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The Best Plasma Cutters - 2019 Buying Guide

Plasma cutter buyer's guide

*** This post was updated on: November 2, 2019 ***

If you've spent any time cutting metal you know a top quality plasma cutter can make the difference between a clean, smooth cut and jagged mess that requires you to spend extra time cleaning up.

In this article, we're reviewing the best plasma cutters on the market in 2019.

There are two grades of plasma cutting systems.  And there are some VERY REAL differences between them.

Plasma cutters from the big names like Hypertherm, Miller, and Hobart are well designed for heavy-duty, daily use.  They offer more advanced power supplies (IGBT Inverters), high duty-cycles, and more efficient use of consumables than lower cost machines.

Then there are cutters from companies like Primeweld that offer excellent performance using MOSFET inverter technology.  These plasma cutters are literally a fraction of the cost and can offer similar performance when used for smaller workloads.

8 Best Plasma Cutters - Reviews

The following list of the 8 best plasma cutters includes the best products on the market. Whether your business needs heavy-duty equipment for daily use or a good plasma cutter for your home workshop, everything you need to know is in our full reviews below.

1. Hypertherm Powermax 45 (Best Plasma Cutter)

The Hypertherm Powermax 45 is the best plasma cutter on the market in 2019.

Hypertherm has been building high-quality equipment for decades.  Their 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 plasma cutter 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, Hypertherm'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.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 50% - 50A @ 220V
Input Voltage: 200V - 240V
AC Power: 1PH or 3PH
Power Supply: Inverter - IGBT
Rated Cut: 1/2" - 3/4"
Max Cutting Thickness: 3/4"
Max Sever: 1"
Pierce: 1/2"
Cut Speed: 20in/min & 10in/min
Torch: T45
Dimensions: 13.7"H x 6.75"W x 16.75"D
Weight: 37lbs
Warranty: 3 Years

Pros

  • Reduce grinding time with clean, precise cuts.
  • Lower long term costs through efficient use of consumables
  • Hypertherm build quality and durability
  • Speed - 20in /minute on 1/2" mild steel
  • Handheld or mechanized control (CNC)
  • Simple setup & operation
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Quickly switch between continuous pilot arc, non-continuous, and gouge operations

Cons

  • Heavier than Miller
  • Requires 220V power
  • Not as portable as the Miller

This type of machine was designed to be the backbone of a serious operation.  It offers impressive performance, extremely high-quality parts, low consumable use and is backed by Hypertherm's incredible customer support network.

This is a machine that has 90 engineers and 15 Ph.D.'s standing behind it.  The user manuals reads like a book and offers instructions for EVERY possible situation from standard cuts to CNC control and operation.

If you have a business that requires 100% uptime this is the plasma cutter for you.

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 allows for quick adjustments to power output. 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 arc-torch is comfortable to grip and easy to operate. This should not be overlooked as it makes extended cuts relatively easy on the hands.

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

While it's tough to gauge reliability in a test, the Powermax series of plasma 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 plasma cutter'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.

Conclusion

If you're going to drop a couple thousand on a tool you should be able to expect a certain level of performance and reliability.  The Powermax45 from Hypertherm was designed from the ground up to be rock-solid. 

And it says something that Miller uses some of Hypertherm's technology and parts in their plasma cutters.

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.

2. Miller Spectrum 625 Extreme Plasma Cutter

Miller is another powerhouse when it comes to plasma cutting systems, and the Miller Spectrum is the best lightweight plasma cutter of 2019. Like Hypertherm, they have built a reputation on solid construction, reliability, and incredible customer service. They also offer a wide variety of welding equipment in addition to plasma cutters.

The Miller Spectrum 625 X-treme is a workhorse of a plasma 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, the Spectrum is essentially an industrial quality tool (in fact many of its internal components are manufactured by Hypertherm).  It even offers both 110V and 220v power so you can use it just about anywhere.

