Is Lightburn Right for Me? Hardware/Software Upgrade of an Old Machine

Hello -

I have a ~20 year old Emission Technologies machine, it’s a 2’x4’ 70W CO2 Laser cutter, that I used way back in the day to cut model airplane kits. The machine was a kit, so I’m pretty comfortable with doing a lot of DIY on it. Emission Technologies is no longer in business, so it’s up to me to figure out the best way forward. The machine has sat unused for the better part of 10 years, and I’m now in the process of getting it back up and running. I’ve had to repair and replace…basically everything. I’m not sure if I will keep the machine or sell it to clear out garage space - right now I’m just focused on getting it up and running again.

The current software that runs the machine is made by a company Solustan. It’s a fairly interesting solution, in that it basically turns the machine into a printer, so you can access it from a variety of programs. There is no gcode generation. This is nice in that I can nest a master file of cuts, and then just select the ones I want to make using File-Print Selected. The downside is that while Solustan is still in business, they seem utterly uninterested in providing any support, and solely interested in selling me a $1,000 upgrade to their new USB based solution. The current hardware is connected via the parallel port - so - very very old tech. The current machine is XP, but I have no problem putting a newer OS on that machine (it’ll work up to 8 I think), or finding some cheap/used machine to drive the cutter that can run a newer OS.

So, if I do upgrade, I’d like to upgrade to something other than the Solustan solution, but I’m not sure where to go from there. It looks like Lightburn can be operated in much the same way? Driven by the software interface directly, instead of having to create gcode and then load that into an interface?

One thing I like about the current setup is that I can get some SUPER clean cuts, because the laser power is actually driven by the current feedrate. So, as the gantry comes to a corner of a cut and slows down, the power is ramped down similarly. Is this possible in Lighburn?

I do all my design work in Rhino3D, and so I’d really just export as DXF out of Rhino and then import the vector linework into Lightburn. Does the DXF import support NURBS curves? Some machines will choke on NURBS linework, it would be nice if I didn’t have to convert all the NURBS into very small segment straight line polylines for import.

It looks like Lightburn does not work with old parallel port interfaces - that’s to be expected. What would folks suggest as a good all in one USB interface that works well with Lighburn? I’d love to get a simple all in one that has the stepper drivers and the rest all integrated into the box etc - limit switches, air assist output, yadda yadda. I’m willing to spend a little more to reduce headaches if need be.

Thanks in advance, so far this looks like the direction I’ll go if I upgrade.


Although you don’t want to hear this: do not use USB.

The horror stories around here concerning USB problems will suffice for the next decade of Halloween festivities.

For that machine, I’d highly recommend a Ruida controller plus a pair of stepper driver bricks and some solenoid valves for the assist air. It’s more setup hassle than you want, but all the parts are readily available and easily replaced.

You can get other controllers with a network interface that will likely work just as well, but I have no experience with them.

You can then do the design on any PC, send it to the laser, walk over to it, and start it up. You could start the laser remotely, but that’s just asking for trouble.

I store the LightBurn files on a file server, so I can design in the Comfy Chair and save the files, load them and do alignment through a cheap off-lease Dell box perched on the laser, and fire it from there.

Opinion: It’ll take a while to adapt your familiar workflow to the new world, but nothing you mention is even slightly difficult these days. Making the process exactly match the way you used to do it may be difficult, but getting excellent results is surprisingly easy if you’re not pigheaded about the sequence. :grin:

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I definitely appreciate the perspective! So for a Ruida type system - essentially that head unit drives the machine without a PC, and I create g-code and load it onto that machine? That’s the sorta 30k foot view of things?

Pretty much.

Ruida controllers use a proprietary / undocumented protocol, rather than text-based G-Code we humans can read, but it’s the same general idea.

If you think of the LightBurn file as the laser control layout, you’ll have the right idea. The G-Code / Ruida commands are a (primarily) write-only intermediate format.

LightBurn can import geometry from a variety of sources using DXF / SVG / AI / whatever files. You then separate the geometry into different layers and apply appropriate speed / power / whatever settings to those layers as needed to get the results you want.

The vectors defining a geometry can be used for cutting in Line mode or “engraving” in Fill mode. Grayscale images get raster-scanned with the laser modulated on a per-pixel basis, perhaps after being processed into on-off dots using a variety of dithering algorithms.

