Best CNC Laser Cutter: A Comprehensive Guide

by Winnie Li Posted in May 26, 2023

Buying a CNC laser cutter is quite strenuous, especially for beginners who do not understand the technical factors. It is a must to have prior knowledge of laser cutting machine to pick the right product according to your requirements. In this article, we will share a complete guide for buying a CNC laser cutter. We will discuss what it is, its various types, important factors you need to consider, and everything else you need to know before you make a decision. Whether you're hunting for a laser cutter for crafts or to start a small business, we've got you covered.

In This Article

  • What is a CNC Laser Cutter? How it Works?
  • Advantages of CNC Laser Cutting 
  • What Materials Can a CNC Laser Cut? 
  • Types of CNC Laser Cutters
  • Factors to Consider When Choosing a CNC Laser Cutter
  • Best CNC Laser Cutter: xTool P2
  • Top 10 CNC Laser Cutter Projects That Sell

What is a CNC Laser Cutter? How Does a CNC Laser Cutter Work? 

CNC is an abbreviation for Computerized Numerical Control, which means controlling any machine through pre-programmed software or code. With that being said, the user or operator has to give commands and instructions through a diagram, file, code, etc., and the machine does the rest of the job itself.

a cnc laser cutter cutting on wood

A special language is used to command CNC, which is generally known as CNC programming language, such as G-code. The program is stored in the memory of the machine control unit from where it is executed. Any machine that has CNC is called a CNC machine. It could be a router, lathe, grinder, laser machine, etc. Thus, a CNC laser cutter is a laser machine controlled through CNC. The machine has a control unit with pre-programmed software. It makes laser cutting automated in every aspect.

For laser cutting, you need to provide the design to the machine. The design can be made on the native software of the laser cutter or design software like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape, etc. Then, the design file is converted into a specific format that is compatible with the machine. The file is known as a laser-cut file. It has information about the laser power, speed, and various other settings.

When the laser-cut file is imported to the CNC laser cutting machine, the software reads the program and converts it into the desired language. According to the design and other instructions, the laser is started, and the movement of the laser module is controlled. The machine completes the job according to the instructions, and after that, the operator can take out the material or final product.

Often small desktop laser cutters are also referred to as CNC laser cutters. It is because these machines also have a specific board mounted on them. They are controlled through software, and everything is automated. These desktop or DIY machines also serve as a mini-CNC laser cutter that are excellent for small businesses, professional tasks, and DIY projects.

Advantages of CNC Laser Cutting 

1. Automation

A CNC laser cutter automates the whole process of cutting the material or object. From the laser movement to the speed of the laser, everything is controlled by the machine. Therefore, the user has to do nothing after assigning the task to it. With that being said, it is quite easy to operate and handle a CNC laser cutter. Most importantly, there is less manpower required, so the cost of cutting is greatly reduced.

2. Accuracy and Precision

CNC laser machines have precise motors that move the module at a controlled speed. The accuracy can be in fractions of millimeters, which is why the naked eye cannot find any errors. The power, speed, and movement of the laser module are controlled, so you get fine and accurate results. It does not matter how many times you try to cut a design; you get identical results. Even if you do multiple passes on the same design, there won't be any errors.

xtool cnc laser cutter and some its projects

It is an ideal option for cutting vector graphics. You won't get such accuracy and precision through a power tool, such as a jigsaw or circular saw. Most importantly, a laser cutting machine has a very fine laser spot, which ensures minimal Kerf width. It is possible to cut designs and patterns that have fine details.

3. Quick Results

CNC laser cutter machines are much faster than other power tools because of their automation and powerful laser. They save a lot of time. When the laser falls on the material, the temperature is increased abruptly. The material is turned into vapors in no time. Therefore, the machine is capable of cutting materials at an exceptional speed. Some machines cut at the speed of even 1000 mm/s, depending on their specifications. You can even cut materials 10-20mm thick in only one pass and a few seconds, depending on the size. For scaling a business and improving productivity, it is better to switch to a CNC laser cutting machine. It will not only save time but also save money.

4.  Safety

If we consider blade-cutting tools, they need special care and attention while handling. Any mistake can lead to an injury. Although there are safety gears and gadgets, safety is still a major concern. For beginners, it is a big no. On the other hand, CNC laser cutter machines are quite safe. There is no human involvement during the cutting process. The laser is covered to stop the laser beams, and users also wear safety glasses to protect their eyes.

