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Fire the Laser

2020 Best Laser Cutters (Winter Update)

Picture of Mika Yeap
by Mika Yeap
Jan 15, 2020
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Check out our buyer's guide for the best laser cutters on the market. Plus an introduction to laser cutting, services, and materials.

The cutting process was one of the earliest processes to be discovered, which used a laser beam. Ever since its discovery in the 1960s, laser cutting has become an extremely common process in many industry sectors.

However, in recent years home and office laser cutting machines have become accessible and affordable. Once strictly used by industrial manufacturers, laser cutting is increasingly adopted by small businesses, product designers, makers, and even hobbyists.

In the following article, we’ll provide insight into the best laser cutters on the market – ranging from hobbyists to semi-professional machines.

We’ve also included a comprehensive guide to laser cutting, sharing everything you need to know about this technology before you make an investment.

Our Laser Cutter Picks in 2020
Dremel Digilab LC40 Laser Cutter & Engraver

Easily cut and engrave projects for your school, small business, or home with the Dremel DigiLab LC40. Learn more

Top Pick
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Glowforge Plus

The Glowforge Plus is a professional-grade laser cutter that is both easy-to-use and highly reliable. Compared to the Glowforge Basic model, the Plus offers upgraded components and increased laser power that makes it 20% faster. Learn more

Best Value
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Orion Motor Tech 40W Laser Cutter

The Orion Motor Tech 40W is our "Best Budget Pick for Laser Cutter/Engraver" in 2020. It's a compact machine with plenty of power for your money. Learn more

Budget Pick
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Sections

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Overview
Laser CutterLaser TypeEngraving Area (mm)Market Price (USD)Check Price
(Commissions Earned)
Orion Motor Tech Laser Cutter 40WCO2300 x 200 mm$450
TEN-HIGH 40W Laser CutterCO2400 x 300 mm$1.400
Glowforge PlusCO2500 x 280 mm$3,995
Dremel Digilab LC40CO2467 x 304 mm$6.500
TEN-HIGH 60W Laser Cutter CO2400 x 600 mm$4.000
Epilog Laser Zing 16CO2406 x 305 mmRequest Only
Orion Laser Cutter 80W CO2700 x 500 mm$2.700
Full Spectrum Laser PS20Fiber500 x 300 mm$5,550
Mophorn 100W Laser CutterCO2900 x 600 mm$3.100
No matching records found.
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Best Laser Cutters

As laser cutters become more affordable, we’ve seen a significant shift in the consumer market. What was once a tool strictly for industrial purposes, you can now find laser cutters in schools, maker spaces, and even homes.

The spectrum of cutters ranges from budget ones to semi-professional and industrial-grade machines. Providing you with a broad overview, here are a few of the most popular desktop laser cutters on the market right now.

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Laser Cutting Guide

Want to learn more about laser cutters before you decide to invest in one? Keep reading through our 2020 Laser Cutter Guide to find out everything there is to know about laser cutting technology.

Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

How Does a Laser Cutter Work?

Image of Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide: How Does a Laser Cutter Work?
Like a knife through butter - laser cutting wood

Unlike 3D printing, laser cutters create designs and patterns by cutting into materials instead of building them up layer-by-layer. This subtractive manufacturing technology uses a powerful laser beam source to melt, burn, or vaporize material away. A desktop laser cutter typically follows directions from computer numerical control (CNC) or G-code.

The process starts with an extremely small laser beam that is emitted from a tube when a current passes through. This current causes the laser to reflect off a partial mirror and point through a focal lens in the machine head. Following the vector file that holds the 2D design, the laser beam cuts away at a material until the image is completed. These laser cutting machines are highly capable of creating finely detailed patterns with a high-quality surface finish. There is a wide range of laser cutting techniques and compatible materials that you can use.

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

Laser Cutter Types

Laser Cutter Type #1: CO2 Laser

CO2 powered laser cutters are the most commonly used of the three. With low power usage, relatively low price, and high efficiency, this laser cutting technology is the most ideal for consumers and maker spaces. The laser source is generated from a gas mixture that is primarily comprised of carbon dioxide. Also, CO2 lasers are compatible with the broadest range of materials.

Laser Cutter Type #2: Neodymium

This laser, created with neodymium-doped crystals, has a much smaller wavelength and higher intensity compared to CO2 lasers. Enabling the laser to cut through thicker and stronger materials, including metals and some ceramics. The downside to this type of laser is that machine parts wear down very quickly, requiring a higher degree of maintenance.

Laser Cutter Type #3: Fiber Laser

Created from a so-called “seed laser” and amplified through special glass fibers. This laser source has a high intensity that rivals Neodymium but is easier to maintain due to the way they’re built. Fiber-based laser cutters are mostly used for laser marking processes, which entails marking or labeling workpieces with information.

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

Laser Cutter Techniques

Laser Cutter Technique #1: Vector Cutting

With vector cutting, the laser beam is continuously fired, cutting directly through the material. This technique is solely used for vector graphics and extremely small lines.

