But users argue that the heat of the machine can create fumes from the vinyl. Using this printer in a small room will require ventilation to counter the heat and vinyl odors.
Should you take the plunge on a HP latex printer for small business or side hustle? It’s big, fast and versatile. But it demands a dedicated setup and has a substantial operating cost in terms of power and consumables. Definitely not for dabblers!
HP white-labeled Summa vinyl cutter
The printer is the featured attraction in the bundle, and HP includes a white labeled vinyl cutter to match. (I believe HP is bundling a white-labeled Summa S1 D140FX cutter, but this can change over time. A few years ago they bundled this printer with a Graphtec cutter.)
The printer and cutter are bundled to use the same HP FlexiPrint and Cut RIP software with barcoding application. This allows the cutter to recognize the print job and cut accurately. Besides print and cut applications, the cutter can be used for regular vinyl cutting. It can cut a wide variety of materials up to 54″ wide and up to 0.25mm thick.
The white-labeled Summa cutter has fixed pinch roller positions. That means any media size can be loaded, but margins cannot be minimized.
USCutter.com offers the HP Latex 115 in a number of different bundles
- HP latex 115 printer only – $6,999
- HP latex printer and basic cutter bundle – $9,999
- Latex printer with Graphtec FC 9000 at USCutter – $14,278.99
Best 24″ Commercial EcoSolvent vinyl printer: the Mutoh ValueJet 628
Mutoh’s VJ628 (ValueJet) is the smallest eco-solvent printer and another strong choice for prospective entrepreneurs. It has the same print quality as the Roland BN20. Both machines use the same piezo printhead and can print up to 1440 dpi. The Mutoh prints on media up to 24″ wide (compared to 20″ for the BN20).
The Mutoh printer also offers a feature called “interweave” printing. The printer lays down ink in overlapping waves as a counter to banding issues that are common to other piezo head printers. (The BN20 does not offer this feature.) Mutoh supporters point out that the interweave printing technique allows high resolution printing at similar speeds and quality to printers that have 2 or 3 printheads.
Mutoh ValueJet Ink Options
Unlike the BN20, the VJ628 does not have options for silver or white ink. This means the VJ628 is limited in printing on transparencies for windows. And while it can’t print stickers or labels with a metallic sheen, operators can use specialty media to produce vibrant prints on chrome, metallic or holographic vinyl.
The VJ628 does come with the option for CMYK, light cyan and light magenta configuration for more vibrant photo printing. Plus, bulk ink options are available for the VJ628 that allows users to replace cartridges with 1L ink pouches.
For users concerned about space and power supply, the Mutoh has a compact footprint. It measures 47″ wide x 23″ deep, 46″ tall with optional rolling stand. No special electrical accomodation is required, as the VJ628 uses a standard 110v outlet.
(external link to All American Print Supply Co.)
Best Small Commercial Vinyl Cutter for Print and Cut: Graphtec CE7000 Series (24″ or 50″)
The Graphtec CE7000 series is specifically designed to perform super accurate contour cutting over very long print runs. It is equipped with Graphtec’s industry leading Advanced Registration Mark Sensing system (ARMS). It has loads of cool features to manage printer and cutter integration. Graphtec cutters can interface with printed vinyl produced by virtually every eco-solvent, latex or UV printer through its barcode reading function.
The CE7000 series comes in 3 widths: 15”, 24” and 54”. It can cut roll-fed projects up to 164 feet long. This Graphtec series is also Windows and Mac compatible. (It is one of the few commercial vinyl cutters that can operate on a Mac platform.) The Graphtec offers an option to read projects from USB drives for offline cutting situations.
The CE7000 series is considered a universal option by industry professionals for its reliability, longevity, accuracy and flexibility. For small businesses eyeing rapid expansion into printed HTV for apparel or full color decals, a Graphtec cutter is the most reliable, bulletproof choice. The two-year warranty from Graphtec also takes the worry out of investing in a pricey piece of equipment.
(external link to Heat Transfer Warehouse)
#2: Roland GS2-24 inch Vinyl Cutter
The Roland GS2-24 is an updated model replacing the previous generation of CAMM1-GS24 models.
It offers increased cut speed and cutting force than the previous generation of Roland cutter. (33.5″ per second, 500g downwards cutting force vs 20″/350g for the original GS-24).
The Roland GS2-24 is a great small business cutter that offers great speed and accuracy for cutting vinyl. It does have an optical scan system to read registration marks, but cutting printed material is not its primary specialization. I’m wary about giving it a huge endorsement when Roland isn’t pumping up the contour cutting ability of this machine.
