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Transform a conventional ink-jet printer into a 8000$ laser etcher? Answered

I believe everything is possible, with a little bit of help and that's what I need now. I can't build out those fancy CNC machine found here, since it's beyond my knowledge and skills. However, I thought about modifying a cheap ink-jet printer to make it into a DIY laser etcher this way: -Replace the ink part with a custom laser - instead of giving a current in order to flow ink, the laser will be powered. Laser requires different power level depending on the material, perhaps a potentiometer knob on the laser power supply could do it? -Remove any rolls and paper-only specification: instead, make THINGS able to go inside by simply destroying the printer, rising it up, and use the bottom paper rolls as the Y axis motorization. (The ink-jet head will be the X axis). Why would I do this? I have no idea how to programm small electronic chips, even less how to hook them up to computer or software. I, however, am able to print black and white images, and believe the black can simply be a signal to "laser on". I strongly believe this is possible. Since I can't, as stated above, mess with microcontrollers, I suggest adding potentiometers to the motors and laser and calibrate it myself, and adding physical marks (e.g: sharpie marks) to mark my settings. My question is: Do you think it is? What else could be required? Did I miss some obvious point that would render the previous idea totally worthless, and is this point solvable? Please comment :)


I've been thinking about this myself as of late.  The problems I thought you might encounter though is that I'm pretty sure an inkjet produces several lines of ink per pass to speed up printing... so you would need something that averaged out your input. Also the input is going to be pulses to form the dots of ink... this might essentially cause your laser to operate at half-power.  There are laser etchers out now that are around $2000 and you can't even buy the parts for under that (if you buy a CO2 Laser that is). All in all if you are set on trying hook up a $5 laser pointer first and see what you can do first before buying an expensive laser.

I agree with, that youshould look out to not burn your burner.  I'm not sure where you might be able to find one but, I'm thinking something around a custom mirror that will reflect the laser to itself so you don't burn more than what you want.

Sorry, This Would Be So Hard and Complex that it would probably be a better idea to buy an $8000 laser etcher.
Did I miss some obvious point that would render the previous idea totally worthless
The printer's Head only Moves on one Axis, To Do that you would need to either modify the printer, or the place you will want to print on
and is this point solvable?
You would need to Totaly reprogram the printer, It would all be an epic mess, And Yes, I have looked inside printers, tons of them, I see that it would not be possible, At least not easily.
Though You could use a bunch of printer parts, Such as the stepper , the chip that controlls the stepper motor, and some other things.

I don't agree.
The printer moves on two axis', the head on one and the paper on another.
The print drivers would work perfectly fine if you managed to bypass anything that would raise red flags.
The major problem would be not burning a hole in your printer and how to make the laser activate.

Wow you put some thought into that. (btw like my stik man : D)
erm, well i think you've done a preety good job already. You'll need a high powered laser diode, you can probably salvage a 250mW (is the small 'm' milli and the big 'M' mega? i mean megawatt) from a DVD burner. It would probably take a few runs over if you were say doing acrylic but paper should be easy enough. I think, if this is what you were saying, that the idea of moving the material like a normal printer would be easier than moving the actual laser. I really can't think of much but i'm sure someone will come and help soon enough :) But i totally agree with you that everything is possible. If/when you do build this, post an i'ble : D Oh yea and i reckon you can build on your idea and of course it is solvable (Y)

Hope that helps a bit :)

Yes, I was hoping to make an instructable out of it. Or make one, then make another with the hassle of making an ible, since I wouldn't want to start an ible and not finish it because the final product just doesn't work. I just found a 40$ printer at my local futureshop - there's no printer to salvage here already. However, I'd like to look at some places before, since futureshop is the worst consumer place I'd like to go. However so far it's the cheapest printer I could find. I thought salvaging a diode from a DVD burner too, however I'd like better to buy one just for this purpose on the internet, probably with a much higher power. I plan on engraving metal, not cutting. It could still be cool too if I could cut some thick papers and perhaps very thin pieces of wood too. The only professional part would be the diode. Thanks for you help, I really look foward this project.

Yea fair enough. Make sure you get all the parts necessary for the diode though, you don't reaaaly want to blow it too soon :)
Futureshop? i'm not familiar, what country is this? America?

Your welcome btw :)

From Canada. Future shop is known in the states too, also known as Best Buy. Some crappy hyper capitalistic mega tech store.

Next time you could try
in canada, because no one likes the crappy hyper capitalistic mega tech stores.

Printers are actually fairly simple inside. Remove all of the electronics that drive the sensors, motor, and ink cartridge first of all. Then, using stepping motor drivers you can use the paper feed motor for X, (yes they can go in reverse); and the print head carriage for Y. Sensors such as paper alignment and pickup controls that feed paper can be wired in to a custom controller if you want to get fancy and auto-feed sheets.

The problem is that once parts are cut they will fall out fully or even partially thus causing havoc inside. There are ways to overcome this, of course, so let your imagination and ingenuity go to work.

I have quickly made plans for this machine. Now I've been checking for a high power laser.

I have no idea what to pick. Could this be something plausible?
ebay link