When it comes to plasma cutters, a lot of users (even me to some extent) are highly skeptical of budget-tools. Statements such as “Get this cheap product and bask in its Magnifique” give me the creeps, and I keep my distance. Still, I can’t help but feel intrigued about these products.
What’s in them that these people rush for the cheapest options?
So, I shelved my dislike towards budget-cutters and wanted to give it a whirl (my curiosity was getting the best of me). And after trying out a few, I understand now that these claims (although not entirely honest) do have some juice.
As a skeptic-turned-believer, I’m here to tell you that getting the best plasma cutter under 500 is possible but complicated. You need to understand your needs, and whether it matches the machine’s performance.
To help you balance things, I’ll shed some light on 5 different plasma cutters, all of which (in different circumstances) can help you out with your project.
Note: But before we begin, you need to accept the hard-to-swallow fact that budget-machines do compromise quality for the price. But the cutters I came across are not cheap knock-offs, you’ll find a lot of practical use for them.
- Best Plasma Cutter Under $500 – Comparison Table
- Top-Rated Plasma Cutters Under 500
- How I Picked These Products in the First Place?
Best Plasma Cutter Under $500 – Comparison Table
Top-Rated Plasma Cutters Under 500
From here onwards, I’ll shed some light on the five plasma cutters I tinkered with, and tell you why they’ve got my attention and approval. All of them are not made of the same stone. They have certain kicks and kinks that make them distinctive. So, let me show the nitty-gritty details I came across in my quest of trying out budget-products.
Lotos LTP5000D 50Amp Non-Touch Pilot Arc Plasma Cutter
I’ll start out with the Lotos LTP5000D, as it is seemingly one of the most coveted plasma cutter brands. The name here gives away a few details (one being very important). So, I’ll cover them first.
It has a 50Amp inverter (pretty standard) and a non-touch pilot arc. The second feature is worth a ponder. The second feature is wonderful, and I didn’t realize until later how it saved me from so many inconveniences.
The pilot-arc-enabled plasma cutters don’t have to stop and restart intermittently, while I found out that in non-pilot arc cutters, one can’t take a moment’s reprieve. As I was using the LTP5000D on a metal sheet with disjointed heads, I could go through all of the heads without having to start over.
Also, users don’t need to establish and maintain contact between the surface and the cutter. I don’t enjoy being too close to the sparks, so being able to keep a little distance helped me work without fear.
The next big take from this machine is its dual voltage system. It allowed me to cut back on power if need be. Having the option to save electricity when doing casual work has won my heart.
However, with low power, comes low performance. I’d recommend you don’t overdo the machine when you’re cutting its meal to half.
The maximum performance I got from this machine is a clean-cut out of a 3/4 metal surface at 220V. It’s quite reasonable considering it’s a budget-cutter and all. Don’t go trying your luck on 1-inch metal surfaces because I did. And got zilch. Even when I kept grinding, lasering down on one spot for 5-10 seconds, nothing happened.
The cutter surfed through the 1/4 and 2/4-inch surfaces. I found a little slag at the end, though; I used a hammer to take it off. (more on this later).
Installation was a peach. You just plug in the torch line and other cords, and you’re good to go. Besides, I loved the coated torch line as I’m a voracious coffee freak. The protective coating kept my mind at ease. I did (accidentally) step on it with my heavy work boots, and to my surprise and pleasure, the coating seemed to take care of the pressure.
Despite all of its benefits, the LTP5000D does fall short on a couple of aspects. Earlier I’ve mentioned using a bench grinder to smoothen out the surface-end. Not everybody has a bench grinder, and not being able to throw the slag off with either hammer or hands is an issue.
Also, customer service is unresponsive. Although my LTP5000D is still working fine, I’ve seen a lot of rants about the machine’s premature death.
Overall, the plasma cutter is not too shabby; however, it’s got issues you need to workaround.
CUT-50, 50 Amp Pro. Plasma Cutter by Amico
While I was looking for this particular machine, I got confused and was a fingertip away from purchasing the wrong CUT-50. There are two CUT-50 out there, one from Amico, the other one from Colossal Tech. This admonitory beginning note is here to repel you from making the same mistake.
