Picture of Frankenstein Laser Engraver

This Frankenstein Laser Cutter was built out of an old scanner and printer.
The whole thing evolved around the instructable of Groover and his 'Pocket Laser Engraver'.
This is a Making-Of. Although a lot, if not everything, of the mechnical construction requires ingenuity I tried to document the complete build process as much as I could. Every scanner and printer mechanics are different so this could not be used as a step-by-step guide. More of a "how it can be done"-guide. I try to cover the questions that could arise in the process of making.

I had absolutely no clue about electronics. All I knew was that RED is (often) + and BLACK is (often) Ground.

Therefore I have learned a lot in this project. Starting from mechanical stuff like self-replenishing brass bearings to electronical stuff like stepper motors and the difference between bi- and unipolar motors to soldering and etching my own board.

The work area is 270mm x 200mm. Just about right do cut some flip-flops for the summer.

It is able to cut :

  • foam rubber
  • tape
  • vinyl
  • paper (nearly every color but white/red)
  • several plastics (could require several runs depending on thickness)

It can engrave:

  • light wood (Balsawood/Poplar)
  • leather
  • bone
  • horn
  • plastics
  • some varnishes
  • blank cds/dvds (purple/blue)
The color is quite important. White and in general bright colors are hard if not impossible to work with.
Those colors reflect the red laser beam to much.
Red(ish) colors are a problem as well as they reflect all light in the red range spectrum.

The building costs (without mispurchase [easydriver clones were for the trash can]) is around 45-55 €.

Arduino(clone) 10 €
Easydriver x 2 20 €
Electronic bits and pieces 10-15€
Aixiz housing /w lens 6 €
Alu-profiles 5 €
------------------------------------- ----------
Total 46-56€

Well I forgot the Laser Safety Glasses (THIS IS A MUST!!):


Laser safety glasses 50 €
New total 100 €

Build time with knowledge acquisition and waiting for shipping was around 4 month...
I am constantly updating this so be sure to come back from time to time for further improvements.

May, 9th 2013 : Updated Step 14 : The Laser diode (pictures and some focus hints)

May, 13th 2013 : Added Step 17 - Links and files section

Added Step 18 - Take it to the next step (Improvement - optional)
Updated BOM list. Now contains more stuff you need
May, 20th 2013 : Corrected mm/sec to mm/min ! Seconds would be very very fast.

June, 1st 2013 : Added Step 13 - Alternate laser driver shield (Easylaser Shield)
December, 4th 2013: Updated Alternative Easylaser Shield schematic/layout with the help of jduffy54.

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casvandegoor made it!5 months ago

It's alive! :)

fletcherjeremiah made it!9 months ago

Good instructable! Thanks for all of the details.

elabz1 year ago
Nice project! The scanner base gives a very nice area to work with. I've dabbled with DVD-RW based laser engravers/cutters (a lot) and their 1.5"x1.5" (38mm x 38mm) workarea is quite a limitation - I'm sure having 270mm x 200mm is quite liberating!
What are the accuracies you are getting with this setup (96SPR + pulley) - what diameter is the driving pulley and how close are you able to get to the max resolution with EasyDriver?
ianmcmill (author)  elabz1 year ago
Having such a big work area is really quite nice !

I am getting an accuracy of 1/10mm (0,0039"). The x-axis driving pully (scanner) is 9,1mm in diameter(0,358"). The y-axis pully has 6,4mm diameter.
For the resolution, the scanner stepper with 96 steps does very well with 1/8 stepping. The printer stepper is running in 1/8 stepping as well but as it moves the motor doesn't sound very "clean". Actually it has a nice accurarcy of 1/10mm, too. But 1/4 stepping would be better I think. Another option would be to replace the stepper with another, bigger (in number of steps) stepper motor but I havn't found any good replacement (slavage) by now. I am learning something new everyday and things get clearer the more I read and try.
I'm coming up with (9.1mm x 3.1415)/96 = ~0.29mm as the max resolution for the scanner motor with 9.1mm pulley in full step mode. I am curious if you're able to increase that by using 1/8th microsteps. Did you measure 0.1mm?

I've done such measurement before by cutting a line at a very acute angle. Say, you want to cut a line along the Y axis but have the X at the beginning to be 1mm off from X at the end. Doesn't matter, 1mm more or 1mm less, just has to be off. The longer the line the easier it will be to see the accuracy. Once you cut the line, you should be able to see quite clearly 10 saw-tooth like regions that break the straight line (hold it toward a light source to see easier)  if your accuracy is 0.1mm, 5 teeth if you accuracy is 0.2mm, 4 teeth if 0.25mm and so on.

