Most Laser cutters use stepper motors to move an X and Y axis to position mirrors that reflect laser light to a surface for the purposes of cutting. There are a few different varieties of cutters CO2 lasers and Fiber lasers are the most common. Due to the absorption spectrum of the different light produced these tend to have different properties. For example CO2 lasers cut glass but fiber laser light usually passes right through glass. This can be highly useful for vaporizing glue on the other side of some glass to replace a IPhone back cover, and the various speed of high end fiber laser cutters. CO2 lasers on the other hand can engrave glass, wood, plastic, leather, rubber, and any material that absorbs the particular IR spectrum produced.
Laser cutters allow to cut most sorts of material precisely and quickly. If cost is not objective, it's probably the first tool an educational fablab should buy. It can be used to create teaching tools and making classes for children and students. A laser cutter requires ventilation. And some materials like vinyl will cut, but should not be cut since it will produce toxic gas.
Mid-cost Laser cutters typically used in Fablabs can engrave materials such as plywood, mdf, wood, plexiglas or cardboard and cut out various shapes and sizes. Low-end laser cutters allow to engrave and cut thin materials like wood, leather, plexiglass (PMMA).
Update (nov/2019): In the last years, a number of very cheap laser engravers have appeared, e.g. modules that can be used with a CNC router or $150 desktop stand-alone models. Only use with glasses and other care ....
- Laser cutting category
- For the moment (12/2016), technical information about laser cutting is available in Trotec Speedy 100R
Laser cutters (unlike 3D printers) are fairly dangerous toys.
- Toxic fumes can make you sick (and worse). Vinyl should not be cut it produces toxic gases and corrodes the machine. PVC should not be cut, it releases the Chlorine gas.
- Laser beams (which are invisible) can make you blind or more likely burn your fingers. Broken laser tubes can be extremely dangerous. A very low number of people have been blinded by lasers, it may actually be zero people. But, most hobbyist on the low end have burnt themselves.
- Laser beams start fires. This is actually the biggest risk and requires that laser cut projects must be watched at all times. The addition of air assist and ventilation can reduce this risk, but it doesn't take long to burn things.
- You need a machine with safeguards and that includes the power system.
- An air filtering system. In a city environment you cannot just expel the fumes out of the window.
- If you work with an "unsafe" machine, you will have to buy special glasses that are tuned to the frequency of your laser (about 100 Euros). Not needed for a safer high-end model.
* Most low end machines actually cannot go through plastic or glass, so those glasses are more gimmicky than required. Also, most lasers would need to burn through your entire eye to access your retina since water absorbs them and thus would only mangle your cornea rather than blind you.
- Make sure that the material used for cutting/engraving is not extra toxic. E.g. strictly avoid anything that includes chlorine, e.g. PVC, ABS. Avoid inhaling fumes from composite wood, such as MDF.
There are regulations for laser beams in western countries and your machine should comply. E.g. see the German Unfallverhütungsvorschrift. I don't know whether private persons can ignore such regulations, but schools definitely cannot.
- Laser tubes must be replaced after 1000 - 10000 hours (depending on the make and model)
- Optics (mirror and lens) must be cleaned (e.g. use Isopropanol)
- If you use water cooling: Water must be clean and remain cool.
- The water must also be maintained for conductivity in that conductive water will corrode the machine and usually desalinated water is quite essential.
- If you use a air filtering system, change the filter that collects dust and also active carbon filters placed at the exit.
- Clean the machine from debris and sometimes worse, e.g. tar (use an oven cleaning product for that)
Opensource kits / do it yourself
- Co-financed through a Kickstarter project: Lasersaur: Open Source Laser Cutter (July 2010)
Quote: “The Lasersaur is an open source laser cutter. We designed it to fill the need of makers, artist and scientist who wanted a safe and highly-capable machine. Unlike others it comes fully loaded with knowledge to run, maintain, and modify.” (Lasersaur, 6/2014).
- Work in progress as of June 2014
- Is not a laser cutter but a board + software. It can be be used to onvert existing machine with a better (open source) driving board or for DYI projects.
- Buildlog.net 2.x Laser (11/2011)
Outdated list of small commercial laser cutters
This is a just a quick list made be someone who has no expertise. It also is probably outdated. As of 2016, expect prices to come down a lot in the near future, e.g. on Aliexpress one now can buy systems for a 1000 Euros. There are systems in the range of 2000-3000 that look like systems sold in Europe for over 20K. The cheapest engraver (a cute wooden DVI model) is $135.
