Looking to Buy a Desktop Laser Cutter? Read This First…

Desktop Laser CutterIf you’re looking to buy a smaller, desktop hobby laser cutter then read this first. These days  lasers are used mostly in major industries for processing metal. However, desktop CO2 lasers have become very affordable and popular in recent years.  They’re also widely used in educational institutions,  smaller companies, and you may even see one in your next door neighbors garage. It’s not uncommon to find a cool hobbyist with their very own desktop laser cutter. These are typically smaller co2 powered cutters with engraving areas ranging from 9×12″ to 12×20″.

As stated above referred to as either a desktop or hobby laser. They are designed to process lighter cutting or smaller engraving projects and even metal marking projects depending on the type of laser.  This is what this article will mainly address.  With the help of a metal laser cutting machine you have the ability to affordably process intricate designs on metal in a matter of minutes…even seconds.  The best part is the speed and precision that .

Uses and Applications of smaller co2 laer cutters

Modeling: Wood and mat-boards are popular choice of material that can be used for modelling. This is especially useful in the architecture and design fields.

Award engraving: Awards are accolades of honor that deserve to look extra special. Thus intricate engravings are a norm. Desktop Carbon dioxide laser cutters can be used to do award engravings with high precision and less time.

Wood Engraving: Almost all show pieces are wooden carvings. From photo frames to your dead grandma’s statue, wooden engravings can be easily done in a desktop laser cutting machine.

Glass etching: These include mirrors and beer mugs. Etching gives them a more elegant and world class look. Precision is very important and that is exactly what these machines offer.

Signage engraving: With the magic of desktop laser cutters, even 3D sign boards can be made thanks to very high metal laser cutting precision. The best part is that thousands of such sign boards can be produced at a very short time which was never possible before.

UID laser marking: The UID markings are made using laser cutters.

Laptop engraving: That’s right! Ever thought of getting a personalized laptop? Well that is what you can get from laser cutters. Make sure you give it to someone with expertise unless you want a hole in your laptop.

Fabric Engraving: This is one of the latest applications. Using laser engravers, clothes can be styled in a way that never fades off.
Things to think about before buying any Desktop CO2 Laser Cutting machine

Find the thin line between utility and cost
It is very important to understand the nature of your work before buying a laser cutter. They are expensive equipment which requires a reasonable amount of expertise to operate and maintain. Another big factor to consider is the material that you will be cutting or engraving. Laser cutters are rated based on wattage. A 40W machine is ideal for most uses. For more speed and power you could choose the 50W version or even the 60W version for heavy jobs. Note that the 50W machine would have twice the power of the 40W machine. If it’s the first time you are buying a laser cutter, do some research and ask your friends before zeroing in on one. Never settle for a lower rated version without being sure. This is because, once you know the endless capabilities of this beautiful invention, your needs might change. The size of engraving also matters when it comes to choosing the right cutter.

The laser interface software
It is very important that you get the right piece of software – almost as important as the right machinery. It is this software which communicates with your cutter and translates your vision to the machine. It is better to have a trusted laser interface and USB controller which are compatible with programs like Photoshop and CorelDRAW. Again, some companies offer only the driver without the interface. So make sure you check these things to the very fine detail.

The carbon dioxide, CO2 laser tube
This is the most important part of the laser cutter. It is the ‘engine’ of any laser.  I recommend buying a little more power than you think you’ll need.  There’s no substitute for raw cutting power. Almost all hobbyists use carbon dioxide laser glass tubes due to their affordability and they can be replaced inexpensively compared to metal or RF laser tubes.  Of course as the wattage of the laser tube increases, so does the ability to cut through denser materials.  For hobby laser machines wattage will range from 10 to 50 watts.  50 watts is a good cutting and engraving compromise between cutting and engraving.  Typically 50 watts will consistently cut through 1/4″ woods.

