What is the thickness of the material you will be cutting? Start with the thickness of the materials that you will be cutting most often. A good general rule is to choose a plasma cutter capable of cutting twice your normal cutting thickness. It may seem like you are buying more than you need, but it will provide you with the capability to cut thicker material when needed, and provide you with high quality, high precision cuts.
Does the cut quality meet or exceed your application? The quality of the cut on the finished piece ultimately effects the quality of the part as well as the time spent in secondary operations on clean-up. Modern precision plasma systems create a tight focused arc providing a clean, smooth and straight cut with a narrow kerf, as close to laser quality cut metals as possible.
What are the consumable costs? The manufacturer should readily provide you with details for consumable life. It is important to find a plasma cutter that makes consumables last as long as possible. Always purchase the recommended consumables for your machine. Cheaper consumables will not last as long nor will they provide high quality cuts.
What is the reliability of the machine? The best plasma cutters are designed and built to exacting machine tool quality standards. They are built to be strong, heavy duty and durable. A plasma cutter with a fully welded cutting table is capable of handling heavy plate loads (2' and more) and will withstand rigorous daily usage without any loss of accuracy or quality.
Is it easy to use? For a plasma cutter to provide long-term value, it must be easy to set up and use. Look for one that is simple to learn and operate and which comes loaded with time-saving features such as a large shapes library, import of AutoCad files with nesting possibilities, kerf-on-the-fly adjustment, and auto-gas console integration. A machine that is easy to use and which incorporates cost-saving features will increase your productivity and your bottom line.
How much should you expect to spend? An investment in a CNC plasma cutter must be one that makes sense today and for years to come. A machine that cuts your parts right the first time and without the need for multiple secondary operations will provide a faster return on investment as well as improve productivity. By choosing a high quality plasma system based on it's intended use, features and capabilities, you will buy a machine that may not be the cheapest or least expensive. If you buy cheap, you will buy your plasma cutter more than once.
You get what you pay for. Be willing to pay for a quality CNC plasma cutter that will make, not cost, you money. Buying quality is never a mistake.