Obviously, you're limited on thickness when using the Spectrum with 110V.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 50% - 50A @ 220V
Input Voltage: 110V to 220V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Supply: Inverter - IGBT
Rated Cut: 1/2" - 5/8"
Max Cut: 5/8"
Max Sever: 7/8"
Pierce: 5/16"
Cut Speed: 22in/min & 13in/min
Sever Speed: 5IPM
Torch: XT40R
Dimensions: 9"H x 5"W x 13"D
Weight: 21 lbs
Warranty: 3 years

Pros

  • Impressive power for its size
  • Half the weight of the Hypertherm
  • 110V or 220V operation
  • Faster rated cuts than the Hypertherm
  • Auto-refire technology for quick starts

Cons

  • Not as efficient on consumables
  • Higher retail price

In performance, the Miller Spectrum 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 plasma cutter as well.

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 Spectrum are slightly more expensive and the plasma cutter 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 Miller Spectrum 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 need a very portable plasma cutter the weight of the Miller Spectrum is a huge plus.

The controls and operation of the Miller Spectrum 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 plasma cutter packs a powerful punch.

This is a company that has built its reputation on quality.  The Spectrum 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 Spectrum Extreme-625 is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1-year warranty.

Conclusion

The Spectrum Extreme-625 is a high-quality cutter. In terms of power, flexibility, and portability, this little plasma cutter holds it's own against much bigger and heavier plasma cutters.  It packs a powerful punch with a consistently clean cut on 5/8" metal.  If you're looking for a high-performance machine it's tough to beat.  The main reason it is #2 on our list is that they use many of Hypertherm's internal components.  If another company relies on Hypertherm's parts, why wouldn't you just buy a Hypertherm plasma cutter?

3. Hobart AirForce 40i Plasma Cutter

The Hobart AirForce 40i is the best plasma cutter for home use, and #3 on our list overall.  Hobart has been in the business of producing quality products for nearly 100 years.  Their plasma cutters are considered to be some of the best in the industry.

The AirForce 40i is a highly economical machine and it 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.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 50% - 40A @ 220V
Input Power: 220V - 240V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Supply: Inverter - IGBT
Rated Cut: 1/2" - 3/4"
Max Cut: 3/4"
Max Sever: 7/8"
Pierce: 3/16"
Cut Speed: 14in/min/ 6in/min
severance Speed: 4IPM
Torch: XT40R
Dimensions: 11.25H" x 8.25"Wx 14.25"D
Weight: 31 lbs
Warranty: 3 years

Pros

  • Hobart quality and build construction
  • Designed for commercial use and loads
  • Cleanly cuts 5/8" and severs 7/8"
  • Impressive 50% Duty Cycle
  • Easy on consumables

Cons

  • Not highly portable
  • Performance doesn't match the best plasma cutters
  • Lower cutting speeds

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 plasma cutter is actually smaller than other plasma cutters with similar capabilities.

The Hobart 40i is simple to set up and simple to use.  The plasma cutter 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 metal without having to constantly manually refire the torch.

It requires a 50A 240V outlet and 4.8 CFM @ 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. 

The Hobart name is synonymous with quality.  Like the Hypertherm and the Spectrum above, the Hobart AirForce is designed to be the workhorse in any shop or factory.  They use only the highest quality components and have thousands of loyal customers.

The warranty on the Hobart AirForce is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1-year warranty.

Conclusion

With slightly less flexibility, the Hobart AirForce comes in just behind the Spectrum.  It's slightly larger and requires 240V whereas the Spectrum 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 cutting ability at a lower price.  They also utilize the same torch so consumables for both will be more expensive than the Hypertherm.

4. Hypertherm Powermax 30 AIR Plasma Cutter

The Hypertherm Powermax 30 AIR is highly portable, lightweight, and offers performance that nearly matches competing plasma cutters that require an external air compressor.  It is also the best plasma cutter for the money.

With a max cutting thickness of 3/8" and a duty cycle of 35%, the Powermax 30 AIR took the top spot in our portable plasma cutter comparison.

It's capable of cutting a wide variety of metals including stainless steel, aluminum, mild steel, copper and their alloys. The pilot-arc ignition even allows it to cut painted metal.