Anyways, Amico’s CUT-50 has secured a special place in my heart just after a few weeks. While my skepticism grew, I must say, the experience was rather delightful. The reason for my skepticism was the price, which is even lower than the LOTOS LTP5000D.
As I’ve established before, slashing costs appear to me as danger-do-not-enter signs. However, to my surprise, the CUT-50, despite its low cost, was able to outperform the LTP5000D. So, for the price, I think this plasma cutter is a metal killing machine.
Besides, it’s a user-friendly product, with the manual being self-explanatory. All the necessary switches are on the front-side, making it readily accessible. Once I plugged the cords in, the machine was up and about.
I’ve tried cutting through metal sheets of varying thickness, starting from 1/4 and ending up with 1-inch. Up to 3/4, the cut was super-smooth with a minimal slag buildup. I was able to get rid of the slag by a simple sleight of hand (using heat-resistant gloves, of course).
However, to my dismay, the 1-inch cut-quality is not up to the same standard. The cutter did go through but left some nasty slag; I had to get my bench grinder to smooth it out.
I had to adjust the amp count from 20 all the way up to 50, as I kept grinding through thicker and tougher materials. I loved the adjustment system. It’s simple, and when the cuts needed are low-key, I could dial it back down to save power.
The machine does fall off after 1-inch, as stated. I don’t have any complaints about this though because the efficiency seems sufficient considering the price.
More so, the CUT-50 has a high-frequency arc, similar to the pilot arc I’ve mentioned on the first machine. Never had to scratch back and forth to get the arc kicking, just pushed a button, and it was all set.
From where I stand, I really don’t see any kinks in the Amico CUT-50. I’m probably being overly generous; how can I not be as it’s super-cheap. Still, I can’t turn a blind eye to the problems. User reports indicate an internal air leak, which seems to be the only major issue.
But a year’s warranty and responsive customer service counteract the problem and adds more eggs on the positive-basket. All in all, the manufacturer won’t leave you stranded, and I can be at peace, knowing that my investment is safe.
PrimeWeld 3-in-1 50 Amp Plasma Cutter CT-520D
When I started my quest of trying out below-$500 plasma cutters, I never thought I’d come across a device so unique and versatile. The more I tinkered with this machine; the more my jaw kept dropping (to its max stretch).
PrimeWeld’s CT-520D (and I state earnestly) is the hydra of the plasma cutting world. Let me clear things out. It is a multi-purpose tool, and much like the hydra can tackle a lot of problems at once.
The machine comes with a stick and TIG welder and a plasma cutter. I got the opportunity to cut, weld (in two different methods), and it has been a wild ride.
Alright, let me hold my horses, it’s not all good (will get to that eventually). I started by trying out the plasma cutter, and it works fine. I tried it out on a few different materials with varying thickness and found some slags when I went over 3/4.
Still, the slags were rather brittle, and I took it off with a lighthearted punch.
The problem with the plasma cutter is the non-pilot arc, not a major no-no, but a slight bother. There’s a different model though that has all the features along with a pilot arc, I didn’t want to spend the extra penny, as I’m all-good with a non-pilot system.
I found the TIG welding to be in excellent working order as well. After setting it up, I had to adjust the amperage with a foot pedal correctly to get the most out of it. The performance was definitely up to the mark, with no holes at the surface-end.
My qualm is having to get a foot pedal for amperage adjustment. It takes a few extra bucks and time to get it right. But after using the foot pedal, the TIG welder’s performance has doubled up.
I’m saving the worst part of this machine for the last. Stick welding is the CT-52 0D’s Achilles heel. The welding is inconsistent, leaving porous ends here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen dedicated welding machines perform far worse. Despite being the weakest link, the stick welding can hold its own.
The central power switch is in the back. I personally like it because nobody walking around would accidentally hit the switch. Setting up the TIG welder with a gas cylinder is also easy, so is switching between gas and air.
To top it off, PrimeWeld has arguably the best customer service amongst all plasma cutter manufacturers. I didn’t need the support myself, but from what I’ve seen and heard, the manufacturers not only have a prompt response, they address and solve any issues customers may have.
Even within such a price point, you get an unimaginable (to me at least) 3-year warranty. So, you’ve got your back covered.
