The Top 3 Best Plasma Cutters Under 500 Bucks
Last updated ago
11 min read
By 
Welding Buddy Experts
Published 
April 12, 2021

The Top 3 Best Plasma Cutters Under 500 Bucks

Last updated ago
11 min read
By 
Welding Buddy Experts
Published 
April 12, 2021

Plasma Cutters

As a welder, nothing beats a useful cutting tool. Plasma cutters make it super easy and convenient to perform precision cutting on thin sheet metals and tubings, minimizing the time spent grinding and smoothing metal parts. In this handy buyer’s guide, discover the best plasma cutters under 500 bucks.

How does a plasma cutter work?

Matter has four phases: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma is a superheated form of gas and is easily seen in examples like lighting, neon signs, and, well, the sun itself. Plasma cutters harness this energy by charging air, mostly oxygen, from an air compressor at a high rate through a narrow opening with an electrode. This process heats the high-pressure air molecules until the atoms break apart, releasing massive amounts of energy in a plasma jet stream, reaching temperatures of 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which cuts the metal by melting. 

What to look for in a plasma cutter

The best plasma cutter under $500 won't compare with a $1000 unit's quality, per se. Still, there are various options available that comply with the minimum standard of performance and won't compromise your safety and quality. 

When buying a budget plasma cutter, it’s good to keep some basic features in mind. If you want more advanced and premium features, you'll want to up your budget a notch. Here are a few of the determining features that you should put into account.

  • Air Compressor

For plasma to form, the air has to come through the electrode in the cutter's narrow tip to allow the formation of a sufficient plasma jet stream. The air source could either be coming from a built-in or external air compressor. Both are sufficient in terms of performance but differ in convenience.

A built-in air compressor will be much easier to carry around since it is already installed within the unit and will enable you to perform a high-volume of jobs much more quickly. The external air compressor will require carrying around and repeat installation if you're transferring workstations consistently. Still, it can also be useful for other air tools, like air drills and air paint sprays.

  • Pilot Arc

A pilot arc is a convenient feature wherein the torch of the plasma cutter doesn't have to make contact with the surface of the metal to cut it. This feature is handy in greasy, rusty, or rough surfaces because a pilot arc removes the need to smoothen it. A pilot arc also prolongs consumables' life, saving you the costs and energy to replace them. Pilot arcs are a relatively new feature in the industry, so it is more common in higher price tier models.

  • Power

Most plasma cutters come in 110v or 220v power ratings. A heavier voltage is designed to release a greater output, which is great for thicker metals. A 220v plasma cutter can handle 30 amps and above and easily cut mild steel up to half an inch, while 120v machines typically reach up to 20 amps, quickly cutting thinner metals. However, this may still cut half-inch steel but at a slower, moderate pace.

Some plasma cutters come with dual voltages, ensuring versatility and flexibility in the machine's performance. The type of voltage you need ultimately becomes a question of what kind of cutting you'll be doing. If you’re dealing with sheet metals most of the time, a 110v cutter will do just fine. This will also save you some bucks.

Besides the metal thickness, you also have to take the type of metal into consideration. Metals such as copper and aluminum, for instance, eat up more power than ferrous metals such as steel or iron.

  • Cutting Performance

A plasma cutter's primary purpose is to cut through metal with effortless precision, so you want to go with a machine that has a decent to excellent cutting performance. Consider the type and thickness of the metals you'll be working on, and make sure that the cutter you're buying is more than capable of cutting it. 

  • Duty Cycle

Duty cycle refers to the amount of work a plasma cutter can endure at a given amount of time. Plasma cutters that have higher duty cycles can cut for more extended periods without overheating. This feature is usually measured in percent and will gradually decrease as you increase the voltage. You can maximize the duty cycle by pairing it with the most appropriate amperage. 

In general, a 50 percent duty cycle will be more than enough, significantly if you're cutting by hand. 

  • Weight

Nowadays, many plasma cutters are made with more and more lightweight materials, ranging from 20 pounds to the heavier weights of 100 pounds, usually applicable in industrial settings. For hobbyists and professionals needing an on-site tool, a light, portable plasma cutter would undoubtedly come in handy.

  • Cutting Torch

The length of the torch may be a severely limiting factor if you're going to be doing a lot of walking-around your workpiece. It takes a lot of effort to move your plasma cutter around to reach different areas of your workstation.  

  • Safety

While user diligence is always expected when operating a delicate machine like a plasma cutter, sometimes deep immersion in your work makes you forget some small details that could endanger your health. You have to consider the unit's duty cycle to know when the plasma cutter should have a rest period. Thankfully, most machines now have equipped safety features like built-in over-heat protection, under-voltage protection, and compressed air pressure protection.

  • Warranty

Having your plasma cutter break down 13 months into your purchase will be a significant deal-breaker if its warranty only lasts a year. Warranties are a great way to have your units repaired or replaced, but this feature varies with many companies. Ensure that the item's manufacturer has service centers nearby, so you don't have to travel too far to get your plasma cutter fixed. 

