I am a 50yo engineer who has been a programmer, CAD guy, and messed around with Photoshop and some other design programs in my years. I’m really interested in getting into the laser engraving/cutting hobby and maybe a side hustle. I would say that my budget is up to about 1K … and realize that my first machine may not be my only one. I am looking at the Diode 10w machines although the new 20w from Atomstack has my attention. From what I have read, Lightburn is the way to go although maybe it’s best to cut teeth on some other native software as well. I have been looking at Atomstack, Xtool (even their new cutter/laser) , and Outur. I would like to have opinions about suport, community and given this is a side hobby at first, I would love a machine with a community and library that is easy to get up and running with. I think Air Assist is a MUST, and I like that some models have extensions D1, A7 etc… but I will likey be doing this to start off in an enclosure in my house (So the other Xtool units come into play just for the ease of things). I would like to know your opinions. Please. There are fathers day sales going on and I’m ready to pull some trigger. Thank You
My opinion on only one aspect of your query is LightBurn all the way. There’s no “cutting teeth” on any other program, if the machine you select works with LightBurn. When LightBurn first appeared, I continued to use the native software, as it was the program with which I was familiar.
Once I dipped my toes into the LightBurn pool, I was hooked. Never went back, never regretted it.
It continues to get better and is worth every penny. I think it would be difficult to find a user who prefers a native program over LightBurn. In all my 'net travels, I’ve yet to see anything posted to that effect.
On the laser selection option, I started with an Emblaser, which might have been a Kickstarter that delivered, I can’t recall. It was fun to use, a bit smokey, but that’s why it was in the garage. The demo at the library’s maker space launch let me know that inside is out-of-the-question!
As with the conversion to LightBurn, I moved up to a CO2 laser and never again fired up the diode laser. It is genuinely collecting dust and the only reason I’ll start it again is to ensure it’s working well enough to sell it.
I think if you can find a spot in your abode for a CO2 machine (other than Glowforge), you won’t regret it. I also think that the resale market for a used diode laser would make it difficult to buy a diode laser today and sell it to purchase a CO2 laser later, which is the boat in which I am sinking.
Of course, if you can find a used diode laser of just about any output level, it would give you a more economical reference for your future laser choice. I know someone in Florida who can give you a great deal on a 5W diode laser! (grin)
I felt that starting with a diode would be a good introduction, I have read where engraving (as opposed to cutting) can in some cases and materials be preferable using a diode setup. Additionally, no chiller etc… less components just a simpler way to cut your teeth and something that can be setup inside rather and in your shop. What CO2 would be your choice? What wattage? Thanks for your feedback.
Welcome to a hobby/business you will wonder why many times but when you actually get a beautiful piece of wood, glass, ceramic, plastic, or other material with an engrave or cut that you actually done, you are HOOKED!
My first laser was a 3W diode. I done some great engraves and many horrible. I recently packed it into the box it arrived in. May sell it some day. Have a 60W/50W Omtech Co2 500mm x 700mm bed that I thoroughly enjoy using. Have used LightBurn from the get go.
You are at the right place to get info although you may feel it isn’t what you asked for.
My machine is a 60W red/black clone, but I often wish I had run with an 80W machine, which is supposed to be a good compromise between engraving and cutting.
Diode lasers won’t touch glass or acrylic, both of which are great materials for laser engraving.
You’re correct about not needing a chiller or air source, which adds expense and bulk, of course. My diode laser is mounted on a hand truck and folds against the rig, for easy storage and handling, while the red/black takes up half the hobby room and requires that I push the exhaust vent panel into the window for each use. I also fire up the chiller and the stealth air compressor to get them up to speed, more or less.
More complexity for the big guns, but the results are worth it.
I cut a dinosaur project for the library using the diode laser. One kit would take an hour to cut, six to seven passes on the diode. Ten minutes on the CO2 machine, far less charring, single pass.
If you think you’d like to try the hobby, grab a used diode laser and hope all works well, then your “investment” won’t be as high as if you bought a top-of-the-line diode machine and your loss won’t be as high when you move to the big stuff. Even if you decide you don’t need a CO2 machine, your loss won’t be as high if you only move to a more powerful diode laser.
Emf frequency of the laser will tell you what you can use it on. If the material is transparent to the lasers frequency, no damage will occur. An LED is usually in the ‘visible’ range, so if it’s clear it probably won’t do much damage. Co2 is in the ir range, lower frequency and is blocked (absorbed) by glass, acrylic and most natural materials. Co2 & led lasers are generally for natural materials. For man made you probably need a fiber ($$) laser.
The other determining specification on lasers is power.
Most led lasers are measured by input power whereas the co2 are usually specified by output power. The output of an led type is usually about 10% of the input power, although they advertise 20 watt supply and 30 watts out… I have a 30 watt Neje, I’d say it’s lucky to make 3 watts out. There is little automated control of air assist on most of these.
My co2 is sold as a 50 watt model and measures 44 watts with a Mahoney meter. It’s also 880mm in length with is deterministic on power output.