Despite the minor problems I’ve discussed, I can’t help but say that this machine is “THE” contender. In the race for being the best plasma cutter under 500, the PrimeWeld CT-520D is way ahead of the rest.
LOTOS LT5000D 50A Air Inverter Plasma Cutter
You’re probably wondering why I would go in reverse and get an older model after trying out the LOTOS LTP500D, right? Firstly, the LOTOS LT5000D is a less superior sibling of its newer “P” version. However, the exclusion of “P” doesn’t mean the exclusion of performance.
Nevertheless, the answer to the question above is that I didn’t get the product myself; I had the opportunity to try it out from a friend. Despite being an older model, I think it does have what it takes to keep up with the big boys.
The basic features of this plasma cutter are highly similar to that of LOTOS LTP5000D (I’d refer you to the first product on the list), so I’m not going to incite yawns with repetitive details.
The plus of having the LT5000D over the newer (seemingly better) version is the price.
There’s about a 100$ difference between the two. And $100 can be a make or break deal for people cutting corners in the first place looking for a budget-friendly machine. In this regard, the older version hit it out of the park.
Still, the $100 save the user makes is a double-edged sword. The “P” I mentioned earlier doesn’t mean performance; it means pilot arc. Yes, in the LT5000D, I got a non-pilot arc, and it gave me a hard time. Now, for someone like me, it’s easy to work around a non-pilot arc system because I’m a veteran.
If you’re a beginner with hands that shake like a puppy’s tail, you’ll be in for a nasty ride with this machine. The problem you’ll face is a never-ending consumable purchase. For the clumsy hand initiate, using the non-pilot arc means devouring through consumables three times faster.
And LOTOS does have a reputation for expensive and exclusive consumables. So, I’d recommend beginners to stay away from this plasma cutter.
Another disadvantage would be the inability to operate in painted or rusty materials. If you’re looking to cook up something special with a few scrap metals you have lying around, it’s a nada on this end.
Regardless, there were no hiccups in regards to performance and clean cuts. It does slice through 3/4-inch metal with minimal slag. Installation is self-explanatory, and the whole setup would take a couple minutes tops. It also has a dual voltage option similar to the new version, helps you control the bills.
At maximum working capacity, the duty cycle is 60%. It’s pretty standard compared to all the budget-cutters. Despite being 60%, which should give me 6 minutes of runtime out of 10, I got nearly 8.5 minutes of uninterrupted performance. A big win in my book.
I’ve said all there is about this machine. But before closing, I would give you a heads up by repeating that while the LT5000D is DIY-friendly, it’s not beginner-friendly.
Lotos CT520D 50 AMP
Another versatile chameleon, the LOTOS CT520D, gives you three for the price one similar to PrimeWeld’s CT520D. After trying out the PrimeWeld versatile-version, I thought LOTOS also deserves an equal shot, and I’ll see whether it stands toe to toe with its competitor.
First off, the CT520D comes with a plasma cutter, TIG welder, and Stick welder.
Starting out with the plasma cutter, it does pierce through 1/2-inch metal (and that’s maximum), but the cut is a little messy. I’ve seen considerable slags, nothing a bench grinder couldn’t fix, but the issue is worth a mention. You’ll not have any problems with 1/4-inch cuts, though.
Besides, the cutter arc is non-pilot, making it a consumable hungry snake (if you’re a shaky surgeon). I would point out that the machine displayed some noteworthy performance despite the non-pilot drawback.
The TIG welder, on the other hand, is amazing. With excellent power and performance, the TIG welder on this machine even puts dedicated high-end welders to shame. The welding capacity of this was a surprise, and a pleasant one too.
Stick welder also deserves some credit but doesn’t have a similar oomph as the TIG welder. It does deliver on the basic functional ends, but if you’re for heavy-duty advanced Stick welding, you’ll be put off a little.
I love how most of LOTOS’s products have a dual voltage option. Most users including me are comfortable working with 220V, as it dishes out max power. However, dialing back to 110V for casual work is a neat way of saving a few bucks.
Furthermore, the switching mechanism is pretty basic, from amperage adjustment to toggle option between welding and arcing, everything’s in the front. The versatile machine has a 60% duty cycle, which is standard for budget-products.
