Laser cutters in 2023

Does anyone have a favorite laser cutter you’ve purchased recently?

We are looking at the Thunder Laser Nova 51 (130W), which some on our team have positive past experiences with, bit I just wanted to check if there was anything else out there that is a better bang-for-your-buck in 2023. Our budget is in the $13K range for this machine.

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What do you intend to cut? What precision? Basic outlines and prototype level, or do you need to cut bearing holes that are friction fit?

Mostly prototyping. But I’d be interested in hearing other options as well.

Honestly, in and around that budget, most machines you look at are essentially the same machine with slight variations to them. At their core, they’re an XY gantry powered by stepper motors (sometimes hybrid stepper/servo motors) with a C02 laser tube. Given that, it really comes down to what machine/company has the best reputation, after sales support and frankly the best deal.

BOSS, Thunder, Laguna, Aeon, Full Spectrum etc are all brands that offer similar machines at your pricepoint.

For what its worth, I’ve heard good things all round amongst the laser cutting/engraving communities I’m involved in about Thunder lasers and their customer support :woman_shrugging:.

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Ive had experience with a few different cutters. Our team currently owns a Epilog Zing laser (Metal RF c02 laser) that has been fantastic (but is a bit pricey). I have also used some of the (Much) cheaper glass c02 lasers similar to the OMTECH style lasers that are pretty good but require a bit more fiddling and can be lacking when it comes to idiot proof safety interlocks etc.

Personally, I love the Epilog Zings, but they are a bit on the pricey side.
I will say that they’re really powerful and easy to use while still hitting a lot of the best features of laser cutters, and the support is really good too.

IMO the Epilog Zing series is complete overkill in the wrong areas for FRC, and really underwhelming in the areas that most FRC teams will care about.

They have a relatively small working area (24inx12in is the largest model), and are fairly low powered (60w being the max tube/power size available on the larger model, or only a mere 40w on the smaller). That being said, they have some phenomenal travel speeds that are great for doing things like raster engraving, something that typically doesn’t need a ton of “cutting” power. These machines also have some cool tech in them, but are extremely pricey when compared to something like the Nova 51 that OP mentioned. Too be fair though, it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. The Zing is optimized for engraving, whereas the Nova is much more capable when it comes to cutting.

All this is not to say a machine like the Epilog Zing CAN’T work for an FRC team; 2386 has a Trotec Speedy 360 because Trotec was the only approved vendor at the time, and they make good use of it. But for prototyping parts in FRC, there are much cheaper options that would have worked the same, or better, for their purposes.


TL;DR: Brands like Epilog and Trotec are extremely pricey options that aren’t necessarily the best fit for an FRC teams’ needs IMO.

I have bought 3 of these in the past:

1 for myself, 1 for work and 1 for my FRC team. Oldest one is 6 years old and still working great. Cuts about 1/4" thick organic material, i.e. plastic and wood.

FRC team uses it to prototype out of cardboard and MDF.

I was highly skeptical when I bought the first one but it was so damn cheap it was worth the risk. 3 machines later I have recommended it to multiple other FRC and FTC teams.

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The reason 100 has access to 2/3 epilogs is due to the school district making uninformed decisions and buying them.
And of course only the FRC team uses them lol.

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Full Spectrum has some management issues right now, I would stay away. I have owned one of their lasers for a few years and was already hesitant to recommend them. When things work it’s pretty great, but they bricked a bunch of customer machines a few weeks ago.

Currently I’ve been liking the new XTool P2 and am considering a purchase. I have some of their diode lasers, and at 55W this is a step up above the common 40-45W CO2 lasers. Bed size is over 12*24" so you can fit common sheets without cutting down first. You can also feed longer sheets through but that’s better for engraving. You could probably cut a big panel if you used tabs to retain parts though.

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This machine just built and tested. Its going to ship to us in Hawaii within the next 4-5 weeks. 400W machine that will cut both plastics and metal.


We have 2 much smaller Epilog Zing machines which have served us well for smaller applications of engraving but not for cutting.

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How thick of metal can it cut? And what kinds?

Good questions. We’re going to find out what we can get away with. 1/8 aluminum, stainless steel. at least.
I believe you folks have a Fablight 4500 for metals? I ordered that too. Its coming in later this summer.

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1/8” is pretty impressive for that laser.

Yes, we’ve got our Fablight (now 2 of them, actually, due to a new building we just got and some rearranging of machines from other schools). So far we’ve only been able to do 1/8”, but we’re in the process of getting both machines connected to their own dedicated 60-gallon (and eventually maybe 80-gallon) compressor. With higher flow and pressure we can do 3/16” aluminum and 1/4” steel, which should be nice. We were told we need a constant 125-150 PSI in order to cut that thick, but our current setup can’t quite sustain that.

JJ and the others at 4414/Fabworks have been cutting some really thick material, up to 1/2" I believe, on a 4000W fiber laser, but with nitrogen assist. I’m not sure if it’s the nitrogen assist that makes the difference. We can (and have) used a nitrogen bottle in the past with our machine, and Fablight says that nitrogen can help get higher-quality cuts in stainless, but I’ve never heard anything from them about cutting thicker materials with nitrogen.

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Using an assist gas should help with cut quality at thicker materials, which might let you bump up a 1/16" or so in material thickness from what you are used to and still cut clean through. Nitrogen will help with cutting thicker aluminum because it will shield the cut and keep heat under control, 6061-t6 especially loves to splatter and pop when you’re running it slow. Oxygen will help with thicker steel for the opposite reason, and the assist gas helps introduce heat into the cut. From what I’ve seen of the fablight I wouldn’t expect it to cut 1/4" with a clean enough edge to not lose all the saved time deburring, but I bet it could be dialed in with nitrogen assist to cut 3/16". 4414s old bots have a ton of 3/16 where you would expect 1/4" because our old sheet metal laser, around 2.5kw, was right around that threshold where we could cut 1/4" but it was much easier to sub in 3/16" and mill the 1/4" when needed.

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I got the chiller option also for the Kern.

Thanks for sharing insight on Fablight. We will see what we can get away with once we get it.

We should be able to cut 3/16" on air once we finish the new setup, but tweaking profiles to try and squeeze 1/4" from it is a bit beyond what we’re looking at doing for now. We’ve gone years doing everything on the mills (and I much prefer their cut quality). Considering that the Fablight will drain a nitrogen bottle after about 20 minutes of cutting, it’s probably not something we’ll consider much. We only used nitrogen back when we first got the laser and hadn’t yet received the air dryer we needed to connect it to shop air.

…Is an air dryer something I should look into for my 150W LightObject? Looks like I’d be going over $1k to get 15cfm, but I don’t actually know what I consume right now. We just have a $20 home depot shop air filter/trap on the air input line, not a full blown dryer. LightObject hasn’t mentioned anything about adding a dryer.

It’s probably never a bad idea to make sure that any air tool is being supplied with dry (or at least not wet) air, but I haven’t heard of air driers being used much with CO2 lasers. Ours doesn’t have one. It’s running off of a dedicated ~5 gallon air compressor. I’m sure the filter/trap you have is enough, and that’s what most of our CNCs have too.

Our setup has a refrigerated drier that, yes, was over $1k connected to the main shop compressor before entering the building, and then the Fablight lasers have their own secondary refrigerated driers. This is probably overkill, but since our main compressors are outside they can definitely be taking in wet air.

As long as you drain your compressor regularly, and if LightObject hasn’t mentioned a drier, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

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This kind of feels like the Omio X8 of laser cutters. At that price point, and with your recommendation, seems like a steal. Have you had any issues?