Laser / CNC Laser Cutter Recommendations

Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
Hi All, many of you have used or own laser cutters, so any advice or suggestions for a dependable desktop laser cutter would be much appreciated. (Not interested in a CNC machine).

It'll be used primarily to cut 1/16" - 1/4" balsa for gliders. Not sure if it's okay to also laser-cut hollow and solid carbon rods with a thickness of 1/8" but if heating doesn't produce any problems like toxic fumes, I'd also be using it for that purpose too.

Is 40W overkill or is it in the ballpark? A laser cutter with a pass through would be ideal, but if that jacks the price too much, an effective cutting area of 16" long x 3" - 4" wide should handle most if not all of my needs.

Ease of adjustment, whether the manufacturer includes laser cutter control software (not design software, I already have Adobe Illustrator), any maintenance issues, decent customer service and life of the laser tube would also be concerns. I won't need to use it continuously to make kits or anything, just on an as-needed hobby basis for my own projects. I'm looking to get something that doesn't require water-cooling, just air-cooling, and preferably something US-made and serviced. Recommendations?
 

dr wogz

Fly caster
Joined
Feb 5, 2009
Messages
8,550
Reaction score
4,247
Location
Land of Poutine!
this may help..

I am on the fence too..

 

Chad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 23, 2018
Messages
404
Reaction score
233
Location
Dallas
I have an omtech 50w, i use it to cut 1/8" and 1/4" ply but haven't tried balsa. It all works pretty well for me but it was a beast to setup. Water cooled and you have to vent it outdoors similar to a dryer vent plus it weighs like 200lbs. I got the software Lightburn and that works pretty well, I import .dwg files and basically hit a button and the laser goes to work. I haven't had to call customer support or anything and it all came packaged well with good documentation.

I made a little website where you can upload .dwg files and i'll cut them out and send the results to you
oakclifflaser.com
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
this may help..

I am on the fence too..


Thanks, I found that thread doing a search, but there were only 2 suggested models/manufacturers before the thread went cold. One was the Muse, with a comment about the so-so customer support, and the other was about the Epilog being more suited to commercial higher-volume use.

I'll check out both more in-depth, but I'm hoping more suggestions/comments will eventually surface here.
 

DragonRocketry

Sponsor
TRF Sponsor
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
Messages
506
Reaction score
583
I have an omtech 80w and am very happy with it so far. Customer support is good. Setting it up can a challenge pending on your mechanical ability. I had mine up and running in 45 minutes, but I know people that took days to get there's running. If you are looking to go with a 40w that will work fine up to 1/4". Epilog is a very good laser, but for the price you better be putting it to work every day. Cutting carbon and fiberglass is a no no. The fumes can be toxic.
235C4816-8895-4579-BDA7-3C9B03BB8C22.jpeg
 

tjkopena

Rocketship Games
TRF Sponsor
Joined
Feb 18, 2021
Messages
230
Reaction score
380
Location
Philadelphia, PA
If you're strictly cutting balsa and some paper/chipboard, you can certainly cut up to 1/8" on a "low" power diode laser engraver like an Ortur Laser Master 2 20W (which is the electrical rating, optical output IIRC is 7W). Not sure about 1/4", the depth difference might dilute the beam too much without playing games like multiple passes w/ adjusted focus. The trick is to add an air assist, which gives it just enough efficiency. Many of this class of designs have work areas that would accommodate a 16" x 4" balsa sheet, as well as sheet passthrough. I saw "low" power because it'll still shoot your eye out---safety is up for debate; these kinds of models, e.g., don't include enclosures. The tradeoff though is that even after adding air assist, ventilation, and software (LightBurn) you're looking at about $600US.


Additional materials for the safety list: Vinyl and PVC are also hazardous.
 

Sandy H.

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
1,935
Reaction score
1,341
Going back to two of the OP's requests was the Made in USA aspect and the water cooled aspect. In my searched 6 years ago, that was pretty much Epilog only (for the size I was looking for) but a quick search seemed to indicate there may be more units that are made in the US. Boss laser claims to be made in the USA and their 14" x 16" machine (free-standing, not desktop) is around $5k, which is 'pretty cheap' compared to what I found back then. Kern also claims to be made in the US, but their smallest machine is big and I assume the costs are as well. Glowforge is probably not made in the US, but it seems to meet the general idea of desktop size without water cooling. Given their popularity, maybe a used one is available as well, as sometimes people buy something like that and realize its not what they thought it would be.

