Laser engraver/cutter, which one to choose and why

Many of our users are interested in laser cutting/engraving machines. So, we want to shed some light on the differences between these two technologies.

There are two technologies by which the laser beam is produced: diode or CO2. Diode laser machines are compact and totally open and therefore they do not allow for smoke management. They are often provided in kit form, so there may be difficulties in assembling, missing items, and so on. Moreover, something very important that escapes many, the wavelength of the laser beam generated by the diodes does not allow for cutting plexiglas, but can be efficiently used for example for plywood.

Then, there is the CO2 lasers’ world. Machines using this technology are quite bulky compared to diode ones. The reason is mainly given by the fact that the laser beam is generated by a fairly large glass tube. These machines are much expensive than diode ones, but the price can vary.

To give an idea, the model on the right is priced around 350€. It has the ability to install a CorelDraw plug-in but the mechanics leave a lot to be desired: their linear guides look like they were salvaged from old aluminum windows, they do not have a height-adjustable table and, even worse, they have a support to hold the workpiece that dramatically reduces the work area. The fume extraction system has no provision for sealing so this makes both the fumes produced in cutting go to make the work environment unlivable and the laser beam tends to lose power on the way between the last lens and the workpiece. Summing up, in our opinion, by buying this machine a customer is throwing away money.

Conversely, the machine on the left has a price range between 1400€ and 1900€, depending on the time and availability in Europe. By buying this machine you are really buying a working machine. It has its own decent software that handles all the most common vector formats. It is not very intuitive, but gets the job done. This machine has a cutting table that adjusts in height. The vacuum, although not equipped with a filter module, works very well. There are some “flying” parts: an air compressor and a pump to cool the laser tube. For these it is somewhat up to your inventiveness to find an elegant way to arrange them. For the rest you are ready to work.

None of these machines come with after-sales support and not always they are covered by warranty. The quality of the last described machine is perfectly in line with the market price, in fact maybe even a little less. For any possible problem, you have to roll up your sleeves, figure it out and fix it yourself, perhaps with the help of a keen friend. To meet customer’s needs, there are some Italian companies (and we’ve been thinking about it, too) that import these machines and resell them under their own brand name, offering warranties and technical support. The price raises, but this increase can be justified by the after-sales service.