Plasma cutters are incredibly effective at cutting through various metals and alloys. These tools use inert gas blown from a triggered nozzle to create an electric arc that reaches extremely hot temperatures.
Years ago, plasma cutters were too expensive for the typical hobbyist. You mostly found plasma torches in professional welding shops.
Thanks to innovative technologies, you now have the option of adding a plasma cutter to your garage or workshop without breaking your bank account.
If you need to quickly cut through conductive metal, here are the best plasma cutters under $500 and tips for selecting the right one for your next project.
Top 5 Plasma Cutters Under $500 in March, 2020
Lotos LTP5000D Arc Plasma Cutter – Best Overall Plasma Cutter
Design and Main Features
The LTP5000D is a dual voltage plasma cutter, allowing you to power it from a 110V or 220V AC outlet. It comes housed in a compact case with a carrying handle. At just 19.4 pounds, it is one of the lighter plasma cutters in this price range.
As with all the torches in this round-up, the LTP5000D offers up to 50 amps of power. It cuts efficiently and effortless through most types of metal and alloy.
The output is 10A to 50A DC, with a 1/2-inch ideal clean cut and 3/4-inch maximum sever cut at 50 amps. At 35 amps, it can provide clean cuts in metals up to 1/3-inch thick.
This unit has a pilot arc, allowing you to cut without touching the nozzle to the metal surface. This may help the consumables last longer, which is useful due to the compatibility of the parts.
Lotos plasma cutters are only compatible with Lotos replacement parts, preventing you from buying budget nozzles and rings.
SUPER DEAL DC Inverter Plasma Cutter Welding Machine – Best Budget Plasma Cutter
As the name of the company suggests, this DC Inverter Plasma Cutter provides a Super Deal. It is one of the more affordable options and still capable of cutting 1/2-inch sheet metal.
Design and Main Features
The Super Deal Plasma Cutter comes with everything needed to start cutting. You get a power cord and consumables. However, the consumables may not last very long, which is expected from accessories packaged with budget machines.
It is a 50-amp machine with dual voltage, allowing operation from either type of electrical outlet. It also includes many safety features, such as over-heat, over-voltage, and under-voltage protection.
The device performs as expected for a budget option, cutting through thinner materials with ease, but struggling with thicker, tougher metals. You may need to connect the torch to a 220V outlet to cut through steel.
The simple layout of the controls makes it easy to operate. It also includes a digital LCD display, instead of an analog air pressure gauge.
Lotos CT520D – Best Combo Plasma Cutter and Welding Machine
The CT520D from Lotos is a 3-in-1 unit, capable of TIG welding, stick welding, and plasma cutting. Due to the versatile function of the machine, it weighs a little more compared to some options.
Design and Main Features
The combo unit is housed in a relatively large case and weighs more compared to most choices in the same price range. It weighs about 38.5 pounds, but includes a carrying handle.
Setting up the plasma cutter does not take long. It includes a pre-installed NPT 1/4-inch D plug and air filter regulator. Within a minute, you can connect an air compressor and start cutting through metal or welding.
The device cuts through 1/2-inch thick copper, aluminum, stainless steel, and alloy steel without any difficulty. It uses a high-frequency start to help increase the life of the consumables.
As with all the options reviewed, it has a 60% duty cycle at 50 amps. However, it also has an amperage dial that allows you to increase the power to 200 amps when welding.
One of the potential drawbacks is the durability of the internal components. Some users report that the machine breaks down when pushed to its limits. To avoid this problem, try not to exceed 30 to 36 minutes of use every hour.
Goplus CUT-50 Electric Digital Plasma Cutter – Compact Product for Portable Use
The CUT-50 Electric Digital Plasma Cutter is another affordable option. It is designed for portability, with a slim case and carrying handle. Thanks to the built-in inverter, it is also lightweight.
