Which laser cutter is the best to buy? I am on record as saying the Glowforge is my favorite laser cutter but that doesn’t mean it is the right tool for you in 2023, so let’s take a look at the main options I would suggest you look at if I was going to purchase today.
1. Diode Laser Cutter
Diodes are a great way to add a laser to an existing platform (CNC or 3d printer) or a budget way to get into laser engraving with a full kit.
A lot has changed since the original cheap diode lasers came out, fortunately.
They had a justified reputation for being
- Dangerous – They were not enclosed or shielded so special protective glasses must be worn, tiny hands could get seriously burned, and one that I reviewed fired the laser as soon as power was applied!
- Dirty and smokey – Again, not enclosed, and had no air filtering or extraction, so LOTS of smoke.
- Low-powered – If a laser engraver can not make much of a mark on the surface, let alone cut, then you will have to slow right down, which means you get even more soot and smoke. Now that has all changed with diode lasers competing with Co2 lasers for power!
- Slow – Speed isn’t just related to the power output but also it comes down to the motion hardware and stepper drivers. Engrave jobs especially need the machine to be able to get up to high speeds with accuracy, and if the framework is not stable then you can get severe artifacts in the resulting engraved image. Modern lasers also do complex math to maintain speed around curves and stops and starts – you don’t want burn or collisions due to overly aggressive acceleration and deceleration.
With all this in mind, don’t buy a diode laser that is more than a couple of years on the market, and make sure you do your research that it will perform up to the standard you need it to.
xTool has learned from the mistakes of the market and on October 18th 2023 released the xTool S1 – a fully-enclosed, 40W diode laser, with built-in fume extraction and the option of an automatic air assist! As diode lasers go it is much more capable and powerful than the others and the price is appropriately a bit higher. Check out my review here to find out everything it can do.
My budget recommendation would be to check out the xTool D1 Pro review I posted, it solves all of the issues either out of the box or with the purchase of the enclosure, air assist, and honeycomb crumb tray.
Ben also recently covered an excellent diode laser on his channel that he loves:
2. Desktop/Hobby Co2 Laser Cutter
Now we are in 2023, I would very much suggest that you avoid the K40 unless your budget is super tight or you are a fan of tinkering with the machines rather than using them. Once I had upgraded my K40 to be truly usable I might as well have bumped up in price to a Glowforge, and I might even save money today by getting an xTool or even a Gweike depending on the current promotions.
I would still say Glowforge has the edge on ease of use but there is one advantage the newer lasers have over the Glowforge and that is the ability to use LightBurn which is an excellent piece of Laser control software.
3. Large/Prosumer Co2 Laser Cutter
Once you outgrow a desktop laser, especially if you start making in large quantities, you might need something bigger and beefier.
There are a lot of options on the market but my favorite right now is the Thunder Laser. It has the wallet-friendly pricing that most of us appreciate but has specs only found on machines 2x or 10x the price.
What you will need to carefully consider in this price range is how the machine is going to get to you.
Shipping is extremely expensive and slow right now due to global shipping container issues) and where it is going to go once it arrives (some of the lasers in this scale require additional power requirements, meaning it will need to go in a real workshop, but almost all are the size of a chest freezer and upwards.
If you have never used a laser before then I recommend you find a local maker space and see if you can get time with theirs. It could be a costly mistake to buy the wrong type or wrong model.
For people simply dipping in their toes, try a diode laser and see if you get much use out of it. They are priced at the range where it is not as massive a risk and you might well find it quickly pays for itself by selling what you make.
When you need to cut deep or produce a lot of products, fast, rather than just do engraves, you will eventually need a Co2 laser. As mentioned, my favorite has long been the Glowforge but the Gweike Cloud is fast gaining my admiration and the way they are iterating on their machines, it could well be my favorite in 2024.