It's rated to cut 3/8" steel at 10 inches per minute and can sever 5/8" at 5 inches per minute. Its inverter power supply is efficient enough to allow it to do all of this at 120V.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 35% - 50A @ 240V
Input Voltage: 120V - 240V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Supply: Inverter - IGBT
Rated Cut: 5/16" - 3/8"
Max Cut: 5/8"
Pierce: 5/16"
Cut Speed: 20in/min & 10in/min
Torch: XT40R
Dimensions: 13"H x 7.7"W x 16.5"D
Weight: 30 lbs
Warranty: 3 years

Pros

  • Impressive power AND portability
  • Comparable price to the Powermax45
  • Auto-voltage technology allows for 110V or 220V operation
  • built-in air compressor for maximum portability
  • Pilot-arc ignition allows cutting of painted metals
  • Lower long-term costs with efficient consumable usage.

Cons

  • Not as powerful as the other plasma cutters in the top 4.
  • More portable, but less powerful

Hypertherm's Auto-Voltage sensing technology allows it to operate at both 120V (20A) and 240V. And while it's cutting ability at 120V is impressive, it gets even better when supplied with more electricity.

At 240V its duty cycle jumps to 35% for rated cuts (as compared to 20% duty cycle at 120V). This makes the Powermax30 AIR the far and away best plasma cutter in terms of portability and performance.

The Powermax30 AIR uses Hypertherm's IGBT inverter-based power supply.  It offers tons of power even with less voltage.  Hypertherm actually makes parts for other manufacturers (like Miller) so you can rest assured that this product will be reliable. You can also find plenty of outlets around the US to have it serviced should the need arise.

All of the Hypertherm Powermax products have a built-in filter/coalescing moisture trap/auto drain system to help extend consumable life. Hypertherm torches are also designed to be less susceptible to issues such as short consumable life and poor cut quality which is often associated with elevated moisture levels in the air system of a plasma cutter. The Powermax30 AIR has a built-in air compressor and a built-in air "precooler" heat exchanger and moisture drain to further reduce the effects of moisture.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a highly portable plasma cutting system you can't beat the Powermax30 AIR from Hypertherm.  It offers production-grade cuts in a portable plasma cutter.  Its duty cycle (35%) is less than it's big brother, but it will still cut cleanly through up to 3/8" steel.  

5. PrimeWeld Cut50 Plasma Cutter

Of all of the plasma cutters that we have reviewed, the Cut50 from PrimeWeld is the best plasma cutter for the money.  This inverter-based model offers performance beyond even the Powermax45 and at a FRACTION of the price.

Got to be a catch right?  Not really.

PrimeWeld uses the same inverter technology that Hypertherm first developed for its cutting systems back in the 1980s.  It's capable of consistently cutting 1/2" stainless and 5/8" mild steel and weighs in at only 22.5 lbs.

Given its price point, it offers great flexibility as well.  There are plenty of powerful plasma cutters out there capable of making short work of thick steel, but not all of them offer the fine level of control to work with thinner materials as well.

The PrimeWeld does both.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 60% - 50A @ 220V
Input Voltage: 110V - 220V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Source: Inverter - MOSFET
Rated Cut: 1/2"
Max Cut: 3/4"
Pierce: 1/2"
Cut Speed: 15in/min
Torch: PrimeWeld
Dimensions: 15"H x 6"W x 12"D
Weight: 22.5 lbs
Warranty: 3 years

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Low retail price
  • Powerful with a solid 60% Duty Cycle
  • Consistently cuts 5/8" mild steel

Cons

  • Questionable long-term durability
  • Performance doesn't match Hypertherm plasma cutters
  • Warranty & repair work requires shipping

This makes a great plasma cutter for the home shop, farm, or hobbyist.  It offers lots of power for thicker materials and the flexibility to work accurately on thinner metals as well.

While it offers VERY impressive performance this is not the machine we recommend for someone running a business that requires high-performance metal cutting day-in-day-out.  It doesn't offer CNC control or pilot-arc capability.

If pilot-arc is something you need you should check out the PrimeWeld Cut60.

Let's take a look at its capabilities.

The setup and controls of the Cut50 are pretty standard.  You'll want a reasonably good air compressor to ensure proper operation.  Don't skimp as it can impact cutting performance.

Once you've made all your connections set your amperage based on the material you're going to cut and away you go.

1/2" mild steel was absolutely no problem for this plasma cutter.  At 220V it cut through like butter.  We didn't change out the power adapter to test 110V performance, but I'd assume you would see a drop off in terms of duty-cycle and you'll most likely need to drop your speed.