There are a lot of people providing US based support for Chinese machines (many are water cooled, but maybe not all). It seems that it will be very hard to beat that option based on price and the quality of the machines seems to have gone up a lot in more recent years. I understand how that can make buying a domestic machine much harder for a lot of people.

Hope you find something that works for you at a price that you like.

Sandy.
 

Bluegrass Rocket

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
May 27, 2009
Messages
112
Reaction score
114
In today’s world there are many laser choices. Universal and Epilog are the 2 large USA manufacturers. Their desktop models, 12” x 24” bed size are in the neighborhood of $15,000+. Bigger machines going for much bigger prices. There are several US companies using foreign sourced parts, but assembled in the US or quality checked in the US, like Full Spectrum Laser. Then there are some lasers built in other countries, not China, and imported, like Trotec.
The high end machines use air cooled laser tubes which adds significantly to the cost. Most all cheaper machines use water cooled lasers. Some larger water cooled lasers use water chillers to make the water cold so the laser can run better longer.
The disadvantage(s) to Glowforge, they have marketed it well and a lot, is you can only cut thin material. Not even sure if you can do 1/4” thick. There’s no lowering the bed to cut on or engrave a 2” piece. Everything is Cloud based. If your internet goes down, you cannot run your laser, period. The Glowforge is also water cooled just done differently and will shutdown if it gets too hot. (A friend of mine has one)
I’ve got a Chinese import one bought off of eBay. 60 watt 16”x24” bed that can lower to hold about an 8” thick piece also with pass through doors. It was around $1600 almost 3 years ago. Prices have gone up since then. Most importantly, if you go with one of the Chinese lasers, get one with a Ruida controller. These pair seamlessly with Lightburn software and makes the whole experience better.
So far, I’ve had very little problems. Had to replace a switch which was not hard. For what it is, it’s still an amazing piece of machinery.
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
If you're strictly cutting balsa and some paper/chipboard, you can certainly cut up to 1/8" on a "low" power diode laser engraver like an Ortur Laser Master 2 20W (which is the electrical rating, optical output IIRC is 7W). Not sure about 1/4", the depth difference might dilute the beam too much without playing games like multiple passes w/ adjusted focus. The trick is to add an air assist, which gives it just enough efficiency. Many of this class of designs have work areas that would accommodate a 16" x 4" balsa sheet, as well as sheet passthrough. I saw "low" power because it'll still shoot your eye out---safety is up for debate; these kinds of models, e.g., don't include enclosures. The tradeoff though is that even after adding air assist, ventilation, and software (LightBurn) you're looking at about $600US.


Additional materials for the safety list: Vinyl and PVC are also hazardous.
Do you own or use an Ortur? If so, did it come with software (to control the laser head's movements), and is the Ortur manufactured domestically or overseas? Thanks for the info.
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
Going back to two of the OP's requests was the Made in USA aspect and the water cooled aspect. In my searched 6 years ago, that was pretty much Epilog only (for the size I was looking for) but a quick search seemed to indicate there may be more units that are made in the US. Boss laser claims to be made in the USA and their 14" x 16" machine (free-standing, not desktop) is around $5k, which is 'pretty cheap' compared to what I found back then. Kern also claims to be made in the US, but their smallest machine is big and I assume the costs are as well. Glowforge is probably not made in the US, but it seems to meet the general idea of desktop size without water cooling. Given their popularity, maybe a used one is available as well, as sometimes people buy something like that and realize its not what they thought it would be.

There are a lot of people providing US based support for Chinese machines (many are water cooled, but maybe not all). It seems that it will be very hard to beat that option based on price and the quality of the machines seems to have gone up a lot in more recent years. I understand how that can make buying a domestic machine much harder for a lot of people.

Hope you find something that works for you at a price that you like.