Laser Cutter Technique #2: Raster Engraving

Contrary to vector cutting, the rastering process burns off only the top layer of the material instead of cutting all the way through it. The design is engraved in a different color, integrating the image within the selected material, usually by presetting the laser to a lower power level. Instead of a high-powered pulsing beam, the laser cutter unfurls finely detailed dots to produce the design without cutting through the material. By managing different dots per inch (DPI), you can control the way the raster effect is produced. This technique works well with wood or leather, but may not work as intended with other types of materials.

Laser Cutter Technique #3: Vector Engraving

Meeting in the middle of vector cutting and raster engraving is vector engraving. Also known as “Kiss Cuts,” this method follows vector lines but only cuts into the surface of the material.

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

Laser Cutter Materials

Depending on the type of laser that is utilized, there is a wide range of compatible materials available. With the CO2 laser cutter, you can use wood, leather, acrylic, glass, plastics, foams, as well as cardboard and other paper materials.

When using fiber or neodymium lasers with higher intensity, the material options expand into metals, more types of plastics, and even some ceramics.

Here are the most common laser-cut materials:

Laser Cutter Material #1: Wood 

laser cutting

Laser Cutter Material #2: Leather

Laser Cutter Material #3: Acrylic

Laser Cutter Material #4: Metal

Laser Cutter Material #5: Cardboard

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

Laser Cutting Services

Image of Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide: Laser Cutting Services
A laser cutter cutting metal

If you don’t want to splurge on a desktop laser cutter or have a single project to undertake, you can utilize a laser cutting service bureau. There is a wide range of manufacturing services that offer both 3D printing and laser cutting. Here are some that are best known for the latter.

Laser Cutting Service #1: Ponoko 

This service provides over 100 materials to choose from, allowing you to make anywhere from 1 to 100,000 laser cut products, parts, or prototypes. Ponoko also offers same-day production and shipping, as well as design templates to ensure your idea is executed correctly.

Laser Cutting Service #2: Laserage

Offers CO2, Neodymium, Fiber, and other custom laser types. As a business unit of the medical component company Amtek, Laserage seems best equipped to take on projects in the medical sector. They also take on aerospace, electronics, and other industrial endeavors. This manufacturing service also provides laser welding and drilling services.

Laser Cutting Service #3: Sculpteo 

Even 3D printing service bureaus like Sculpteo now offer laser cutting services as well. With over 60 possible material combinations, the French company claims to work around your workflow and template. If you have an idea that necessitates both 3D printing and laser cutting, Sculpteo is the service for you.

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

Laser Cutting vs. 3D Printing vs. CNC Milling

When it comes to selecting the best manufacturing technology for your application or project, there are many factors the make laser cutting more beneficial than 3D printing. While additive manufacturing is useful for prototyping purposes, the current lack of material properties makes it a tough sell for user-end production. Laser cutting is a subtractive manufacturing technology that cuts away from a material, rather than building the design up from scratch.

But with laser cutting technology, existing materials can maintain their mechanical advantages after being cut or engraved. While both are considered go-to tools for rapid prototyping, laser cutters provide more versatility with 2D geometries.

CNC milling, another computer-controlled manufacturing method, shares a lot of similarities with laser cutting. While both use a cutting head to carve through various materials, CNC uses metal cutting heads that move up and down on a third axis — therefore allowing for more design freedom and the ability to produce more complicated shapes.

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Laser Cutter Buyer's Guide

What Can I Create With a Laser Cutter?

Now that we’ve explained laser cutting technology, there’s one crucial question left to answer. What can you create with a desktop laser cutter? Well, in reality, the possibilities are endless. But here are some of the most popular uses of this marvelous manufacturing technology.

Here are just some ideas:

Laser Cutter Creations: Jewelry

Laser Cutter Jewelry

Laser Cutter Creations: Ornaments

Laser Cutter Ornaments

Laser Cutter Creations: Art/Sculpture

Laser Cutter Art/Sculpture

Laser Cutter Creations: Lighting Fixtures

Laser Cutter Lighting Fixtures

Laser Cutter Creations: Lettering

Laser Cutter Lettering

Those are just a few popular uses for a desktop laser cutter, but there’s much more where that came from.

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How to Design for Laser Cutting

When creating a design or pattern for laser cutting, you can use either 2D or 3D design software. Laser cutters essentially function like an average 2D inkjet printer but come with drivers that allow the laser cutting machine to follow specific designs. While these particular drivers are highly common in 2D design software, there is less support from 3D software.

Graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator and free drawing tools like AutoCAD are ideal 2D programs for laser cutting technology. But 3D software like Solidworks, Autodesk Inventor, and Autodesk Fusion can also be utilized to create certain types of designs and patterns.

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License: The text of "2020 Best Laser Cutters (Winter Update)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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