The 10 Best Laser Engravers
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in December of 2016. Adding customized etchings to a phone case, keychain, or picture frame is a wonderful way to make an everyday object precious and unique. A laser engraving machine is ideal for any artistic DIY hobbyist, or for the business that wants to offer its customers personalized merchandise. We've rated these devices based on potential graphic size, precision, ease-of-use, and cost. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 26, 2020:
Among the few newcomers to the list is the Dremel LC40-01, which comes from a company most famous for their rotary tools. It seems they teamed up with the engineers at Full Spectrum Laser — makers of the Muse model in our special honors section — for advice on how to make a high-grade engraver, and the results are strikingly similar to that FSL offering. One hallmark of both is a self-regulating cooling and air support system that prevents you from having to mess with an outboard air compressor or realize you forgot to turn on the support systems at the very moment your project bursts into flames.
We upgraded one of OMTech's most popular models in the Orion Motor Tech K40, as well, which still comes with overly basic software, but that now has an added exhaust fan to help keep smoke and lighter-than-air debris from messing up your work or endangering the user when opening the box. We also replaced the previously included Sunwin Desktop Laser with the Ortur Laser Master 2, a model with a bit more reliability.
July 30, 2019:
Your level of expertise has a lot to do with which laser engraver you choose. Naturally, options with 20-50 watts of output or more will get you faster and cleaner results, but you'll also need more experience to use them properly. If you're just starting off, look at something like the MySweety, which is small but should give you an idea of what you're in for. The Sunwin is another good choice if you don't want to spend a ton, though assembly can be a bit confusing, and you'll probably want to opt for one of the two highest capacities for best results. And the Orion K40 is a great entry-level cabinet-style model that doesn't take up a ton of space.
If you already know what you're doing and willing to make a considerable investment, there are several options worth considering. Orion's large cabinets, the Glowforge, and everything by Triumph will get large jobs done in considerably less time than a compact engraver, and they work with a wider range of materials. Higher-powered units also often feature data input systems that are compatible with professional CAD designs and other software software suites. Plus, a lot of incredibly capable options, such as the Snapmaker (reasonably affordable) and ZMorph (capable of dual extrusion), pride themselves on being excellent 3D printers and even CNC routers in addition to engravers.
Creality3D CR-10 The Creality3D CR-10 comes in several versions ranging from the moderate to the quite large. It's a powerful 3D printer that works with a variety of filament types, and for a modest investment you can purchase an attachment that turns it into a highly capable laser cutter and engraver. It's actually pretty well-priced for such a versatile item. creality3d.shop
Full Spectrum Laser Muse 3D One of the most impressive things about this model is that it offers you the option to remove its bottom plating, allowing you to position it on top of work pieces that are too large to fit inside the box itself. It's extremely precise, and you can customize your kit to include extra lenses, fans, and more, but it does add up quickly. fslaser.com
Lasers As Science Fact, Not Fiction
Engraving machines are typically calibrated so that their lasers are never quite strong enough to cut entirely through the material.
"Fire the laser!" exclaims Dr. Evil in his crazy aspiration for world domination. Slapstick comedy notwithstanding, we won't be discussing an eccentric villain's obsession for sharks with laser beams attached to their heads, "death rays," nor any type of science fiction. What we will be discussing is science fact in terms of using laser technology as a tool for practical design and creativity. So whether you're a DIY hobbyist with an artistic flare or a business owner looking to provide your customers with personalized merchandise, a laser engraver is a fantastic way to etch those special messages, logos, and patterns into a variety of everyday objects and materials, affording them meaning that can stand the test of time.
A laser engraver creates patterns of a certain depth onto a particular surface through direct incisions coming from a laser that converts light energy into heat. Once a predetermined pattern has been programmed into the device's special software, the machine uses heat to burn that pattern into your materials. The resulting recess formed on the surface of the workpiece involved becomes the engraving.
Engraving machines are typically calibrated so that their lasers are never quite strong enough to cut entirely through the material. The laser beams are programmed to pulse rapidly in order to burn away very small amounts of an object's surface, leaving only a shallow impression behind. The machine's three main parts include a surface (or bed) on which an object may be placed, a controller, and the laser itself. A laser beam allows the controller to trace a given pattern onto the machine's surface.
Laser engravers are compatible with a wide variety of materials, including natural woods, acrylic plastics, metals, stone, glass, and many types of jewelry. The two most common types of laser technology for these machines are carbon dioxide and Nd:YAG. Low-energy CO2 lasers have chambers filled with carbon dioxide gas and are ideal for engraving materials like wood, glass, plastics, and even fabric. Nd:YAG lasers contain a solid material called neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet and deliver higher volumes of energy than their CO2 counterparts, making them ideal for engraving heavy metals.
The machines use either raster or vector digital images for transferring patterns onto a surface. Raster images are used to copy photos onto objects, whereas vector images are best when dealing with line-heavy art that needs to be resized.
So what are the benefits of this technology? Aside from etching patterns into hard metals and other materials, durability comes to mind. A medical device, for example, could have an ID or label engraved into its metal components without the concern for pattern degradation over time. Secondly, engraving machines are relatively easy to use. Visual data exchanges between a graphics program and an engraving machine are quick and adjustable, which can minimize material waste. Thirdly, the device is highly precise, meaning that detailed graphics can be engraved accurately onto very small objects. Finally, the engraving process is environmentally friendly, meaning there is no use of any harmful inks, acids, or solvents to get the job done, only heat and energy.
Choosing The Best Laser Engraver
When investing in a laser engraving machine, two of the most important considerations to make should be the size of the device bed and the unit's power output. When thinking about your workload and the types of objects with which you'll be working, try to find a machine with the largest bed size possible, as this will directly determine the maximum size of workpieces you can place on the machine's platform. Even if your workpieces are small (e.g. keychains or tags), it's always beneficial to have a surface larger than you need should you decide to engrave different objects. The machine bed is described as having both X and Y axes, where the X-axis determines an object's width while the Y-axis determines its height. With regard to power, many laser engravers offer an output of between 30 and 50 watts.
Depending on the products you're engraving, decide whether you need a machine with low-energy carbon dioxide or high-energy Nd:YAG lasers if you'll be working with thick materials like woods and precious metals.
Look for a machine with USB connectivity when possible, as this will allow for fast job transfers.
A Brief History Of Laser Engravers
Engraving patterns into objects isn't exactly a new concept. In fact, the first evidence of such an activity dates back well over 500,000 years to a chiseled shell from Indonesia. Later evidence shows that early humans also engraved patterns onto both bone and ivory. The first evidence of stylus marking appeared in the Cuneiform writing system of the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia as early as 3500 B.C.E. By 1000 B.C.E., the first shallow grooves were made in metal in an effort to decorate simple jewelry.
Later evidence shows that early humans also engraved patterns onto both bone and ivory.
Fast forward to the end of the 18th century CE, and we'll find the earliest evidence of engraving on steel, which was primarily used for creating banknotes and book illustrations at the time.
The first working laser prototype was developed in 1960 by American engineer Theodore Maiman while working at the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. It used synthetic ruby as its active medium and was characterized by a deep red beam of light. The first CO2 laser was developed in 1963 and was considered much more cost-effective and efficient than Maiman's design. Engraving machines leveraging Nd:YAG laser beams appeared by 1973.
Today, the laser engraver suits many applications and industries, while being an incredibly dependable and versatile tool that can easily meet the demands of both business owners and consumers alike.