May 22, 2018

2018 Laser Cutter Guide – All About Laser Cutting

Looking for a desktop laser cutter machine for home use? Read our 2018 laser cutter guide to learn about the best laser cutters, laser cutting services, techniques, and technologies plus an introduction to laser cutting and laser cutter types.

If you were to venture into any maker space in the world today, chances are you would find at least one 3D printer extruding away. But 3D printing isn’t the only manufacturing technology found within these innovative Fablabs. Once seen as a strictly industrial technology, laser cutting is increasingly used by small businesses, product designers, makers, and even hobbyists.

In some cases, a laser cutter might prove to be the most advantageous manufacturing technology for your specific application.

Here’s everything you need to know about home and desktop laser cutters before pulling out your wallet.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Best Home & Desktop Laser Cutters

As laser cutting becomes more accessible and affordable, we’ve seen a major shift in the consumer market. What was once a tool strictly for industrial purposes, you can now find laser cutters in schools, maker spaces, small businesses, and even homes. Here are a few of the most popular desktop laser cutter manufacturers on the market.

Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #1:  Orion Motor Tech

If you’re looking for a high quality laser cutting machine that can fit on your desktop, look no further than the Orion Motor Tech laser cutter. This compact machine offers an engraving/cutting area of 300 x 500mm. This laser cutting machine has a resolution ratio of 0.001 in 0.026mm/4500DPI, and operates at a maximum speed of 500mm/s while engraving and 80mm/s when cutting.

What set the Orion laser cutter apart from others is the user-friendliness and low price of around $400. The Orion laser engraver operates with a 50W water cooling laser tube and high-precision stepping motor. You can utilize a variety of materials, including plastic, leather, stone, crystal, and more. However, beware, if you decide to buy the Orion laser cutting machine, there are other components you will likely need alongside it. This includes a CO2 laser engraver, smoke pipe, smoke fan, water pump, power wire, USB cable, and USB dongle key.

Orion also offers a 40W CO2 laser cutter at a reduced price. You can check that out here.

Orion Motor Tech

The Orion Motor Tech laser cutter is a compact machine that offers an engraving/cutting area of 300 x 500mm, a resolution ratio of 0.001 in 0.026mm/4500DPI, runs at a maximum speed of 500mm/s while engraving and 80mm/s when cutting.

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Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #2: Makeblock LaserBot

Makeblock’s LaserBot is a desktop laser engraver developed on an open-source platform. This minimalistic home laser cutting machine is equipped with 1.6W 445nm high-power solid-state lasers. This is ideal for the tinkerer looking for a cheap laser cutting machine than can be fully adaptable.

The LaserBot includes a simple H-shaped structure made from high-precision anodized aluminum alloy. It is also Arduino compatible and can engrave up to 0.1mm. This laser cutting kit allows you to build up your machine, offering a first-hand look at the laser cutting process. Priced at around $200, this laser cutting kit is a bargain for makers with a fair amount of time on their hands.

Makeblock DIY LaserBot

Makeblock's LaserBot Kit is an open-source desktop laser engraver equipped with 1.6W 445nm high-power solid-state lasers. It includes a simple H-shaped structure made from high-precision anodized aluminum alloy. It is also Arduino compatible and can engrave up to 0.1mm.

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Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #3: CNC Shop

This desktop laser cutter from CNCShop is for someone looking for a larger machine that isn’t afraid to pay a pretty penny for quality. This laser engraver and cutter is powered by a 130W CO2 sealed tube, and also comes with a USB interface. You can use a variety of materials with this laser cutter, including wood, leather, rubber, bamboo, plexiglass, marble, and more.

The CNCShop laser cutting machine has a maximum cutting size of 1400 x 900mm and a max speed of 1,000mm/s. While sizable, the laser cutting machine offers a position accuracy of 0.01mm. Additional parts can be added to modify the machine, such as red dot function, up-down worktable, autofocus, and more. However, this 400kg laser cutting machine will require a lot of space to operate, and therefore is best suited for a small business or ambitiously sized workshop. You can purchase the CNC Shop laser cutter for around $3,000.

CNCShop Laser Engraving Machine

The CNCShop laser engraver and cutter is powered by a 130W CO2 sealed tube, has a maximum cutting size of 1400 x 900mm and a max speed of 1,000mm/s. It's compatible with a wide range of materials, including wood, leather, rubber, bamboo, plexiglass, marble and more.

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Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #4: Epilog Zing

Epilog has a vast product line consisting of different size laser cutters, from desktop to industrial. You can start off with their Zing Laser Series, which is their entry level desktop laser cutter range. The Zing 16 and Zing 24 are both considered low-cost and high-quality machines. The 16 is estimated to cost just under $8000. Find out more information on their massive range of laser cutter on the Epilog website.

Epilog Laser Zing

Epilog has a vast range of laser cutting machines, but the Zing Laser Series offers some ideal options for beginners or makers on a budget. The product line consists of the Epilog Zing 16 Laser and Epilog Zing 24 Laser, both of which are designed for the office or home.