I've done it for DVD-RW steppers with the stock 3mm pitch lead screw which in theory should have 0.15mm resolution (3mm/20SPR =  0.15mm per step) and I cannot see any improvement whatsoever in any of the microstepping modes. I've also played with the current setting of the EasyDriver - nothing I did could create any better resolution than what's available in full step mode. I chucked it up to my stepper being overloaded. I wonder if you get any different results from yours.

By the way, I actually found 0.15mm accuracy to be quite bad for my tiny cutter. The details I would want to cut were so small that I needed them to be extremely accurate and 0.15mm just didn't cut it (pardon the pun). See if you can cut yourself a tiny 1:212 scale  model of Lockheed P-38J Lightning from here out of 3mm craft foam - it only holds together without glue if the accuracy is better than approx 0.05mm. Same with the tiny rocket model there - if it holds together, it's at about the maximum resolution that you can get from this laser cutter. It will be really difficult to  focus the laser into a spot less than 50 micron anyway.

ianmcmill (author)  elabz1 year ago
Okay trying this one but I think the printer stepper is the crucial point or it's microstepping mode. I did the rocket you coded on your page and I needed some glue to hold it together.

you should be able to see quite clearly 10 saw-tooth like regions that break the straight line (hold it toward a light source to see easier)  if your accuracy is 0.1mm, 5 teeth if you accuracy is 0.2mm, 4 teeth if 0.25mm and so on.

You mean like "M3 X100 Y100". Cutting a diagonal line ?

G1 X1 Y100

I think this would be the right Gcode as interpreted by Grubl (if M3 turns the laser on, M4 off). In other words, the X travel should be minimal, ideally 1 mm.

I don't know idiosyncrasies of Grubl's processing of the Gcode. Perhaps the construct you gave will work but even then it would read as
M3 X1 Y100

ianmcmill (author)  elabz1 year ago
I had a chat with elabz and here is the result of his Gcode from above

Top lines show the accuracy of the Y-axis.
Bottom, that of the x-axis. The x-axis is pretty clean so far. But the y-axis lacks accuracy for now. Switching the stepping mode could help. Or some dumpster diving.
ianmcmill (author)  ianmcmill1 year ago
ianmcmill (author)  ianmcmill1 year ago
(9.1mm x 3.1415)/96 = ~0.29mm as the max resolution

Ah okay now I understand what you mean by 'max resolution'. The more I think about it, the more my "measured" accuracy cracks. I measured it with a ruler that has 0.5 mm steps (0,01968 inches) and I just estimated this 0.1mm.
MichielD9929 days ago
Excuse me for my dumb question but why can't i just use a relay to power the laser?

This is by far the most comprehensive and best tutorial on the subject of laser cutters on instructables!! Good on ya! I'm just learning about this and wow, am I glad I found this tutorial.

NURKABIL1 month ago


what the type of laser can i use

i want to know if the laser removes the powder coated paint from the surface of the Zippo Lighter to reveal the bare brass metal underneath.

like this video on youtube

ianmcmill (author)  NURKABIL1 month ago


I managed to engrave a vanished metal sheet of an old PC case with my diode.

The result from that shown in the video may vary though.


can i see The result from a vanished metal sheet of an old PC case with your diode

ad image pleas

MarkL92 months ago

I don't understand how the laser diode can stay on for so long. Normally laser diodes die after 10 minutes if only cooling is simple heatsink.

soilwork2 months ago

i'm trying to make somethin some similar with my small desktop cnc, and this my first question , how do i adjust the lense , just an error and trial ?. i'm talking if there's a way to get an optimal result on laser wood burning, i bugth a 1w 445nm blue laser

andrea biffi3 months ago

Ian, have you seen this?

ianmcmill (author)  andrea biffi3 months ago

Woah 129$ including safety googles. My safety googles were already 60$. Anyhow looks nice and once again proves that no one can beat chinese pri....wait they used my picture !

Should I know feel honored ? Actually all of their sample cut pictures are downloaded somewhere from the internets. Doubt the T-Rex fits on the working surface.

Thanks Andrea !

