So you have decided to purchase a CO2 laser cutter for your maker projects. There are a lot of choices out there and that can lead to a lot of confusion. What exactly is a hobby laser and what should you look for? Here are a few things to consider while you are researching CO2 laser cutters.
Are you planning to only use your laser cutter in a fixed location? Or do you intend to bring your machine to Maker events and craft shows? The great thing about hobby lasers is they are typically portable. You can take them on the road and set them up on any sturdy table near a power supply. This can allow you to make on-the-spot custom items at your shows. The problem with portability is that you will be limited in the machine’s work space. Most hobby machines have a workspace of about 20” x 12” with some having access panels for longer material. If you know you will be cutting 36” sheets of wood, you should seek other options.
Your first question should always be, “What will I use it for?” Generally, people fall into two categories: Hobbyists and Professionals. Hobbyists are artists and crafters looking for small scale production. Perhaps they want to start an Etsy shop or participate at maker-faires. Or they may just want to make unique gifts for their friends and family. If this is you, a hobby machine fits your goals. On the other hand, if you are running a full-time business in a heavy use workshop, hobby machines aren’t going to have the power, speed and power you require. If your goals are production based, professional laser cutters can handle a full day's workload on an industrial scale.
Hobby lasers often come with optional accessories for unique projects. For example, a rotary is accessory that allows engraving on curved objects, such as bottles and champagne glasses. Other accessories to consider are different focus lenses for different variations of speed and detail. Not all hobby lasers have these options, so if engraving wine bottles is something you know you will do, be sure your hobby laser has this option.
Hobby lasers usually come with a 40w CO2 laser tube. This is sufficient for cutting a quarter inch of most non-metal material (wood, fabric, acrylic, etc.). If your projects require cutting thicker material or metal, you will need a much more powerful laser and that will require a larger machine.
Consumers have many brand choices in the laser cutter market, however, researching them can be a daunting task. Be sure to consider the history of each company. How long their machines have been in the market? What do their users say? A great way to cut through the confusion is to see how the business is rated by the Better Business Bureau.
There is a perfect hobby laser for you out there. You just need to take some time to find it. Always do your research and look for live demonstrations whenever possible.