Anybody have experience with a laser engraver that would be suitable
for a small, low volume, one man operation? I'm considering buying, the
per piece rates around here are pretty steep.
Is a price range of $3-5 K realistic?
I haven't seen anything for under $11K that would be worth
The laser itself is what costs so much. Add to that a reasonable
enclosure to vent off the fumes and the over-all costs climb quickly.
I have done my homework as it is a 'fit' for my market. I would just
add it to my CNC.
Granted, I did this research 3 years ago and much could have changed
but a fellow CNC operator near here just bought a minimal laser CNC
just last year and he spent $ 15K and zero belles and whistles.
I will dig some more as numbers like $3-5K intrigue me. Keep me posted
if you find something.
Keep in mind that when I did my research, I was looking to cut 1/2"
mineral filled acrylic which required a minimum of 120 watts of CO2
I have heard decent things about these guys: http://www.fullspectrumengineering.com/index.html
and I see that they have some reasonably priced machines.
I guess it is the same old same old. Size and power make a huge
difference in price.
In fact, by now it's already down to $1950 for the whole thing, shipping
and CNC software extra.
It's a Chinese machine, obviously, but ships from US (NV), at least that's
what they are telling on the phone. Haven't ordered it yet but considering
it, so I called them and asked about availability. It sounded like they
are getting them from China in batches, then prepping for sales here and
fulfilling orders, so they'd be in stock one month and out of stock the
next, regardless of what the site says.
It's a 32" x 20" bed, 40W cutter/engraver, so won't actually cut much
beyond 1/8" acrylic but since the OP is talking about engraving wood,
it'll char any wood just fine and can cut balsa and other thin wood as
well and do plenty of other interesting things.
I bought a 40watt Epilog laser about 1.5yrs ago, and it works great. It took
five years of research before I was ready to lay down the money for one of
these units I can assure you. There are a lot of things you need to explore
before making a decision. First is to look at EXACTLY what you will get for
your money. Is the laser tube a liquid cooled, or air cooled? What type of
drive motors does it use? How fast is it? How accurate will it reproduce the
image/cut line? does it have "Air Assist"? are separate cooling systems
involved, and if so, are they included? What type of ventilation system will
be required? Any special power supply requirements, and if so, is it
included? What software is included? Do you already know how to use the
software. If not, you may want to buy the software first, and learn to use
it before you spend the money on the laser. It is going to take some serious
time to learn any graphics package, and a laser unit needs to be used on a
regular basis. If it has to sit for a year while you learn the software, you
will need service before you even get started. If it's foreign made, get
references from owners of the same machine to see how well the company
supports what you are buying. You WILL need some help when you first get
started, and although mine is still working fine so far, I'm sure it will
need repairs at some point.
What I found in my search of over five years is this . . . Take it for what
it is . . . just my results.
Chinese machines are like everything else the Chinese produce . . . SECOND
RATE JUNK. If you want a really expensive, second rate toy . . . go for it.
But don't say you heard me recommend it. Don't forget to add the expense of
a water cooling system, unless it comes with one (most do not), as most are
water cooled. The components are shoddy, the setup is difficult, they
constantly come out of register and focus, and they are generally more
trouble overall than they are worth. As for support . . . I've yet to hear
anything good about them. Period. Cheap price tag, but you get what you pay
for! For someone with a great knowledge of lasers, who just wants to run an
occasional "Rough" job, they are a cheap alternative to a quality machine. I
just hope you know what to do when the gremlins get into the machine or the
Unless you plan to use one of these extensively, it is an investment that is
way out of proportion for the novice user. Three to five thousand is not
going to get you a machine that will do anything substantial. Even Epilog's
small units run well over $5k. You would be far better served finding
someone who owns one, knows how to use the software and the hardware, and
just pay a nominal fee for the work you want done. A lot of engraving shops
have fairly powerful units installed on site, and would welcome the extra
business. The going rate seems to be about $1/minute run time, plus setup
fees for the artwork. Large projects require large tables and higher power
lasers. Expect to pay substantially more, as the units get very pricey as
the size and power get larger.
My unit is fairly powerful at 40watts. It can cut most materials up to 1/2",
with proper speed, frequency and power settings. You can cut thicker items,
with multiple passes, but the edge finish suffers with too much heat, and
multiple passes. A lot depends on the material too. The lens used will make
a HUGE difference, as it directly affects the convergence angle of the beam.
Epilog has some of the best optical systems I know of (I'm sure there are
others at significantly higher prices), and this does matter when doing
precision work, cutting thick materials, or cutting/engraving in recesses.
All in all, you have a LOT of homework to do. Don't rush your decision! That
is the best advice I can give you. Talk to as many laser users as possible,
and see how they like the machines they own. It will be time well spent
before someone suckers you out of a large chunk of hard earned money.
If you want to talk more about it, send me a private email, and I'll send
you my phone number. If your close enough, and only need some occasional
work done, I'll be glad to work with you.
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