Are you interested in buying a craft laser engraver and cutter? It can be confusing! There are 4 main types of laser machines used for DIY and household crafts. In this post, learn the details about types of craft lasers, the pros and cons of each type, and help you decide which is the best craft laser for you!
Introduction to Craft Lasers
Laser craft machines have BLOWN into the craft market over the last couple of years! Desktop laser engravers and cutters like those from xTool and Glowforge have allowed home crafters (like myself) to make laser cut crafts such as ornaments and puzzles, engrave tumblers, and make acrylic jewelry like never before!
When I first started to dream of owning my own laser, I was immediately drawn to the Glowforge. It was the first laser craft machine marketed to crafters, and I NEEDED it (haha!). After I saved my money for a couple of years, I became the proud owner of a Glowforge Pro.
Since then, several more lasers for crafts have been released and I am the proud owner 5 (yes, five!) craft laser engravers and cutters including the xTool M1, S1, F1, and P2. That said, I am most familiar with the machines and laser types that I own. Although I will mention other companies when discussing the laser types, I will focus on xTool and Glowforge machines. I think they are quality machines that can be used from beginner to advanced crafters.
Before I dive into the 4 Main Types of Lasers, here are some more of my articles that will help you learn more about crafting with lasers!
Learn More About Laser Machines!
In addition to those posts, I have a FREE Beginner’s Guide to Lasers eBook that you will find helpful! You can download it to read more about the crafting part of lasers: materials you can use, projects you can make, and where I recommend that you buy machines and materials.
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Once you read this article about laser types, my eBook will help you decide which specific laser is the best fit for you!
4 Main Types of Laser Engravers and Cutters
There are four main types of laser machines: CO2, Diode, Infrared, and Fiber lasers. They are categorized based on the type of laser beam and the technology used to create the laser. They all have various levels of power and materials they can interact with, based on how the laser is generated and the wavelength of light they produce.
Of the 4 types of lasers, 3 are most suitable for at-home desktop use: CO2, Diode, and Infrared. Fiber lasers are gaining in popularity, and I expect to see this category of laser grow in the crafting market in coming years.
I own and use all 3 types of the common craft lasers, so it makes it really easy for me to let you know how they work!
CO2 Laser Craft Machines
CO2 lasers are the work horse of the laser crafting industry. They are powerful and can handle a lot of various materials. They are also on the more expensive end, and take up the most space. If you are like me and were first introduced to lasers via the Glowforge, you may be most interested in a CO2 laser.
CO2 Laser Technology
As you might expect, CO2 lasers get their name from carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide (among smaller portions of other gases) are held inside a gas-filled tube. When the tube is stimulated with electricity, the interaction of the CO2 gas particles with the other gases inside the tube creates light energy.
The light is then focused by the machine to produce a very powerful laser beam that can instantly vaporize materials on contact. The wavelength of light that the CO2 laser produces is 10640nm.
CO2 lasers are available in different levels of power, and generally start around 40W of laser power. The Glowforge Pro has 45W of laser power, and the xTool P2 is the most powerful desktop machine I have seen, with a 55W CO2 laser. Another brand that I have seen mentioned in the CO2 laser market is Omtech, but I do not have experience using them.
What are CO2 Lasers Used For?
Because they are more powerful than other lasers on the the market, they are the most versatile machines. They are used to cut and engrave TONS of different materials to make jewelry, signs, ornaments, personalized tumblers, keychains, and so much more!
The biggest difference between CO2 lasers and other types is that it interacts wonderfully with clear acrylic and transparent acrylic sheets. If you want to cut and engrave ALL non-metal materials, you will want to think about investing in a CO2 laser.
Here is a brief list of some of the materials a CO2 can engrave and/or cut:
- Wood (including maple, cherry, and walnut)
- Acrylic (including clear and transparent)
Pros and Cons of a CO2 Laser
The pros of a CO2 laser include how powerful, versatile, and precise they are. Depending on the laser power, you can cut thick materials (up to 18mm wood and 12mm plywood with the xTool P2), and can cut and engrave clear acrylic.
