Looking for your first Laser? Diode VS Co2.

What should you choose?

The great decisions of life should always be researched.   While purchasing a laser engraver may not be one of the biggest decisions in your life, it is a big decision for a lot of people.  Should you get a diode, Co2, Fiber?  Are they reliable?  Are they user friendly?  If these are questions you’re asking yourself, read on for an average persons experience in the laser world! 

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An Image engraved on Bamboo Cutting board using a Monport Laser 40w Co2 Laser.

Before we begin this article discussing this decision, I wanted to give a little bit of background of myself.  This way you understand the point of view I am coming from.  I am in my late 30’s, I am a tinkerer, and fairly proficient with electronics and computers. My normal 9-5 job consists of being a Project Engineer for a Systems Integrator.  While I do have some experience in the technical world, I think I can break this down for the everyday individual and help them make a decision that has shown me a very fun hobby that I actually make money with!

How does the laser work?

So you want to cut and engrave things with a laser… But how do they work?  Are they dangerous? Is it safe?    Well, that is a question that will take a little explaining.  So in this article we talk about Diode and Co2 Lasers, so we will keep the topic on those two avenues. 

A Diode Laser is just that, a Light Emitting Diode that is VERY bright and powerful.  This light is pushed through a lens where it is focused to a very narrow point.  Sometimes there is more than one diode used to create the focused light to engrave and cut. Those diodes get hot and are housed in a metal enclosure with a fan.  This fan helps keep the enclosure and the diodes cool.  When searching for a diode laser you will see advertised wattages (which is a power measurement) of 20w to 40w.  These power ranges are VERY deceiving.  They are typically measuring the power supply that is being used to power the laser.  This is done to make the lasers seem more powerful than they really are.  Typically they have an output power of 5.5w and can get up to 10w for higher priced laser units. The light for diode lasers is visible and eye protection is mandatory when working around these lasers.

diodelaserengraver

A Co2 Laser like the Monport Laser 40w,  uses a high voltage power supply to charge gasses to create infrared light.  That light is focused in the tube through the laser output window, through three mirrors and finally through a lens.  The beam directly out of the tube is powerful enough to burn organic materials.  Once this beam is focused through the lens, it is a very powerful beam.  The more power is pushed to the tube, the more powerful the beam.  This process creates heat, lots of heat.  This is why all Co2 Laser use water cooling to maintain a reasonable operating temperature in the tube to prolong the life of the tube.  Typical power outputs for Co2 Lasers range from 30w to 150w for home use.  Most of the popular Co2 Lasers (Monport Laser, Glowforge, Etc.) start at 40w. 

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Image of a Co2 Laser tube operating principles.

 

 

What are the Pros and Cons?

This is an excellent question!   Let's break down the Pros, the cons, and the costs about on these options.

Diode Lasers

Pros:

  • Large Engraving area: Typically 400x400mm sizes and larger.
  • Semi Portable: These lasers are light and can be operated in open air.
  • Price: Pricing on these can be reasonable before adding modifications and enclosure.

Cons:

  • Low Power output: Average 5.5w of output optical light power. 
  • Speed: Engraving and especially cutting speeds are very slow. Cutting is 1.5-3mm/second.
  • Safety: These lasers typically do not include an enclosure. This leaves operators exposed to hazardous visible light and fumes from engraving.

Costs: Initial costs and potential upgrade costs.  Note: * represents upgrades that are necessary for safe operation.

*$350-$500 - Cost of the Laser on average.

*$50-$250 - Cost of materials to build an enclosure or purchase enclosure.

$75 - Air Assist Pump, Tubing, and Air Assist nozzle.

*$85 - Fume extraction fan, Ductwork, and Power supply for fan.

$100 - Honeycomb Bed for Cutting and Engraving.

$60 - Cable Management and extended cables

$485 - $1070 Potential Costs 

Co2 Lasers 

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Pros:

  • Included Enclosure - Includes enclosure with safety switches.
  • Included Fume Extraction Fan - Includes fan to blow out harmful fumes.
  • Power - Co2 Lasers are far more powerful than diode lasers. They require a lot less power output to engrave and cut materials.  
  • Speed - Co2 Lasers can cut and engrave up to 18,000mm/minute while Diode Lasers are less than 10,000mm/minute.
  • More Materials - Co2 Lasers can engrave and cut more materials to include clear glass and acrylic.
  • Larger Engraving Area - On the 50w and bigger models, they typically have a large engraving area compared to diode lasers.

Cons:

  • Small Engraving area - The 40w models have a smaller engraving area.
  • Cooling - Requires water cooling at all times during operation.

Costs: Initial costs and potential upgrade costs.  Note: * represents upgrades that are necessary for safe operation.

*$450-$550 - Cost of the Laser on average.

$80 - Air Assist Pump, Tubing, and Air Assist nozzle.

$70 - Honeycomb Bed for Cutting and Engraving. (50w and larger models include honeycomb beds)

$450 - $695 Potential Costs

My Personal Experience

So I originally purchased a diode laser that was a “20w” unit.  I found it to be a great starter experience.  For me I found the Diode laser a fun hobby experience.  When I started to create projects for my Etsy store, I found that the diode laser took a very long time to cut and engrave projects. As my sales grew, I knew I wanted to have a faster and more powerful laser.    I engaged with a lot of social media groups that discuss Co2 lasers.  The consensus of my personal research was “I need to get a Co2 laser to grow!”  I contacted a few manufacturers to discuss a 40w or “K40” style of Co2 laser.  I wanted to see which suppliers would have the best price and support.

Monport Laser was the first manufacturer to respond and get me in contact with a real human.   They provided a lot of information and answered my questions promptly.  That meant a lot to me when making a purchase in that price point. I knew that I would reach a real human when I needed support or had questions post purchase. While it is nice to have the larger engraving area of a diode laser, I haven’t really needed it for any of my projects on my Monport Laser.  I understand why I picked a diode laser for my first laser, but I wish I would have picked a 40w Co2 Laser as my first laser.  I do plan on upgrading to an 80w or 100w unit in the future to keep my laser journey moving forward.

 

Will Diehl

DiodeDudeDesigns@gmail.com