5. Minimal Waste

Laser cutting produces minimal waste. If you use a CNC router, saw, or any other mechanical tool, you will have a lot of waste. If you are cutting wood, the high temperature of the laser will burn it. There is almost no waste. The smoke and the particles produced after cutting are expelled through an exhaust. You can also connect an air purifier to clean the exhaust air. Secondly, the dimensions of the laser spot are minimal. Therefore, the kerf width is minimal. It will not only reduce waste but also save the material.

6. No Wear and Tear on the Material

When you cut any object using a mechanical tool, such as a saw, router, etc., the material suffers from wear and tear. The edges of the cutting and the left-out material are not as smooth as you want. You need to use sandpaper for finishing. A CNC laser cutting machine does not create physical contact with the object. The laser beams fall on the material and increase its temperature. Due to no physical contact, there is no wear and tear. You get an exceptional finish, and the left-out material can be used later.

What Materials Can a CNC Laser Cut? 

Well, it depends on the type of laser you are using. 

A CO2 laser cutter is suitable for cutting non-metals. It can cut wood, acrylic, leather, cardboard, fabric, rubber, and various other things. It is not suitable for metal cutting; however, it is possible to engrave or etch metals using a CO2 laser. The laser beams coming out of the CO2 laser are easily absorbed by non-metals. Therefore, they can be cut easily. The second option for non-metals is the diode laser cutter. It is an affordable option and can cut different materials, like wood, acrylic, leather, cardboard, rubber, etc. However, a CO2 laser is more versatile because it is compatible with a wide range of materials.

cnc laser cutting wood projects
cnc laser cutting acrylic projets

A fiber laser is the best option for cutting metals. Its laser beams are easily absorbed by a wide range of metals. But keep in mind that the laser should be powerful enough. Moreover, not all fiber laser machines can cut metals. They can be for metal engraving, rust cleaning, welding, etc. For metal cutting, you need to pick the right machine.

Types of CNC Laser Cutters

Diode Laser

A diode laser cutting machine is powered by diode modules that emit laser beams having a wavelength of 450-455nm. It is also called blue laser because of its color. The best thing about these machines is that they are available at an affordable price. You can easily find a desktop diode laser for $500 to $1,000, depending on the features. These machines are great for DIY purposes, professional work, and small businesses. They can easily cut the non-metals we have discussed in the previous section.

The desktop diode cutting lasers can cut 5-20mm in only one pass. If you want to cut wood and acrylic, it is an excellent option. But keep in mind these lasers cannot cut transparent and blue acrylic.

CO2 Laser

A CO2 laser cutter is the next option after diode laser machines. It is a bit expensive due to its technology and immense power. It uses a CO2 laser tube that emits laser beams. These machines are more powerful than diode lasers. Due to high power, the cutting speed is exceptional. They are ideal for cutting a wide range of non-metals. CO2 lasers are easily available in desktop and industrial sizes. The cost of a desktop CO2 laser machine can be $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the features. In contrast, industrial or large CNC laser cutters are over $10,000. For small businesses, home use, hobbyists, and DIY purposes, a desktop laser machine is more than enough.

Fiber Laser

If you want to cut metals, you need to get a fiber laser machine that is designed for metal cutting. Fiber laser machines are quite powerful. For metal cutting, the power should be high, around 1000W or more. They can cut steel, copper, brass, and various other metals. But they are quite expensive. The cost is usually above $30,000.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a CNC Laser Cutter 

Even if you are a beginner, you can get the best CNC laser cutter by considering the following factors. Take a look at the technical details; these will help you in selecting the right machine for your needs.

1. Why You Want the Machine

First, you should be clear about the purpose of buying a CNC laser cutter. It will help you select the right size for the machine. For instance, if you want to do a small business, make some DIY items, or make specialized items/parts for your products, you can select a small or desktop laser machine. It will be a cost-effective option. Secondly, it is ideal for home use and small shops. You can start a small business from your home. For industrial use, large-scale businesses, or bulk production, you need an industrial CNC laser cutter. Thus, according to the reason behind purchasing the laser machine, you can go for the right size.

