You may be wondering what the different types of laser engravers are and how to choose the best one for your application. The main differences between laser machines that are available are the laser sources they use.
3 Different types of laser engravers are:
- Diode Lasers
- CO2 Lasers
- Fiber Lasers
Each laser type has its own advantages and disadvantages and is suited for different materials.
As the name implies, semiconductor lasers are diode lasers. By passing a current through a semiconductor, light is emitted, which can be used for various purposes. Diode lasers are small, low voltage, and low current devices that are widely used from laser printers to optical disks such as DVDs.
Since they are small, they are often mounted on smaller laser cutters. In contrast to other colors of lasers, blue lasers have a very small, fine focal point and are therefore very well suited for laser cutters. Shuji Nakamura of the University of California invented the blue laser and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014.
Laser engraving and cutting abilities of a Diode Laser
In recent years, lasers with wavelengths of 405 nm and 445 nm have become quite popular among makers and hobbyists. With only 5-7 watts of laser power, you can easily cut acrylic up to 8 mm thick and wood and plywood up to 6 mm thick. The best way to get better engraving and cutting results is to use an air pump with an air assist.
A diode laser is a relatively affordable tool that can be purchased as a DIY Laser engraver or installed on any 3D printer or CNC router. Generally, diode lasers can be used to cut and engrave virtually any material except transparent and metallic.
For metal cutting, you need high pulse energy, which can’t be achieved in CW mode. This is why high power Co2, Fiber, or DPSS laser modules are used.
Depending on the type of wood, the laser’s power determines how thick it can cut:
- 1W can cut under 2.5 mm wood with several passes
- 3W is able to cut 2-3 mm wood with several passes
- 6W can cut 2-3 mm wood in a single pass or 4-5 mm using several passes
- 8W can cut 4-5 mm wood in a single pass or thicker wood using several passes
- 10W can cut 5 mm in a single pass or up to 10 mm with a double beam laser with multiple passes
- Portable, lightweight and durable
- The laser uses less power as compared to other lasers
- The device is very affordable
- Not enough power for cutting thicker materials
- Metal or glass cannot be engraved with diode lasers, unless they are coated
- Not able to engrave or cut glossy, transparent, translucent and white surfaces
CO2 Laser engravers are composed of a gas-filled tube with mirrors on either end. One is reflective, and the other lets a considerable amount of light through. Light is created by passing electric current through a gas tube that contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and hydrogen.
With the help of the mirrors, the beam travels through the machine to the laser head, where it is magnified and focused on one point. In the end, a powerful laser beam was created that could cut through a wide variety of materials, such as paper, wood, rubber, plexiglass, plastic, leather, and cloth.
Laser engraving and cutting abilities of a CO2 Laser
When selecting the laser power of your laser machine, the most important factor is the application you will use most often with the laser. If you plan to use the laser primarily for engraving, a power between 25 and 80 watts will do the trick. A laser power of more than 80 watts is recommended for laser cutting or very high speed applications.
Materials CO2 laser cutters can work with:
- Matte Board
- Wood Veneer
- Painted Metals
- Anodized Aluminium
- CO2 lasers have a higher power output, so they can cut through materials faster
- CO2 lasers can cut through wood, acrylics and certain metals.
- Used for production purposes
- Using a CO2 laser requires a considerable amount of workspace.
- The CO2 laser is fragile since it consists of a series of very tiny and precisely positioned mirrors.
- CO2 Lasers are more expensive than Diode lasers
In the modern world, fiber lasers are everywhere. Their wide range of wavelengths enables them to be used for a wide range of purposes, including cutting, marking, welding, cleaning, texturing, drilling, and a lot more.
Fiber lasers guide light with a silica fiber cable, and the resulting laser beam is more precise than other types of lasers because it is straighter and smaller. In addition, they require little maintenance and are economical to operate.
Laser engraving and cutting abilities of a Fiber Laser
Fiber laser engraver machines are technologically advanced, cutting-edge machines that can engrave images and text onto almost any type of material. You can engrave organic materials like metals, copper, brass, aluminum, iron, and even precious metals like gold and silver. For non-organic materials, you can engrave leather, PVC, and resin.
Here is the list of materials that you can engrave with a Fiber Laser:
- Stainless steel
- PVC (Please ensure you have a good fume extraction system as PVC fumes are toxic and corrosive)
- Excellent beam quality for excellent metal engraving
- No consumables and long life depending on the laser source of around 100,000 hours
- Highly efficient
- More expensive than a CO2 Laser and Diode Laser.
- Some materials cannot be engraved like wood and acrylic
The main difference between the types of lasers is the materials that they can process. For example, the diode laser cannot process glossy, transparent, translucent materials and white materials. Fiber lasers are the best choice if you want to mark metal.
CO2 lasers are the best choice if you want to mark organic materials such as acrylic, glass, textiles, wood, and cardboard. You’ll need a high-power CW (continuous wave) fiber laser to cut metals. Consider the materials you plan to process as well as the area where the laser will be used and its power when selecting a laser cutter.