Add-on Accessories
You might need add-ons depending on your use. For example, rotary attachments help in cutting through cylindrical objects. Another add on is the focus lens. They come in different focal lengths and are used to increase the intensity of the laser beam. The ones with smaller focal length can be used to cut thinner materials while ones with larger focal length can easily cut through thick materials. Bottom line is that if you are to cut objects of varying thickness, you will need to get focus lens.

Air compressor
Air is used to blow away any dust, debris or chip material which can get in the way of the laser especially when cutting wood or leather. They are a potential fire hazard as  well so it’s always smart to keep an eye on what your cutting at all times.  So, for this reason most desktop / hobby lasers should come equipped with an air pump or air compressor.

Which company should I choose?
Many people have had terrible experiences when they tried buying it directly from china or via Ebay. The common complaint with a lot of these foreign companies is that the product gets stuck at the border by Customs Border Patrol due to not having valid FDA approved accession numbers, compliant or certified UL or CSA documents.  This is very common and you can’t always trust what a foreign company will tell you.  Unfortunately once it hits the border and the CBP puts it on hold and then seizes the machine not only will you not get your laser you can potentially be fined or blacklisted on any future imports.   Even if they do get through, many a time’s customers do not get what they ask for. This is because of the lack of quality checking. People find themselves at the wrong end and realize their folly only after it is too late.

It is always best to trust a US based company when buying a laser for cutting metal or hard steel. The advantage of going US based is that they either have a USA made machine or a high quality design with parts imported from overseas and thus they are able to lower their retail price but still maintain impressive quality.  Moreover don’t need to worry about all the hassles that could  and probably would happen throughout the customs clearance process.  Another added advantage is that these US based companies conduct their quality check to ensure a US standard product.

Looking at CO2 Laser Cutter Options?

co2 aser cutterFor some a desktop CO2 laser cutter is a means to simply engrave or cut basic materials to serve their personal artistic hobbies. The output is typically very good in terms of engraving detail. For another group who professionally deal in wood work, the laser cutter for wood applications is very useful in their profession.  In this case quiet a bit of time and research goes into acquiring the laser itself as well as investigating the company behind the laser.  Now, if I were to recommend anything to someone researching the laser market: Don’t just look at the laser itself – look at the company and their support. So, read old and new reviews, talk to their support, ask how long they have been in business. Like my mom used to say, “An ounce of pevention is worth a pound of cure.” It only takes a little time to review the company behind the product.

Uses of the Desktop CO2 Laser Machine/Cutter

People utilize laser cutters to cut materials quickly and cleanly. Items such as fabric, leather, acrylic, plastic, and wood are common for co2. Although you can’t cut metal with a co2 wavelength due to the reflectivity of the metal. You can use them to cut and engrave organic products though. Other materials that you can use with the machine include Corian, rubber, cardboard, foam, cork, stone and synthetics. It’s also possible to cut a small DIY puzzle or model from a piece of wood using the laser cutter for wood. Depending on the chosen machine, you may need to hold your materials when working.

Benefits of the Laser Cutter for Wood

The Laser Machine/Cutter comes in various sizes and this means that both individuals and businesses can make use of them. The people who use the machines are drawn from different industries. You can use the machines with just a little education, some patience and protective equipment. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, you can use the machine to cut and engrave different materials and this is a plus because you will not have to buy a new one for all the materials. They output from the job is usually impressive with intricate details and shading. You can cut plastic and acrylic into different shapes such as attractive snowflakes. The machines are ideal for cutting decorative materials such as brick, marble, granite or ceramic to create intricate artwork to serve as an outdoor mural or kitchen back splash.

Laser cutters can make things much easier for people who like to engage in leather work or fabric design creatives. You can create some of the moist beautiful pillows and make varsity letters and numbers from scratch using the laser cutters. You can make merit badges for your kids as well with the lasers. Once a person gets used to using the machine they can go a step further and engrave on glass or mirrors to make party favors or nice gifts. Skilled users can make their own awards and models, do 3D engraving and engrave on round services.

