Laser Cutter Advice

Hi All,

My work is getting to an interesting point with some projects where we want to buy a laser cutter to start some part prototyping/engraving, and I’m after some advice. They’ve identified some industrial ones that seem heinously expensive, and generally run on proprietary firmware/operating systems (Windows only etc.).

We don’t want to extensively modify it to work with an open source tool chain, we want it to work offline and open source from the get-go. Our Lulzbut taz5 was about perfect for what we wanted in terms of toolchain+setup, and an equivalent cutter would be great. Glowforge looked sweet until I saw it only operates within their cloud set up – they’ve open sourced the firmware but I think it’s still only cloud operated.

In terms of power, they want to cut steel and etch titanium. I’m not sure what that means in terms of using CO2, fibre, mirrors, and wattage – my mixing those words together might elude to my lack of knowledge :wink:

If there’s no retail solution like a lulzbot for lasers, does anyone really take commissions to assemble custom jobs?

We’re not averse to buying an expensive or high quality product, our ignorance just makes us hesitant to buy the first laser we see.

to achieve your goal of “cut steel” you are going to be looking at something in the category of “heinously expensive”.

1 Like

There are some water jet cutters available, like the Wazer. If you really want to cut steel…

1 Like

Just a question.

Why do you need a laser cutter? Would a cnc cutter work?

(I have no experience so this is just me thinking aloud.)

1 Like

To cut steel you need a fibre laser in the range of 2-4 KW of power. For reference the glow forge is around 45W.

Etching you can do on a co2 laser at low wattage, if you apply a special paint to your steel first. If you don’t want to apply paint, you need a fibre laser, 80 W ish.

The Trotec flex 400 will run you around $120k delivered, installed and with training. It has both a co2 tube and fibre, and will etch steel. There is a few paths you can take for the tool chain, but the ideal one is Corel draw on Windows.

For small businesses, you’re best off with a wider range of simple tools, rather than one that can do it all. If the cutting of steel is the most important goal, waterjet or plasma cutter. If etching is the goal, a mid range co2 laser with the paint would be my suggestion.

1 Like

Yeah cut steel seemed a bit of a stretch even for thin stuff, but thanks for taking it seriously enough to give an answer. It’s good to know it’s several orders of magnitude

I think hard materials like steel etching is all that really matters, when you say “etch” does that mean any particular depth of cut? Actual cutting would be more for little things in MDF, and anything else could be covered by a CNC cutter as catprog suggested.

That’s an important piece of info, thanks! Do you recommend good source for learning more about these tools so I even know the right questions to ask?

I’m wanting to experiment with QR codes on plaques, and the size of the bit for cnc cutting would restrict the fidelity/data I could get on a piece.

Sounds about right, those seem designed for businesses centred around using the machine rather than us wanting to tinker around.

Wazer is a joke. And a bad joke at that. Because of its total inadequacy the cost of media to use it is higher than getting someone else with a real water cutter to do it for you.

1 Like

Most laser etching (in steel) is pretty thin, only a few microns deep. In regards to steel perhaps the best way to describe it is removing the surface finish.

Despite the costs of their systems, the trotec site has a huge amount of valuable info, it’s well worth a trawl. Here’s their marking paint I was speaking of earlier. This would work really well for QR codes, high contrast, clean lines. there’s also this hack-a-day article on using plaster and alcohol, which appears to give good results.

If you’re after a specific depth of cut/etch, it might be worth looking at the roland engraver systems

and as I learned last night, sheet metal is awful on a CNC cutter if you’re cutting through it. It likes to twist, warp and climb the cutting bit.


If you need help with choosing a router or mill your welcome to poke me.


definitely an interesting thread… been trying to get my small one up and running for a while… but other things have taken priority… one of my partners got one from china similar to the 3d printer set up but uses a small modular laser instead of an extruder.

I think in the end just having a CNC router is going to be the best approach for now. Etching and precision cutting lighter materials is still something we want, but a router will cover the overwhelming majority of what we want at like a tenth of the price.

Thanks for the helpful replies y’all!