Sandy.
Thanks for the recommendations and info Sandy!
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
In today’s world there are many laser choices. Universal and Epilog are the 2 large USA manufacturers. Their desktop models, 12” x 24” bed size are in the neighborhood of $15,000+. Bigger machines going for much bigger prices. There are several US companies using foreign sourced parts, but assembled in the US or quality checked in the US, like Full Spectrum Laser. Then there are some lasers built in other countries, not China, and imported, like Trotec.
The high end machines use air cooled laser tubes which adds significantly to the cost. Most all cheaper machines use water cooled lasers. Some larger water cooled lasers use water chillers to make the water cold so the laser can run better longer.
The disadvantage(s) to Glowforge, they have marketed it well and a lot, is you can only cut thin material. Not even sure if you can do 1/4” thick. There’s no lowering the bed to cut on or engrave a 2” piece. Everything is Cloud based. If your internet goes down, you cannot run your laser, period. The Glowforge is also water cooled just done differently and will shutdown if it gets too hot. (A friend of mine has one)
I’ve got a Chinese import one bought off of eBay. 60 watt 16”x24” bed that can lower to hold about an 8” thick piece also with pass through doors. It was around $1600 almost 3 years ago. Prices have gone up since then. Most importantly, if you go with one of the Chinese lasers, get one with a Ruida controller. These pair seamlessly with Lightburn software and makes the whole experience better.
So far, I’ve had very little problems. Had to replace a switch which was not hard. For what it is, it’s still an amazing piece of machinery.
Thanks for the feedback Rick. What is the manufacturer’s name of your Chinese laser? Was it hard to set up, did it come with controller software bundled in, and how good is the level of customer/tech support?
 

Bluegrass Rocket

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
May 27, 2009
Messages
112
Reaction score
114
Thanks for the feedback Rick. What is the manufacturer’s name of your Chinese laser? Was it hard to set up, did it come with controller software bundled in, and how good is the level of customer/tech support?

My son, who is an engineer at Rolls Royce here in town (they make jet engines here, yes I’m proud and bragging) picked out the laser based on the Ruida controller. The name on it is Preenex Laser Engraver. It did come with controller software, but we never even installed it. We had heard good things about Lightburn and started with it. It is easy and good. Setup was easy and simple. Tub of distilled water, hook up aquarium pump and small compressor for air assist, plug everything in and you’re ready. It came with everything needed to operate. We spent the time to add a carpenter square as a fence on the back and left side. This gave us a place to set zero. The high end lasers have fence edges built in, I believe most, if not all, of the Chinese lasers have just the bed and you have to figure out where things start. We haven’t really had any issues, just a couple of questions which the company answered quickly. Hope this helps. P.S. After searching through eBay it looks like Preenex has morphed into OMtech. The 60 watt 16x24 blue and gray OMtech is what I have. Only the top door has changed.
 

Sandy H.

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
1,935
Reaction score
1,341
My son, who is an engineer at Rolls Royce here in town (they make jet engines here, yes I’m proud and bragging) picked out the laser based on the Ruida controller. The name on it is Preenex Laser Engraver. It did come with controller software, but we never even installed it. We had heard good things about Lightburn and started with it. It is easy and good. Setup was easy and simple. Tub of distilled water, hook up aquarium pump and small compressor for air assist, plug everything in and you’re ready. It came with everything needed to operate. We spent the time to add a carpenter square as a fence on the back and left side. This gave us a place to set zero. The high end lasers have fence edges built in, I believe most, if not all, of the Chinese lasers have just the bed and you have to figure out where things start. We haven’t really had any issues, just a couple of questions which the company answered quickly. Hope this helps. P.S. After searching through eBay it looks like Preenex has morphed into OMtech. The 60 watt 16x24 blue and gray OMtech is what I have. Only the top door has changed.

If you want a 'zero-error' square to set 0,0 attach a piece of hardboard (or similar) to the bed and run a cut pattern to cut the 0,0 with a foot on either side. Once you've done that, you might want to make removable pieces that register at the 0,0 but are at maybe 1,1 and use that as the local 0,0 for that jig. Makes jigging things pretty easy and very consistent. IMO, only.

