This article highlights my journey through different laser engravers and goes over some things to consider before deciding on a machine.
Here are the topics covered in this KB Article:
I got my first laser, a Meterk DK-8-KZ, because they interested me. This is a 1000mW Solid State LD machine and, while interesting, was essentially useless. It did, however, prime my interest in other laser systems.
Then I lucked up and received a ULS-25E in a trade for another piece of equipment because I thought it would be "neat". I am a techie geek and tinkerer with a pretty advanced level of mechanical inclination so I wanted to explore this cool device and learn more.
After I got the ULS up and running my research indicated (although this machine is one of the best US made units out there) the parts, should they be needed, are VERY expensive and it was made in 1990 or 1991 so it was pretty old. A new Laser module (a Synrad Air-Cooled Metal Tube CO2 laser) was over $8000 and it would cost over $1000 to recharge mine if it became necessary.
I decided to get a K40 Chinese Laser Engraver (a saw one for sale on Craigslist that was still in the box and I couldn't beat the price) and it took my inner techie-geek to a whole new level!
I just sold the ULS and have heavily modified the K40 and it is a freaking amazing wonder! I justified paying as much to mod the laser as it would have cost to buy a bigger machine, brand new with all of the mods needed because I wanted to tear this one down and build it back up myself. I am glad I did even though I restricted the size of my work area by doing so.
There are basically 3 types of lasers:
- CO2 (9.4μm and most commonly 10.6μm)
- Crystal (Nd:YAG, Nd:YVO @ around 1.064μm)
- Fiber/MOPA @ around 1.064μm).
C02 lasers won't typically engrave metals. they can be marked with a marking compound. its more the wavelength of the laser than the power, although power is a factor. C02 lasers will also engrave on anodized metals.
Crystal and fiber will engrave metals. many of the 1.064μm laser are galvonometer (galvo) meaning the beam moves around the work area from a stationary head instead of gantry (beam moves with head with steering mirrors).
And there are also the low power LD (laser diode) lasers which can usually be found on some small cnc packages and retrofitted onto 3d printers.
NOTE: WE ARE FOCUSING ON TYPICAL C02(GAS) LASER SYSTEMS HERE. FIBER, CRYSTAL, AND OTHERS WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FUTURE ARTICLES.
There are many considerations which need to be addressed. Some of which are:
Is it for hobbyist or business purposes?
Are you mechanically inclined?
Have you laid out a budget?
What size is your proposed work area?
Do you know what materials/product you plan on lasing?
Would you anticipate expanding in the near future?
The US made laser engravers are high quality, high precision workhorses that will last forever if properly maintained. Arguably the top two are ULS and Epilog. Other models include Trotec, Rabbit, Boss, and I'm sure there may be more. The price tags on US laser engravers can be intimidating especially if you are not running a full-fledged laser engraving business. They are worth it, however. If you have the money, spend it!
The Chinese made laser engravers have no standards for quality, safety, or performance as a general rule. There are some exceptions with the high-end China lasers and the build quality of the Chinese lasers seems to be getting better on some levels.
If you choose a Chinese laser you need to do lots of research. A good start, if the workspace size isn't critical or if you love to tinker, is the K40. They are cheap (around $400) but will require some modifications to make them more reliable and safe. You can see the info on this HERE.
If you plan to add a different controller or do heavier modifications, it doesn't take long to sink $1200 into a K40. If you will want full control over laser power (DSP or PWM controllers), better design and control software, bigger work area, more power, etc... then strongly consider going with a 50 watt or above Chinese unit. They come with DSP, air assist, adjustable z-axis, and more.
To learn more about my K40's evolution from stock unit to modded monster (I call it Cyclops) visit my K40 Portal HERE!
THE BOTTOM LINE IS TO DO LOTS OF HOMEWORK AND RESEARCH THE LASER YOU ARE CONSIDERING ON YOUTUBE, FACEBOOK GROUPS, FORUMS, GOOGLE+, ETC...