The Complete Guide
To Laser Engraver Machines
Superior Quality…Affordable Pricing
What Is Laser Engraving?
If your anything like me, you probably have an idea for a laser engraving project that you're anxious to get started on. If you're looking at laser engraving machines and trying to decide what exactly you need to make your project happen, you've come to the right place.
I've been working with laser machines for many years, and while working closely with the Thunder Laser brand, I have become intimately familiar with laser machines and everything they are capable of. This guide is meant to help you understand what's available in the market and how to pick the right machine for your next project or customer order.
Laser engraving doesn't involve any tool bits or direct contact with the material surface. Instead, as in the case with Thunder Laser Machines, it's the use of high powered C02 laser beams that remove surface layers of the material. The laser uses directed high heat to vaporize the surface layers and leave a clean surface engraved design.
Sometimes there can be a bit of confusion surrounding whether or not the same machine can be used for both laser cutting and laser engraving. The laser machine itself is capable of both cutting and engraving. The main difference is in the lens selection. When engraving, you can use a lens with a shorter focal length to achieve more precision and with less emphasis on cutting depth.
How Much Do They Cost?
If you're a hobbyist and looking for a machine to handle the occasional project, you might consider the Nova 24 laser machine. It's an excellent starting place and full of possibilities.
Pricing starts at $6,600 and can range up to $14,800 for the true workhorse of the laser machine lineup. If you want a clear breakdown on the price comparisons between different machines, take a look at our recent writeup on laser machine costs.
Can a Laser Machine Engrave Metal?
Next to wood, I would consider metal to be the second most engraved on surface, and we often get the question regarding whether or not our laser machines can handle engraving on metal. Our Nova Series laser machines can't engrave on metal because they are a co2 laser. Metal engraving requires a fiber laser. Please contact us if you are in need of a fiber laser or metal engraving. We work with many manufacturers and can get you suited into something that fits you. In fact, laser engraved metal can produce some of the most impressive designs and artwork — everything from gun barrels and metal mugs to iPhones, laptops, and wedding rings.
Since metal can to be more expensive and not necessarily the best thing to use for test runs, you can use wood or other cheap test material to test out your design and make sure that everything looks good.
The Design Process
Every good engraving project starts with a quality design. Online you can find access to a variety of free resources to get you started. Obrary is one of those websites you should check out, as it has been a community effort to provide high-quality design files available for free downloads. These are typically vector files that you can be opened and sent to the laser machine in a program such as RDWorks or LaserMaker (both available with the purchase of a Thunder Laser machine).
If you're a fan of Adobe, Illustrator can be a great program to create fantastic designs. Here is a helpful video where Timothy provides a comprehensive guide to designing for a laser engraver in this video:
Things You Need To Know Before Buying a Laser Engraving Machine
Work Area Size
Almost as important as the brand of machine you buy, make sure that the surface area of your laser engraver will accommodate the size of your LARGEST project. It's better to make sure you have enough room than to run into the problem of owning a laser engraving machine that is not big enough to handle your projects. Here is a breakdown on our machine sizes:
Nova 24 - 23.6” x 15.7” (600 x 400 mm)
Nova 35 - 35.4” x 23.6” (900 x 600 mm)
Nova 51 - 51.2″ x 35.4″ (1300 x 900 mm)
Nova 63 - 63” x 39.4” (1600 x 1000 mm)
If your thinking about engraving round objects such as mugs, you will need to consider adding a rotary attachment to your machine purchase. The rotary attachments allow the laser machine to turn your workpiece as it engraves along the curved surface of the object. Both the Chuck Style Rotary Axis and Roller Style Rotary Axis are optional accessories that we provide as addons to our machines.
Our Thunder Laser machines use a sealed CO2 glass laser tube that is capable of diverse cutting and engraving scenarios. If you are looking to engrave high definition designs, I would recommend upgrading to the high-resolution head, which is capable of engraving with detail up to 1000dpi.