The laser beam produced by a CO2 laser is very precise, which allows you to engrave photo-realistic images and cut intricate designs.
The cons of a CO2 laser include price and size. Compared to commercial lasers, CO2 desktop lasers are becoming quite affordable, but are still out of the range of a lot of home crafters. They generally cost a few to several thousand dollars. The current price of a Glowforge Pro is on sale for $5995 (you can save $500 on top of that with my Glowforge owner coupon), and a xTool P2 is currently $4499 (but you can save extra money with my code: pineapplepaperco)! However, I think a significant return on investment is realistic, should you choose to start a small business with your laser.
CO2 lasers are the largest of the desktop laser types, which I guess can be a pro OR a con. They require the most space in an office (generally an entire desktop or workbench), but they have the largest working space! So you really do get a lot for your money when it comes to CO2 lasers.
For a more comprehensive look at the xTool P2 or Glowforge Pro, which are the two CO2 lasers that I own, make sure you check out these posts that have all of the specifications, projects, and everything else you need to know: xTool P2 Review and the Ultimate Guide to the Glowforge Pro.
Diode Laser Craft Machines
What is a Diode Laser and How Does it Work?
A diode laser uses semiconductor diodes as the laser beam source. Electricity is applied to semiconductor materials, stimulating the release of photons. The diodes are designed with mirrors that deflect the energy through a lens, creating a laser beam. Multiple diodes can also be combined, creating a power bank to increase the energy output.
The wavelength of light that is produced by the laser beam in diode laser craft machines is 455nm.
Diode lasers can vary greatly in power from the 4-5W range (Glowforge Aura and xTool M1) up to 40W of power (xTool S1).
What can a Diode Laser Engrave and Cut?
Despite the different wavelength and power of diodes (compared to a CO2), they are used to cut and engrave a variety of materials! The more powerful diodes can even perform well at cutting thicker materials. So well in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to tell my diode xTool S1 40W and CO2 xTool P2 apart!
The noticeable difference of the diode laser is that it DOES NOT interact with clear acrylic and transparent acrylic sheets (or other clear materials). This is because of the wavelength of light that is produced, NOT how powerful the machine is.
Here is a brief list of some of the materials a diode laser can engrave and/or cut:
- Wood (including maple, cherry, and walnut)
- Acrylic (some colors)
- Stainless Steel (very thin – 0.1mm)
- Most paper and fabric products, and more!
Pros and Cons of a Diode Laser
I own 3 diode lasers (xTool M1, F1, and S1), and out of all of them, I use the 40W S1 the most. Because it’s more powerful than other diode craft lasers (the Glowforge Aura is the least powerful), it is as fast and can handle thick materials like a CO2. You can even create screens for screen printing with a diode laser!
The Pros of a Diode Laser are plentiful:
Diode lasers are much cheaper to produce, and that savings is passed to the consumer! Diode lasers are perfect if you are just a beginner or have a limited budget. You can get an entry level diode laser around (or under!) $1000, and more powerful diodes at just a couple thousand dollars. The Glowforge Aura is currently priced at $1199, the xTool M1 10W at $1099, and the xTool S1 20W starting at $1699.
A diode laser beam can be produced with much lower wattage, making them more energy efficient and more suited to beginner crafters and home based crafters than CO2 lasers. They are still powerful and flammable, though!
Diode laser technology can be placed in a small container. Have you seen the xTool F1?! It’s smaller than a desk lamp! If you have a small space, a diode laser would fit in an area not much larger than a desktop printer.
High powered diode lasers are just as precise as other lasers. They are perfect for engraving detailed photos as well as cutting small, intricate designs from wood, plywood, and more.
Overall, diode lasers should last longer than CO2 lasers. That means more crafting for less money!