Sandy.
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
My son, who is an engineer at Rolls Royce here in town (they make jet engines here, yes I’m proud and bragging) picked out the laser based on the Ruida controller. The name on it is Preenex Laser Engraver. It did come with controller software, but we never even installed it. We had heard good things about Lightburn and started with it. It is easy and good. Setup was easy and simple. Tub of distilled water, hook up aquarium pump and small compressor for air assist, plug everything in and you’re ready. It came with everything needed to operate. We spent the time to add a carpenter square as a fence on the back and left side. This gave us a place to set zero. The high end lasers have fence edges built in, I believe most, if not all, of the Chinese lasers have just the bed and you have to figure out where things start. We haven’t really had any issues, just a couple of questions which the company answered quickly. Hope this helps. P.S. After searching through eBay it looks like Preenex has morphed into OMtech. The 60 watt 16x24 blue and gray OMtech is what I have. Only the top door has changed.

Excuse the ignorance but what is a "fence" and zero-zero? I'm assuming "0, 0" is the X and Y coordinate on the workbed where the laser burn starts, sort of like the "home" or default position that the laser head starts at and returns to (like the print head on an inkjet printer)? Why would the burn head not return to that position by default? I could be wrong on my understanding of "0, 0" though.
 

dr wogz

Fly caster
Joined
Feb 5, 2009
Messages
8,550
Reaction score
4,247
Location
Land of Poutine!
What I believe he is referring to, is that the bad is slightly larger than the "home" position of the head. SO, if you take a piece of wood, and just shove it against the sides of the bed, it'll be offset; the 0,0 of the head will be inside the edge / corner of the wood. so, you'd essentially be wasting a 1/4" off two sides.. your 2" x 12" piece would really be a cut area of 1.75" x 11.75"

a "fence" would be a stop, something to butt the piece up against..
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
What I believe he is referring to, is that the bad is slightly larger than the "home" position of the head. SO, if you take a piece of wood, and just shove it against the sides of the bed, it'll be offset; the 0,0 of the head will be inside the edge / corner of the wood. so, you'd essentially be wasting a 1/4" off two sides.. your 2" x 12" piece would really be a cut area of 1.75" x 11.75"

a "fence" would be a stop, something to butt the piece up against..
Thanks for clarifying Paul, appreciate it!
 

alexzogh

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Sep 30, 2010
Messages
913
Reaction score
509
Location
Northern Virginia
I own a beambox pro by Flux - https://flux3dp.com/beambox/

I backed it on Kickstarter.


Uses it's own software, which is very easy to use and free.

One of the best features is its integrated camera. It can take a photo of whatever you want to cut/ engrave, then you can place your design right on top of the live photo to ensure it's perfectly aligned the way you want it and hit go. Can't really get any easier than that.

View attachment ImagePreviewTracking_1.mp4

At its current retail price, I would say it's a bit pricey, and you are paying for ease of use like a glowforge. Now that I am more experienced I would rather put the money into a stronger laser, a chiller, a 4th axis, or other features.
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
I own a beambox pro by Flux - https://flux3dp.com/beambox/

I backed it on Kickstarter.


Uses it's own software, which is very easy to use and free.

One of the best features is its integrated camera. It can take a photo of whatever you want to cut/ engrave, then you can place your design right on top of the live photo to ensure it's perfectly aligned the way you want it and hit go. Can't really get any easier than that.

View attachment 534002

At its current retail price, I would say it's a bit pricey, and you are paying for ease of use like a glowforge. Now that I am more experienced I would rather put the money into a stronger laser, a chiller, a 4th axis, or other features.
Really appreciate you sharing this info Alex, This might be more in line with what I need as an inexperienced neophyte/amateur to laser cutters. I like that it can use file formats and design software like Illustrator that I already have and am familiar with. The ease of setup is really attractive too.

Couldn't find prices on the website, what's the cost like? How's the tech/customer support, and is it serviced locally, even if it's not manufactured in the US (or is it)?
 

Sandy H.

