It doesn’t matter if you are a wood worker or fashion designer, adding a laser engraver to your tool chest can increase your capabilities and still be affordable. This post outlines some practical uses and how I entered the laser game. Still trying to find laser head mounts for my shark tank. Also read to the bottom for my top 5 picks of lasers to add to your toy box, I mean “tool chest”.
I started out with the Ortur Laser Master 2, 15 watt. Shown below.
This a great starter laser for any small business. It will cut cardboard, paper, fabric, cork and a variety of other materials. The 15 watt is somewhat deceiving, as the laser itself only puts out about 4 watts. 15 watts is the power consumption. But as I have stated it will cut some materials. For example an Esty vendor who wants to up their game and go beyond embossing to create intricate designs like the ones below might consider a machine like this one. I have also seen this used by fashion designers to etch denim material.
For my shop I have used this tool to help our local community theater raise over $5000 selling limited edition Christmas ornaments. In addition this tool helped me kick off my storefront with numerous sales of various wooden ornament designs, such as personalized gift tags, my first Christmas, and puppy print ornaments.
Do not expect this machine to cut through wood. It can cut 1/8 plywood but takes up to 7 passes and leaves heavy charring on the side of the wood.
LASERS CREATE A LOT OF SMOKE
You must use your laser in a well ventilated area. The laser creates a lot of smoke, after all it is a mini fire burning away at the top surface of your material. I use mine in the garage and often leave the door open to vent the fumes. Opening one garage door about a foot and the other about 3 feet creates a cyclone effect to circulate the air faster. It is highly recommended that you add an inline fan and ducting to extract the fumes either through a vent in the wall or out a window or door.
The Ortur laser is a class 4 laser meaning exposure to your eyes can be damaging. You MUST wear special eye protection rated for your laser type. Some of the more expensive craft laser like the Glowforge are considered class 1 because there is a protective filter on the acrylic lid. Position your laser so that it is blocked from direct exposure to someone who opens the door to your work area. Laser damage to the eyes is permanent.
CNC LASER ATTACHMENT
I recently upgraded with a laser attachment for my Shapeoko CNC machine. The laser of choice for this device is the Jtech 7 watt laser, this laser will attach to most CNC machines.
When it comes to hobby lasers most people think of Glow Forge. This device comes in as the most popular and honestly probably the easiest to operate since it has a built in scanner and will copy anything you stick in it and recreate it onto most materials. However this device at the time of this post is backordered for more than 4 months. It is also cloud based so if you don’t have internet you cannot engrave or cut. The top end device rolls in at over $5500 and there are never any coupons. The best you can get is an affiliate link which might save you $500.
I have jumped into the CO2 market getting a “Chinese laser” from Orion Motor Tech Lasers. I am awaiting delivery of the 60 watt laser with 20×28 bed and passthrough for larger material. This device uses Lightburn Software which is the same software I am using for the other lasers. The devices comes in at half the cost of the Glowforge and double the working space. I recommend this if you are wanting to engrave tumblers or Yeti cups. I plan on this device to be my main money maker in the shop because it allows me to cut plywood faster and with greater detail.
TOP FIVE PICKS
Below are my top 5 picks for small business or hobbyist. This list is comparing apples to oranges but for an Etsy type storefront this would be my recommendation/dream list. The first device is a dream item and actually would recommend for someone who is already being in the cost in sales on a quarterly basis.
- American designed and manufactured
- Excellent customer service and training
- leasing available
- Price starts at $20k+ for 24″ bed (leasing $309/month)
- Proprietary software, transfer designs over software for rendering
- Great Customer Service and training
- American reengineered (Chinese made but company rips out the power wiring and replaces with US standard wiring)
- Lightburn compatible
- Twice as large as Glowforge
- Price starts at $5500+
- Price $2500+
- Easy to use/Lightburn Compatible
- Great Forum support groups
- Most popular for startups
- Delivery and Purchase is a gamble, some buyers report broken CO2 tubes
- Limited support, OMTECH recently acquired US based division but the device is still manufactured in China and manual is poorly written English.
- At time of this posting, out of stock for all mid sized machines, surge of first time buyers looking for cheap entry into lasers, COVID restrictions delaying import
- Scanner features found in Glowforge
- Easy use, great for classrooms
- Cost starts around $2000+
- Wifi enabled but not cloud based
- Expandable for rotary engraver/passthrough
- Smaller working area, 12×20 max size
- Proprietary software
- 45 watt is max power output
- 5. GLOWFORGE
- Easy use, great for classrooms
- Boasted as anyone can use, even used in demos for engraving food
- 3 models standard, plus, pro
- Works from any browser
- Cost starts at $3000 up to $5500
- Lower wattage, 50 watt is highest available
- Cloud based only, internet outage or site outages prevent usage
- backordered for 4 months
- 6. **BONUS** Ortur Laser Master 2
- Great intro laser for under $400
- Numerous video tutorials and great forum communities
- Small and portable
- Slow engraving
- Assembly required
For the money I would absolutely recommend the Ortur laser to someone who is testing the waters. The bigger machines can be intimidating but I felt very comfortable with this machine once I figured out the speeds and intensity settings.
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