Design and Main Features
This unit weighs just 22 pounds, due to the built-in inverter. It is also a dual voltage plasma cutter, designed to operate at 110V or 220V AC.
The device comes with several features for use in extreme environments. It includes vents, air filters, and other safety features to allow operation in temperatures between 14-degrees and 104-degrees Fahrenheit. It can also withstand high moisture levels, with a max humidity of 80%.
The built-in inverter reduces the size of the machine and increases its efficiency. It runs smoothly and quietly compared to other plasma cutters under $500. You can cut through most metals without too much trouble when operating at 220V AC.
If you connect it to a 110V AC power source, you get a maximum of 20A of power. With less power, this torch will struggle with thicker metals, such as alloy steel.
PrimeWeld CT520D 50-Amps Plasma Cutter – Perfect for Beginners
The PrimeWeld CT520D is another combo unit, featuring the ability to perform TIG, stick, and arc welds. It is also one of the few options in this price range with a contact start instead of a high-frequency start.
Design and Main Features
As with the Lotos CT520D, this option from PrimeWeld lets you perform multiple welding operations from a single device. It comes housed in a compact case with a carrying handle and multiple vents to prevent overheating. It weighs a little over 35 pounds, which is a little inconvenient to carry, but not too cumbersome.
The controls include a digital display for the current meter and an analog pressure gauge. To switch between operating modes, you simply flip the switch on the front of the device.
It also comes with all the consumables you need to start welding or cutting. You just need to supply the air compressor and power source. It is another dual voltage option, allowing you to use 110V or 220V power.
Before using the plasma cutter, you can set the amperage and gas using the potentiometers on the front of the unit. It offers a 60% duty cycle at 50 amps when powered through a 220V outlet. When using it in plasma cutting mode, it can perform clean cuts on metal up to 1/2-inch thick.
Instead of the high-frequency start, this unit includes a contact start. You need to touch the tip of the nozzle to the metal surface to start cutting, which tends to increase the accuracy of the cut, but limits the life of the consumables.
Best Budget Plasma Cutter – Buyer’s Guide
While plasma cutters have become more affordable in recent years, you may still spend several hundred dollars on one of these tools. Before spending your hard-earned money, ensure that you are getting the best product.
Plasma cutters come with a wide variety of features to compare:
- Duty cycle
- Input power
- Cutting quality
- Air supply
- Compatible consumables
- Size and portability
- Control panel and ease of use
Here is a closer look at each of these features.
The duty cycle is an essential detail to consider. It is expressed as a percentage of the total amount of time in an hour that you can safely operate the cutter. A lower percentage limits the cutting period, while a higher percentage allows you to continue cutting for a longer period of time.
For manual cutting, you typically want a plasma torch with at least a 50% duty cycle. Luckily, all five of the cutters discussed above feature a 60% duty cycle at 50 amps.
With a 60% duty cycle, you can operate the torch for 36 minutes every hour without the machine overheating. If you decrease the power, you increase the duty cycle.
Input power determines the electrical source needed to drive the machine. Almost every mid-range plasma cutter requires 110V or 220V AC power. Many options also offer dual voltage, allowing you to power the machine from either type of outlet.
110V AC is the standard electrical outlet found throughout your home. 220V outlets are primarily used for major home appliances, such as furnaces, washers, dryers, and ovens.
With 110V AC, you get less amperage. Most of the options reviewed include dual voltage and offer 10 to 50 amps, depending on the type of outlet.
Plugging the unit into a standard outlet provides 10 amps. To get the full 50 amps, you need to connect the plasma cutter to a 220V outlet.
The amperage rating determines the thickness of the metal that you can cut with a plasma cutter. If you need to cut a 1/4-inch thick material, you typically need at least 25 amps. For metal measuring up to a 1/2-inch thick, 40 to 50 amps should suffice.
Most home plasma cutters offer 50 amps when connected to a 220V AC outlet. If you need to cut through thicker material, the tool cuts slower and provides less accuracy.