This plasma cutter DOES NOT offer pilot-arc technology so you'll need to make contact with the material to start and restart.  If you're planning on working with painted, rusted, or perforated metals you'll want to consider a different model that includes pilot arc.

While it's tough to gauge reliability in a test, PrimeWeld has a good reputation for a quality product.  They offer a very reasonable return/replacement program and are generally very responsive to customer problems or inquiries.

The warranty on the Cut50 is a limited 3 year.  The torch has a 1-year warranty.

Conclusion

If you're in the market for a high-performance plasma cutting machine, but don't need a commercial-grade product, PrimeWeld offers a machine that is comparable to the biggest names in the industry.  The machine has tons of power, works on both 220V and 110V outlets, and works well on a wide variety of materials.

It's not engineered to the same specs as names like Hypertherm, but given it's price point it easily takes first place in terms of value.

6. Ramsond Cut 50DX Plasma Cutter

If you're looking for an inexpensive but powerful plasma cutter that offers the most bang for the least amount of cash the Ramsond Cut50 DX is the best budget plasma cutter.

We were skeptical when this model came out a few years ago as to how such an inexpensive plasma cutter 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 clearly the best cheap plasma cutter on this list.

Specifications

Duty cycle: 60% - 50A @ 220V
Input Voltage: 110V - 220V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Source: Inverter - V-MOSFET
Rated Cut: 3/4 Inch
Max Cut: 1 Inch
Pierce: 1/2 Inch
Cut Speed: 7.8 in/min
Torch: Ramsond
Dimensions: 8"H x 17"W x 17"L
Weight: 32 lbs
Warranty: 1 year

Pros

  • Great for home or farm or other occasional use (non-production)
  • Low retail price
  • Clean cuts on up to 1/2" mild steel

Cons

  • Questionable long-term durability
  • Performance doesn't match Hypertherm plasma cutters
  • Warranty & repair requires shipping
  • Not CNC compatible

That's not to say it is on par with ANY of the other plasma cutters 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.

The Cut 50DX is simple to set up 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 severance cut at best.

This plasma cutter 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 Cut 50DX plasma cutter uses digital inverter technology and, as a result, is very lightweight.  It tips the scales at only 19lbs.

Although they use Toshiba for many of their internal parts, the plasma cutter 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 plasma cutter what else could you expect?

The warranty on the Cut50 DX is 1 year.

Conclusion

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.  Cutting metal at a thickness of 3/8" and below is clean, but any thicker metal and you'll be pushing your luck.

If it's for the home or farm this plasma cutter 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 plasma cutters.

7. Lotos CT520D - TIG Welding & Plasma Cutting Machine

The Lotos CT520D has a lot going for it.  It is a 3 in 1 plasma cutter that is capable of cutting, tig welding, and stick welding.

The Lotos unit is substantially larger than the Ramsond, weighing in at almost 32 pounds. But with the extra capability, this plasma cutter 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 Lotos plasma cutter is dual voltage so it can be used with both 110v or 220v.  Lotos also incorporates the ability to perform TIG welding which makes it a powerful budget-priced machine.

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

Specifications

Duty Cycle: 60% - 200A @ 220V
Input Voltage: 110V -220V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Source: Inverter - MOSFET
Rated Cut:
1/2"
Max Cut:
1/2"
Max Sever:
3/4"
Pierce:
3/16"
Cut speed:
8in/min
Severance Speed:
3in/min
Torch:
Lotos CL135
Dimensions:
17" x 8" x 11"
Weight:
32lbs
Warranty:
1 year

Pros

  • TIG Weld Capable
  • Cut up to 1/2" mild steel
  • 110V or 220V operation
  • A solid home or non-production plasma cutter

Cons

  • Internal components not as durable
  • No pilot arc
  • Not CNC compatible

While the Lotos plasma cutter 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 this machine is VERY reasonably priced.

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

The Lotos plasma cutter 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 ability of this plasma cutter is impressive for its price.  We were able to get very clean 1/2" cuts with no difficulty at all.  A pilot arc would be a nice feature, but would most likely bump up the price of the plasma cutter.

