If you’re a hobbyist that builds models or a small business owner creating memorabilia and souvenirs, a hobby laser cutter is just what you need to give your business that much needed boost. Gone are the days when building parts or carving out a souvenir meant long hours with unwieldy tools and sweaty brows. These days, laser cutters do most of those intricate jobs and much more in a fraction of the time it used to take previously. Carving a small statue out of a piece of wood? No problem. Throw a block in the laser cutter and watch it cut the design you have ready on a computer screen.
You can find desktop hobby lasers for sale at Epilog, Universal, Trotec, Gravograph, Camfive, Full Spectrum, or www.bosslaser.com to name a few. You’ll want to read below about specific companies… For now here are some important things you should know and look for when you buy your first laser cutter.
Find the right combination of price and utility.
The truth is, a hobby laser cutter involves a considerable investment and a fair degree of expertise to maintain and operate. So, be doubly sure about what you will be doing with your hobby laser cutter before you buy it. A 40 Watt laser cutter should be fine for most modeling jobs. A 50 to 60 watt laser is definitely better for speed and cutting power, but will be a fair bit more expensive than 40W due to the fact that 50W is has almost double the cutting power. A big factor is what materials you will be cutting with it and how often you think you will be using it. But, at the same time don’t short change yourself, what you NEED now changes as you realize the almost endless possibilities as to what you can design create.
The size of the engraving area matters.
This is where you cut, and the size of the engraving area defines what you can cut and the size of the models/parts you can create. Most cutters have a material area that is more than their cutting area, but this is only relevant if you plan on etching photographs or designs into blocks of wood or plastic with a frame around them. The laserable work area is what you need to be looking at if you’re more into building parts or models. This differs among various brands and it is a wise decision to get a hobby laser cutter with the maximum engraving area if the price is right for you. A 14″ x 15″ engraving space usually works great for most hobbyists.
The right software is a must.
When it comes to laser cutting, having the right software matters as much as your ability to visualize the end result. The software is what communicates with your hobby laser cutter and the design software you are working on. Having a trustworthy and capable USB controller and laser interface that work with other graphics programs like CorelDRAW or PhotoShop. Some companys only give you a driver for these programs without an interface while some offer an interface so you don’t have to design in a graphics program. I reviewed Boss Laser’s laser software (Laser Works) and found it offers a rather robust laser interface that integrates well with Corel. I didn’t test it with other programs.
The CO2 Laser tube and what you need to know about it.
This is virtually the heart of your hobby laser cutter. It’s the edge of the knife, the place where everything gets done. Most hobby lasers have CO2 laser tubes and their power is stated in watts. Now more wattage is definitely better, but the quality and make of the laser tube is more important. Since it’s the part that does most of the work in your laser cutter, it’s also the one that wears out fastest. Choose a laser cutter that has the sturdiest CO2 laser and you will be cutting with a peaceful mind for a long time. Lasers with higher wattage also let you cut thicker and denser material and they generally cut with more precision than lasers of lower wattage.
Rotary attachments are great.
Rotary attachments are roller type add-on’s that let you engrave or cut designs into cylindrical objects like wine bottles, aluminum cylinders etc. They rotate the cylindrical blocks on a horizontal axis and let the laser etch as the they’re being rotated.These are not standard on most laser engravers and are mostly offered as an add-on. This is highly essential if you’re planning on engraving cylindrical objects and ones that need to be turned in order to etch correctly.
Focus lens for the laser.
Lasers are simply light, which means they can be focused for better results. In a hobby laser cutter, focus lens of different focal lengths come as add-on’s. They’re usually classified in inches and all of them serve different purposes. A lens with lesser focal length can be used to cut thin materials whereas a medium and higher focal length lens may be used to cut thicker material with more sharpness of finish. Ultimately having a set of focus lens is essential for a hobbyist that works with different materials and towards various purposes.
Why the air compressor in a hobby laser cutter is important.
An air compressor helps blow away tiny particles that result from cutting and generally keep the temperatures cool in the cutting area. This prevents fires while cutting plastic materials and wicks away toxic fumes before they can do any harm. They usually add to engraving and cutting quality because there is no more particulate matter interfering with the cutting process. Air compressors are also used to drive and circulate water to the laser and keep it from overheating.
The importance of having a photo engraving tool.
So you have a brand new hobby laser cutter and you’re raring to etch some photographs into a block of material. Having a software tool like Photograv is definitely essential to be able to etch or engrave photographs into solid material. This software gives you many parameters to control the etching process and this results in great looking engraving that is of the finest quality. Buying software like Photograv is essential if your cutting mostly involves etching photographs onto solid objects.
What a Hobby Laser cutter can do.
When it comes to a hobby laser cutter, it’s simply a tool that can make your creation process faster, more efficient and precise. Instead of spending long hours chipping away at materials or hiring a CNC machinist to convert your designs into solid objects, you can simply design whatever you want on your computer and cut it on a block of material of your choice. It’s as simple as that. With obvious limitations in the size of models and material they can cut, hobby lasers still are a great choice for hobbyists and small business owners who want a machine that can build their models in the fastest time possible and at the lowest costs imaginable.
Companies That Sell Hobby Lasers.
There are lot of low end companies, sketchy outfits that are loosely operated with few staff members and shoddy machines. Setting aside the quality of their equipment I strongly advise purchasing any laser from a US based company that has a reputable track record and an ongoing support system that is verifiable. Even if you’re a DIY’er – work with a company that has a verifiable history of good support in terms of competent tech support, warranty, and a refund option. I would not advise buying direct from China for that reason. FDA is especially cracking down on imports and more and more buyers are finding their purchase stuck at the border due to companies in China not having valid documents. You usually don’t find that out until it’s too late.
