We Review the Best Plasma Cutters of 2016

Welcome to The Tool Report's plasma cutter selection guide.  Our goal is to give you all the information you need to find the best plasma cutter for your specific needs and budget. If you are investing hundreds to thousands of dollars in a piece of equipment, you want to make sure it’s going to stand up to heavy use and get the job done. The following reviews and comparisons highlight the top rated plasma cutting systems on the market.

For our top 3 we'll be highlighting the best performing models on the market.  These tools are designed to work in practically any capacity from industrial use to in a home shop or on the farm.  They have high duty cycles, chew up less consumables, and are more durable than inexpensive brands.

We'll also touch on some of the more budget friendly brands.

There's no sugar-coating that these are expensive tools, but a higher up-front cost will often translate into better performance and lower cost of operation over the long haul.  This is especially important if you rely on your cutter as an asset for your business.

Our Top Pick: Hypertherm Powermax45

  • Drag cutting technology
  • Inexpensive consumables
  • Incredible support
  • Handheld or CNC Operation
  • Simple controls
  • Cuts 1/2" at 20IPM

Choosing the Right Model: Performance vs Price

When investing this amount of money in a tool it's important to know that it can perform what you'll be asking of it.  There are literally dozens of manufacturers and the features and quality of their products vary significantly.  Here are a few of the most important features you should consider.  Let’s run through them in order of importance.

How Much Power Do You Need?

The easiest way to answer this is to ask yourself what type of metal you'll be cutting and how thick it will be.  One of the most important considerations when purchasing a plasma cutter is it’s power output. This will ultimately determine how thick of a cut it can make, how long it’s duty cycle is, and how quick and clean the cuts will be.

Power output is directly proportional to input power.  Some units will work on standard 120V 15Amp outlets (standard in most homes). Others will require at least 20Amps.  And the really powerful units will require 220V and upwards of 50Amps.  Before making your selection it's important to know what type of power you currently have in your home or shop.  You may need to budget for hiring an electrician to get you the necessary power and outlets.

Here are some basic guidelines for choosing how powerful your cutter should be.  If you’re regularly working with materials that are 1/4″ thick or less then a 25 amp unit should suffice. If you need to cut metals up to 1/2″ thick then you’re going to want a unit with at least 40 amps. And if you regularly work with materials that are up to 1″ thick you’ll want a unit with at least 80 Amps.

What is Duty Cycle?​

The duty cycle of a particular unit is the amount of time in an hour the cutter can safely operate.  This is generally expressed as a percentage and is determined by how much amperage the unit draws.  Let's look a the Powermax45 from Hypertherm as an example:

Duty Cycle

Load

50%

45 A, 200 – 240 V

60%

41 A, 200 – 240 V

100%

32 A, 200 – 240 V

So when making a 1/2" cut that requires 45 amps of power the Powermax45 can run for 30 minutes every hour without overheating.  Similarly it can make cuts requiring 41 amps for 36 minutes out of every hour.  Cuts requiring 32 amps or less require no cooling time.

Duty cycle is less important if you're using your cutter for shorter periods of time.  While a shop might require a duty cycle of 50% or higher for production purposes, a home user might easily get by with a model that has a 35% duty cycle at the same rated output.  Typically a higher duty cycle comes with larger the power requirements and a larger the price.​

What Are Consumables?

Consumables are the part of a plasma cutting system that will wear out due to use.  The two that wear the most quickly are the electrode and the nozzle. 

The temperature of the plasma arc in the torch is roughly 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The nozzle is made of copper due to it's superior properties of heat transfer.  However, copper melts at 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.  So compressed air is circulated within the nozzle in a way that creates a barrier between the heat of the plasma and the copper, keeping it from melting.

The electrode contains hafnium which is extremely efficient at emitting electrons.  The high temperatures within the torch eventually cause the hafnium to evaporate.  As this happens the torch begins to misfire and the cuts will become less accurate.  Handheld torches can be adjusted by the user to make up for this to a certain degree, but CNC consumables must be replaced more quickly to ensure continued accuracy.

Here's a great article detailing all of the necessary consumables in a plasma torch and the role each plays.