My experience with using this machine for TIG welding was surprisingly good.  The high-frequency start works on the Lotos plasma cutter extremely well and the arc is extremely stable.  The torch could be a bit better in terms of flexibility, but this is a budget plasma cutter after all.  If you're going to do DC only welding, this is a great plasma cutter.

For aluminum, you'll need AC and a plasma cutter like the AHP will offer more functionality.  Lotos makes several different models of plasma cutters.  You can read our Lotos LTP5000D review here.

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

Here is the Lotos CT520D user manual.

Conclusion

If you're in the market for an inexpensive plasma cutting tool the Lotos CT520D 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 with the Lotos.  In this regard, the machine falls a bit behind the Ramsond.  On the flip side, this plasma cutter also offers DC only TIG welding capability.  For the price, that combination offers great value.

8. Hobart 12ci Plasma Cutter

While the plasma cutters listed above are great additions to any shop, sometimes you want something that is more portable.

And while all of the plasma cutters listed above are relatively lightweight and easy to carry around, the Hobart 12ci is the perfect plasma cutter 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 the machine to cut through anything thicker than 1/4" (and even that will be slower than the plasma cutters listed above) but it's a great plasma cutter to have if you need something portable.

Specifications

Duty Cycle: 35% - 12A @ 140V
Input Voltage: 110V - 120V
AC Power: 1PH
Power Source: Inverter - IGBT
Rated Cut:
1/8"
Max Cut:
1/8"
Pierce: 1/16"
Cut Speed: 10in/minute
Torch: XT12R
Dimensions: 10" x 8.25" x 13"
Weight: 25 lbs
Warranty: 5 years

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Great for lightweight work
  • Lightweight
  • Built-in air compressor
  • Works on 110V

Cons

  • Not a lot of power

The 12ci utilizes inverter technology to get the maximum amount of power from its 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.

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

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 plasma cutter.  You can find the torch for sale online if you're looking to upgrade.

Conclusion

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 plasma cutter 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 machine.

How To Choose The Right Plasma Cutter

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.  Here's a quick look at the plasma cutters we'll be comparing.

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.

We understand that not everyone is looking for a production-grade plasma cutter. If you're looking for more budget-friendly plasma cutters, check out our inexpensive plasma cutter reviews.

These cutting systems give you the flexibility to work in any capacity from industrial use to an in-home shop or on the farm.  They offer features such as continuous pilot arc, high duty cycles, chew up fewer consumables, and are more durable than more inexpensive brands.

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

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 its 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 plasma cutters will work on standard 120V 15Amp outlets (standard in most homes).

Others will require at least 20Amps.  And the really powerful plasma cutters 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.

Plasma cutting tool

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

What is a Duty Cycle?

The duty cycle of a particular plasma cutter 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 plasma cutter 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, the machine 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 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 its 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.

Consumables for plasma cutting systems

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. As with the cutting systems themselves, you'll find consumables for sale on Amazon.

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, its efficient use of consumables over the life of using the plasma cutter will most likely even out the cost.

What Other Equipment Will You Need?

Most plasma cutting systems come with everything you need minus one component.  Pressurized air.

With the exception of the plasma cutters 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 airflow 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 difference 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.

Air compressor from Dewalt

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 its 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.  It's a great value for the money.

Where to Buy?

You can find plasma cutters for sale at local welding shops, but one of the best places to look is on Amazon.  They have a huge variety of products and you can read reviews that will go into great detail about the capabilities of each unit.

Read More Here

Conclusion

While the quality of the 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 plasma cutters are not going to offer the same day-in and 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 of things you should be aware of before purchasing one of the budget plasma cutters.

  • Service & Support - many of these plasma cutters are made overseas and will offer little in the way of support.  Many WILL replace parts or the entire plasma cutter, but they won't offer much help with questions about issues that come up.
  • Lower Quality Components - while many of these plasma cutters offer similar cutting specs as the more expensive plasma cutters 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 plasma cutters 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 plasma cutters 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 Hypertherm or Hobart as they have been around for decades.

More Power Tool Resources

Choosing a Plasma Cutter with an Integrated Compressor

Longevity's Forcecut 62 Review

We Review Hypertherm's Powermax 30XP

Cordless Hammer Drill Comparison