What is the difference between a vinyl cutter and plotter?

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There is no difference!

When people are researching vinyl cutters online, they will often start seeing references to vinyl plotters as well. What are these mysterious plotters, and what is the difference between a cutter and a plotter?

The basic answer is that there is no difference. “Vinyl cutters” and “vinyl plotters” refer to the exact same machine. The difference refers to the tool being used in the tool carriage.

  • Cutter (not surprisingly) refers to use of the machine with the knife blade in the tool carriage.
  • Plotter refers to the use of a pen or marker in the tool carriage.

That’s it, that’s the primary difference between vinyl cutter and vinyl plotter: whether or not it is fitted with a drag knife or a pen.

Commercial machines vs home crafting machines

The machines that tend to get labeled as plotters are larger, roll-fed, commercial cutters. They generally have a single tool holder for either a knife blade or a pen and have limited capability in terms of thickness of material they can cut. These machines are great, however for large scale projects like sign-making, decals, or cutting painting masks.

The pen tool is generally used in these machines to plot test runs on large or complex jobs to ensure the file and machine settings are correct before starting the project using costly vinyl.

Smaller desktop machines like Cricuts and Silhouettes are usually described as vinyl cutters even though they are capable of cutting far more than vinyl, and have a wider toolset than just blades and pens.

For example, the Cricut Maker features 13 different tool options, including

  • single and double scoring wheel
  • rotary blade
  • wavy blade
  • perforation wheel
  • debossing tip
  • engraving tip

Home craft cutters have become more sophisticated over the past decade, to the point that labeling them mere “cutters” or “plotters” is a bit limiting. These machines can be fitted with a variety of tools that can manipulate, shape or transform hundreds of different materials into whatever the mind can imagine.

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