Cons of a Diode Laser:
There aren’t many. With the launch of the xTool S1 40W laser, the only downside is that you can’t work with clear acrylic or transparent acrylic. I have engraved glass using marking medium, but it’s not the same as a CO2 laser. If you have ZERO interest in working with clear acrylic, I think that a diode laser would be perfect for you.
Infrared Laser Craft Machines
What is an Infrared Laser?
Infrared lasers also use diode to produce light. They are named for the wavelength of light that they emit: 1064nm, which falls in the invisible infrared spectrum. In fact, it is often confused with a fiber laser, which also operates in the infrared spectrum. But there are major differences!
The light emitted by the laser diodes is reflected and then passed through a lens to create a laser beam. It is simple in construction, but still performs well when used for craft projects!
Infrared laser modules operate at a much lower power level, typically around 2W (like the modules offered with the xTool S1 and F1).
What are Infrared Lasers Used For?
Infrared lasers offer unique and limited capabilities for the home crafter. Namely: metal. Infrared light modules in craft lasers (1064nm) interacts with ALL kinds of metal (including gold, silver, platinum, and copper), and makes it perfect for engraving and marking jewelry pieces and metal crafts. Infrared lasers also interact well with acrylic, and produce clear and detailed engravings.
Pros and Cons of Infrared Lasers
The pros of infrared laser modules are basically those things that compare it to a fiber laser, including materials, cost, speed, and size.
I own the infrared module for the xTool S1 and I also own the xTool F1, which is a combination diode and infrared laser (it’s very cool!). They produce detailed engravings SO fast. I like the ability to engrave metals, and have found myself working with metal jewelry blanks more and more!
They can even be purchased as an “add on” laser module such as with the xTool S1 and xTool D1 Pro. In fact, I would consider an infrared laser to be an additional laser to own, not your primary laser.
Infrared lasers allow you to work with all types of metal at an affordable price. They are a fraction of the cost and size of fiber lasers. The xTool F1 is currently priced at $1599, the xTool S1 module for $599, and the IR module for the xTool D1 Pro is also $599.
I mentioned the xTool F1 above in regards to the size – and it’s SMALL. The size makes it easy to transport to craft shows or workshops to personalize engravings on the go!
The cons of a infrared laser are minimal and include limited usage and power. Infrared lasers mark metals very well, but they do not go far into the piece of metal you are working with. In order to get long lasting results similar to engraving, you have to test your materials thoroughly. Those that want to fully engrave and cut metals generally purchase fiber lasers.
When I say limited usage, it is not that you will have trouble finding projects to do. I mean that you are limited to engraving stock items or pre-made projects. They are not meant for cutting materials, which is why the xTool F1 is a dual diode and infrared laser. You get the best of both laser modules packaged in a portable laser engraver for metal!
Fiber Laser Machines
What is a Fiber Laser?
A fiber laser is similar to an infrared laser in that it operates in the invisible or infrared spectrum, but a fiber laser is named for the fiber optic cable that the light is directed through.
As the light passes through the fiber optic cable, it is converged through special lenses to form a powerful laser beam. The wavelength at which the light is emitted is determined by the material used in the core of the fiber optic cable.
What Can You Make with Fiber Lasers?
Fiber lasers are much more complex than 1064nm infrared lasers, and are much more powerful. They start at around 20W of optical power and can go up to several hundred watts. They can have peak power at several thousand watts! Therefore, they interact with materials much differently than infrared laser modules, and are designed to cut and engrave most metals.
Fiber lasers handle metals that CO2, Diode, and Infrared lasers can not interact with, and are known by most crafters as the laser than can cut metal. Here are just some of the metals that you can use with a fiber laser:
- Stainless Steel
They can also interact with ceramics, painted metal, fiberglass, carbon fiber, plastics, wood, and more!
Pros and Cons of Fiber Lasers
The pros of fiber lasers include power, speed, lifespan and ability to work with metals.
People that work with lots of jewelry, metal signs, and even machine or gun parts will want to get a fiber laser. They can actually engrave into the surface of metal, and typically an infrared laser will only mark metal.