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Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #5: Full Spectrum

Recognized as one of the most affordable laser cutting manufacturers, Full Spectrum can put a capable machine in your home or office for under $5,000. Hobbyists and makers would be intrigued by their Muse Laser Cutter (starting at $5,000) and Hobby Series Laser Cutter (starting at $3,500). Find out more information on their low-cost laser cutting machines on the Full Spectrum website.

Full Spectrum's Hobby Series laser cutter offers a 40 & 45 Watt C02 Laser Tube and a 20" x 12" Cutting Area, and is priced starting at $3,499. The company has a wide range of laser cutters, but the Hobby Series is designed to be an affordable option for home and office users.

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Home/Desktop Laser Cutter #6: Chinese Imports

If you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind owning a product without a name brand, you might want to look into importing a desktop laser cutter from China. A quick search on eBay or Alibaba will net you a wide range of imported product. While you can probably find yourself a home laser cutting machine from China for less than $500, it’s definitely worth shelling out at least $1000 to ensure that you’re receiving an adequate machine. These are ideal for tech-savvy users who don’t mind upgrading and modding the night away. While the bundled software leaves much to be desired, the low price point makes it hard not to consider the option of importing from China.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide How Does a Laser Cutter Work?

Unlike 3D printing, laser cutters create designs and patterns by cutting into materials instead of building them up layer-by-layer. This subtractive manufacturing technology uses a powerful laser beam source to melt, burn, or vaporize material away. A desktop laser cutter typically follows directions from computer numerical control (CNC) or G-code.

The process starts with an extremely small laser beam that is emitted from a tube when a current passes through. This current causes the laser to reflect off a partial mirror and point through a focal lens in the machine head. Following the vector file that holds the 2D design, the laser beam cuts away at a material until the image is completed. These laser cutting machines are highly capable of creating finely detailed patterns with a high-quality surface finish. There is a wide range of laser cutting techniques and compatible materials that you can use.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Laser Cutter Types

Laser Cutter Type #1: CO2 Laser

CO2 powered laser cutters are the most commonly used of the three.With low power usage, relatively inexpensive price, and high efficiency, this laser cutting technology is the most ideal for consumers and maker spaces. The laser source is generated from a gas mixture that is primarily comprised of carbon dioxide. Also, CO2 lasers are also compatible with the widest range of materials.

Laser Cutter Type #2: Neodymium

Created with neodymium-doped crystals, this laser has a much smaller wavelength and higher intensity compared to CO2 lasers. This enables laser cutting through thicker and stronger materials, including metals and some ceramics. The downside to this type of laser is that machine parts wear down very quickly, requiring a higher degree of maintenance.

Laser Cutter Type #3: Fiber Laser

Created from a so-called “seed laser” and amplified through special glass fibers. This laser source has a high intensity that rivals Neodymium but is easier to maintain due to the way they’re built. Fiber-based laser cutters are mostly used for laser marking processes, which entails marking or labeling workpieces with information.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Laser Cutter Techniques

Laser Cutter Technique #1: Vector Cutting

With vector cutting, the laser beam is continuously fired, cutting directly through the material. This technique is solely used for vector graphics and extremely small lines.

Laser Cutter Technique #2: Raster Engraving

Contrary to vector cutting, the rastering process burns off only the top layer of the material instead of cutting all the way through it. The design is engraved in a different color, integrating the image within the selected material. To do this, the laser is usually preset to a lower power level. Instead of a high-powered pulsing beam, the laser cutter unfurls finely detailed dots to produce the design without cutting through the material. By managing different dots per inch (DPI), you can control the way the raster effect is produced. This technique works well with wood or leather, but may not work as intended with others types of materials.

Laser Cutter Technique #3: Vector Engraving

Meeting in the middle of vector cutting and raster engraving is vector engraving. Also known as “Kiss Cuts,” this method follows vector lines but only cuts into the surface of the material.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Laser Cutter Materials

Depending on the type of laser that is utilized, there is a wide range of compatible materials available. With the CO2 laser cutter, you can use wood, leather, acrylic, glass, plastics, foams, as well as cardboard and other paper materials.

When using fiber or neodymium lasers with higher intensity, the material options expand into metals, more types of plastics, and even some ceramics.

Here are the most common laser cut materials:

Laser Cutter Material #1: Wood 

Laser Cutter Material #2: Leather

Laser Cutter Material #3: Acrylic

Laser Cutter Material #4: Metal

Laser Cutter Material #5: Cardboard


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Laser Cutting Services

If you don’t want to splurge on a desktop laser cutter, or just have one project to undertake, you can utilize a laser cutting service bureau. There is a wide range of manufacturing services that offer both 3D printing and laser cutting. Here are some that are best known for the latter.

Laser Cutting Service #1: Ponoko 

This service provides over 100 materials to choose from, allowing you to make anywhere from 1 to 100,000 laser cut products, parts, or prototypes. Ponoko also offers same day production and shipping, as well as design templates to ensure your idea is properly executed.