GrownJ ianmcmill3 months ago

Hi,there if you doubt about that I suggest you can watch this video here: there has the software yoou can download with this to the picture you mentioned belongs to you,I;m realy sorry to do the wrong thing.but this machine really can do this works.kindly hope your understanding.

ianmcmill (author)  andrea biffi3 months ago

Also for 129$ I would not expect to have the laser glued with a hot gun to the sled.

LOL I thought the same!
GrownJ3 months ago

If you want an assemble one with good value ,you can see here DIIY laser engraving machine

RenalsH4 months ago

Almost all of the motors I am reclaiming are 5 wire steppers. Is there a way to make those work for this with the easy driver? Sorry but this is my first Arduino project.

Hi, I'd like to make the lasershield, but can't find the download for the fixed version. What exactly is wrong with your orignial layout?

Cheers Kris
ianmcmill (author)  KrisCross931 year ago

You can find a link to Groover's laser shield in Step 11.

Step 13 direct download link to my alternate laser driver with jumpers for different microsteppings.

ianmcmill (author)  ianmcmill1 year ago

"My" original layout was done with microsteppings in mind. Though I made a mistake where different jumper settings did not change the microstepping mode. Jduffy54 took the Eagle layout and fixed it.

If you like I can upload "my original" (non-working-jumper-layout) and practise your Eagle skills.

Hey, thx for your help. I finally found both download links, seems like I had to be logged in to see them...
But when I open the fixed one with Eagle it looks wrong to me? (pic)


same issue, it seems like it has some issues with not being complete(wires that don't go anywhere and don't seem to connect like they should). it also doesn't match the schematic. the non-working jumper version seems to be complete, is it set to work with dvd steppers like groovers, or the printer steppers? I am trying to combine these projects, I prefer your way of driving the laser, but I also want to build the pocket version with dvd carriers and steppers. any help is appreciated.

jduffy54 justin64 months ago

Sorry about that, I haven't looked at this in a while. If you open the board in EagleCAD, click the "ratsnest" button, and it should fill in the open spaces in the board (inside the dotted line around the board). This should connect all the missing wires and thicken the thin ground wire going to the upper stepper driver by connecting all grounds to a plane, instead of individual wires. That was done mainly to reduce etchant used, if you use a chemical etchant, or machine time, if you do it with a cnc router, since there is less material to remove.

Also, if you're going to use this at high speeds or with photoresist etching, I just noticed that the little mass up by pin 8 will probably cause some problems. I'd go with the jumper-wired board, or no controllable microstepping driver. I didn't really know the rules behind circuit board design (tolerances, avoid sharp angles, etc.) when I did this, so sorry about that.

soltek jduffy544 months ago
hi, thanks for scheme and explanation :-). my question is : what i do with lsp1,lsp2,lsp3 and lsp4?
jduffy54 soltek4 months ago

I'm not entirely sure. I didn't design the layout, just did some basic routing. I believe that's to drive the laser, but I don't know the exact details.

Hi! Just one question. I have to plug the jumpers as show in the picture? Or i have to plug all 4 jumpers? thx

sözgür15 months ago

very nice

WV_Kokamo_Joe6 months ago

That video is freaking awesome! I hope to make this soon!

nikbgs2176 months ago
I have some questions if that's alright? I have been looking for an engraver like this! I skimmed through your design and it looks Amazing! I have a lot of scrap computer that I am going to take apart and build your design! One question is, is there a specific software I instal on a computer, to get the desired engraving I want!? Also, if I have other questions for you, could you help me with those!? Much Appreciate your design and Ideas! Thank You - Nik
ianmcmill (author)  nikbgs2176 months ago
Sure ! Questions are always welcome. The software for generating the engraving patterns is Inkscape. It's an open source alternative to Illustrator. I wrote in one of the steps how to use it and which addon you need.

If you have more questions just drop them here. I'll be around picking them up.
jiajun8987 months ago

Hey. In your instructable step 13, you said you used easylaser_shield_fixed(by jduffy54).zip and easy_laser_nonworking_jumpers_external_laserdriver.rar. Which one should I use as the laser shield? If easy_laser_nonworking_jumpers_external_laserdriver.rar laser shield is used, where exactly do I connect the laser diode to? Please enlighten. Many thanks!

ianmcmill (author)  jiajun8987 months ago

Please take easylaser_shield_fixed(by jduffy54).zip

Hi ianmcmill. Thank you very much for the prompt reply. How about the laser diode? Where exactly do I connect it to? I couldn't find details of the connection in your instructable, or have I missed it somewhere? Please enlighten.
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