Laser cutters and laser engravers are similar machines that can cut or engrave images or shapes into tough materials. Industrial laser cutters can cut even the toughest metals like stainless steel and nickel, whereas more affordable laser cutters, such as DIY laser cutter kits, can cut wood, acrylics and other softer materials.
Invented back in the early 1960s as CO2 lasers that could cut soft woods like MDF as well as acrylics, affordable laser cutter kits starting at just a few hundred dollars can cut accurate wooden parts for DIY projects.
Laser Cutters vs Laser Engravers
Both techniques use custom models or designs to create accurate parts and models. Most laser cutting machines can do both, depending on the laser’s power and depths it can cut. There are however a few subtle differences between the two:
- Laser Cutters: laser cutters use powerful lasers to cut entire pieces off your workpiece to create your final model. These cutters typically use vector files to accurately cut your chosen part, shaving chips off and smoothly separating these areas off in a process of subtractive manufacturing. Laser cutters typically use CO2 lasers, and even cheap laser cutters can cut quickly through acrylics, plastics and wood.
- Laser Engravers: rather than cutting all the way through the material, laser engraving machines engrave an image, logo or graphic on top of your chosen material. Engraving is often used for branding products or signage, but can also be used to engrave entire greyscale artwork onto wood. This is done via image files such as jpg, svg, png or ai files, using methods such as grid engraving where the laser moves horizontally, line by line, removing certain depths of material to create a contrasting and readable image. Engravers use short focal length lasers with fine spot sizes for accurate engraving.
Laser marking is also a process wherein rather than engraving or cutting, physical contrasting marks are made on the material by heating it to separate elements that show up to the naked eye, without making any indentations.
Advantages of Laser Cutters vs CNC Mills
Laser cutters are very precise and accurate and can cut and engrave very quickly. For the same power, they’re usually cheaper than CNC routers, and can cut a variety of materials.
The best laser cutters & laser engravers
1 — Orion Motor Tech 40W CO2 Laser Engraver & Cutter
- Price: $499 — Available on Amazon here
- Cutting and engraving area: 300 x 200 mm
A highly rated and low-cost laser engraver, the Orion Motor Tech 40W laser cutter offers a decent 300 x 200 mm engraving area for the price, and can cut between 2-3mm depth, depending on the material.
It’s a versatile yet cheap laser cutter, able to cut and engrave plastic, leather, and rubber as well as wood, and has a number of optional upgrades to improve its cutting performance.
Compared to other cutters like the VEVOR 40W it’s very fast for the price, with up to 80mm/s cutting speed. This makes it perfect for beginners and hobbyists looking for a lower cost entry-level laser engraving machine, as well as a specialist laser cutter for casual woodworking projects that makers of all skill levels will enjoy.
2 — Snapmaker Original
- Price: $799 – Available on Amazon here / Available on Snapmaker Official Site here
- Engraving area: 125 x 125 mm
One of the most popular all-in-one laser cutter kits of all time, the Snapmaker Original functions as a laser engraver as well as a 3D printer and CNC mill. The Snapmaker Original first burst on to the scene when it raised over $2.2M on Kickstarter, and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
As a laser engraver, it can engrave up to 125 x 125 mm dimensions and handle most small-to-medium size engraving projects. As a CNC mill it can cut up to 90 x 90 mm, and as a 3D printer it can print ABS and PLA at up to 125 x 125 x 125 mm dimensions.
While it doesn’t offer the same power that specialist laser engravers do, as a multi-functional machine it’s perfect for basic use in multiple areas.
3 — Ten-High CO2 40W 110V laser engraving cutting machine
- Price: $2,269 – Available on Amazon here
- Laser engraving area: 300 x 400 mm
A powerful and specialized machine, the Ten-high 40W laser engraver and cutter is one of the best laser cutters for the price. Featuring a large 300 x 400 mm laser engraving area it can handle even larger projects, and engraves quickly at up to 500mm/s, cutting at up to 30mm/s.
This new laser cutter model by Ten-High features upgraded rotary axis for better engraving on rounded and circular workpieces and less size restrictions, as well as an improved double door.
The machine’s digital display makes monitoring progress and temperature easy and convenient, and it comes with their software for a full cutting and engraving workflow.
The powerful 40W CO2 laser can cut depths up to 4mm in acrylic, 3mm in software woods like cork, and up to 2mm in hardwoods. However, it can’t engrave metal, requiring a far more powerful and industrial laser cutter.
Overall, it’s a very good laser cutter and engraver, suited to all but metal cutting needs.
Bonus: BobsCNC Evo 3 / Evo 4 Cutters & Engravers
Not technically a laser cutter, but an accomplished cutter of wood nonetheless. Instead, the BobsCNC machines are DIY CNC routers that cut wood using strong rail systems that accurately control the X and Y axes.
- We also have an in-depth article on CNC.
