Best Budget Laser Engraver

Happy Holidays! Does anyone have any recommendations for a good budget laser engraver. We are looking to cut wood, plexiglass or acrylic/maybe polycarbonate if it does not burn, engrave metal, etc. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated! We were looking at either the Omtech K40 or the LaserPecker 2

Does anyone have either of these lasers, or would you recommend them? If so, are there any additional accessories or add-ons that would make the machines better? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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Omtech are decent and affordable, but I would stay away from the K40 type from any brand, and I would stay away from anything that is not fully enclosed. Also, do not underestimate the need for fume exhaust.

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Seconding the need for a quality exhaust/filter system.
Schools don’t like it when you set off the fire alarm at 5 pm on a rainy Saturday in the middle of winter because you were trying to cut through a 2x4 and the exhaust failed.

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Thank you very much for your help! Out of curiosity, is there a reason you would stay away from the k40? I think it is fully enclosed, but I am not 100% sure. Also, is it important to have a water chiler like this one. Then for a fume exhaust, would one like this work? Are there any quality ones under about $1,500 that are enclosed that you know of because the K40 is the only enclosed one I could find in that price range. Thanks again for your help!

Here’s a brilliant video by makers muse talking about the safety, or lack thereof, of budget laser engravers/cutters:

Consider watching this to help guide your decision.

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Please don’t underestimate the need for good air handling. If your machine does not have an enclosure consider at least getting a tent. I am including a link to an example here, not endorsing this specific product. I would endorse AC Infinity products for exhaust fans though.

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As someone who has had K40s before I also reccomend you stay away from them, I do like omtech and would start with this machine at the minimum if you can afford it:

AC Infinity is a good brand for your inline exhust fan like you linked, and the chiller you linked should work fine, but I’ve purchased mine from LightObject Industrial Water Chiller Q600 - LightObject | Professional Laser Cutters and Engravers Solutions

Be very careful. Venting the atomized burned biproducts of plastic isn’t nice. Venting atomized metal can also be uncool. I’ve watched people put inline filters in to catch particulate, and not put a spark arrester in line so the HEPA filters ignited. Air handling is something people skimp on with lasers and it can do seriously bad things. It’s like the vape warning commercials. “That’s metal. In your lungs!”

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The K40 is a budget design that’s been around for awhile. It is short on safety features, most do not have safety interlock switches, and the electronics can be sketch. In balance, it is a 40Watt CO2 laser, which will cut more stuff than any of the open frame solid state lasers.

I have a couple K40s. They work if you are careful and prepared to make a few upgrades, but may not be the best choice for a student shop. I also have a Glowforge, which is about 5X the price of a K40 and has similar capabilities, but better safety features and software support.

Even so, a 40W CO2 laser will not cut polycarb or any metal. You will be able to cut MDF and (some) plywood, acrylic, solid wood, leather, and a bunch of other materials that aren’t generally used for building robots. As a result, we’ve only ever used the laser for prototyping and test-fitting of CAD parts that would be manufactured by other means, or to etch the occasional decorative panel. We also cut a stencil to put our numbers on our bumpers.

Speaking of materials, beware that a lot of materials will produce harmful fumes when lasered or burnt. Anything with vinyl or PVC in it is a definite no-no, but other materials can also be dangerous. Make sure you know what you’re cutting, and always take steps to minimize exposure to the fumes, even if you’re just cutting pine.

I own several of the open frame solid state lasers as well. These have even more difficulty with FRC materials, and with their open frames are not suitable for use in a busy workshop. Eye protection is the first concern, with fumes and proper venting being a close second. So I keep these machines at home and use them occasionally to cut or etch something for the team. My favorite in this category is the Xtool 20W, but it has all of the disadvantages of other open frame designs.

There are a lot of cool laser etchers and cutters out there, and they do have their uses. Just be aware that you probably won’t fabricate a lot of parts for your competition robot on them.

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I feel like I should also mention the non-health issue with with a lack of good air handling. When material is ablated by the laser it will precipitate (rain down) eventually. The laser burns and melts some but a lot of material is actually blasted off of the surface. Depending on the particle type, size, and air movement that can happen fast or slow. The mirrors and lenses of your system will become coated and become burnable. Air movement away from these sensitive components will extend the time before you have to clean or replace. Replacing can be costly and you might spend quite a bit of time on mirror alignment. There is that whole catching stuff on fire thing too. For this reason I would make sure there is at least basic high-flow filtration on your air intake as well. You don’t want significant dust landing on your mirrors either.

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