2. Type of the Laser Machine

We have discussed three different types of laser machines. They are different technologies and serve different purposes. If you want to start a small craft business, or make DIY items, a diode laser is a good option. It is affordable and easy to use. If you want to cover a wide range of non-metals and cut materials at a good speed, a CO2 laser machine can do the job. You can use the desktop machine in your house, small shop, or garage. For metal cutting, the only option is a fiber laser. You have to decide the type of laser machine before going further. According to the materials you want to cut, select CO2, diode, or fiber laser.

3. Optical Power and Speed

These are two crucial specifications of any laser machine that give you an idea of how powerful the machine is. You need to look at the optical power of the CNC laser cutting machine. There are also other powers mentioned on the machine, such as Machine Power and Electric Power. But the Optical Power tells you about the power of the laser.

In diode lasers, the power can be 10-40W. The higher the power, the better it will be for cutting materials. So, prefer a 20W or above diode laser machine for cutting. CO2 lasers are more powerful than diode lasers. Desktop CO2 machines usually have the power of 30-60W. These can cut different materials at a good speed. You can also find more powerful CO2 laser machines for industrial purposes. Fiber lasers are available in a variety of power ranges. But for metal cutting, the power should be over 1,000W. Depending on the thickness the laser can cut, the power can be more or less. Make sure you check the optical power of the machine to get an idea of what the machine can cut in one pass.

The speed of the laser machines also matters also because it defines productivity. Buyers would love to have a fast machine that can cut materials in no time. Make sure to check the cutting speed of the CNC laser cutting machine.

4.  Accuracy

CNC laser cutters are known for their accuracy. But all machines have a different accuracy limit; some are more accurate than others. Check the accuracy of the machine. It is usually in the fractions of a millimeter. The machine should have a sturdy construction to stay stable and maintain accuracy. Secondly, the motors used in the machine should be of excellent quality.

laser accuracy comparison between xtool and other product

5. Working Area

The working area of the machine gives you an idea of the size of the object you can cut. Desktop CNC laser cutters have a small area, but it is suitable for a wide range of purposes. The industrial machine has a large working area that can even cut large sheets of plywood. Don't forget to check the working area of the machine. It is usually mentioned in the specifications. It will help you buy the right machine according to the objects you want to cut.

6. Air Assist and Exhaust

An air assist plays a very important role in laser cutting. It offers a consistent blow of air that removes the smoke and debris away from the cutting area. Thus, cutting becomes easier, and the laser can go deeper. Secondly, it prevents smoke or burn marks on the material. You get a clean surface after cutting. The exhaust system is also necessary. The smoke, debris, and gasses produced after cutting should be removed. The exhaust fan takes out the air from the machine, and you can also attach an air purifier. You need to ensure the CNC laser cutter has the air assist installed in it and there is a proper exhaust system. It will offer good cutting results and keep the environment clean.

7. Safety Features

Safety features are a must for all laser machines. You need to check all the safety features that the machine offers. First of all, there should be a fire detection system to stop the machine and alarm the user in case of any fire or flame. Due to the high temperature of the laser, there is a possibility of fire, so this safety feature is mandatory. Secondly, the machine should automatically stop in case of tilt or hit. It ensures children's and pet safety. The machine should be enclosed. The laser beams are harmful to the human eye, which is why an enclosure is a must to prevent laser beams from escaping. Other than these, there are other safety features, such as a warning system, air purification, etc.

8. Budget

CNC laser cutting machines have different price ranges according to their size, features, and other specifications. The most affordable option is a desktop diode laser machine, which will cost around $500-$1,000. A CO2 laser will cost $3,000-$6,000. But industrial laser cutting machines cost over $10,000. Fiber lasers are the most expensive ones. Their price can be $30,000 or more.

Best CNC Laser Cutter

xTool P2 is a powerful CO2 laser engraving and cutting machine. It is a desktop machine that you can use in your house, garage, or small shop. It is a versatile, smart, and powerful machine equipped with tons of extraordinary features.

