If you want to make custom designs for T-shirts, you’ll need a PC and the appropriate graphics software, a heat press machine, and a vinyl cutting machine. If you’re a complete newbie, a vinyl cutting machine for T-shirts acts like a basic printer.
The difference is that the cutting machine cuts the design on the heat press vinyl so that you can just peel off the unneeded materials. Then you’re left with your graphic design. This prepared material is then used with the heat press to imprint the design into the shirt.
While such machines can be very expensive if they’re commercial-grade models, that’s not necessarily true for hobbyist machines. You may find that best vinyl cutter for t-shirts in your case is actually reasonably priced just as home printers are much cheaper than newspaper and magazine presses.
Factors to Consider
The decision to buy a vinyl cutting machine leads to the natural question: just which is the best vinyl cutting machine for t-shirts for you? Obviously, for a hobbyist and for those who just want some supplementary income, the price is the first consideration. But other factors must also be considered as well.
Most of the time the affordable models aren’t large, but you do need to check that you have the space for the machine in your home. Some machines, however, can only handle small designs up to 8 inches long, while others can cut up to 24 inches. Just make sure the cutting capability matches the capability of your heat press.
Ease of use
Assembly is often required for these machines, and that process shouldn’t be overly complicated. The controls should be easy to figure out, and it shouldn’t be a very complicated process each time you use the machine.
It should come with a graphics program, preferably with a large library of stock designs you can use. Some software can only be accessed online, and these may even have a time limit.
It would be nice if it can handle intricate designs.
Can you rely on it to work well on a daily basis, without parts breaking off too often?
Many of these come with accessories that you will have to buy anyway, so it’s convenient if they’re already part of the package. Some accessories also make it easy for you to use the machine, especially stands.
You may prefer a quieter model, so you can use it and still watch TV (and not bother other people). You may also want something that works fast, especially when you have a great deal of workload to handle for the day.
Some machines can cut a wide variety of materials. That means you can also work on faux leather, poster boards, and many other types of specialty paper.
To make it easy for you to decide on a particular unit, we compiled a list of suitable options you can choose from:
Cricut Explore Air 2
Cricut is one of the top brands in the industry, and they’re among the best in providing what people want and need. That’s why they often offer their products as part of comprehensive packages. You can get the Cricut Explore Air 2 as part of a starter kit, so you can also have different vinyl sheets, transfer tape sheets, and scraper tools as well.
Yet even as a standalone machine, the Explore Air 2 is terrific in its own right. It can cut through more than 100 types of materials, from vinyl and cardstock to poster board and faux leather. It has the Smart Set Dial that makes sure that each machine cut is at the right depth and pressure for the material you’re working on.
It also allows you free access to its easy-to-use Design Space software. This offers a vast library of projects and designs to choose from. Or if you want, you can even use the Cricut app for Android or iOS. The Explore Air 2 even has Bluetooth capabilities, so you’re not hampered by cables. It’s easy enough to pick a package that suits your needs. You can get a starter package or even a “complete” package that provides everything you need.
- This machine can cut precisely even when you’re working on intricate details. With the Cricut pens, you can use the machine to print letters, while the Scoring Stylus lets you make perfect fold lines.
- It can cut through thin materials like vellum or thicker ones like leather.
- For cardstock, iron-on, and vinyl, you even have a fast mode that cuts twice as fast.
- The software has 60,000 images in the Cricut library. It has more than 50,000 printable images and another 920 printable patterns. These also don’t count the images you can upload yourself.
- The access to the software may have some limitations, depending on the package you choose.
- The customer service support also isn’t as helpful as it ought to be, at least for some customers.
Katie Clark over at ClarksCondensed.com has a great tutorial on how to use iron on vinyl with Cricut (she used the Cricut Explore Air). She made some really glittery Disney shirts for her lil boys. Check out her video tutorial below.
If you don’t have a lot of room in your home (or a large budget for that matter), then perhaps the compact Silhouette Portrait may be your best choice. At first, this seems like your basic cutting machine akin to a simple USB printer. It does seem well-suited for making greeting cards, stickers, and vinyl designs for shirts.
What you’ll probably notice first of all (aside from the reasonable price) is the compact design. It’s like a cute little printer that you can put on a desk. It only measures 16 inches long, and it’s just 3.5 pounds. You can bring it with you when you meet up at the home of your other craft hobbyist friends.
This is also truly a beginner’s cutting machine. The makers took into account the relative inexperience of its target users, and that’s why it’s so easy to use. This is especially true when you use it with the software that goes with it.
- It’s affordable, so it’s perfect for those who just want to try it out for T-shirt printing.