It's important to consider consumables in your buying decision as they wear out regularly.  If one cutter is cheaper than another but requires more regular consumable replacement (or higher priced consumables) you'll end up spending more over the long run.  A great comparison would be the Powermax45 vs the budget-priced Ramsond.  While the retail price of the Powermax is more than twice that of the Ramsond, it's efficient use of consumables over the life of using the unit will most likely even out the cost.

What Other Equipment Will You Need?

clean pressurzied air is essential

Most plasma cutting systems come with everything you need minus one component.  Pressurized air.  With the exception of the models that include their own air compressor, most rely on shop air.  The amount of air pressure needed varies based on the manufacturer and model. 

It's important to understand that air flow is a crucial part of how a plasma cutter works.  Clean, high pressure air moving through the nozzle of the torch helps improve the accuracy of the cut and extends the life of the consumables.  This Dewalt is a great model as it is 2 stage and can provide 175PSI. 

Oil, moisture and dust are the enemies in a compressed air system, and this is no different with plasma cutters.  Filtration systems are typically built into the cutter, but the quality of your air compressor still plays an important role.  Humidity in the air is another issue since this condenses into moisture when pressurized.  It then further condenses as it is released from the compressor.

Without getting too technical, just make sure your air compressor meets or exceeds the recommendation of the manufacturer.  Otherwise your cuts won't be as clean AND you'll be burning through consumables more quickly. 

Desiccant Air Dryer & Filtration Systems

One sure fire way of making sure the air that's feeding into your nozzle is clean and dry is to use a desiccant filter system.  These remove moisture and any particulate from the air BEFORE it makes it's way into the torch. 

These systems are not inexpensive but can pay for themselves relatively quickly because of the money you'll save on consumables.  They can also improve the overall accuracy of the cuts.  This is crucial in many CNC applications, but obviously makes sense for any type of application where clean and accurate cuts are required.

Here is the system we recommend based on our testing.

Our Top 3 Plasma Cutting Tools

​Each of the models that made our top 3 can handle a heavy workload, cut cleanly through at least 1/2" of steel, and offer reliable performance day in and day out.

Plasma Cutter Comparison Chart

Plasma Cutter

Powermax45

Extreme-625

Airforce 40i

Image

Duty Cycle

50% @ 45 A, 200 – 240 V

50% @ 40 A, 140 VDC,

50% @ 40 A, 140 VDC

Clean Cut/Inch Per Min

1/2" - 3/4" / 20IPM - 10IPM

5/8" / 15IPM

1/2" - 3/4" / 14IPM - 6IPM

Consumable Use/Price

Efficient/Inexpensive

Less Efficient/More Expensive

Less Efficient/More Expensive

Weight

37lbs

21lbs

31lbs

Torch / Pilot Arc

XT40R - Auto-Refire

XT40 - Auto-Refire

XT40R - Auto-Refire

Price

$$$$

$$$$

$$$

Overall Rating

Cutting thick steel requires adequate power.  For best results, each of these units requires 50A of power from a 230V outlet.

First Place - Hypertherm Powermax45 Review

96
Overall Score

The Good

  • Drag cutting technology
  • Inexpensive consumables
  • Incredible support
  • CNC capable
  • Simple controls

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Heaviest unit in the competition.

Overview

Hypertherm's reputation rests solidly on their product's ability to do exactly what they say it will. In that regard the Powermax45 is an absolute beast. This guy can make precise cuts through 1/2" steel at 20 inches per minute all day long.  And while it carries a hefty price tag, it's easy on consumables (186% more efficient than some models) which means it's easier on your checkbook over the long haul.

As an added perk, Hypetherm's consumables are less expensive than those of many other manufacturers. This is something that should NOT be overlooked if you're operating a business where maintaining profit margins is important.

Performance​ (Mild Steel)

Capacity

Thickness

Cut Speed

Rated Cutting

1/2" (12mm) , 3/4" (19mm)

20 IPM / 10 IPM

Sever Cuts

1" (25mm)

5 IPM

Piercing

1/2"


Operation

The controls on the Powermax45 are very straightforward. There’s a mode switch that toggles between three primary modes:

  • Continuous pilot arc - this mode allows you to easily cut perforated metal such as grating.
  • Non-continuous pilot arc - this is the standard setting used for cutting metal plate of varying thickness.
  • Gouging – for punching holes in plate metal (use specific gouging consumables for best results)

The amperage knob adjusts how much power you need. This should be adjusted based on the thickness of the material you intend to cut as well as the ideal distance of the tip from the metal.