Buying a CO2 Laser Machine

After learning of all the benefits of the desktop CO2 laser machine, one might naturally want to buy it and start working. At this point, many people are taken back since they don’t know where to get a decent machine.  Do not look at Ebay for buying any laser cutter.  The price can allure you but don’t give Ebay or Chinese lasers a second thought.  Its far better buying a machine from an online USA shop or a regional or local retailer. Regardless of the shop you choose, you should buy through US based companies and not from overseas online sellers. Staying home is best since you will not have to deal with issues such as time difference, lack of competent support and a poor quality machine. The above problems are common for people who buy the desktop CO2 laser machines directly.

When looking to buy a laser wood cutter, you should avoid low end, sketchy outfits that are normally characterized by loose operations, few employees and shoddy machines. Buy from a US based company with a good reputation and ongoing support system that you can verify. It should also have a good option for refunds, good tech support and warranty. Buying directly may not offer you those options. Some foreign companies do not have legal documents for operations and often land into trouble with the law causing delays to their customers. Reading reviews should help you come up with a good company to use.

How to buy the correct Desktop CO2 Laser Cutter

Consider Overall Utility and Price

To truly benefit from a desktop CO2 laser cutting machine, there will be a need to invest heavily up front and not just money…you need support who has expertise in operating, troubleshooting, and maintaining the machine. Against this background, you should be very sure of how you are going to be using the laser cutter for wood. Most modeling jobs require the laser cutter to have 40 Watts. If you need more cutting power and speed, you can go for the 50 to 60 Watt laser. You, should, however, be ready to pay more for the more powerful machine. The materials that you will be using on the machine matter as well. It is important to choose wisely as your needs may change over time.

Correct Software

Using the right software is important if you are using laser cutting. The software interfaces with your graphic  design software and hobby laser cutter.  Although some machines offer an interface that also acts as a graphics software as well. It is, therefore, important that you get a capable interface that can work with the best graphics programs in the market – or the one you use. Some companies just offer their customers drivers for the programs with no interface to use as they work. On the other hand, again other companies will also offer you an interface to use so that you will not have to make your design in a separate graphics application. Some of the more popular graphics applications available include Photoshop, AutoCAD, and CorelDRAW.

Size of Engraving Area

The engraving area is the part you will use for cutting and defines or limits the size of material you can cut as well as the parts/models that you can make. In most cases, a cutter will have a larger materials area as compared to the cutting area. This is however, relevant only if you want to etch designs or photographs into plastic, or blocks of wood. You should look at the workable area if you want to build models or parts. There are variations according to brands and you glass_Co2_laser_tubeshould get the largest according to the price that fits your budget. Most hobbyists go for 14″ x 15″ space.

The CO2 Laser Tube

Another consideration to have in mind is the Desktop CO2 Laser Machine/Cutter which is like the heart of the machine. This is where everything happens and people measure its power in watts. While having more watts is important, you should give importance to the make and quality of the CO2 Laser Tube. Since it does most of the work, it wears out fast. You should, therefore, choose the laser wood cutter with the sturdiest CO2 laser and you will use it for a long time without any problems. Lasers that entail more wattage will also make it possible for you to cut denser and thicker material. They cut with additional precision as well.

Desktop CO2 Laser Cutting Machines

Laser Cutter for SaleThe desktop CO2 laser, often referred to as a small or hobby laser, is a relatively smaller compact machine with the power to cut objects of up to ¼ inches thick depending on the power.  The machine can cut but typically used to engrave glass, wood, marble, stone, leather and anodized aluminum as well as painted metals. The laser performs all these functions with a stunning, almost printer like photographic engraving quality.

Results are surprising.

If you consider the cost or the price of a small 40 to 50 watt laser cutter these days you can get a lot of bang for your buck.  Smaller desktop lasers usually range from 10 to 45 watts of CO2 laser power.  This gives it the power to cut out 3/8″ thick materials and engrave on about any non-reflective surface.   Engraving  custom messages on signs, plaques, or treated aluminum dog tags are common applications and can add to the value of the item.  Hand-turned signs and pens and also design prototypes can also be processed.

How Do Desktop Laser Systems Work?