Read on to find out more and decide what’s the best first plasma cutter under 500:

  1. Super Deal CUT50

Super Deal is a company that constructs a wide variety of industrial products, from commercial ice shavers to towel warming cabinets. Their plasma cutters are just another product in their manufacturing line. Still, their machines pack some of the most recent innovations for such an economical price, a mark of the rapid globalization of plasma technology since its invention.

Quick specs:

  • Dual voltage capabilities
  • Post-flow cooling adjustment
  • Pilot start arc
  • Has an air regulator
  • 11-foot long torch
  • Can cut up to ½ inch steel
  • Weighs 24 pounds
  • Standard PT-31 LG-40 torch
  • Air pressure: 3.5 cfm @ 60 psi
  • 60 percent duty cycle
  • 1-year warranty

Overview

  • Power and Performance

The Super Deal Cut 50 is sufficient for hobbyists and professionals in light industrial applications. The included power supply is designed for 110v, allowing convenient use in your garage, but the inverter can also adjust to a 220v power plug. The voltage enables it to produce a 20-50 amperage current, allowing the torch to cut steel easily up to 1/2 of an inch. The torch is perfectly apt for slicing through thin materials, its smooth cut removing the need to polish and grind down messy metal slags. The post-flow cooling adjustment is another added feature that helps preserve your parts' working life during high amperage outputs.

  • Duty Cycle

The 60 percent duty cycle at max 50 amps is very respectable, designed to endure about 6 minutes of continuous work before it needs to cool down. Though 6 minutes seems a bit slow, you have to consider that the unit's portability and weight more than compensate for this limitation. 

  • Build

The Super Deal Cut 50 has a reasonably compact build, 18.5 x 11 x 13.5-inch in dimension. The machine's body is also made with heavy-duty iron, which essentially provides the interior parts with IP21 protection so that you can work efficiently without the worry of water getting into your air chambers. The front side also boasts a clear digital LCD with an easy-to-read front panel air-pressure gauge, so you can clearly see if you're tuned to the right settings.

  • Safety

As in any power tool, safety should always be a main factor. This unit, in particular, comes with adequate safety features such as protection from overheating, under-voltage, and lack of compressed air pressure. It also comes with a cooling fan to efficiently dissipate excess heat for improved performance and stability.

  • Pilot arc

The unit's pilot arc start means touching the workpiece won't be necessary to kick start the plasma jet, which also helps prolong the longevity of your consumables and allow you to begin your work faster. It also helps that the standard PT-31 LG40 torch uses easily replaceable consumables. The Super Deal comes with a long 11-foot torch hose that will allow you to work on your output from different angles.

  • Warranty

Your item is still eligible for replacement in cases of damage or missing parts a year into your purchase.

Disadvantages:

  • The user manual is not very well written.
  • Customer service needs improvement.

Price(From Amazon): $215.99

  1. Lotos LTP5000D 

Like most brands under $500, Lotos is popular because of their excellent cutting performance for such a low price. This low price is made possible by building the machine with lower-class materials than you would find in more expensive U.S. brands. That being said, machines under $500 are more tailored to weekend warriors or professional welders who need cheap and portable on-site tools.

Quick specs:

  • Non-touch pilot arc
  • 50-amp power output
  • Dual voltage capabilities
  • Weighs 26 pounds
  • MOSFET/IGBT transistors
  • 13-foot torch
  • Air pressure: 3.65 scfm at 65 PSI
  • It comes with an air regulator and moisture separator
  • PAPST cooling technology
  • 60 percent duty rating at full power
  • 1-year warranty service

Overview

  • Power and Performance

The Lotos LTP5000D also offers a dual voltage with either 110 or 220v power, although you'll need an additional pigtail if you want to opt for a 110v input, which is sufficient for light-duty work. Its cutting performance is greatly enhanced due to its V- MOSFET/IGBT transistors that generate high power outputs for thick metal cutting and a consistent result for thin metals. With a 10-50 amperage output, this unit offers excellent versatility in power output, especially for more delicate projects. The cutting performance is exceptional on this unit, cutting metals up to 3/4 of an inch when done at a slower, more moderate pace. For 1/2-inch thick metals, this plasma cutter will go through them like a hot knife to butter.

  • Duty Cycle

This unit has a 60 percent duty rating at its full 50 amp rating when it's running on a 220v input, allowing it to make a whole clean cut with ½-inch thick steel but still able to cut up to ⅝-inch steel at a moderate pace. The 60 percent duty rating is supported by German PAPST cooling technology, ensuring that the plasma cutter has a stable performance even while harnessing the maximum amperage output.

  • Build

The Lotos unit is very portable, with 15 x 6 x 12 inches in dimensions and 26 pounds in weight. This plasma cutter also has a plastic handle and is designed to be lugged around so you can cut anywhere you like. This machine can even fit snugly in the trunk of your car. You'll need an external air compressor to supply air to this unit as it doesn't have a built-in air source. For the price, you're getting a torch, pre-installed air filter regulator, NPT plug for the compressor, and complete consumables you can get up and cutting in an instant.