I always want to double-check whether the manufacturers trust their own creation. Duly so, LOTOS further sweetens the deal with a 1-year warranty.
Looking at the problems of this machine, consumables are a little expensive, and in the hands of a newbie can die out quickly. So, one might become frustrated with the prospect of a good deal of money for consumables.
There’s a solution to this though, just master the use of the machine, and you’ll observe consumable-drainage reduce by half or more.
Hose-length is another issue I’d like to mention, as I had to keep the cutter at arm’s length while working.
Overall, putting the price and features side by side, I’d say this product is a definite win for customers. It’s not dedicated to one function (plasma cutting or welding), but that doesn’t affect the performance it delivers. Coming around under $500, this machine does pay for itself.
I’d go as far as to say that, the LOTOS CT520D is the top adversary of PrimeWeld’s CT520D for the title of the best plasma cutter under 500.
How I Picked These Products in the First Place?
As you can see, I’ve handpicked only 5 plasma cutters from a vast ocean of products. I prioritized certain features when choosing a plasma cutter, and now it’s time to explain the science behind my selection process. This little buying guide is designed to give you an in-depth look into how I prefer to do things.
Holler vs. Dollar
The whole point of the article was to find plasma cutters that are cheap but efficient. It’s a difficult thing to balance I must add. While dealing with this fickle see-saw of price and performance, my target was to find cutters that are worth the green.
It was a delicate business because most manufacturers claim they’ll give the best output with only a handful of money. So, when you’re scrounging for a plasma cutter, make sure to establish a ying-yang/ price-performance balance.
See if the product comes with a warranty, or are the features worth the investment. Also, don’t get too goaded with all the flashy features; make sure the features match your demands. People often pay for things they don’t need, so save yourself from the trap.
Although the prospect of detailed research might seem scary, it’s worth it. Remember, it’s not rocket science; it just needs a little deliberation and time.
Far and Smooth Ratio
The next aspect I’d like you to focus on is how far the machine can slice through and is the cut smooth or slaggy. While some plasma cutters do cut through 1-inch or more, I’ve seen the surface-end gathering a lot of slugs. Having to use a bench grinder to remove slugs is never an enjoyable evening.
A smooth cut can have slags (it’s natural for it to have some), but it needs to be brittle. Brittle slags are removable by hammers or even your hand, making it much easier to contend with. Besides, too much slag formation during a cut will render the metal useless for any project.
Moreover, I’ve considered cut lengths before finalizing my selection. Some of you may not be satisfied by the 3/4 max-length, and I get it. But getting a cut-length beyond that with a budget-cutter is a herculean task. The only product that features a 1-inch cut length in my list is the CUT-50 by Amico, but you see with great cut-length comes great problems as well.
Therefore, I’d recommend you stick to a standard 3/4- or 1/2-inch cut length, as it’s the standard for budget-cutters.
Save Thy Consumables
If there’s one massive drawback from using plasma cutters, it’s the use (along with the expense) of consumables. Depending on the brand and the machine, consumable prices can range from $2-5. The price may seem innocent at first glance, but it piles up once you start buying packs of them.
There are two options for protecting yourself from the towering consumable expense.
Firstly, you can (as I do in most cases) get a plasma cutter that features a pilot arc. Pilot arc helps the cutter fire up from a distance, no surface contact, and scratching. Keeping a distance from the surface contributes to the consumable’s longevity.
Even if you don’t get a native pilot arc with your machine, replacing the non-pilot arc is easy. Initially, it may seem like an additional cost, but saves bucks (in small but continuous packs) in the long run.
However, if you’re a veteran in the realm of plasma cutting and have hands of Hephaestus, non-pilot arc won’t be an issue (that’s the second option of saving consumables).
Get More for The Price of One
I know the title right here can look far-fetched (I thought so once as well), but you can actually get a lot more from one machine if you choose a multi-purpose product.
I always try to find as much value as possible from my purchases. And if a machine can multitask with ease, it scores a home-run on the desirability scale.
If you’ve read the reviews, you saw how both the CT520D (PrimeWeld and LOTUS) packed 3 machines in one convenient little box!