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
1,935
Reaction score
1,341
What I believe he is referring to, is that the bad is slightly larger than the "home" position of the head. SO, if you take a piece of wood, and just shove it against the sides of the bed, it'll be offset; the 0,0 of the head will be inside the edge / corner of the wood. so, you'd essentially be wasting a 1/4" off two sides.. your 2" x 12" piece would really be a cut area of 1.75" x 11.75"

a "fence" would be a stop, something to butt the piece up against..

In my case, the laser is very accurate, but the position of the bed/fence is less accurate. I like to choose how much material is on the perimeter (not zero/using the factory cut edge) but not the random position the factory bed/fence actually had (my machine, call it 0.103x by 0.123"y -ish).

When I do a flat pattern in CAD, I draw the actual material size (nominal, i.e. 12x24") piece of material, offset that by around 1/8" for cutting tolerances by the factory and make my 0,0 the upper left corner of the material using the fence. If only cutting flat stock, you can probably do whatever you want, but when switching jigs from flat sheet to a jig that holds a Christmas ornament, cigarette lighter, flask or other, having the true 0,0 as the index point means you don't have to think about centering stuff or aligning it. Get it perfect in cad and it will be darn near perfect on the machine if you are consistent and have a fence that the machine cut itself (i.e. defining 0,0 based on the servos, not a guy who assembles stuff).

Not sure if that is clear or helpful, but if more information is needed, I can try to take a few pictures.

Sandy.
 

alexzogh

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Sep 30, 2010
Messages
913
Reaction score
509
Location
Northern Virginia
Really appreciate you sharing this info Alex, This might be more in line with what I need as an inexperienced neophyte/amateur to laser cutters. I like that it can use file formats and design software like Illustrator that I already have and am familiar with. The ease of setup is really attractive too.

Couldn't find prices on the website, what's the cost like? How's the tech/customer support, and is it serviced locally, even if it's not manufactured in the US (or is it)?

The prices span from 2k up to 5k. Here is one of their resellers: https://profound3d.com/collections/flux-beamo-and-beambox-laser-cutters-engravers

Since I backed it on Kickstarter, it was significantly less expensive for me.

What I was trying to say at the end of my post is I'm not sure the ease of use is worth the high cost, I feel the same way about the glowforge. You could start off with a significantly less expensive unit, and get the 'hang' of it, including your 'tool chain' (ie - making something in illustrator, exporting to lightburn or other software, ). Once you have that down, you can make much better decisions around what you want to spend the real dollars on.

My real recommendation would be to find a cheap used one from Craigslist that you can pick up locally, and pick the seller's brain on how he or she used it. Then, if you use it a lot you have a lot more knowledge of what features you really want.

As for the Beambox. I've never had a hardware problem with it that required physical service. I found the company to be very responsive to email, and I've purchased replacement parts (mirrors, tube) directly from the manufacturer.
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2017
Messages
1,637
Reaction score
498
In my case, the laser is very accurate, but the position of the bed/fence is less accurate. I like to choose how much material is on the perimeter (not zero/using the factory cut edge) but not the random position the factory bed/fence actually had (my machine, call it 0.103x by 0.123"y -ish).

When I do a flat pattern in CAD, I draw the actual material size (nominal, i.e. 12x24") piece of material, offset that by around 1/8" for cutting tolerances by the factory and make my 0,0 the upper left corner of the material using the fence. If only cutting flat stock, you can probably do whatever you want, but when switching jigs from flat sheet to a jig that holds a Christmas ornament, cigarette lighter, flask or other, having the true 0,0 as the index point means you don't have to think about centering stuff or aligning it. Get it perfect in cad and it will be darn near perfect on the machine if you are consistent and have a fence that the machine cut itself (i.e. defining 0,0 based on the servos, not a guy who assembles stuff).

Not sure if that is clear or helpful, but if more information is needed, I can try to take a few pictures.

Sandy.
I think I understand, but I'm a "show me" vs "tell me" learner, so pictures would really bring it home for me. Thanks!
 

Back_at_it

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2019
Messages
1,425
Reaction score
1,376
Location
Chicago Burbs.
Does anyone have any real world experience with the MakeBlock Lasers? Been looking at them as a lower cost option to the Muse and they seem to have a lot more beginner friendly features.
 

Latest posts

Top