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What is the best laser cutter for me to get?

by (6.9k points)
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2 Answers

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This is obviously a completely open-ended question.  The intention is to provide a place to share some tips for selecting the best laser cutter for your individual needs.

Some things you should ask yourself when selecting a laser cutting machine are:

  • What materials do I (will I) want to cut?
    • For the most part, if you are not trying to engrave and cut metal, a standard CO2 laser or maybe even a diode laser will work for you.  If you need to cut metal, look at a fiber or yag laser.
  • What build area do I need?
    • Think about what the largest item you ever see yourself engraving will be.  More than likely you will still want to go bigger at some point, but when buying a machine you need to optimize for the biggest jobs you will do with some regularity.  In other words, I wouldn't worry about doing 4'x8' sheets of plywood right now, but if you think you'd be doing something like front door welcome mats fairly often, make sure you cover that.
  • How thick do I need to be able to cut?
    • The power of the laser will determine how thick of a material you can cut.  As one example, my 60W laser can cut 1/4" wood well in one pass, but probably not 1/2".  The 40W lasers are probably limited to 1/8" without multiple passes.
  • What is my budget?
    • Everyone has a budget.  The more you're willing to spend the bigger, more powerful, and more user friendly the machine.  You can make tradeoffs, for example, by choosing an imported machine (less user friendly, more upgrades and repairs needed) for less cost with larger power and area.
  • Do I need support? Or am I willing to tinker and do upgrades and repairs myself?
    • With the cheap, imported lasers you will almost certainly be replacing the tube and power supply within a year.  These upgrades, while not especially difficult, can be overwhelming for someone without some technical know-how in mechanics and electricity.
I hope that helps to get people started.  For the experienced folks out there, please leave a comment if you think of anything I could add to this list.
by (6.9k points)
+1 vote

First off some facts:
For what you want a small diode laser won't do it unless you want to spend an arm and a leg on a high power module.
CO2 lasers are the next best thing and quite affordable.
You can cut wood but 0.5" is over what you would usually do on a hobby level laser system.
Most people work with 3-6mm arcrylic or wood.
Reason is simple: The laser beam won't be a thin line, it forms a cone.
Cheap china models can do what is asked of them but most will require a new controller to fully utilise them.
If you go a bit bigger, in the 50W range you can find machine with a working area of around 40x50cm, some even bigger.
But for those you need to invest far over 2000$ just for the basics.

As for safety:
As long as the machine is closed you won't have to worry about the laser light.
But the fumes need to be handled properly.
Only way to do this is with strong exhaust fans to the outside, if you want to do the right thing for neighbours and nature with some filters.

If have a big router or milling machine already you can "upgrade" most models with a strong diode laser, at least for fabric, foam and thin wood it would work.
Downside is the need for an enclosure with proper exhaust ventilation.

- Tracy Roman


by (160 points)
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