I paid $2k for my 50 watt ‘China Blue’ 5030 from OMTech, but they can be had a lower prices in exchange for a higher risk purchase. You need to add a chiller and depending on where you live there are options, but still an added expense. Some use a bucket of water with ice…
With $1k you can only get an entry level type of co2 laser such as a K40. Most of these have controllers that are not supported by Lightburn and have other added issues.
A relative nice led can be had for this kind of money, but won’t do what a co2 can do. Most of the LED lasers run on grbl.
I have a few of the little cnc3018’s I use mostly for circuit boards. One of these was my first led laser.
You have to be able to change the values of certain ‘registers’ to put it in ‘laser’ mode. Some of the firmware on these machines will not allow you to change these ‘registers’, others will allow a change, but reset it back on a reboot. Some will allow it to be written to the controllers memory… so you don’t have to keep changing it.
Bottom line, what do you want to do.?
On my co2, I do glass, slate, wood, plywood (mdf), back of mirrors, tile (TiO2) and stainless mugs (Laser Bond 100) and coated ones. Some of these are impossible with an led laser…
I prefer lower wattage lasers since I like to do detailed engraving. Most co2 lasers won’t lase below about 10%. That limits the ‘low end’ of the controllable power, which is an illusion anyway. Most of my engravings are around 10 to 15% power. With my ‘50 watt’ 10% is 5 watts, works fine on many materials. If I had a 100 watt, 10% of that is 10 watts. Twice as much power as I need to do the job, probably ‘burn’ it and no ability to ‘turn it down’ further.
Forgot to mention about Lightburn, best produce for lasers. Don’t buy a machine that isn’t supported by Lightburn…
Hi I am a 75yr young person and wish to use a diode Atomstack S7 to mark out templates on ply to make kids toy for charity, my question is can I use my ply templates to use as patterns for the laser cutter if so how is achieved thank you
So you are basically saying that it’s 50w+ CO2 … I will love it but the 10w just won’t cut it? May I ask what you use the power of the CO2 and size to do ??? Can you give me an example? Thank You It’s very informative.
Where do you think the best place to shop for a used Co2 machine would be? Is there no use for the 10w Diode? Prototyping etc?
Locally, the size and weight of these makes shipping them around costly. It’s also nice if it’s operational to have a demo that it does work. When you ship items, especially bulky / heavy items they tend to acquire more damage… for some reason…
Of course there is. You can see from the atomstack photos and around the net how well they do work.
As an engineer you need to understand how the Chinese market their laser systems. Most led lasers loose about 90% of the input power to heat. So 10% output is probably pretty good. They also have a clever way to show an increase of power.
Co2 input power is difficult to measure as far as voltage/current as it is a ‘negative resistance’ device. Meaning an increase in voltage doesn’t necessarily relate to an increase in current… Ohms laws doesn’t apply. Most co2 are dc excited requiring high voltage. Mine runs up to almost 30kV at times. This complicates voltage measurement.
These lasers have one item that makes them really work, that is the lens. The smaller you can make the point of convergence the more energy is delivered to that ‘area’. Basic physics tells us the lens can’t increase the power from the laser, it just concentrates it to a point. Realistically you lose power when you ‘run’ the beam through anything, including air.
The Chinese people attempt to get a smaller spot and they can claim more output power… it’s just an increase in power density based on the beam size.
Another thing that happens, when you have a very small spot via the lens, the ‘depth of field’ is usually shortened. To get a small spot, usually requires a shorter focal length. The spot will go out of focus more quickly as you move away from the perfect focal point. This substantially lowers the power density of the beam as it rapidly goes out of focus. I usually use my 4" lens for thick material as it has a longer depth of field.
Co2 machines seem to have a larger availability of lenses. I have a 1.5", 2", 4" and a compound lens. The availability of lenses are more limited on the led types.
Co2 is more of an investment, larger machine (beneficial in some aspects) and to work well it will probably require work at your end. Most of these are not built with commercial parts and won’t hold up well in a commercial environment. Even so, they are still viable for smaller shops and many have put them to work commercially.
These machines, by nature, burn material or at least heat it up. Smoke debris and fire are dangers that come along with any laser. If you can smell it, you probably shouldn’t… I have a 5lb co2 extinguisher next to mine… This kind of insurance is cheap… You don’t want a powdered type as it will destroy the mechanical and damage the electrical parts.
Any type of laser should have a good ventilation system and some thought needs to go to fire prevention and suppression.
If you are really unsure, then the lower cost is a good bet. If you don’t like it, you haven’t spent much. If you do like it and get ‘hooked’ then it will still have been useful as you will learn many of the operations that will apply to any laser or other cnc machine…
Good luck, let us know what you decide …
I have 1.5, 2.5, and a combination lens and tubes.
I never even tried to cut anything with the Diode laser.
My Omtech is actually 50W. I paid $2700 for it delivered inside my shop door.
I agree with Jack. If you are short on funds or want to experiment, the Diode laser is the answer.
Get the best you can afford. Check to see what is included such as cabinet, air assist, size of work area, and if shipping is free. Other items but they don’t happen to come to mind at the moment, it is too darn hot to think. Oh yes and get one that will work with LightBurn. Lol