Every cutting process has particular benefits and shortcomings that you should take into account before deciding on a cutting method. Also keep in mind that a combination of processes may be best for a particular application.

Cutting processWaterjetLaserPlasmaOxyfuelOther mechanical tools
(saw,  shears,  etc.)
Conventional plasmaHigh performance plasma
Materials Range of materials Metal, wood, plastics, foam, materials Most electrically conductive metals Most electrically conductive metals Carbon steel Metal, wood, plastic
Thickness Range of thicknesses Historically used on thinner materials but can cut up to 32 mm (1-1/4”)

Up to 75 mm (3”) handheld

Up to 32 mm (1-1/4”) mechanized pierce

Up to 75 mm (3”) (mild steel)

Up to 150 mm (6”) (stainless steel)

Range of thicknesses Typically up to 25 mm (1”)
Cut quality Excellent quality with high tolerances Excellent quality with high tolerances  Good quality, may require some secondary operations Very good quality, virtually dross free Ranges from poor to very good quality depending on the operator’s skill  Very good quality if operator is skilled and using low cutting speeds
Productivity Low to high, depending on material High productivity on thinner materials Medium Medium to high, depending on material thickness Low, though can be improved by running multiple  torches simultaneously Low
Speed Low to high, depending on material High cut speeds for thinner materials, low cut speeds for thicker material Medium High cut speeds Slow cut speeds, multiple torches can help increase productivity Slow cut speeds
Secondary operations     Grinding sometimes needed Occasional dross removal needed Grinding and surface oxidation removal almost always needed Filing or grinding almost always needed
Operating cost $$$

$$$

(Higher cost for CO2 lasers)

$ $ $$ $$$$
Capital equipment cost $$$ $$$$ $ $$$ $ $ - $$$$
Portable No No Yes (air plasma systems only) No Yes Yes
Heat affected zone None Yes Yes Yes Yes Possibly