The torch is comfortable to grip and easy to operate. This should not be overlooked as it makes extended cuts relatively easy on the hands.

The unit was designed from the get-go to be portable.  While it is the heaviest unit in this comparison, it still only tips the scales at 37lbs.  Connecting the gas and torch are quick and easy, meaning you can setup and break down in very little time.

Reliability & Warranty

While it's tough to gauge reliability in a test, the Powermax series of cutters are popular with professionals for a reason. They are made with quality components and the company backs up their product with impressive customer support. This combined with the unit's overall performance made it a lock for our #1 position.

The warranty on the Powermax45 is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1 year warranty.​

Specifications

Weight: 37lb
Dimensions: 13.7"H x 6.75"W x 16.75"D
Torch: T45
Power Req: 230-240 VAC, 50 amp circuit, single phase
Max Cut: 1/2"
Max Sever: 1"
Requires external air compressor: Yes
Operators Manual

Final Verdict

If you're going to drop nearly $2k on tool you should be able to expect a certain level of performance and reliability.  The Powermax45 was designed from the ground up to be rock-solid.  It has ample power, operates efficiently, and offers inexpensive consumables.  Cutting 1/2" material at 20 inches per minute, it outperforms all but the higher priced Miller.  The fact that other manufacturers like Miller use Hypertherm parts in their cutters just seals the deal.

Second Place:  Miller Spectrum 625 Extreme Review

92
Overall Score

The Good

  • Lightweight at 21lbs
  • Operates on 120V or 220V
  • Simple to Use
  • Auto-refire
  • CNC capable

The Bad

  • Higher price
  • Expensive consumables
  • Inefficient use of consumables

Overview

Miller is another powerhouse when it comes to plasma cutting systems. Like Hypertherm they have built a reputation on solid construction, reliability, and incredible customer service. They also offer wide variety of welding equipment in addition to cutters.

The Spectrum 625 X-treme is a workhorse of a cutter. It's actually rated to cut 5/8" mild steel vs the 1/2" max for the Hypertherm. In terms of build construction and quality it is essentially an industrial quality tool. It even offers both 110V and 220v power so you can use it just about anywhere. Obviously you're limited on thickness when using with 110V.​

In performance it matches the Powermax-45 in almost every aspect.  But it tends to chew through consumables at a much faster rate.  Unfortunately, the consumables are higher priced than those for the Hypertherm unit as well.​

Performance​ (Mild Steel)

Capacity

Thickness

Cut Speed

Rated Cutting

1/2" (12mm) , 5/8" (19mm)

22 IPM / 13 IPM

Sever Cuts

7/8" (25mm)

5 IPM

Piercing

5/16"


Operation

It offers much of the same functionality of the Powermax45 including an auto re-fire capability that allows for cutting materials like grates and other perforated metals. It also offers quick and secure attachments for the torch, gas, and power.

To be totally honest the comparison eventually came down to price. The consumables for the Miller are slightly more expensive and the unit itself costs a bit more as well. Other than that, it would make a solid addition to any shop.

One very surprising aspect of the 625 is its' size and weight. At only 21 pounds, it is a full 16lbs lighter than the Powermax45. This is largely due to the inverter technology utilized in the 625.  If you're looking for a unit that is extremely portable this is a huge plus.

The controls and operation of the 625 X-treme are simple and straightforward. It comes with the XT-40 handheld torch, which has been redesigned to be more efficient than previous models with consumables.

All in all this little unit packs a powerful punch.​

Reliability & Warranty

Miller is another company that has built their reputation on quality.  The Extreme-625 is designed to be the workhorse in any shop or factory.  They use the highest quality components and have thousands of loyal customers.