European and American online retailers (e.g. Amazon) also start selling cheap lasers. E.g. on Amazon.fr they start at 2000 Euros. Search for "machine de découpe laser" for example. In German, search for "Laserschnitt", "Laser Schneidemachine", "Laser Graviermaschine". Buying from a local vendor will probably add 50% or 100% to the price tag, but (1) there won't be custom's problems and (2) if something goes wrong, negotiations could be easier.
When comparing prices consider the following (thanx to Wie ich mich für einen Laser entschieden habe.... by Matthias Melcher)
- Laser tubes must be replaced once in a while (cheap ones cost 500 Euros, good ones 3000 Euros and more). Cheap ones last a few hundred hours, excellent ones (e.g. Synrad) over 20'000 hours (that's many years). In other words, price differences are partly explained by the quality of the laser. The same is true for other parts (mirros, filters, etc.)
- Cutting/engraving most materials produce dangerous fumes, therefore you also must buy a system to manage the exhausts, i.e. either pump it outside or into a box with a filter. Some materials contain Chlorine (e.g. PVC) and that produces very corrosive fumes. You should not cut these, even with a good exhaust system since the acid will damage your machine.
- Most activities need cooling (air or water)
- The laser beam is invisible (but you can add some red dot)
- Cutting depth is limited, you can't cut deeper even with several passages because the laser is "conical".
- Lasers can burn (therefore don't leave it alone, and keep a fire extinguisher ready)
- A laser machine needs space, e.g. count exhaust system, cooler, etc.
- For many types of use you need extra materials, a cutting table with holes (honeycombed), a cooler (water pump), etc.
- Laser quality is fairly different, laser power is a relative measure of engraving/cutting strength.
- Cost / hour could be 20 Euros
In the hobby range, there are at least two types of lasers:
- C02 / glass. Good for leather, paper, acrylic (plexi glass) and plywood,
- yag and fiber (good for metal)
- Good software and support for various useful formats (such as SVG) can be mission critical. Software works with certain boards and vice-versa.
- There has been criticism of the MoshDraw software that is popular with many low cost Chinese brands.
Quality / origin: It seems that there are huge price and quality differences in the area of low cost / low power desk top laser cutters. E.g. laser cutters directly imported from China may cost half of Chinese models assembled in Europe, and the latter cost half of high-end American Models. E.g. seemingly similar machines can cost 4 times as much (or more):
- Direct imports for China: There are many models, e.g. BaiSheng, RedSail. Some of these can be adapted and certified by local companies.
- Western made/adapted from cheaper parts: Arketype, MLLog, FullSpectrum. (Often?), these models also provide their own software.
- Expensive parts, US or European made: Epilog, Trotec
Other lists of laser cutters
- A French Company
The entry model costs 2800 Euros
- 5030 Laser cutter
- Several variants
- Laser Power: 40W to 60W
- Footstand or none
- 300 x 500 mm cutting area
- 3300 to 3700 Euros
- AD Oracle IQ Exhaust system
- 2350 Euros
- Baisheng BaiSheng (Alibaba)
- Exklusiv laser (online shop) seems to have a German speaking countries distribution monopoly (also certifies with the German TüV)
- New (2014) entry model
- BS-6040 60W
- 600x400 mm
- Water cooling
- 100kg (incl. Transport box)
- 6.540,00 € sold by Innolaser, An Austrian company
- http://www.bodor.com/ sells the whole range of CO2 and Fiber laser cutters.
- Not so mini, i.e. 600*500mm for the BCL0605MU (or 500*300mm for the smaller model)
- Laser Power 40W/80W/100W
The FabLab in Sion (Valais, Switzerland) got one of these from a local reseller/R&D company for a relatively cheap price.
- Probably the most popular brand in FabLabs, good quality but fairly expensive compared to models made in Asia
- US made
- Epilog Zing 24
- Zing is the entry model
- 610 x 305 x 197mm work area
- 457 x 305 mm work area
- 30 - 40 watts of CO2 laser power
- 32 kgs
- 610 x 305 mm
- 30 - 60 watts of CO2 laser power
- 32 kgs
- Epilog Helix
- 610 x 457 mm work area.
- 30 to 60W CO2
- Epilog Fusion
- Fusion series is rather high end (in this class)
- 810mm x 500mm work area (Fusion32) and 1017mm x 711mm (Fusion40)
- Up to 120 Watt CO2
- Was also know as "Hurricane" (?), probably one of the best price/quality printers made in USA.
- Hobby Lasers
- Professional models start at about $5000
- 40W CO2
- 40W CO2
- New 2014 model
- Various options, e.g. a $1300 small air filter/purifier or a $2500 large one (needed for cutting acrylic)
- Chinese, available through many resellers
- Laser power :35W
- Driving system:stepper motor
- Engraving speed:0-64000mm/min
- Cutting speed:0-36000mm/min
- Working area:458mmx305mm
GlowForge is a comparatively cheap laser cutter made in USA. As of 2019 they also managed to lower the initially very hight shipping costs to Europe.