You can use LightBurn for CAD work, but it’s not really intended for that. You can use it for image processing, but it’s not really intended for that, either. In either case, you’ll get better results using specialized programs, then passing the geometry / image to LightBurn for laser control settings, which is exactly what it’s intended for.

Some very useful LightBurn features require your interaction with a PC and the laser at the same time, so having a dedicated laptop / PC close to the laser will improve your quality of life. LightBurn doesn’t require much compute horsepower, but a screen with more than 1280×1024 pixels is essential unless you’re willing to strip down the UI to the bare bones.

At least for my simple needs, it works wonderfully well. Some folks around here have much more complex needs and seem at least reasonably content, so you’ll likely end up somewhere on that scale.

The myriad forum threads have a treasure trove of information, but the search function is basically useless. Aim your favorite search engine here for better results: ruida configuration

And the doc is worth reading:

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All of this is making a lot of sense! I’ve ordered some stuff from LightObject, and I see they offer a variety of controllers that work with Lightburn.

My needs are similarly simple - I really only care about cutting, and I’d do all my design work in Rhino. Lightburn would just be that bridge between Rhino and my cutter.

As for one of my original questions - would this setup allow for the laser power to be tied to the instantaneous speed of the gantry? My cutter originally ran on a DOS/G-Code setup, and the the difference when I went to a system that tied the laser power to the gantry speed, the difference in kerf size and quality was huge. I’d rather not give that up.


That’s pretty much how it’s done by all contemporary controllers, with no particular forethought on your part, because it really does make a difference.

Living here in the future does have some benefits! :grin:

The maximum speed & acceleration values for the axes feed into those calculations, so the right numbers will improve the results.
There are perverse corner cases, but on the whole It Just Works™.

Speaking of corner cases, LightBurn does not handle all possible variations of the myriad DXF / SVG / whatever file formats. You may find simplifying / flattening / dumbing down the geometry into the least complex layout before exporting will maximize your happiness.

Another thought: CO₂ laser tubes deteriorate with age, even when they’re not in use. If you find your tube ain’t cuttin’ like it used’ta, even after getting the overall configuration set up properly, the poor thing may just be worn out.

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Fully expecting to find this to be the case, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there! I’m changing out all the mirrors currently, and have quite a bit to do before I power up the laser tube itself. If I do, I’ll likely upgrade to one of the SPT tubes that have the integrated red dot laser - I HIGHLY suspect that when I was using the machine in the past, there was a pretty big delta between my red dot and my actual beam.

Watched a video by Sadler about these when he was trying to get a precise pair of beams aligned.

When my tube expired, I asked him about doing just that with an spt. He recommended that the ones he’s dealt with are not that great and suggested that I pass on it… I just got a 40W to replace it. Some people love the red dot idea…

Some people use those for alignment, but I could never get it precise enough. So I pitched mine… Had a working one for about a week or two on a new machine, before I pitched in the drawer.

Good luck

Let us know how it works out.


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I was watching this vid a while back, and thinking about how I could adapt my setup to do something similar:

I don’t have those circular brackets near my mirrors, so I’ll have to come up with something else that jibes with my mirror setup.

ETA - it was watching this video when my brain clicked on and went “oh yeah…there’s no way my laser tube and LED were in alignment with each other, and all my beam calibration was done with the LED”

Most of them work this way… how does yours work?


Well for sure, mine works ROUGHLY like that but - right after the laser output, the beam gets turned around 180 degrees, AND is moved up in the z axis to align with the height of the gantry mirrors. I had always found that my machine cut less cleanly when it got to the far side of the x axis - funny enough when the beam total length was much less. The LED dot is secured by some set screws that seem…very prone to getting out of alignment. The realization was just that I had never checked the LED dot vs the ACTUAL laser beam, and I just can’t believe that the two were all that well aligned to begin with. So, hopefully in this whole rebuild/refresh I can align my machine to the actual beam, not the LED dot.

Does it have 4 mirrors?


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Yup, 4 indeed. Really if it was designed better, the tube center would be mounted on the same level as the gantry mirrors but…that’s the way it came.

A lot of the expense is just building the machine… you have a viable machine… just needs a few upgrades to bring it into a current state.


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