Laser engraver market is full of products: some of excellent quality, others of very poor quality. I suggest you which parameters to check for the choice of your first laser engraver.
Machine quality: materials used for build the frame and overall robustness
Laser quality: availability of more laser options and upgradeability to more powerful models
Support: availability of material (guides, videos) and support channels (email, website, facebook) and spare parts
I suggest to focus your research on the well known brands, because unknown brands hardly offer quality products and after-sale support. It’s not nice to spend some money and feel abandoned when there is a problem with the product!
Here you can find a list of brand which I have personally tested, and I can recommand.
For each brand I did a review, and you can read my opinion about their product line.
|Ortur||4.5||best for innovation||review|
|Aufero||4.5||best motor speed||review|
|Atomstack||4.7||best laser power||review|
|Sculpfun||4.7||best for air assist||review|
|NEJE||4.7||best product range||review|
|Longer||3.8||best for price||review|
WHAT ABOUT LASER POWER?
Currently (July 2022) is it easy to found laser module with powers from 1.5W to 20W.
Please read carefully! I am talking about optical power: the only real important value.
Often you will find indicated a power that is the electrical power, this value is about 4 times the optical power, so 5W can be called 20W and therefore could mislead you.
Sometimes advertisers invent some weird power equivalences therefore it is not uncommon to find advertised powers of 150W.
Be smart, always look for optical power in the specifications!
Laser power from 1.5W to 3.5W
They are mainly found in the cheaper models. Allow you to engrave wood and leather and cut paper and cardboard, and small thicknesses of plywood and balsa (a couple of mm).
Their low power has the advantage of having a smaller focus point, allowing them to engrave with the finest level of detail. Machines that mount these lasers are generally cheaper and can be purchased for around $200-250
Laser power of 5.5W
They are the standard laser diode found in mid-range models. Pay close attention to which focus lens they mount: it is important that they mount a FAC (fast axis collimation) lens.
Starting from 2021 all the new laser models of most common brand start using FAC lens, but it is possible to found older model without this technology. Pay attention especially if you buy a used one.
With > 5W of optical power and FAC lens it is possible to engrave stone, wood, acrylic, and steel (only surface marking on steel). Is it possible to cut up to 3mm of acrylic and 5mm of plywood (even more if combined with air assist system) with multiple passes.
A 5W laser is the best choice for those approaching this world for the first time, as it provides excellent performance at a very attractive price (350$ for a complete machine).
Laser power of 10W and 20W
These lasers are reserved for the top models and only appeared on the market from the beginning of 2022. They are made by coupling 2 or 4 diodes inside the module.
These models are generally more expensive ($500 for 10W up to $900 for 20W machine) but they are the only ones that achieve truly comparable performance with CO2 lasers while maintaining incomparable compactness and manageability.
These machines are able to easily cut thicknesses of 10mm with a single pass. In combination with an air-assist system it is also possible to cut thicknesses up to 20mm.
The cheapest machine with a 10W optical power laser is the Comgo Z1. It cost only 350$ and my review of this machine is available here. In my opinion, one of the best engraver for price/quality ratio ever!
WHAT ABOUT AIR ASSIST
Air assist system are made of a high pressure pump and a thin nozzle that create a direct air flow towards the laser ablation point.
The advantages of an air assist system are a greater depth of cut, a faster cut, and cleaner edges. It is also a great way to avoid dirtying the laser lens, as the flow of air drives away the combustion fumes (dirty and full of residues).
Only high-end machines are equipped with an integrated air-assist system, such as the excellent Sculpfun S10.
WHAT ABOUT FRAME SIZE
T shaped machine
Made by two aluminium rail, capable of working on surfaces of about 20cm x 20cm. These machines are suitable for those who work small pieces, such as pens, wallets, photo frames. They are the cheapest machines and you will hardly find them with air-assist or powerful lasers because their shape does not allow to mount heavy modules.
Square frame 40×40
Consisting of a square frame made of aluminum profiles, these machines are the most popular option. All well-known brands provide at least one model based on this design, but they are not all the same: for example some brand use plastic parts while others are full-metal design. Very important are also some details such as the presence of cables guides (drag chain) which prevent cables from bending under the laser head, burning and damaging the machine; and the presence of limit/homing switches.
Some more solid and robust models use double-size metal rails, like the FoxAlien Reizer. These models are more expensive but guarantee to be able to mount heavier laser heads.
Jumbo Frame (80×40 and more)
Only a few brands offer this option, one of these is NEJE which also has an engraver capable of working on 81cm x 46cm surfaces. This is the Neje 3 MAX with 10W laser that has a very competitive price (considering it has the drag chain).
Some other brands offer “expansion kit” that allow to increase the working surface for a little price.
BETTER QUALITY MODULES
If you need laser modules for continuous use, I do not recommend using modules that come with your markers, either those that are cheap on ebay, amazon, aliexpress, bangood, gearbest … All these modules are designed for occasional use and deteriorate quickly if used at maximum power for a long time.
There are a very good sellers called Opt Lasers who do small productions but of the highest quality. They are all modules made by hand according to the best standards, all tested one by one and that can also provide personalized answers for any needs.
Discount code available (read more)
Opt Lasers is what I call “the Ferrari of lasers”. They offer a wide range of products that fits the needs of any professional who wants a high quality laser system on their CNC.
Laser modules are available ranging from optical power from 2W up to 15W (equivalent to about 60W of electrical power). These are products made from solid aluminum blocks, individually CNC machined, universal mounting systems are available for easy connection to existing machines.
Their production includes air-cooled and water-cooled laser modules, magnetic quick attach and release systems, and many more!
CO2 LASER ENGRAVING
Laser diode engraver is suitable for small workloads. If you need fast engraving, cutting thick materials you should consider purchasing a 40W or higher power engraver.
This kind of power is currently not achievable with diode technology, so you have to choose a CO2 laser machine. These machines are generally more expensive, larger, and more complex to use and most of them use their own control software.
Prices can vary between 400€ to 4000€ based on laser power and size of the worktop.
In this case I advise you to choose the most suitable product for you by evaluating shipping costs and product feedback.
STEEL LASER ENGRAVING
Laser diode engraver are not the best tool for metal engraving, even if with some tricks you can make some small incisions (using the most powerful modules).
However, if your goal is to engrave metals, you need to choose a fiber laser engraver.
Starting from 50W a fiber laser engraver is able to engrave and also carve most common metals.