GloForge was one the biggest 30-day crowdfunding campaign in history. As of April 2019, there are several models.
- can cut most 1/4″ (6mm) plywood and acrylic on one side; twice as thick by reversing and cutting from both sides with optical alignment
- Custom Laser — Custom CO2 laser tube operating at 10,600 nm averages 40W for Basic Model and 45W for Pro Model
- Glowforge exterior (Pro, Plus, and Basic): 38″ x 20.75″ x 8.25″ (965mm x 527mm x 210mm)
- Air filter exterior: 38″ x 20.75″ x 7″ (965mm x 527mm x 178mm)
Work area (the actually cutting area is probably smaller)
Maximum material depth: 18" (455 mm) for Basic and Plus; unlimited for Pro Maximum material width: 20″ (515 mm) Cutting area: aprox. 11″ (279 mm) deep and 19.5″ (495 mm) wide Maximum material height: 2″ (50mm) Maximum material height with tray: 0.5″ (13mm)
Glowforge Pro - $5,995 + shipping
Glowforge Plus - $3,995 + shipping
Glowforge Basic - $2,495 + shipping
Air Filter Upgrade: ($995), sits directly under Glowforge and ventilates using fine particulate filters and charcoal, meaning no outside ventilation is required. Without, your Glowforge requires ventilation via a 4” diameter (10.2cm) hose through a window or dryer vent.
A similar machine as the Glowforge and cheaper.
HxLaser / Rabbit
- Hxlaser.com, Rabbit laser USA
- This Chinese company sells several models from mini to large. Systems sold in the US seem to have other model names...
- HX-3050 (Hxlaser.com)
- A mini engraver / acryl cutter
- 300 * 500mm engraving area
- 40/60W Laser
- 10mm cutting depth acrylic
A variant ( HX-3050SC type ) comes with a stand.
- QX-30-5030 (Rabbit Laser USA
- Laser power: 30W
- 500 x 300 mm engraving area
- $4,800 plus shipping etc.
- QX-40-7040 Laser Engraving/Cutting Laser
- Laser power: 40W or 60W
- 700 x 400 mm engraving area
- $6600 - $7100 + shipping
K40 are low end Chinese laser cutters. These often differ by producers. Prior to 2015 it was common that these devices would have the typical popular board at the time, which was Moshiboard. Since then it has become more commonplace that these devices have a Lhystudios M2 Nano Controller board in them, others will often contain a Ruida controller.
These controller boards radically shift the supported software and the interfacing with the computer and designs they use. Moshiboards for example required Moshidraw, and M2 Nanos used LaserDrw, Ruida devices can use RDWorks. The criticisms of these software packages and their uses of security dongles cause a variety of issues. The K40s themselves refer to a the sort of box and laser these often greatly with little standardization. They are often also delivered broken and require fixing and often get modded with things like air assist, adjustable height beds, more supportive beds, better mirrors, and often newer Grbl supportive hardware.
- Lhystudios M2 Nano Controller board: LaserDrw, requires dongle
- Moshiboard Controller board: Runs Moshidraw, requires dongle
- Ruida Controller: Runs RDWorks, works pretty well.
Some reverse engineering projects have lead to a lot open source support. M2 Nanos come standardly (May 2020) at least 3 projects support these devices. K40 Whisperer produced by Scorch was the first and still most popular. Visicut supported the M2 Nano as well. MeerK40t (full disclosure my (Tatarize) current project) supports the controller card as well. Many of these projects also require replacing the Windows CH341 Driver with a libusb version, except for MeerK40t which can run natively. A little work has been done to reverse engineer Moshiboard.
Most often hobbyists opt to replace the controller board for a Grbl supportive device and run Lightburn software which is proprietary and costs about $80 (5/2020).
- Kern Laser Systems
- US-based manufacturer
This is probably a fairly expensive line
- As of July 2014, comes in two versions: Micro24 and Micro48 (24 vs. 48 inches length)
- Zone: 609 x 609mm / 1219 x 609mm
- 227 to 363 kgs.
- Laser sources: 30 to 400W (i.e. can cut metals, if > 100W)
The Laserbox from MakeBlock is a Gloforge-like product. Cheap and easy to use:
- Laserbox (2020)
- CO₂ laser 40W
- 500 × 300 mm working area
- 15mm max. cutting depth
- File formats: JPG, PNG, BMP, TIF, DXF, SVG, CR2, and etc.