If you have used a normal printer you will discover that a laser cutter uses similar technology.  The laser will take the images that a printer would print to paper but will instead fire the laser’s co2 power to engrave or cut the image into whatever material is in front of it.

VECTOR CUTTING VS. RASTER ENGRAVING

There are two different processing modes utilized when working with any laser cutter:  vector and raster.

Raster mode tends to be used for engraving things similar to a standard printer.  Whereas, vector is much more adept at cutting things out.  For example with vector cutting the laser will fire at a given point on your image, then continue cutting on that line, actually tracing the perimeter of the image before finally turning the laser off. This is why it tends to be used for cutting instead of etching.

FEATURES

A desktop, CO2 laser has a number of great features. Just to name a few…

· Engraving or cutting area- For hobby lasers the cutting area can range from 8×10″ to 12×20″.   The material size you work with will dictate the size engraving are you’ll need.

· A print software driver or a laser interface that allows your PC to talk to the laser.  Most will allow you to design within popular design software such as AutoCAD, PhotoShop, CorelDraw, Adobe illustrator, Solidworks, etc.

· Laser head air assist connection which keeps the laser head area free of  smoke or debris while the laser head is engraving or cutting

· Compact design- Most desktop machines can be moved either by picking up or preferably a moved via. mobile cart.  Weight of the machine will range from 50 to 50 pounds depending on the construction.

· Since the laser beam is invisible laser cutting machines that are equipped with a red dot pointer or better yet a beam combiner assembly will enable you to see where the laser is working.  A beam combiner is simply a red beam of laser light that travels along side or combines with the actual infrared laser beam thereby illuminating the surface material. It’s a great visual reference.

· Rotary attachments is a nice accessory that comes in either a chuck or roller style.  With it you can attach it to the machine as a 3rd axis allowing you to engrave cylindrical shaped items.

· Machines that have cut outs or material ‘escape hatches’ in the back and even sides on higher end machines give you greater material flexibility.  This feature is incredible in that it enables you to pass a longer piece of material through the machine.  So, you’re not just limited to the engraving area inside the machine.  The more flexibility you have to process material the better.

 

COMMON DESKTOP LASER CUTTER APPLICATIONS

Acrylic Laser CutterCutting and Engraving with CO2 gives you a lot of material flexibility.

1. Cutting Material Options

Even a small, desktop CO2 mini laser is very capable of  cutting and engraving various organic materials, namely:  Wood plastic, leather, fabrics, film, paper, canvas, painted metals,  stainless steel, and acrylic to name a few.  But, the more open minded you get you’ll discover a lot more.

2. Industrial Applications

A desktop laser cutter is mainly suitable for small business start ups and typically for hobby type applications.  Industries includes well suited include:

  • Sign companies
  • Custom gift shops
  • Wedding planning and organizing
  • Interior design
  • Advertising
  • Garment
  • Toys
  • Leather cutting and engraving
  • craft-work
  • Custom wood working
  • Cabinetry
  • Furniture customization

1. USB connectivity.

The laser uses a USB port and can therefore be connected to a desktop or laptop computer. Typically laser software or at least a driver that allows your current design software to talk to the laser should be included.  Most laser software can handle the most popular graphic formats including but not limted to:  JPG, PNG, TIFF, EMF, WMF and PLT.

2. Exterior Cabinet

The exterior cabinet or body of the machine (preferably steel) makes it durable and its transportation safer with respect to the internal components.

DESIGNED AND ASSEMBLED WITHIN THE USA

Any laser machine coming from at least a US based company has many advantages as opposed to directly importing from over seas.  Support and replacement parts are often overlooked and frequently utilized during the life of a laser.  Experience has told me to buy local rather than risk getting a machine from a cheap, unproven supplier abroad.   Aside from the big hurdle of actually clearing an imported machine pass Customs Border Control and the FDA (much of that burden falls on the supplier) long term you will save more time and money with a hobby laser purchased from within the United States.