Both the BobsCNC Evolution 3 and 4 have the same specs, the only real difference is the sizes they can cut: 24” x 24” for the Evo 4 vs 18” x 16” for the E3. Both have fantastic up to 0.002-0.004” repeatability and accuracy, though the Evo 4 has a sturdier metal frame which can make for more precise cutting.
Rather than image files typically used with laser engravers and cutters, these CNC cutter and engravers instead use their custom software to generate G-codes for cutting and engraving.
Though it does not excel in soft material engraving, such as on vinyl or other thin and easily breakable materials, for accurate and deep cutting, these CNC engravers and cutters are highly rated, precise and durable.
4-6 — Glowforge Basic / Pro / Plus
- Price: $2,495
- Engraving area: 19.5 x 11”
Glowforge’s entry-level laser cutter, the Glowforge Basic, in itself is already a fantastic piece of kit. It can cut dozens of materials, and comes with onboard cameras for previewing and monitoring accurate work.
It’s incredibly precise, with up to 0.001” repeatability. The Basic’s 40W laser is powerful enough for most projects, and if not, Glowforge also offer the Plus & Pro models.
- Price: $3,995 – Available on Dynamism here
Glowforge’s mid-range Plus model includes a powerful 45W CO2 laser and water cooling, air compressing and filtering features for safe and effective cutting and engraving.
Ideal for business use as well as home prosumers and in schools, the Plus can cut and engrave wood, leather, acrylic, glass, and even anodized aluminum and titanium. Depending on the material used, the Glowforge Plus laser cutter can cut 10-12mm depths, and engraves twice as fast as the entry-level Glowforge Basic.
The cameras let you preview your work live and offer autofocusing, and can be operated and monitored simply using Glowforge’s free and web-based browser laser cutting software. Mac users needn’t worry as the Plus is Mac-compatible.
Glowforge Pro — Unlimited Size Laser Cutter
- Price: $5,995 — Available on Dynamism here
- Engraving area: 19.5” x unlimited lengths
Glowforge’s most remarkable machine, the Glowforge Pro, sells itself as a 3D laser printer as it can print out enormous, cut objects perfect for furniture, signage and a host of other uses.
Featuring a “passthrough slot”, you can potentially cut unlimited length parts on the Pro. Several-meter-long wooden parts can be created, as they can keep passing through the laser cutter as it cuts or engraves. Rather than having to cut dozens of smaller pieces for a large wooden or other project, the Glowforge Pro does it all in one!
Additionally, the Pro engraves up to 3x faster than the Basic, and cuts 20% faster for a more efficient workflow. The camera can live preview your project, and the Pro also features improved cooling systems so you won’t have any issues with overheating no matter how much you use it.
Optionally, you can buy Glowforge’s Air Filter upgrade for an additional $995.
7 — ZMorph VX – Laser Engraver CNC mill and 3D Printer
- Price: $4,399 for the full set — Available on Matterhackers here / Available on Amazon here
- Engraving area: 250 x 235 mm
A 4-in-1 laser cutter CNC mill and 3D printer hybrid, the ZMorph VX is the complete prosumer manufacturing solution. Known in the 3D printing sector for its reliability and durability, simply switch the tool head to the Laser PRO and enjoy seamless laser engraving.
The 2.8W laser works great for all standard engraving needs, with the interchangeable tool head making it easy to switch in our out. If you need to CNC mill some wood one day, engrave leather another, and then 3D print a part later on, you can do it all on the ZMorph VX, and do it well.
If you’re looking for a pure laser engraver cutter, you will be able to find more powerful machines for the price. However, as a versatile 3D printer laser cutter, the ZMorph VX is one of the best all-round manufacturing solutions around. You can even buy the thick paste extruder and turn it into a food 3D printer extruding chocolate and other tasty materials!
8 — Dremel Digilab LC40 Laser Cutter
- Price: $6,499 — Available on Matterhackers here / Available on Dynamism here
- Cutting and engraving area: 467 x 304 mm
American manufacturer Dremel have a rich history in tool and other machine manufacturing, with over 85 years’ experience. More recently, they have expanded into the laser cutting and 3D printer sectors, releasing a number of highly rated products.
Their premium laser cutter and engraver, the Dremel Digilab LC40, can cut materials like wood, acrylic, leather, and other soft materials at depths of up to 7mm. It is connectable to via WiFi for easier laser cutting, and features a touchscreen control and camera for monitoring projects.
This ease of manufacturing makes the Dremel LC40 laser cutter engraver perfect for both industrial cutting tasks and education and classroom projects. Dremel promote it as such, with an easy-to-use accompanying laser cutting software and simple interface for all skill level users and projects.
In addition, if you do run into any issues, you can contact Dremel’s US-based customer support. The LC40 is the first UL-certified laser cutter of its type, so you can feel confident in the machine’s safety and reliability.