This Instructable is meant to be a resource to anyone who is looking to do some laser cutting for the first time, learn a bit more about how laser cutters work, or just explore the wonderful world of laser cutters.
Step 1: Materials - Part 1 - The Machine
Epilog recently released a line of budget laser cutters that come in just under $8,000.00. With that in mind, I'm going to explore other ways of getting your hands on a laser cutter.
First, there's always local colleges. Community colleges are fairly cheap for classes, and it can't hurt to see if they offer any classes in art or engineering that involve laser engraving. Less then a hundred dollars (depending on cost per credit) for a class, and you should have access to a laser cutter for a whole semester. Going about it this way, you not only get cheap access to a laser cutter, you also get to learn some tips and tricks, plus constant hands on experience.
If you just want your design made and don't have the cash for, or want to buy, the machinery, you can do some searches in your local area for businesses that will laser cut for you. There's a lot of places that make a business of laser cutting items for other people. You can also try to find places that use laser cutters, and see if they wouldn't mind helping you out.
Another way to get your design made without buying a laser cutter is with a company like Ponoko, who will cut whatever design you send them, and send you back the finished product. There is an excellent set of Instructables on doing just that.
If you really want your own laser cutter and just don't have the money for it, there are a couple of options. You can go to manufactures websites and see if they have an option to purchase pre-owned models, or go to a site like ebay and hope that what you buy is what you get.
You could also treat it as you would a car, since it costs just about as much, and lease-to-own.