The 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.
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. Review different companies to compare their machines and especially their post-sale service. For example, Laguna Tools imports laser machines now and has some options to consider if you are looking for an economical machine. But, technical support after the sale is especially necessary for laser machinery.
COMMON DESKTOP LASER CUTTER APPLICATIONS
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
- Leather cutting and engraving
- Custom wood working
- 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.
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