An easy way to review a company is simply to Google: “laser company name reviews”. Then read what you find on the forums, blogs, Better Business Bureau, Dunn & Bradstreet, Yelp, etc. If you can’t find much of anything then its probably a new company. Also beware that some laser companies have been known to have such a bad reputation that they’ve changed their company name and website! This is a big red flag. Doing a due diligence will help align you with a company you can trust that will help you years into the future.
I recommend Epilog, Trotec, Boss Laser, and Trumph.
Info on laser technology:
I’ve been down the hobby laser road a few times on both the importing and recently purchasing domestic. What may seem straight forward and clear can be surprising to say the least.
I am not about to beat up any company specifically but, if you heed this advice I’ve experienced and picked up from others along the way you should save yourself some trouble for sure.
Top 10 Hobby Laser Buying Tips:
- Review the laser company first then their machines. Work with companies at least 1 year old
- Typically hobby lasers priced under $2,500 will make you wish you spent more later
- Dont import any hobby laser…or any laser machine for that matter on your own
- Only buy a hobby laser on Ebay if you’re single or wanting to learn Chinese.
- Dont build your own ‘DIY’ hobby laser
- Before buying a hobby laser first call the company and talk to their support tech’s
- Ask how the company KNOWS how much wattage is in their laser tubes
- Don’t buy from a company with either no 3rd party reviews or frequent angry reviews
- Dont buy a hobby machine platform less than a 12″ x 12″ engraving area
- Ask the company about a competitor. If they put them down – move on.
Feel free to comment below to add or edit any one of these.
People who generally buy a laser cutter machine on eBay, Amazon, or Craigslist do so to save money up front. But often times that savings ends up being rather expensive in the long term. Machines work well if they’ve been maintained and cared for. A used co2 laser can look nice but ‘under the hood’ could be a big problem such as dried up belts, a dead or leaking laser tube, damaged focal lenses or mirrors, gantry that’s not level, etc. So, unless you’re certain of the quality you’re getting I would only buy used if its a steal…and then I’d still be cautious.
Generally when you are buying from online auctions like eBay it means you’re looking for something cheap otherwise you wouldn’t be there. I ‘d strongly only look at sellers with a good feedback rating.
Now it is always advised to such people that they should probably wait and save some more and once they have they should go and buy a new one instead of getting a used one since it would just be like throwing your money off and wasting it since you will spend the equal amount of money and effort on repairing and fixing the machine – the amount which you could have applied to purchasing a new unit.
The greatest problem behind the so called ‘advice’ is that you need to know what you’re doing when buying used equipment and especially used laser machines! Like here…http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_sop=3&_nkw=used+laser+cutting+machine is that no doubt if they are cheap then this will indicate that the machine is having a big problem and it can be guaranteed that it will prove to be problematic and sometimes will not support your commands. You fell into the trap when the owner is bragging online about its perfect condition because if the thing has to be imported then you are unable to examine it unless you have purchased it and it has been shipped to you. The owner wills most definitely never tell you the real reason why he is selling the gadget and what exactly is the problem with it. He might tell you one or two of its problems but he will never tell you the real one. You will find out about this problem when you have started using the product and it will be impossible to return it. The owner will never agree on the point that the problem was there in the machine before the purchase and it was kept hidden to get a good price.
If you are having no choice and you have to buy a laser cutter machine EBay then you should wait a bit or look regularly. If your luck is good then definitely you will find a laser cutter machine which will be second hand but the owner will be selling it due to some financial problem or some other which will not be related to the machine. In these lucky cases you might end up with a good machine in very less amount of money otherwise you always will fall in the pit of deception in such cases. Don’t throw your savings just like that and be careful and observant to get what you want.
When we look on metal from the view of a person when metal was just discovered, we would think it to be invincible. It would be beyond our imagination to put a dent on it let along etch a proper symbol or writing on it. On the other hand now it is a work of everyday that we are molding the metal in our own way. We are writing on it like it was as easy as we were writing on water. All of this laser metal etching has been made possible with the help of the progressing technology.
Now people adopt laser metal etching as their hobby. They buy laser etching machines, laser etching pens and a lot more devices related to it and do what they want to do in their workshops. People start this as their hobby and end up having a business in this field because it is the only hobby which if done correctly can make you some real bucks. Laser metal etching has its applications in each and every field. It is used in the most important works like related to security. It etches security symbol on the products. It etches the company’s symbol on the products and the army badges are also prepared by the laser metal etching.
If you are going into this field then the first thing which you need to know is that you have to be extra careful. Take all the precautions and cover your face and hands if you are using a laser pen or CO2 method but if you do it through an advanced laser which is being operated by the machine and the object which is to be etched is on the table far away then you are definitely safe. You will also have to make sure that you have a firm grip on the laser because when you are working with a laser, it moves with such force that you feel like it will slip out of your hands in no time. If this does happen then the laser will cause fatal or serious damage. In order to get a better grip on it, it is better that you hold it in a manner that it is moving towards you instead of going away from you. In this way you will be able to use the weight of your body to keep the laser firmly in its place while it does the etching for you.
It depends on what you are etching. The art is also used in the decoration pieces. There are many metallic antiques which are sold on expensive price tags. The reason is that the beauty of the pieces due to the etched metal on it. The weapons are etched by the metal laser and the same is the case with all the appliances. It is also done with certain pass keys which are having important or confidential data behind their locks. The art is also used in making jewelries of various designs.