The following are several FAQ’s that I’ve received with regards to desktop laser cutters or smaller low powered CO2 laser machines. I decided to post here for the benefit of the laser cuttin’ community out there looking to buy a laser machine. Feel free to add your comment or questions as well.
I want to start a business selling laser cut jewelry and similar small products, mostly made out of acrylics. The laser cutter working area can be small, either 300x400mm or 200x300mm. I don’t know much about which manufacturers or models are worth looking at. The Chinese Rabbit 3040 is very cheap at 1200 UKP, but horror stories of Chinese lasers have kept us away.
We’re willing to invest a bit more in a better quality unit (i.e. Universal or Epilog) if it means better reliability and a more reputable seller. We’re even willing to buy second-hand, but it’s not clear where we should start looking or how much we should expect to pay. Any suggestions?
Expect to pay 8,000 to 10,000 USD for a basic Universal Laser or Epilog desktop laser engraver.
Chinese imported lasers have gotten much better in recent years. However, buying direct from China is still a poor idea due to import troubles, shipping cost, and the lack of support available due to the language barrier. If you must get a Chinese import, go through an import company. That will assure you a unit that’s been quality checked with full support.
Regardless of the route you take when purchasing a laser system, keep in mind that a desktop laser cutter or engraver is a very high precision, high technology, and even high voltage device. The major manufacturers command the prices they do for good reason. The laser engraver must precisely place a dot of extremely intense, invisible light under computer control repeatedly while requiring minimum maintenance over years of service.
The laser system must also be perfectly safe for anyone to use. Since lasers can pose a danger, the laser system should be designed to the applicable regulatory standards to ensure that at no point during operation will the operator or anyone standing by comes into contact with the laser beam. The safety interlocks must be foolproof and just as reliable than any other aspect of the design.
With that out of the way, you need to keep a few points in mind when buying a laser.
The two most important considerations with a laser are the power and cutting area you need. Power will determine what you can engrave and cut, as well as how fast. The cutting area sets limits on how large a piece you can work with. What you buy should depend on the laser engraving supplies you plan to process whether you’re gonna cut, etch, mark on materials such as wood, metal, acrylic, paper. So, your application should point you in a good direction.
Both hobbyists and businesses often end up trading in their lasers. This happens because they need more power. They may also need more working space. Therefore, you’re better off getting a somewhat more powerful laser with more working space than you think you need right now.
By getting a slightly over-powered laser you can grow into it instead of growing out of it. Especially at the beginning you’ll find many more uses for the laser than what you originally planned. Having a little headroom can make a big difference! The higher power means it’s easier to cut and engrave in once pass, which produces both the fastest and best quality results.
A laser with a larger working space may seem superfluous at first. But a larger working space is much less limiting than even a slightly lower powered laser tube. Whereas you can use multiple passes and slower speeds to somewhat make up for an underpowered laser, if your working space is too small then that’s it — you’re stuck. Upgrading to a larger working space often means getting a whole new machine, whereas upgrading to a more powerful laser may mean replacing just one component. (There is at least one manufacturer which makes fully modular systems, where changing the working space is comparatively easy.)
When planning your laser purchase make sure to get your exhaust setup properly sorted. Laser cutting plastics in an enclosed or confined space is a very poor idea. The fumes generated by laser cutting can be noxious or toxic, because you’re vaporizing the plastic. Larger laser wood cutters and other laser machines may have specific ventilation requirements, which you need to be prepared to meet.
Many new buyers looking for a cheap desktop laser engraver or laser cutter for sale find that really cheap units are impossible to find. Even hobbyist laser cutters are thousands of dollars.
A few people have built their own DIY laser cutters. This is very time consuming and requires considerable skill. If you have the technical aptitude to make your own laser cutter, you probably know it already. In that case, especially if your goal is to learn about laser cutters and motion control instead of the commercial application of laser machining, a DIY laser cutter may be a rewarding project.
Laser cutters are very similar to CNC machines and 3D printers. Laser cutter DIY projects may be feasible if you have experience with building your own CNC machine or RepRap-style 3D printer. However, if you’ve built either of those, then you know there’s a clear difference between the DIY version and a professionally built one. Home built machine tools are, as a rule, not suitable for day in day out production work, nor is building them a cost- or time-effective route to take. These are things you do for fun, not to save money or start a business.
If you’re looking to use a laser cutter for business or production then you will certainly want to find a professionally made machine. The higher price of a laser cutter made for sale is quickly eclipsed by the features, design, support, user-friendliness, reliability, and above all safety of a commercial unit.
Laser cutters are some of the best tools out there for prototyping and making precision cuts. Whereas the prices of 3D printers and CNC machines have come down significantly, to the point where even shoestring-budget shops and hobbyists can afford them, the prices of laser systems are still comparatively high.
Buying a desktop laser engraver from a well-known manufacturer carries a significant premium. If you can afford it, this may well be worth it! If you need a laser but cannot afford the capital expense of a well-known laser system, other options are available.