One big plus to the Roland is its 3-year warranty. On the downside, the included software (Roland DG Cut Studio) is for Windows only. (It also does not read SVG or DXF files). To use this cutter with a Mac, you need to use Roland’s plugin for Adobe Illustrator. The GS2-24 has no wireless connectivity, and doesn’t operate as a standalone cutter.
(external link to Swing Design)
#3: Mimaki CG-60AR 24 inch vinyl cutter
The Mimaki CG 60AR cutter is a new, low cost option for wide format print and cut jobs. It is equipped with a barcode scanner that can match physical printouts with cut files on the computer for accurate contour cutting.
The Mimaki might not be quite as fast as the Graphtec or Roland listed above. But at this level, small differences in print speed are not really appreciable. The big difference is the pricetag. Mimaki lists this cutter at right around $1,000. That’s half the price of the Graphtec and Roland machines. (It’s even less than the new wide format Cricut Venture.)
I have not personally used this cutter. But I am including it on this list based on the reputation of the company. Mimaki released this new line of “beginner-friendly” entry level cutters that are capable of cutting a wide array of materials (hence the greater cut force of 550g). The CG60AR even includes tools for cutting and scoring cardstock and cardboard.
(How beginner friendly is the Mimaki CG60AR? You can use it without any cutting software. If you wanted to, you can create and cut projects in Microsoft Word)
(external link to Swing Design)
Best Vinyl Printer for Home Craft Machines
Before you buy a desktop inkjet to do print and cut projects with your Cricut or Silhouette machine, there are a couple of important considerations you should make.
First, not all printer ink is the same. Not all printer ink will work on sticker paper or printable iron on. Most home printers use either dye or pigment ink. In some cases they use both (black pigment ink and coloured dye ink.)
There is some printable media that works well with both types of ink. Some vinyl only works well with one or the other. It’s important to know what kind of ink your printer uses so you can match it with the correct printable vinyl.
Secondly, not every home desktop printer can handle thick sheets like printable vinyl. Thick media like vinyl and cardstock can jam or get creased in front loading printers. Rear-feeding printers are better suited to heavier printable sheets.
Cheaper printers (like the kind you see for sale at big box stores during back to school season or Black Friday) are usually front loaders. This means the printer loads the media (paper or vinyl) from the front, pulls it inside to print, and returns it out the front by bending the sheet to make a U-turn.
Make sure you check the maximum media weight of the printer before you buy!
Other considerations before buying a printer
Printer size – Since Cricut updated the size of their print and cut area, all of the major players in the craft cutting world can cut up to 11″ x 17″ printed sheets. However, not many home desktop inkjets are capable of printing this size. The printers that can are higher priced than letter sized printers.
(Finding 11 x 17″ printable adhesive vinyl or HTV can be a challenge as well. A lot of popular vinyl brands are sold only in 8.5″ x 11″ sheets, making the larger printer size irrelevant)
Cartridge vs tank – This is a problem that I wrestle with personally. I found a cheap, rear loading printer that can handle thick material. But it uses way too much ink and the replacement cartridges cost more than the printer. (I purchased a Canon Pixma TS3420 for about $70 CAD, but buying replacement ink cost $85. Now the color ink cartridge is empty already and I’ve done only 100 printouts!)
In general, tank printers cost more up front, but they come with “2 year ink supplies”. The major players– Epson, Canon and HP – all have reasonably priced tank options. Large format tank printers are more expensive ($500+). But if you want to print 11 x 17″ media on a lower budget, there are cheaper wide format cartridge printers. Otherwise you can scale up to an Epson EcoTank 8550 or 15000.
Epson EcoTank 2800: Best Printer for Cricut Maker and Silhouette Machines
My top pick for the best basic printer for printable vinyl is the Epson EcoTank 2800. This model has a rear feed. It can handle sticker paper, printable vinyl and HTV, as well as heavier cardstock and paper.
The EcoTank 2800 comes with a “2 year ink supply”. Epson bases this on 125 prints per month, or 3,000 total prints. (Included with the printer: 4 x 65ml ink bottles in black, cyan, yellow and magenta). This ink is T522 dye based CMYK, meaning that the color will be bright. But, the print will fade quickly and will not be waterproof if unlaminated (on adhesive vinyl).