Laser Cutting Service #2: The Make Lab 

This expansive design and manufacturing service offers laser cutting, 2D printing, 3D printing, and even design assistance. You can print ink designs on a card and have it laser cut to add a unique effect that literally stands out.

Laser Cutting Service #3: Laserage

Offers CO2, Neodymium, Fiber, and other custom laser types. As a business unit of the medical component company Amtek, Laserage seems best equipped to take on projects in the medical sector. They also take on aerospace, electronics, and other industrial endeavors. This manufacturing service provides laser welding and drilling services as well.

Laser Cutting Service #4: Sculpteo 

Even 3D printing service bureaus like Sculpteo now offer laser cutting services as well. With over 60 possible material combinations, the French company claims to work around your workflow and template. If you have an idea that necessitates both 3D printing and laser cutting, Sculpteo is the service for you.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Best 3D Printer Laser Cutter Combos

Can’t decide between a desktop laser cutter or 3D printer? Why not both! There is a vast array of hybrid 3D printers that offer laser cutter capabilities. Here are a few of the most popular:

3D Printer Laser Cutter #1: ZMorph 2.0 SX

Arguably the best all-in-one 3D printer on the market, the Polish company ZMorph has created an extremely versatile hybrid machine. The ZMorph 2.0 VX functions as dual extrusion printer, laser cutter, as well as CNC mill. Simply swap out the tool heads and you can go from extruding paste materials to engraving patterns into wood. With a simple design and expansive ability, this printer is ideal for those who consider themselves a jack of all trades. For the complete kit with all available tool heads, the retail price will run you around to €4399.

Price Check at Amazon: Zmorph 2.0 VX Basic

3D Printer Laser Cutter #2: XYZPrinting Da Vinci 1.0 3-in-1

Targeted for the beginner market, the XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 1-in-3 is perfect for those looking to dip their toe into 3D printing and laser cutting technology. Manufactured by the Taiwanese company XYZprinting, this printer is the most affordable option for those hoping to purchase an all-in-one option. The da Vinci 1.0 1-in-3 is equipped with a laser engraver that allows you to laser cut cardboard, leather, wood, and more. While the printer itself costs €490, the laser engraving module will bring the total cost to around €670.

Price Check at Amazon: XYZPrinting Da Vinci 1.0 3-in-1

3D Printer Laser Cutter #3: BoXZY

After collecting over $80,000 on Kickstarter, the BoXZY has taken the maker community by storm. This hybrid machine offers 3D printing, CNC milling, as well as laser cutting and engraving. One of the few highly touted crowdfunding success stories, the BoXZY team has already delivered their product to campaign backers. You can purchase this compact all-in-one printer now for $3,899.

Click here to check out more of our favorite all-in-one 3D printers.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide Laser Cutting vs. 3D Printing vs. CNC Milling

When it comes to selecting the best manufacturing technology for your application or project, there are many factors the make laser cutting more beneficial than 3D printing. While additive manufacturing is useful for prototyping purposes, the current lack of material properties makes it a tough sell for user-end production. Laser cutting is a subtractive manufacturing technology that cuts away from a material, rather than building a design up from scratch.

But with laser cutting technology, existing materials are able to maintain their mechanical advantages after being cut or engraved. While both are considered go-to tools for rapid prototyping, laser cutters provide more versatility with 2D geometries.

CNC milling, another computer controlled manufacturing method, shares a lot of similarities with laser cutting. While both use a cutting head to carve through various materials, CNC uses metal cutting heads that move up and down on a third axis. This allows for more design freedom and the ability to produce more complicated shapes.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide What Can I Create With a Laser Cutter?

Now that we’ve explained laser cutting technology and provided some insight into the desktop laser cutter market, there’s one important question left to answer. What can you create with a desktop laser cutter? Well, in reality, the possibilities are endless. But here are some of the most popular uses of this marvelous manufacturing technology.

Here are just some ideas:

Laser Cutter Creations: Jewelry

Laser Cutter Creations: Ornaments

Laser Cutter Creations: Art/Sculpture

Laser Cutter Creations: Lighting Fixtures

Laser Cutter Creations: Lettering

Those are just a few popular uses for a desktop laser cutter, but there’s much more where that came from.

And last but not least, when shopping for a laser cutting machine, be sure to research thoroughly and find the machine that best suits your budget and needs.


2018 Laser Cutter Guide How to Design for Laser Cutting

When creating a design or pattern for laser cutting, you can use either 2D or 3D design software. Laser cutters essentially function like an average 2D inkjet printer but come with drivers that allow the laser cutting machine follow specific designs. While these specific drivers are highly common in 2D design software, there is less support from 3D software.

Graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator and free drawing tools like AutoCAD are ideal 2D programs for laser cutting technology. But 3D software like Solidworks, Autodesk Inventor, and Autodesk Fusion can also be utilized to create certain types of designs and patterns.

License: The text of "2018 Laser Cutter Guide – All About Laser Cutting" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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