For material measuring 1-inch or thicker, the budget options discussed may not offer enough power. You may need a machine that can offer at least 80 amps of power.
Besides plasma cutting, you can use some of the cutters reviewed for TIG, stick, or arc welding. While these options typically offer 50 amps for plasma cutting, welding requires more power.
The combo units should offer variable amperage with a range between 10 and 200 amps.
Plasma cutters either come with a contact start or a high-frequency start. The contact (nonpilot arc) start requires contact with the material that you intend to cut. You touch the tip of the torch to the metal to begin cutting.
With a high-frequency (pilot arc) start, you do not need to touch the metal surface to start the cutter. Both options provide their own advantages and disadvantages.
The nonpilot arc tends to wear out the consumables faster. However, it also provides a visible arc when you start cutting, making it easier to position the tip of the torch with greater accuracy.
Almost all the options reviewed feature a high-frequency start. The PrimeWeld CT520D and the Lotos CT520D are the only two budget choices in this roundup with a nonpilot arc.
Most manufacturers express the cutting quality as the maximum thickness of a clean cut. The standard thickness for plasma cutters under $500 is a 1/2-inch, found on each of the models reviewed above.
You may also notice the maximum severance thickness, which is typically 3/4-inch. When cutting thicker materials, plasma cutters tend to cut at slower speeds and may not offer as much accuracy.
Plasma cutters require a cutting gas to produce the hot arc that comes from the tip of the torch. Almost all the portable plasma cutters use compressed air.
These machines typically require an air compressor. A standard pancake-style or hotdog-style air compressor should work for any of the plasma cutters discussed.
Some models list the recommended CFM and PSI of the air compressor while others do not. For most units, you need at least 2 to 3 CFM with a pressure of at least 60 PSI. However, the torch may cut more efficiently with 100 PSI.
Compared to compressed air, nitrogen is less expensive and produces less oxidation. With less oxidation, consumables and other components may last longer.
Plasma cutters require several attachments for the nozzle and controlling the flow of plasma through the nozzle. These consumable parts include the nozzle, retaining cup, electrode, shield, and swirl ring.
Some units come with consumables to get you started while others require you to purchase them separately. When buying replacement consumables, you need to ensure that the parts are compatible with your plasma cutter.
Size and Portability
The size and portability may not matter if you plan on setting up your plasma cutter in your home workshop or garage. If you intend to take your machine to remote sites, it helps to have something that is easy to transport.
Most of the budget options weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. You may also need to transport an air compressor, unless the unit comes equipped with a built-in air compressor. Unfortunately, those machines tend to cost more than $500.
One feature that helps decrease the overall weight of the machine is an inverter. Older machines typically include a transformer for converting AC power to DC power for the output.
An inverter takes DC power and converts it to AC. It feeds the power through a high-frequency transistor, allowing for a high-frequency (pilot arc) start and reducing the overall size of the internal components.
Plasma cutters with built-in inverters are often lighter and smaller, making them easier to carry. Other useful features include shoulder straps or carrying handles.
Control Panel and Ease of Use
Most of these devices include an air pressure gauge, voltage dial, start button, and connections for the hoses. Several options also have digital displays, air delays, and switches for adjusting the operating mode.
Plasma cutters are versatile and suitable for cutting through a wide range of materials, including rusted or dirty metal.
If you need a torch that can perform multiple functions, such as TIG welding, stick welding, and arc welding, the PrimeWeld CT520D and Lotos CT520D are your top choices. For portability, the SUPER DEAL DC Inverter Cutter and Goplus CUT-50 Cutter should meet your needs.
To get the best overall performance and stability, the Lotos LTP5000D stands out as a recommended option. It efficiently cuts through a variety of materials with a 3/4-inch maximum severance cut.
When choosing a new plasma torch for your home workshop, remember to compare features and think about the types of projects you plan to complete.