- Its compact design allows you to put it anywhere without taking too much space. It’s portable too.
- The assembly, use, and maintenance are all easy and simple.
With the software, you can actually get it to do more advanced work on intricate details. This program is actually one of the better ones available in the industry these days, and you can get it for free. You don’t even have to be online to use it.
- You can’t depend on this to work consistently well for very intricate projects. It’s a hobbyist-grade machine, and not really meant for commercial usage.
- It’s also limited to designs that measure 8 inches at the most.
Silhouette Cameo 3
The Silhouette Portrait is for real newbies who just want to dip their toes into arts and crafts. If you want to step more deeply into the pool, then the Cameo 3 may be your better option.
It comes with much better specs. This can cut up to 12 inches wide and it can deal with more than 100 types of different materials.
One feature here you’ll surely appreciate is the AutoBlade. This is a special setting for the cutting blade, in addition to the Standard and Deep Cut setting. With this option, the machine automatically calibrates all the blade settings depending on the material you’re using.
You’ll find that the Cameo has lots of these features that make life for beginners a lot simpler. With the touchscreen interface, user errors are less likely. You have media guides on the tray to use as a marker when feeding the Cameo. There’s a handy roller locking mechanism. It even has storage compartments for the cross cutter and other supplies.
Just recently (in May 2017), Silhouette released the latest 4.0 version of their Silhouette Studio software. Just make sure that if you’re getting the software a part of the deal, you’re actually getting the latest version. The 3.0 version is good, but why not get the latest?
- The cutting machine has Bluetooth, so you won’t have to bother with cables.
- The AutoBlade feature helps with newbies who find it hard to set the proper blade depth for each type of material. Even experienced users may forget to change the blade depth too.
- The cuts are all precise and reliable.
- This latest version of the Cameo doesn’t come with improvement to its cutting ability, so it will still have trouble with real leather and chipboard.
- With its many features, the learning curve may not be all that easy at least at the start.
USCutter MH-721 28” Vinyl Cutter Value Kit
If you’re a newbie getting the 28-inch cutting machine from USCutter, it certainly makes a lot of sense if you spend a bit more to get this value kit. This package includes the VinylMaster Cut software, several blades, different types of materials to cut, a hobby knife, and even a squeegee.
This allows you to cut designs that can measure up to 24 inches long. It can cut the basic materials like standard and heat-transfer vinyl, craft paper, card stock, and paint mask. It offers greater cutting force than the Cameo (350g to Cameo’s 221g). It also has a pen adapter for plotting instead of cutting.
It’s quite reliable too. While the warranty is only for the standard 90 days, you do get free lifetime support. That’s available even through phone and not just over emails.
- If you’re just using this to match up with a heat press to make custom T-shirts, then it’s an eminently good match.
- It’s a true starter system that’s very easy to use. If you can’t comprehend the manual, there’s always YouTube to consult.
- It does come with software.
- In fact, with the kit, you get a lot more goodies too. With the various materials, you can experiment and learn more about your hobby.
- The software is a bit limited, and it takes a while to learn. That’s only if you have a Windows machine as it doesn’t work on Macs.
- With some of the more complicated projects, the reliability is a bit suspect. That’s because this is a beginner’s machine designed for simpler tasks.
- For more complicated jobs, the cutting machine may start off fine and then lose steam before it’s finished. The plotter doesn’t have a lot of memory, so complications can confuse it.
USCutter 24-inch Laserpoint II Vinyl Cutter
USCutter has had 2 very popular cutters already. They combined the best features of both into one machine and called it the Laserpoint II. Your purchase includes a floor stand, several blades and a blade holder, a pen holder, and the use of the Design and Cut Professional Software.
The cutting machine itself is easy to use. The backlight LCD is clear and bright, it comes with auto memory for blade force and speed. There’s even an emergency stop/start feature so you can pause the cutting operation at any time.
The machine is also very robust and reliable. It has several high tech features that helps ensure its consistent accuracy. It has a bit more power than you’d expect from such an affordable model, and it comes with a stand too.
- It’s gratifying to find that it is very easy to use, as the controls are simple to adjust. There’s really nothing to it, as its simplicity is well-matched with the skill level typical with users of this entry-level cutting machine.
- Even the assembly is simple as well.
- It’s designed to last for quite a while, as its robust frame can endure regular use for an extended period.
- Though it does come with software, the free version isn’t all that good. You’d have to pay extra for the upgrade.
- It’s USB-connected, so there are wires to deal with.
- It’s a bit on the large side too, so you need to make sure you have the space for it.