A Guide to Buying Your First Laser Cutter

A good laser cutter goes a long way. Using the wrong kind could be detrimental to your work. Before you dive into your latest arts and crafts project follow this easy guide to finding the right laser cutter for you.

Laser Cutters for Beginners

Quality laser cutters don’t come cheap, however it’s a great investment as lower price ones may not garner the same results. Below are the list of highly recommended laser cutters that are efficient and easy to use.

  • Chinese Imports- This option is both cost efficient and it may or may not get the job done.  Pictures and spec’s of these machines can be misleading and the functionality is typically far from their American counterparts.  These machines are often sold cheap on Walmart, Amazon, and Ebay.   It’s an option for those who are just starting out and don’t want to make a costly investment just yet. The average price is $400 to $2,500.  Support is often an issue when it comes to replacement parts and technical assistance.  Be prepared to swap out small submersible pumps intended to go in buckets for radiant chillers, and to upgrade your ventilation system. The bundled software typically offers a very poor user experience that you may or may not want to have to work around — regardless of the potential money savings.
  • BOSS Laser- Boss Laser started importing Chinese lasers, tuning them up, and rebranding them for American sales. In an attempt to increase reliability and ease of use, Boss has decided to design and engineer their own laser cutter system and released their latest Gen V LS and HP machines.   The HP laser machines cut metal as well as organic materials and the price point is around $18K offering a comparatively good value.
  • Epilog Laser- Epilog is the gold standard if you’re looking for a high-quality, user-friendly laser cutter machine. Two big advantages: Epilog’s print driver makes the process of sending your designs to the machine quick and painless; and special air-cooled laser tubes made by Epilog reduce the hassles and potential hazards of their liquid-cooled competitors. The convenience doesn’t come cheap though; the Zing line, their most affordable, starts at just under $8,000 for only a 30-watt, 16″×12″ engraving only machine.

How Do I Use a Laser Cutter?

  • Create an image that you wish to cut- This can be from a camera, a drawing or an image you found online. The image will need to be uploaded to your computer and into software that works with your laser cutter. Most laser cutters will use software called CorelDRAW, but your model may have different software.
  • Choose the material you are going to cut your image onto– There are many different materials that a laser cutter can work with. Wood, acrylic and laser-safe plastic can both be cut and etched. Aluminum and glass can also be etched with a laser cutter.
  • Check to make sure the lens is clean– Make sure that the lens is clean before starting to cut, or your image and cut may be off. To check the lens you will have to remove a few screws using a screwdriver. If the lens does need cleaning, use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to gently clean it.
  • Turn on your machine and get ready to cut – Turn on the machine and wait for it to warm up before starting. Go to your computer and in your software program go to “File” and then “Print.” A Preferences menu should pop up allowing you to choose the cutting method. Most machines will have 2 cutting methods: “raster” and “vector.” “Raster” is used when you wish to engrave something, and “vector” is used when you want to cut out pieces.

Now that you are armed with the tools you need to not only know which laser cutter to buy, but also how to properly use one you can start your latest creation in confidence.

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