The warranty on the Extreme-625 is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1 year warranty.​

Specifications

Weight: 21lb
Dimensions: 9"H x 5"W x 13"D
Torch: XT40R with 12ft lead
Power Req: 110/115/120 V @ 15A/20A or 220/230/240 V @40A
Max Cut: 5/8"
Max Sever: 1"
Requires external air compressor: Yes

Final Verdict

The Extreme-625 is another high quality cutter. In terms of power, flexibility and portability this little unit holds it's own against much bigger and heavier units.  It packs a powerful punch with a consistent clean cut on 5/8" materials.  It finished second in our competition because of it's higher price, less efficient use of consumables, and higher price of those consumables.  All around a great product, but just a hair shy of the Hypertherm.

Third Place:  Hobart AirForce 40i Review

91
Overall Score

The Good

  • Lightweight at 31lbs
  • Very simple operation
  • 50% duty cycle at 5/8"
  • Auto-refire
  • CNC capable

The Bad

  • Expensive consumables
  • Inefficient use of consumables

Overview

Hobart has been in the business of producing quality products for nearly 100 years. Their line of plasma cutters are considered to be some of the best in the industry.

​The AirForce 40i is a highly economical and works on all conductive metals. It is based around inverter technology that is both reliable and efficient. The end result is a highly capable plasma cutting system in a relatively portable package.

Capable of cutting up to 5/8″ steel cleanly, this bad boy can tackle just about anything you throw at it. It can even sever up to 7/8″ steel. The duty cycle while cutting 5/8″ material is 50% at 40A, 240V. So as long as you supply it with enough power, it will go all day.

Designed for heavy workloads, this is a true commercial grade cutter. The specs say it is rated to cut 7/8″ steel, but it is capable of cutting even thicker sheets if necessary. The newly designed power inverter saves space, meaning this unit is actually smaller than other units with similar capabilities.​

Performance​ (Mild Steel)

Capacity

Thickness

Cut Speed (inches per minute)

Rated Cutting

1/2" (12mm) , 3/4" (19mm)

14 IPM / 6 IPM

Sever Cuts

7/8" (25mm)

4 IPM

Piercing

3/16"


Operation​

The 40i is simple to setup and simple to use.  The unit is essentially the same as the Airforce 700i but with the improved XT40R torch.  The upgraded torch is easier on consumables and has a more flexible cable.  This has a dramatic impact on comfort while making longer cuts.  (It's also easier to store)

Power adjustments are quick and easy with the simple dial on the control panel.  The auto-refire technology allows for easy cutting of painted or perforated materials without having to constantly manually refire the torch.​

It requires a 50A 240V outlet and 4.8 scfm @ 90 to 120 psi of compressed air.  When supplied with everything it wants this guy will cut through 5/8" all day and can even cut through 7/8" material quickly and relatively cleanly.  ​

Reliability & Warranty

Miller is another company that has built their reputation on quality.  The Extreme-625 is designed to be the workhorse in any shop or factory.  They use the highest quality components and have thousands of loyal customers.

The warranty on the 40i is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1 year warranty.​

Specifications

Weight: 31.4lb
Dimensions: 11.25" x 8.25"x 14.25"
Torch: XT40R with 12ft lead
Power Req: 208-240 VAC, 50A
Max Cut: 5/8"
Max Sever: 7/8"
Requires external air compressor: Yes

Final Verdict

With slightly less flexibility, the 40i comes in just behind the Miller.  It's slightly larger and requires 240V whereas the Miller can operate on 120V or 220V.  Their duty cycles are identical, so if you don't need that flexibility the Hobart will give you basically the same performance at a lower price.  They also utilize the same torch so consumables for both will be more expensive than the Hypertherm.

Best Models Under $500

While the quality of the Miller, Hypertherm and Hobart are tough to beat, sometimes you just don't need a tool that expensive.  In the past few years several lower priced competitors have entered the market.  They offer impressive performance and require a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller upfront investment. 

It's important to understand that these units are not going to offer the same day-in day-out reliability and performance of the higher grade products above, but for smaller jobs and less frequent use they can be an exceptional value.

Here are a couple things you should be aware of before purchasing one of these budget models. 