  • Safety

The PAPST cooling system is highly essential, especially for beginners, maintaining the unit's optimal temperature. This advanced cooling system provides the stability the internal parts need, so they don't overheat, preventing damage to the unit and injury to the user and preventing dust and dirt from collecting inside the machine. The moisture separator removes moisture from the air coming from the compressor, ensuring the electrodes' safety and effective heating of the air molecules for a better quality arc. You'll know if moisture has gotten inside when the jet plasma sputters and is not consistent.

  • Pilot arc

The non-touch pilot arc technology improves the cut's quality since you don't need the tip to make contact with the surface, prolonging your consumables' life. This feature is also great for making small changes to intricate work like metal sculptures since you can activate the plasma jet from a distance so you minimize any slag that may distort the artwork. 

  • Warranty

Your item is still eligible for replacement in cases of damage or missing parts a year into your purchase.

Disadvantages:

  • The positive ground system clamp is a bit lacking at only 6 feet.
  • It doesn't have an air test button, which could be useful when setting the air regulator.
  • It may be inconvenient for some to still have to purchase a 120v adapter.
  • Customer support is not very efficient.

Price(From Amazon): $418.25

  1. Eastwood Versa Cut20

The Eastwood brand has been around since the 70s, establishing a name for themselves in the DIY automotive community by offering reliable solutions for car customization. They also provide quality and innovative welding products with premium features providing excellent performance for a relatively economical price.

Quick specs:

  • Trafimet-like S25K torch
  • 110v input power
  • Cuts up to 1/8 inch steel plates
  • High-frequency start
  • 15 amps output
  • 40 percent duty cycle at 15 amps
  • Only three cfm at 30 psi air pressure
  • Weighs less than 20 pounds
  • 10-foot ground cable
  • 20-foot torch cable
  • Eastwood TrueBlue 3-year warranty

Overview

  • Power and Performance

The versa cut is perfect for handling thin sheet metals like automotive panels, rusted floors, and any other metals up to 1/8 of an inch thick. This cutting is supported by 110v, so you can usually plug it in electric outlets you'd find in everyday places. Eastwood is primarily an automobile restoration company, so you will find that the narrower 0.65 mm tip of this plasma cutter is well-designed for high precision drag cutting without the need to clean and prep the material, a convenient feature working on automobiles.

  • Duty Cycle

The unit comes with a 40 percent duty cycle at a maximum output of 15 amps. This means that in a 10-minute process, it can endure 4 minutes of continuous cutting before it needs to cool down.

  • Build

The Versa Cut 20 is built with a compact case measuring dimensions of 19.5 x 11 x 12.5 inches and a feather-weight of 17.31 pounds, making for convenient and easy carrying. The 20-foot cable provides more flexible operations and movement in the workstation, so you don't have to keep moving the unit around.

  • High-frequency arc 

This versatile power tool employs a high-frequency start that sends high-frequency signals to the nozzle, generating heat enough to kickstart the plasma jet stream. Remember that electronics should not be nearby while using this machine as the signal could damage them.

  • Warranty

Eastwood offers you security with its epic Trueblue no-hassle 3-year warranty, so you can cut no-frills without fretting about any unforeseen damage.

Disadvantages:

  • The high-frequency start may be inconvenient for operators working in environments with a lot of electronics

Price(From Amazon): $449,99

Conclusion

In any purchase, you almost always get what you pay for. Plasma cutters under 500 bucks are good enough if you’re not going beyond small repair and metal works. For a mere 500 dollars or below, you're getting almost 80 percent the performance at half the price of more premium models.

Best of the Best

Among the three best plasma cutters under $500, the Lotos LTP5000d takes the bag. Its outstanding portfolio of features, especially in the performance department, ultimately makes it the most versatile machine for both hobbyists and professionals in need of an on-site tool. The Lotos' V-Mosfet transistors give it a leading edge in both power and performance as it enables it to cut further to 3/8 inch steel, a capability that not many of its competitors possess. The PAPST cooling technology's advanced cooling systems also ensure a continuous workflow without your inner parts getting overheated. Combined with the non-touch pilot arc, these features make it an accessible and convenient work companion for serious projects.

Best Value

The Super Deal Cut 50 comes to a close second with the lowest price for the most features. For the starting welder, this cutter can provide all the essentials. It also has a pilot start arc which will be very handy on greasy or rusty surfaces. 

The Eastwood versa cut 20 is perfect for users who won't be working on steel plates thicker than 1/8 of an inch. It won't need much air pressure, which is very cost-effective, and it will be the perfect starting point for people interested in automotive detailing. Plus, you're getting a machine that's made from an established U.S. brand, so the consumables are much easier to replace.Looking for the best budget plasma cutter isn't too hard nowadays, with the rapid rise of various manufacturers competing to provide the best value for your working needs.

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