Die cutter (plotter) vs laser? Buy used vs DIY?

I've already asked the same on reddit to no great result, figured folks here might know better. :)
I'm looking into cutting machines and have some questions regarding them. But first about the various needs/expectations and why I can't decide in the first place. I want to be able to cut most of the common thin materials, primarily: vinyl, paper, cardstock (up to 300gsm or so), fabric, soft rubber, optionally thin leather and felt. It seems, like it's not completely unrealistic to hope this can be done with a cutter using a knife, given that something like KNK Zing can do it. I'd buy it if it was within my budget. Something like wood veneer (single layer, probably paper backed to hold together) is probably not realistic, but would be amazing extra. I'd actually buy it if it was within my budget.
Budget is the second problem I have. I want this piece of machinery to cost me up to 200 euro (~220$). My current research involved searching for used machinery locally online and then looking at what would it cost to get some of those consumer centered machines from Silhouette and such. My budget could get me a used Chinese cutter locally given there is one for sale (EH721, LiYu SC631 and the likes) or a new Silhouette Portrait which I can't really rationalize paying so much for - if I was in US, I'd just get one of those and work from there because of the low price. It would cost me around 200$ to get one here, and that's without their software so I can cut my own vector files.
All of this leads me to yet another alternative - making one myself. I saw a guide for printer to cutter conversion on instructables and am not exactly new to microcontrollers either, so it probably wouldn't end up in a suicide out of frustration or something. Then again, if making something like that anyway, maybe it makes more sense to go for a laser on a flatbed instead of knife? Not sure if I can get one powerful enough on the current budget.
Thanks for reading this far. I will be even more thankful for any directions and considerations, advice from current users and of course people who have made such machines themselves.

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rickharris2 years ago

The bladed cutter is good for vinyl less good for paper and probably won't cut card stock.

The blades blunt quickly and you need to be prepared to sharpen (a pain) or have a good stock.

Vinyl is quite expensive and you may find your use quite wasteful. Most vinyl cutters won't process the scrap you generate so it is only good for hand cutting.

A laser on the other hand will cut all of the things you need. No contact so easy to use delicate materials. It will leave a black edge to card and paper (as well as wood).

Cost is size dependent. You also need to consider the cost of a CAD program to do your designs on.

Ebay has a lot of Chinese lasers at what look like "reasonable" prices. A4 is fairly cheap although not in your 200E bracket. Really your looking at £1000.

Making one has been done and laser tubes are readily available. You'll need a power supply, extraction as well as building a suitable bed.

Although they are nice to have and can be very accurate If your not running a business hand cutting with scalpel is perhaps more realistic. Printing out patterns from a CAD programme at 100% and sticking to your material much simplifies the process of marking out and cutting. I make foam RC aircraft this way, It takes a little time but the outlay is minimal.

Below is a pattern for a B52 model laied out to fit an A1 sheet of foam.

Raitis (author)  rickharris2 years ago

Thanks for the extensive answer. I am aware of laser cutter prices in the market and thus do not consider buying one of those ready made at all. The main question in case of one is about fume extraction as I have no idea how to go about that at all and power needed to cut single layer veneer (would a diode still do, or that's the ground of CO2).

I've hand cut my fair share of things already and this indeed would be a move towards business as I already order my vinyl to be cut elsewhere when I need stencils and such. What I need here is the ability to have one machine not too big to do one offs and small batches.

My main objectives here are cutting vinyl for stencils and paper for stencils or folding models.

Extraction can be done to the open air - simple fan and tube say like a clothes drier. If it isn't possible to vent to the open air then your going to need an activated charcoal filter to remove noxious fumes - can be expensive.

If you sure your not going to need to cut bigger then A4 or A1 or what ever a flat bed cutter will give you most flexibility. Most however cut from a roll of Vinyl or paper. A knife cutter will do vinyl and paper but heed what i said about sharpness.

We used both laser and a Roland vinyl cutter at school many times over. The knife blade is tiny because it needs to rotate to cut in all directions so is a special item and hence expensive.

We hardly used the knife cutter once the laser cutter arrived 35 watt Epilog helix machne about £14,000

Raitis (author)  rickharris2 years ago

I kind of am drifting towards making my own flatbed cutter due to the fact that it should be possible to go for pretty decent steppers and rails from the very beginning and then, when the budget allows and if there is such need, the knife assembly could be swapped for a laser or router motor without much hassle.

The size is barely an issue due to rarely ever needing to cut big items, so something around A4 should suffice. The thing I'm not too sure about is securing vinyl or paper for cutting on a flatbed, but there was an instructable where someone did just that, so I will just ask and hope he answers.

Thanks for your input again!

jmwang2 years ago

I think the DIY is better,It can custom by your need.

You can learn more from the CNCzone,this is professional laser cutting forum

Raitis (author) 2 years ago

Long story short - a barely used Silhouette Cameo for a pretty good price appeared in local listings which I ended up buying. Will eventually see if this sudden change of plans was right. Thanks for the answers and valuable insight!

Your welcome :-) As for holding paper down - usually flat beds have an electrostatic bed to hold the paper. But masking tape at the corners works well.

The only problem is when cutting a free object the last part can tear. The electrostatic bed prevents this Or you can design small bridges over the cuts to keep the paper attached then clear these by hand after - Rather like cutting a stencil.

Kiteman2 years ago

First thoughts are that a budget of $200 completely cuts out lasers. The cheapest I've seen recently was £2300 (~$3500).

I know nothing about bladed cutters, but it would seem that a plotter-to-laser conversion or a scratch build of your own is the best bet.

For instance:


Raitis (author)  Kiteman2 years ago

I am aware that ready made lasers are an expensive joy, but as a fact they indeed can be made for way cheaper. The question with those is if I can afford a laser module powerful enough to cut what I need: thin vinyl and single layer veneer. Any idea of anyone who knows what power I should be looking at for this?

Kiteman Raitis2 years ago

I'd start with the author of the project I linked to.

Raitis (author)  Kiteman2 years ago

Already going that way and the many others who've done the same, thanks :)

30 watts will cut vinyl and paper and card. Most school laser cutters are 30 to 50 watts. and can cut acrylic up to 3 to 5 mm, 3 mm plywood cutting can be slow though.

Wired_Mist2 years ago

I'd go for a used machine. OR if you up your budget a bit you may be able to buy new!


I know this is a US supplier, so shipping is gonna kill you, but I imagine the UK has a similar supplier.

If you wanted to build your own you may be able to make a X/Y table then attach standard Xacto knifes to the cutting head. then use stepper motors attached to say an arduino for motion. The real problem would be how to program it to work with G-code or something similar. Check some of the related progects on the right to see how they overcame the coding issue.

As per the Laser, you may be able to source a handheld green laser, like what are used for stargazing, many of them can burn through paper if modified. You may need to move the table slowly but it could work. Check out you tube and see if it sounds right

Raitis (author)  Wired_Mist2 years ago

Thanks for input. I'm aware of the US Cutter, yet must say, that after reading their reviews it doesn't look too good. And also the fact, that there is a Chinese sold alternative with only one model letter difference gives me the impression they're basically selling an extremely low quality machine with a decent markup without any value added (as far as I read - customer service is awful). There are some Chinese machines which aren't too bad based on reviews and cost around 300 eur new, so if I really decide to avoid making my own or can't find a used one, my option is indeed upping my budget to one of those.