Hello this is Geordie and I wrote the "10 Tips and Tricks for Laser Cutting and Engraving" instructable. For close to 2 years I ran the laser cutter/engraver at my local maker space, ADX Portland and I continue to use their laser to make my own artwork and designs.
One of the most common questions I've received since posting the "Tips and Tricks" instructable, is people asking me for advice on buying their own laser. So I've decided to write a quick instructable about that.
I’ve only ever used one machine and that is the Epilog Helix laser at ADX Portland. So that is the only machine I can talk about directly. So rather than reviewing specific companies and machines this article is going to be more about what to look for and think about when buying a laser.
Step 1: The First Issue Is Support.
There are a lot of cheap imports, mostly from China, on the market. But lasers are complicated machines and they do break and need to be repaired. Make sure the company you buy from is reliable and offers good support for you and their machine after you buy it.
Here are some questions to think about:
How hard or easy is it to get replacement parts?
Do they have tech support?
How easy is it to get a question answered?
Do they have a good website?
Are there tutorials on how to use and/or fix the machine?
Can it be upgraded?
Step 2: Choosing a Machine. Size and Power.
The two main issues I would focus on when it comes to picking a machine are the size of the bed and the power of the laser.
The machines bed size will determine how big a piece of material you can fit in the machine to cut or engrave. A bigger bed will allow you to cut or engrave larger pieces and even if your doing something small, like laser cut jewelry, a bigger bed will allow to cut out multiple pieces at once rather than one at a time. Also some machines have a fixed bed and some have a bed that can go up and down. A bed that goes up and down allows you to engrave different sized objects. The cutting depth doesn’t change but if you want to engrave a logo on a leather shoe rather than on a flat piece of leather, having a bed that you can lower to get the shoe in the machine is important.
The next issue is the power of the laser. The strength of the laser is measured in Watts. The more watts the more powerful the laser is. The laser, I used, started out with a 30 watt laser and was then upgraded to a 50 watt. The strength of the laser is most important for cutting. Remember the thickness of material that a laser can cut is determined by the focal point of the lens and not the power of the laser. So adding a more powerful laser won’t allow you to cut thicker material. But it will allow you to cut faster and more reliably. A weaker laser will mean having slow the laser down to be able to make good cut.
I would suggest getting the largest machine you can and starting with a weaker laser. A bigger bed will allow you to work on bigger designs or cut and engrave multiple pieces at once. You can upgrade the laser in it to a more powerful one later.
Hope this information helps out. If you can’t afford your own laser I would suggest looking for Maker space where you can use their laser or find a shop that will engrave and cut for you at a good price.