How a Hobby Laser Cutter Can Dramatically Change How You Design and Create.

How a Hobby Laser Cutter Can Dramatically Change How You Design and Create.

Mar 10

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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_laser

5 comments

  1. Elwin Netto

    I’m looking for a desktop hobby laser cutting and engraving machine

    • Craig Stevens

      It depends on how much you’re willing to spend. There are laser companies
      with laser engraving machines offering around 30 to 40 watts (dont expect much
      cutting power) that start around $8-9k that may or may not include graphics
      software but they’re mostly US manufactured machines from companies like
      Epilog, Universal.

      At the other end you have small US based companies that more or less flip imported
      Chinese machines. Some will not even open the box to inspect but instead redirect the
      machine at the border to your door step. Regardlesss of what these companies
      say or look online…see what software the offer. If Chinese is the only option
      than they’re just flipping machines. If they’re price is really low, they
      may even be a Chinese company based in the US. Nothing wrong with Chinese its
      just that communication and quality standards can surprise you.

      In between the above are companies that import machine parts as well as US parts and
      and then assemble some or all of the machine in house. I’ve had good success
      with companies that work this way as the quality is much better than an import
      and the price is less than 100% made in the USA. Think about support more than
      you are now. Its really important. I used to like Rabbit Laser
      but have found better machines and software at Boss Laser. And their support is sharp.
      Not real confident with too many other companies based on conversations and forum
      feedback I’ve seen.

  2. I would like to have a price of the hobby laser cutter,and more detail like pictures ect.And thickness of materials it can cut.
    Kind regards,
    Brooksby

  3. Barrie Bowen

    I am trying to read your section ‘Don’t buy any hobby laser until you read this’.

    I assume I need to register but cannot find where on your site to do so. You Home page does not open on my browser and your Login page doesn’t offer a register option.

    Can you please advise what to do?

    • Craig Stevens

      I made it unprotected. Sorry about that.
      -Craig

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