It does cost you a little more, I admit, but you’ll be hard put to find such amazing value. For instance, compared to the Amico CUT-50, the price of both multi-purpose products is double.
However, the CUT-50 only gives you a plasma cutter, but the versatile plasma cutters (or chameleon or hydra you might say) can provide three different functionalities.
For people who are willing to invest 500-ish, I’d strongly recommend going for a versatile machine. It’ll be like killing three birds with one stone. Besides, a multi-purpose plasma cutter will give you more opportunities to explore and improve your overall handiwork.
Just because I’m the customer doesn’t mean I occupy the proverbial high ground. However, it’s important as a customer to feel wanted; I don’t want my purchase to a one-night-stand. While most buyers are prone to overlook the necessity of customer service, I sail against it.
Intricate machines, such as plasma cutters, need proper maintenance and use. Some machines are DOA (due to poor delivery system), and some draw their last breath after a few months of slogging.
If you sign yourself up for a product that has bad customer support, you’ll feel stranded gazing at your dead machine without any means for revival.
Excellent customer support works as an insurance (at times better than a warranty because the warranty has a time limit). So, I love being valued as a consumer; you should too.
I place the PrimeWeld at high regards for their reputed and responsive customer service (with a 3-year warranty to boot), it sure feels nice knowing that someone is watching your six.
Tolerance Against Grind
Once you start working with your plasma cutter, you’ll realize that it does start acting weird if you use it for too long. It happens because the duty cycle of the product is low. The duty cycle indicates how much beating your cutter can take before gasping for air.
Most standard plasma cutters come with a 60% duty cycle, meaning out of 100 minutes, it’ll work for 60 minutes without hiccups. I’d suggest steering clear from anything less than 50%. Lower duty cycle than this threshold would result in overheating, and you’ll need to pause intermittently (frustrating, to say the least).
Advantages of Plasma Cutters
Plasma cutters certainly do not lord over the realm of conductive-surface cutting. There are other products that are also constantly gunning for the throne. The term “Gunning” implies that there is no top-spot because each cutter comes with distinct advantages and drawbacks.
So, it’d be prudent to understand what plasma cutter brings to the table for you. Entertain the thought of purchasing only when you’re satisfied with the delicacies presented. Let’s see what we have.
- After switching to plasma cutting from Oxy-fuel torches, I’ve seen a significant improvement in power and convenience. I didn’t need to boil the metal (pre-heat) before starting my grind, which gave me more time to work on my craft. Also, while working with stacked metals, the former dishes out more has more oomph per se.
- I used plasma cutters when I needed to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Case and point: Plasma cutters can bring about some intricate designs only comparable to the likes of laser cutting, the latter being a “Wallet-Slasher.” I enjoyed carving out names and shapes, and I must say there’s nothing like a plasma cutter when it comes to precision.
- The materials available for cutting are vast with these machines. As long as it conducts electricity, you can fire up your machine and go to town with it. I’ve worked with metal, aluminum, and in some cases, with steel-alloy, getting excellent results.
- To top it all off, the heat produced is tolerable. While cutting through small to medium-sized surfaces, I didn’t feel the heat rising to the extent of frustration. I’m the kind of person who spends a lot of time in his workstation.So, excessive heat-buildup is a big “No-No.”That’s another reason I vouch for plasma cutters.
Drawing the Curtain
Once upon a time, I used to think budget machines do not yield any results, but my journey with plasma cutters has humbled me. Even when you’re cutting corners with money, you don’t have to compromise quality too much.
After experimenting with the 5 plasma cutters on this list, if you ask me, I would crown the title of the best plasma cutter under 500 to PrimeWeld’s CT520D. With its 3 in 1 package and at such a price-point, it’s a deal I’m down for.
While the LOTOS CT520D also has similar features, I think PrimeWeld’s superior customer service gives them an edge. As I said, I love being valued, and as PrimeWeld values its customers, I’m all in for it.
Anyways, that’s just my personal preference, and your decision should revolve around your needs and budget. Assess these two aspects carefully, weigh them against each other, and voila, you’ll have your answer.
I hope the account of a skeptic-turned-believer was helpful. Ciao!
Related Post: Best Plasma Cutter Under $1000 You Could Go for in 2020