 

Recommend Laser Cutter Companies:

The smaller Desktop CO2 cutter can be a great, mind blowing tool that will impress both you and  your peers.   But, where you buy can dictate how usable the machine will actually be. I prefer companies strong in support.  Because these tools can require ongoing maintenance and manipulation.  It’s not like a normal desktop inkjet printer where you just replace ink cartridges once every few months.  Small laser machines will require maintenance (albeit very minimal) and adjustments that you’ll have to make to keep the machine in tune.  All that to say you’ll want access to support or parts to be quick and easy.

Laser machine price variances and are similar to vehicles – you can buy used lemons or a Mercedez and everything in between.  The following companies offer mid-range to upper level laser systems from hobby laser to 2 KW laser systems but are noted for their ongoing support.

Universal Laser

Epilog Laser

Boss Laser

LaserPro

Trotec Laser

Kern Technologies

Trumpf Laser

 

Leave your comments below…

 

 

CO2 Laser Engraver – What Can It Do?

 

Co2 laser engraverToday’s modern technology has the power it seems to overcome all problems of  mankind. I wish it did.  The use of laser technology is increasing in popularity day by day. Due to low maintenance and power ranges of the CO2 laser tube it’s only going to continue to improve and grow.

Laser engraving is semi-new technology that utilizes a laser beam to cut different types of organic and metal materials.  It’s mostly used at an industrial level for manufacturing applications. But now it is also being used by small companies, educational institutes and by hobbyists. Industrial laser cutters are used for design creating across many materials. This specific laser engraver (image) is designed for small engraving projects intended for hobbyists. At one time building parts or carving wood materials meant several hours with heavy tools, but now you can easily create a more intricate design with the help of a laser.

The right software for the right task is the most important step while using desktop laser cutter. The software actually communicates with your laser cutter and graphic software on which you are working. A reliable and efficient USB is required if you want to engrave good quality models. Most desktop laser cutters have glass CO2 laser tubes in the back cabinet.  Their power is measured in watts. They are truly the heart of a laser cutter. The quality of a laser tube plays a very important role because it is the part from which everything gets done.  My experience with buying this kind of machinery is to choose the best quality CO2 laser.  It doesn’t mean you need to spend tens of thousands but it also doesn’t mean to buy from Ebay either.

If you want to engrave cylindrical objects like glasses, bottles or aluminum cylinders etc then rotary attachments plays very beneficial part. These attachments allow for the rotating of cylindrical blocks on a horizontal axis so that they can be etched in a perfect way without any hurdle. These attachments are not offered in every desktop laser cutter. But if you are planning cylindrical objects to be etched then it is highly essential for you.

A standard small laser cutter focal lens will often come available with different focal lengths. They perform different functions and are generally classified in inches or millimeters. The focus lens is used to focus the beam to cut or etch material.  A 3 or 4″ focal length or higher helps to cut thicker material with more clarity and finish. So,  focal lens length for any laser machine is critical for working with various material thicknesses.

Where can you shop?  Some of the bigger companies are Universal, Trumpf, or Trotec.  Affordable options can be found at http://www.hobbylasercutter.com as well.  It’s best to call or visit the companies you’re interested.  Also, understand that the least expensive machine may cost more in the long run.

A desktop laser machine is an important tool that makes the manufacturing process faster, easier and more precise. Now you can easily design and create anything.  Whatever you think or want on your personal computer you can almost ‘print’ onto the material. This machine proves as a best choice for hobbyists and owners of small companies to get better outcome in a short time.

Reasons Why You Should Consider Co2 Laser Glass Tubes

glass_Co2_laser_tubeAlso commonly known as gas laser which was invented by Kumar Patel of Bell Labs in 1964, Co2 laser is produced by utilizing the reaction of a combination of gases inside an enclosed tube under vacuum.

There are two types of tubes; RF lasers and glass tube lasers. The latter is often regarded as inferior to the former but wait until you read the facts.

Ranging from 1/5 to 1/20 of the RF laser’s price, glass tube laser main advantage is its price some lasers possess a 5,000 or 10,000 hours of usage ratings which means that you possibly can run your laser for 8 hours per day for 625 days consecutively on one within the 5,000 hour tubes. They are also built to be maintained and replaced by the user, not a technician saving you from high maintenance cost.