- Can detect materials
Price: ~ EUR 5500
An optional filter is available and included in the "Pro" version
- Mllaser and blog
- MLLaser is a french company that integrates parts mostly made elsewhere (most parts are probably from China)
- Price tags seem to be low compared to others assembled in Europe
- Highest end of their low cost/perfomance model
- Zone: 200 x 300 mm
- Price 3300 Euros
- Formats: AI,BMP, PLT,DXF, JPEG, GIF; DWG
China made Redsail lasers are fairly cheap compared to other brands and available through local resellers.
- Redsail (Redsail Laser Cutters Australian site)
- M500 in Switzerland: M500CH for CH 6.950.- includes cooling, exhaustion system, laptop.
- M500 Mini Laser Engraver
- 500 * 300mm
- Co2 Laser power: 50W
- 85 kg
- X700 Laser Engraver
- $4000 (direct import from China, including shipping)
- Engraver and acrylic/leather cutter
- M900 Laser Cutting 80W
- 900mm x 600mm
- CO2 laser 80W
- Resolution: 2500 DPI
- Location precision: 0.01mm
- PC Interface: USB2.0 and USB Disk
- Software: Lasermate 5.02
- Image form: HPGL, BMP, GIF, JPG, JPEG, DXF, DST, AI
- 180 kg (!)
Trotec / Rayjet
- A multi-national company, originally from Austria
- Trotec machines are better made than comparable Rayjet machines, but also cost more.
- Rayjet 50
- Can cut leather/paper/acrylic, and engrave metals, glass, stone, etc.
- Dimensions: 726 x 412 x 680 mm / ca. 45 kg
- Engraving Area: 457 x 305 mm, max high = 145 mm
- Laser Power: 12 to 50 watts
- Engraving Speed: 60”/sec
- 45 kg
An additional Atmos exhaust system that doubles as machine base is available.
The Speedy models come in various configurations (in particular laser type and laser power)
- Trotec Speedy 100R / fiber / flex
- Compact Laser in three variants: Co2, fiber or combined (flex)
- 610 mm x 305 mm
- Laser power(s): 40-60W CO2 laser, 10-30W fiber laser
- The CO2 laser is suited for engraving and cutting plastics, wood, rubber, leather and many other materials. The fiber laser is for marking metals and plastics.
- We acquired a second hand Trotec Speedy 100R on oct. 2016 - Daniel K. Schneider (talk) 16:19, 23 September 2016 (CEST)
- Trotec Speedy 300 / fiber / flex
- Mid-sized, in three variants (as above)
- Laser power(s): 25-80W CO2 laser, 10-50W fiber laser
- This machine has a good reputation for serious and continous work.
- Pricing: between $20K and $30K in the US, probably add 50% in Europe
- Other models
- See Product Overview
- A UK company
- 100 watts RECI CO2 Laser Tube 8000 working hours
- About 10'000 Euros
- LaserReady LR 1208
- 30 Watt CO2 laser.
- Zone 12 x 8
- LaserReady LR 1612
- 40W CO2 Laser.
- 16 x12 zone.
- Jamieson Laser
- A US based company importing Chinese made laser machines
- Affordable compared to other US sellers
- Cheapest model starting at $3,790
- 609 x 406 mm work area
- 45 watts of CO2 laser power
- 80 kgs
Also called "air extraction system"
If you cannot expel all fumes to the outside safely (think of other people in the same building), then you also need an air filter. These do not come cheap in Europe. However, chinese (cheap) models start at 1000, e.g. from Waterun, e.g. the F3000D model. I have no idea how well these work and what their consumption of filters are.
Online laser cutting services
Instead of buying a laser, you could also use an online service or maybe a local shop
- Laser cutting service. The company also provides Illustrator, CorelDraw and Inkscape templates
- Laser cutting and engraving service.
- Laser Cutting and engraving service.
- Laser cutting and envgraving
- Laser cutting and engraving (provided by a known 3D printing service) Several file formats are accepted, but SVG is preferred. Cutting vs. engraving is done with color coding.
- A Guide to Buying Your First Laser Cutter (Make mag., 2015). Not really interesting ...
- Experiences with cheap laser cuttes
- Using makes and models
- Software tools
- instructables.com includes quite a few laser cutting examples and tips. E.g. search for Laser cutter
- Various articles
- Woodcut Data Visualization, By Victor Powell, 2014.
- Engraver's Forum at SawmillCreek.org
- CNCZone Forums
- Usinages (en français)
- Laser-engravers (auf Deutsch)
- CNCKing.com (sells some e-books plus CNC project files/plans)
- Student activities
- Innovation Projects at EPFZ (a yearly challenge for engineering)