  • Service & Support - many of these models are made overseas and will offer little in the way of support.  Many WILL replace parts or the entire unit, but they won't offer much help with questions about issues that come up.
  • Lower Quality Components - while many of these units offer similar performance specs as the more expensive models they often include cheaper power supplies, torches, grounding wires, and fan systems.  This can lead to performance issues and a shorter overall life.
  • Higher Consumable Use - All plasma cutters chew up consumables, but the less expensive models tend to use them faster.  Over several years of heavy use this can even offset the initial savings of buying a cheaper model.  If you're using it infrequently this should never be an issue.
  • Businesses Come and Go - Some of the companies making these units haven't been around that long.  It's possible they could disappear and you're left with a product that no one will support.  This is much more unlikely with Miller, Hypertherm, or Hobart as they have been around for decades.

Best Cheap Plasma Cutter: Ramsond Cut 50DX Review

79
Overall Score

The Good

  • Low price
  • Operates on 120V or 220V
  • 60% duty cycle at 5/8"
  • Lots of power

The Bad

  • Not the cleanest cuts
  • Expensive consumables
  • Questionable quality
  •  1 Year Warranty

Overview

If you’re in the market for a cutter that offers the most bang for the least amount of cash the Ramsond Cut50 DX is worth a look.  We were skeptical when this model came out a few years ago as to how such an inexpensive unit would perform. On top of that there were some initial quality control issues. 

This is the 4th generation of that product and many of these issues have been eliminated by upgrading the internal components. The result is a much more solid and reliable plasma cutting system.  In fact of all the inexpensive models currently on the market, the Cut 50DX is the clear winner of best cheap plasma cutter.

That's not to say it is on par with ANY of the other units in this comparison.  If you need a machine to build your business around, you're better off forking over the extra dough for any of the three listed above.  But if you just need something for odd jobs around the house or farm, it's worth giving the Ramsond a shot.

Operation​

The Cut 50DX is simple to setup and operate.  The torch is not pilot arc compatible so you'll either need to consistently maintain the appropriate distance or purchase a guide. 

Cuts on materials up to 3/8" were very clean and quick.  At 1/2" we saw noticeable degradation in the cleanliness of cuts.  Anything beyond 1/2" and you're probably just looking at a sever cut at best. 

The unit can be switched between 120V and 220V.  We didn't test 120V but would have to assume that cuts made with less power would suffer.

The unit uses digital inverter technology and as a result is very lightweight.  It tips the scales at only 19lbs. 

Reliability & Warranty

Although they use Toshiba for many of their internal parts, the unit doesn't show any sign of being as reliable as the others in this competition.  But for about a 1/3 of the price of the Miller what else could you expect. 

The warranty on the Cut50 DX is 1 year.

Specifications

Weight: 19lb
Dimensions: 14.2" x 6" x 9"
Torch: Ramsond with 10ft lead
Power Requirements: 110/220 VAC, 50A
Max Cut: 3/4"
Max Sever: 1"
Requires external air compressor: Yes

Final Verdict

If you're looking for a cheap plasma cutter the Cut 50DX is worth consideration.  This is NOT in the same ballpark as the Hobart, Miller, or Hypertherm and should not be considered for heavy workloads.  Cuts at 3/8" and below are clean, but anything thicker and you'll be pushing your luck.  If it's for the home or farm this unit has a lot to offer, but for businesses that need a reliable workhorse, it's probably best to go with one of the more robust units.

2.  Lotos CT520D TIG Welding & Plasma Cutting Tool

75
Overall Score

The Good

  • Low price
  • Operates on 120V or 220V
  • 60% duty cycle at 5/8"
  • 200A TIG Welding Capability

The Bad

  • Not the cleanest cuts
  • Expensive consumables
  • Questionable longevity
  •  1 Year Warranty
  • No Pilot-Arc on Torch

Overview

Lotos CT520D combination TIG Welder and plasma cutting tool

The Lotos CT520D has a lot going for it. It is a 3 in 1 unit that is capable of cutting, tig welding, and stick welding. The unit is substantially larger than the Ramsond weighing in at almost 32 pounds. But with the extra capability this unit provides it can pretty much eliminate 2 tools from your shop.

While the maximum cut thickness of 1/2" isn't quite as high as that of the Ramsond, the unit is dual voltage so it can be used with both 110v or 220v.  It also incorporates the ability to perform TIG welding which makes it a powerful budget priced tool.