Ink replacements for the ET2800 cost $14 per bottle. That’s $56 total to replace all 4 bottles per 3,000 prints (1.87¢ per sheet)
Most of the major brands of sticker paper, adhesive vinyl and printable HTV are compatible with dye-based ink. The ET2800 should be fine with most media. If you are buying from lesser known brands (like the brands that proliferate Amazon) make sure you check the compatibility with dye based inks.
(If you want a pigment ink option, The EcoTank 2850 has black pigment ink as the default.)
Some users complain that the Epson 2800 has trouble with thicker materials like cardstock, printable vinyl and sticker paper. But the funny thing is, Cricut is releasing a newly revamped thinner line of printable media to prevent jamming!
The Epson Ecotank also stands out by offering a 2 year warranty. It retails for about $250 USD, but often goes on sale. Check the current price at Amazon here:
(external link to Amazon.com)
Alternatives to the Epson EcoTank 2800
In addition to the rest of the Epson EcoTank family, competition in the tank printer market is growing from Canon and HP. (Brother’s tank series is actually a cartridge printer, so I left it off this list.) All of these printers are following Epson’s lead and selling a full inkset with purchase. They print letter or legal size sheets as well.
List Price: $229 (often on sale for less than $200)
- Pigment based black ink (135ml), dye based CMY ink refills (70ml each)
- Ink replacement cost: $12 (CYM)/$17 (black) – $55 replacement per 7,700 color pages (0.71¢ per sheet)
- Rated for cardstock and thicker media up to 100 lbs (265 gsm)
- Rear loading paper tray
- Wireless and USB connection
- All in one includes scan/copy/print features
- 1 year warranty
List Price: $249 (often on sale for $200 or less)
- Pigment based black ink (135ml), dye based color ink (70ml)
- Ink replacement cost: Black (HP 32XL) for $18; CMY (HP 31) for $16 each. Total $66 replacement cost per 6,000 pages (1.1¢ per sheet)
- Rear feed for thicker materials (rated for cardstock up to 110lbs)
- Wireless, USB and Bluetooth connection
- 1 year warranty
Best Wide format 11 x17 printer for vinyl: Epson Ecotank 15000
The Epson Ecotank 15000 is probably familiar to longtime crafters because it is highly sought after for sublimation. But, this wide format eco-tank is also very capable when it comes to printing adhesive vinyl and HTV.
The ET15000 can handle media up to 11 x17 inches (borderless). It can even print up to 13×19 inches through its rear bypass tray. The larger printer is also faster, capable of printing 9 full color pages per minute. For comparison, the ET2800 prints 5 pages per minute.
The ET15000 also uses black pigment ink and dye based color inks. Users should be prepared to laminate stickers made with printer to prevent fading and to add a measure of waterproofing.
(Unlike the smaller Epson 2800, the ET15000 also takes the extra large 135ml black ink bottle. It still uses the same 70ml refill bottles for cyan, magenta and yellow).
Another reason I like the Epson: it has a two year warranty (if you use the recommended Epson brand inks. Using third party ink voids the warranty).
This printer is available at big box stores like Staples and BestBuy, as well as Amazon (Prime shipping available.) The list price is $699, but is often on sale, especially around major holidays.
(external link to Amazon.com)
Alternatives to the Epson EcoTank 15000
If you are really interested in high quality photo prints for vinyl transfer, perhaps the EcoTank 8550 is a better choice for wide format inkjet printer. Not only does it print up to 13 x 19″, it specializes in handling heavier media (up to 1.3mm thick) and cardstock up to 300gsm (110lb).
The 8550 includes a 6 color inkset to give extremely rich, detailed photo prints. That may be overkill when you are making stickers for scrapbooking. But if you are looking to start a side hustle, you’ve got a head start on print quality compared with anyone working with a more basic machine.
The ET8550 uses Epson 522 ink, which is black (pigment), photo black, cyan, magenta, yellow and grey (all dye inks). A full ink set is good for about 6,200 prints. Replacement ink costs about $20 for the pigment black bottle, and $17.50 for each of the other five colors. That’s $107.50 for a total replacement ink set, or about 1.7 cents per page.
(Caveat: The dye based inks means you will need to laminate most of your vinyl projects.)
The ET8550 has a retail price of $799. Amazon and other major retailers stick to this price, so if you see it on sale, grab one. It doesn’t tend to go on sale very often. Epson offers a 2 year warranty with this printer, so you’ve got some decent protection should trouble arise.
(external link to Amazon.com)
Combination Vinyl Printer Cutter FAQ
What is a vinyl printer cutter?