Glass laser tubes are also built to last and they have been widely used throughout Europe and Asia for the past 4 decades. Because of RF laser’s complexity such as requirement of RF generator and a technician or installer, simplicity is the foremost selling point of the glass tube considering the DC power supplies that power them.

Shape of the beam is also an important factor to consider. Due to the round tube the gases are held in, glass tube naturally produces round laser beam. RF tubes, on the other hand, are either square or rectangular and produces an oval beam thanks to their special optics. If you are doing marquetry, puzzles or architectural models, a perfectly round beam is not a requirement as you desire for the cuts going from the front to back of the table to be the same width (kerf) as the ones going right to left.

There would be times when sustaining a continuous beam is better than a beam that pulses on and off making CO2 laser glass tubes perfect cutting partner. They will let you cut Acrylic without worrying of having to flame polish the edges.

RF tubes steal the spotlight from glass tubes when it comes to engraving due to the pulse technology as well as the shadings of photographs. However, this advantage is short lived simply because there are photo software applications that can convert an image into bitmap that optimizes the photo for engraving and turns it into a number of dots that make the laser switch on and off when engraving the photograph producing amazing results

Another great thing about glass tubes is that they can be water-cooled. This is very important especially when you need your system to operate for lengthy amounts of time, in a room where the room temperature is beyond 75 degrees or varies significantly and where highly consistent results are critical. Water Cooling enables the laser tube to become kept at a steady temperature which yields consistent power as a result.

Air-cooled tubes, on the other hand, are dependent on ambient temperature which makes them inconvenient for lengthy usage.

Glass tube lasers can offer years of service without hurting your wallat. Investing in CO2 laser glass tubes easily gives you over competitors who are fan of RF technology.

The Status of CO2 Laser Machine Industry in 2013

co2_laser_machineFor the CO2 laser machine industry, 2011 was a record-breaking year for revenues while 2012 with economies fluctuating in Europe and China we saw a significant slowdown. Now 2013 may prove to be another modest year of growth. With 2012 being almost a flat line for some laser sectors, and world economies fluctuating – 2013 should again show very conservative gains.

Many of the leading industrial laser system suppliers as well as a recent report from the ILS (Laser Solutions For Manufacturing) point to uncertainty in the manufacturing economies and unresolved economic issues as the culprit for the conservative outlook. ILS makes their forecast after analyzing 48 public corporations who publish their quarterly financial statements.

The ILS made a single digit growth prediction for 2012 after two record breaking years of growth and was only a few percent off. Fueled by big growth from the fiber laser sector the laser industry in general saw revenue growth top 2.14 billion in 2011. As big as growth was in 2008 it almost collapsed in 2009 fueled by the downward pressure of the recession. Having survived the past recession many laser cutting and engraving machine suppliers managed operations similarly in 2012 and will maintain the same in 2013 as well. The conservative outlook for 2013 points to the problems in the Chinese economy and the 27 country European market slow down. Two economies largely responsible for propelling growth in years past.

The ‘fiscal cliff’ as the U.S. government terms it has led to uncertainty toward the U.S. laser industry manufacturing economy. The result is an average growth rate estimate of a mere 3% with CO2 lasers on the low end with only a 1% growth rate and on the high end the fiber laser industry forecasted at 8%.

New fibre laser application solutions have made this sector popular in 2012 with 2013 estimates as high as 20% increase in 2013 revenues. In fact in 2012 fiber lasers proved to have the highest growth rate with a 16% improvement in laser revenues. Compare that to the falling CO2 laser market which was down 15% in growth within the same year.

Fiber lasers market penetration isn’t without a few other growing technologies including diode and excimer laser technology.

Fiber laser developments have made processing materials with high peak power more and more common. But it still has its limits depending on the application. This solid state fiber laser technology has proven to be a better fit for laser cutting thinner materials. Whereas, CO2 is more efficient with thicker materials.