The CT520D does require an external air compressor. There is also an available foot petal that can be purchased separately for welding applications.

While the performance doesn't match the Ramsond, the fact that it is such a flexible tool definitely justifies the higher price tag. When you take into consideration the fact that it eliminates the need for a tig and stick welder (if you need those) then it is VERY reasonably priced.

Operation​

All of the connections on the unit are quick and straightforward.  A longer ground cable would be beneficial and you may wish to consider purchasing this along with the unit.  If you're planning on using for welding you'll most likely want to purchase a foot pedal as well.

The unit is dual voltage but you have to change the plug to change the voltage.  The unit ships with a 220V adapter but you'll need to purchase the 120V should you need it.

The cutting performance of this unit is impressive for it's price.  We were able to get very clean 1/2" cuts with no difficulty at all.  Pilot arc would be a nice feature, but would most likely bump up the price of the unit.

TIG welding performance was surprisingly good.  The high frequency start works extremely well and the arc is extremely stable.  The torch could be a bit better in terms of flexibility, but this is a budget unit after all.  If you're going to do DC only welding, this is a great unit.  For aluminum you'll need AC and a unit like the AHP will offer more functionality.

Reliability & Warranty

As with many of the other products in the budget category you tend to get what you pay for.  The CT520D is reliable, but the internal components aren't as well made as those from Miller or Hypertherm.  This translates to some variance in performance, product life and consumable use.

The warranty on the CT520D is 1 year.  User Manual.

Specifications

Weight: 32lb
Dimensions: 17" x 8" x 11"
Torch: Lotos Torch 12.5 feet
Power Requirements: 110/220 VAC, 27A
Max Cut: 1/2"
Max Sever: 3/4"
Requires external air compressor: Yes

Final Verdict

If you're in the market for an inexpensive plasma cutting tool the CT520 offers great flexibility..  As with the Ramsond, it's not in the same league as the Millers and Hobarts.  But cuts at 1/2" and below are clean and quick.  In this regard it falls a bit behind the Ramsond.  On the flip side this unit also offers DC only TIG welding capability.  For the price, that combination offers great value.

Best Portable Plasma Cutter - Hobart 12ci Review

85
Overall Score

The Good

  • Low price
  • Operates on 120V or 220V
  • 60% duty cycle at 5/8"
  • Lots of power

The Bad

  • Not the cleanest cuts
  • Expensive consumables
  • Questionable quality
  •  1 Year Warranty

Overview

While the three cutters listed above are great additions to any shop, sometimes you want something that is more portable. And while all of the models listed above are relatively lightweight and easy to carry around, the Hobart 12ci is the perfect unit when you need something that is both lightweight, compact, and portable. One of the best features of this small plasma cutter is that it does NOT require an air compressor.

It only operates on 110V so don't expect it to cut through anything thicker that 1/4" (and even that will be slower than the models listed above) but it's a great unit to have if you need something portable.​

Features & Performance

The 12ci utilizes inverter technology to get the maximum amount of power from it's small footprint.  Although it is heavier than the Extreme-625 the built-in air compressor means there is one less piece of equipment you'll be forced to carry around for smaller jobs. 

It operates on 120V 20A so it will work on any outlet in your home or shop that can supply 20A.  The duty cycle is 35% @ 12A and 110 VDC.

While the XT12R torch isn't as nice as the XT40R that comes with the big Hobart it is comfortable and more than up to the capabilities of this unit.

Here's a quick look at what the 12ci is capable of cutting.

Cutting Performance

Material

Thickness

Clean Steel

1/8"

Copper

1/16"

Stainless Steel

1/16"

Galvanized Steel

1/16"

Aluminum

1/16"

Specifications

Weight: 27lb
Dimensions: 10" x 7.5" x 13"
Torch: XT12R
Power Requirements: 110/220 VAC, 50A
Max Cut: 1/8"
Max Sever: 1/4"
Requires external air compressor: No

Final Verdict

The 12ci from Hobart delivers the ultimate in portability and performance.  The internal air compressor means one less piece of equipment to haul around.  The unit maxes out at 1/8" clean cuts, but if portability and not power is your primary concern you couldn't ask for a more reliable piece.