The optical power of the machine is 55W, which is more than enough for cutting a wide range of materials at an excellent speed. It offers 250 mm/s cutting speed and 600 mm/s engraving speed. Due to its immense power, it cuts 20mm black acrylic in only one pass.

laser cutting clear acrylic in one pass

The most important feature of the machine is the automatic passthrough. It allows you to work on large objects without any limitation on the length. By attaching the automatic feeder, the material automatically enters from one side and leaves from the other. It can cut large objects up 118 inches in one go.

auto passthrough feature of xtool p2 CNC laser cutter

The machine is equipped with dual 16MP cameras. These give you a clear live preview of the working area. You can position the design or pattern on the object without any hassle. Through the close-range camera, it is possible to target small spots and objects easily. The machine is also smart enough to recognize similar objects and do batch processing.

xTool P2 is also an incredible laser engraving machine that can engrave a wide range of materials, including wood, acrylic, ceramics, tiles, rubber, leather, paper, cardboard, metals, etc. It can also engrave curved objects after creating the 3D model. The focus of the laser is adjusted automatically according to the shape of the object. The best part is that you can engrave most of the cylindrical and spherical objects using the 4-in-1 rotary attachment.v

curved engraving feature of xtool p2 CNC laser cutter

The machine has a built-in air assist and a powerful exhaust system. It cleanly cuts objects at an incredible speed. You can also connect an air purifier to clean the exhaust air. The best part is that it has some incredible safety features, such as the emergency button and warning system. You can even attach the fire safety kit to extinguish any fire automatically. Thus, you can use this enclosed and safe machine even in your house without any worries.

Buy xTool P2

Top 10 CNC Laser Cutter Projects That Sell 

1. Customized Jewelry

A CNC laser cuter can make incredible customized jewelry items. It is possible to make any kind of pattern or design on a wide range of materials. Wooden and laser cut acrylic earrings are quite trending, and they can be customized with any shape, name, pattern, etc. It is possible to engrave and cut earrings, pendants, bracelets, rings, etc. You can make these customized jewelry items for you or friends or sell them in online stores. 

cnc laser cuttting acrylic and wooden earrings

2. Wall Art

Through laser cutting, intricate wall art pieces can be made in no time. Whether you want to make Mandala art, nature art, or anything else, the laser machine cuts the material with fine details and perfection. Wooden and acrylic wall art pieces of single or multiple layers can be easily made through these machines. Other than wooden wall art, you can make a wide range of home décor items using the machine and start your own business of customized and unique décor items.

cnc laser cutting wood wall art

3. Personalized Gifts

A CNC laser cutting machine can personalize gifts and objects. There are endless items you can make and personalize with it, you can engrave any name, design, date, pattern, or anything else. It can even engrave photos on a piece of wood, which is a hot-selling item.

cnc laser cut personalized gift for mom

image credit: by KTDesignstudios via Etsy

4. Customized Cutting Boards

Customized cutting boards are trending these days, and people love to have them in their kitchens. These can be used for cutting as well as a décor piece. Any pattern, quote, or design can be made through the CNC laser machine. These are also preferred for gifting.

CNC laser engraved cutting board

5. Personalized Signs

A CNC laser machine can cut a wide range of materials. It is possible to make personalized signs on acrylic, plywood, and leather. These signs are great for businesses, shops, and advertisements. People look for personalized signs for their businesses and special occasions.

cnc laser cutting business sign

6. Custom Puzzle

Through CNC laser cutting, you can make custom puzzles using plywood or acrylic. It can easily be cut through laser cutting. For customization, you can create a picture puzzle of any person or pet.

cnc laser cutting wooden puzzle

7. Personalized Greeting Cards

Special greeting cards can be made using a laser machine. The laser can cut the design of the card and engrave any text or image. Acrylic cards are quite popular, and people get them customized for their loved ones. These are one of the hot-selling items on special occasions, such as Christmas, Mother's Day, and Birthdays.

laser engraved acrylic greeting cards

8. Personalized Keychains

CNC laser cutting machines can either make a keychain from scratch or engrave a pre-made keychain. The laser can cut wood, acrylic, and leather in the desired shape. After that, you can attach the keychain ring to it. But blank keychains are already available in a wide variety. It is better to get them and engrave names, dates, and pictures on the keychain.

laser cutting acrylic keychain

9. Customized Photo Frames

People love to have customized photo frames to display their lovely photos. A CNC laser cutter can make the frames of plywood or acrylic. There are limitless designs and options to create unique and attractive photo frames. From small table frames to large wall photo frames, you can make anything. 

cnc laser cut photo frame

image credit: by RainyDayKreations via Etsy

10. Laser-cut Plant Holders

Wooden plant holders for indoor plants and outdoor plants can be made with a CNC laser cutter. Cut the desired shape of the plant holder on plywood and assemble all pieces together. These are quite trending in online stores.

cnc laser cut plant holders

image credit: by CatsCraftsToys via Etsy

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