An integrated vinyl printer/cutter combines a printer with a vinyl cutter in one machine. A printer cutter can do full CMYK printing at high resolution, producing professional quality printing results. It also performs detailed contour cutting on a variety of materials. A regular vinyl cutter can be fitted with a pen or marker to draw instead of cut. But it cannot create a printout.
What are vinyl printer cutters good for?
Printer/cutter combinations are useful to small commercial print shops for producing full color graphics. Especially graphics for limited run t-shirts that incorporate photos (especially for dark garments). Indoor and outdoor displays and signs and full color decals are also highly sought after.
Maker spaces, schools, and graphic designers who produce full color packaging prototypes would also benefit from integrated vinyl printer cutters.
What are the advantages of using an integrated printer/cutter machine?
Combination Printer/cutter machines have the big advantage of being able to do two key jobs in one machine. In small spaces where your room to work is limited, having one machine in place of two is a big benefit.
Another big advantage is using the same software to print and cut reduces your margin of error when setting up registration marks. An integrated machine will cut accurately and reduce waste.
Separate machines can get out of synch. Sometimes you don’t get the quality of cut you were expecting because the cutting program didn’t read the registration marks accurately. Fewer things are more frustrating than having a large, expensive print run ruined by a miscalibrated cutter.
What are the disadvantages of using a combination printer/cutter machine?
The main disadvantage of the integrated vinyl printer cutter is the longer workflow. Because these machines cannot print and cut at the same time, you must print first, and then cut. But, you can have the two functions working simultaneously on separate machines.
Another drawback with integrated machines is that printers and vinyl cutters generally have different lifespans in a small business environment. Commercial operators can usually count on a high-end printer lasting about 5 years and a commercial quality vinyl cutter lasting about 15 years.
How much can you earn with an Integrated Vinyl Printer/Cutter?
Taking the plunge on a commercial printer or vinyl cutter can feel daunting for the first time buyer. Roland has compiled a breakdown of input costs for a range of sample goods you can make with printed HTV and the numbers are very promising.
image credit: rolanddga.com
For example, a basic blank t-shirt starts at $2, plus vinyl and ink costs of $0.72. Consider a 6″ x 4.5″ graphic, and you can sell this item for $11. With a printer, vinyl cutter and heat press, you can make 30 shirts per hour. You net a profit of $248.40 per hour. ($11 – $2.72 = $8.28 per shirt x 30 shirts per hour = $248.40)
Desktop Inkjet Inks vs EcoSolvent and Latex Inks
Many home inkjet printers use dye inks (sometimes known as Aqueous inks) that are made by diluting dyes in water and glycol (a type of alcohol). Because the ink is water soluble, it runs when it gets wet.
The other main ink type for home inkjet printers is pigment ink. Pigment ink is made by suspending small particles of color in a solution. When applied, the ink binds itself to the surface of the materials. Think of the difference between dye and pigment ink as dye being like a spoonful of sugar dissolved in water, and pigment ink as a spoonful of sand stirred into water.
Basic inkjet ink is good for personal use stickers and iron on transfers for garments. But it’s not for products you plan to sell in large quantities. While pigment ink is more UV or water resistant than dye based ink, neither holds a candle to professional ink. Eco-solvent and latex trump home printer ink in terms of durability or color vibrance. You will get better durability if you laminate any stickers or labels you make with a home inkjet printer.
Combination printer/cutter machines generally use eco-solvent inks, which are specially formulated to be waterproof and UV resistant. Eco-solvent inks are for use on vinyl, with the most popular applications being billboards, vehicle graphics, banners and decals.
Latex Inks are more scratch resistant and able to withstand sun and rain better than unlaminated eco-solvent ink. However, latex is a thicker ink and not capable of being printed in superfine droplets. Therefore not as suited to print very fine details as eco-solvent printers.
Finding the right equipment for a small business can be stressful. It seems like the research you put in can be endless. Bottom line, if you are looking for an combination printer/cutter machine, the Roland BN20 is a solid choice. Roland makes great machines and their eco-solvent ink is the highest quality. You are going to be able to produce beautiful quality work that’s going to earn the praise of your customers.
If you are looking for a two machine solution for faster output and higher volume, we can’t praise the Graphtec CE7000 series highly enough. It’s fast and accurate and made for high volume contour cutting. If you pair it with an HP Latex 115, you’ve got an excellent one-two punch that will deliver stunning results for your clients and provide solid service for years.
What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear about your setup and answer any questions you’ve got.
Photo by Javon Swaby: https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-stickers-collection-2783837/