Because fiber lasers are so powerful, they are FAST. I am always impressed when I watch videos of them running a project. But despite how powerful they are, they also have the longest usable lifespan of all laser types.
The cons of fiber lasers are basically cost, size, and materials. You can get a 20W fiber laser starting at around a few thousand dollars, but they get really expensive really quick. A powerful fiber laser can easily run $10,000. Considering the xTool F1 is under $2000 for a diode and an infrared module, fiber lasers are significantly more expensive.
Size is definitely improving as the technology for fiber lasers becomes more accessible, but they are generally much larger than an infrared laser like the F1, but comparable to some diode or CO2 lasers. I would not consider size to be much of a problem if you are working with materials that require a fiber laser.
Fiber lasers are really only designed to work with metal projects. You might be able to work with a few other materials, but not at the same as with a CO2 or Diode laser.
Overall Thoughts on Laser Types for Crafting
If all of the information on laser was confusing for you, you are not alone! As you can tell, there is a lot of information to consider when deciding what the best craft laser for you.
How Do You Choose a Laser Engraver?
When you are deciding which type of laser you want, I think that you should consider the following:
If you are a beginner or hobby crafter, and you don’t own a laser machine – a diode laser might be the machine for you. They are compact, energy-efficient, and affordable—great for smaller projects and limited spaces. If you have a little bit bigger budget but still want a diode, the xTool S1 is my first choice! In my opinion it’s a lot more machine, but still affordable in comparison to a CO2.
If you’re a pretty experienced crafter, but have a smaller budget for laser cutting and engraving. If you want to make personal items or gifts for family and friends – again, a diode laser like the xTool S1 is a great machine to consider!
If you are an experienced crafter and you will consider adding laser crafts to your busy Etsy shop, website, or craft shows, I would recommend a xTool P2 with the Rotary Attachment as well as the Riser Base. If you are working in large product batches, want to make ALL the acrylic projects, have lots of heavily engraved items, or just need to pump out projects quickly, you want a CO2. Don’t even consider a diode laser. You really think you should look into the 55W xTool P2 Co2 laser, and it’s my first choice.
If you already own a laser and want to add more engraved metal projects OR you want to add personalized jewelry items to your craft business, I definitely like infrared lasers! They are pretty affordable and allow you to work with so many kinds of metals that I don’t think you would get bored.
If you work exclusively with metal, or have a budget that includes an extra laser purchase, a fiber laser would be awesome to have! I love that you get an actual engrave on the metal, and not just a mark. But for basic craft needs, most crafters would be happy with an infrared laser module. I think fiber lasers are going to be the next type of laser that we see a lot of technological and consumer growth in, so stay tuned!
Craft Laser Q&A
What Type of Laser is Best for Engraving?
If you want to work with all non-metal materials, CO2 and higher wattage Diode lasers are perfect for engraving. If you want to work almost exclusively with metal, fiber lasers or infrared lasers will be the best for engraving.
Which is Better xTool or Glowforge?
For ease of use (beginners), Glowforge machines and the associated program are the easiest. HOWEVER, I am a fan of the xTool S1 for a diode and the xTool P2 for a CO2. They are more powerful, affordable, and xTool Creative Space is free to use (the Glowforge app requires a subscription for most functionality.) The machines do require a little more set up and testing, but I think it’s an ok trade off. For more details, read: Glowforge vs. xTool: Which is the Better Craft Laser?
What is the Difference Between Cricut and Glowforge?
Cricut machines use blades to cut materials like paper, vinyl, and thin leather. There is no Cricut laser machine as this time (honestly, I would be surprised if we don’t see one in the future). I do not think that a laser compares to a Cricut or Silhouette machine in any way, and I have all 3. The xTool M1 has a dual blade and laser function, but I do NOT prefer it for blade cutting.
Should You Buy a Cheap Laser Engraver?
I see all of the laser deals too. I really feel like with a lot of things, you get what you pay for. I feel more comfortable paying a little more for a laser that I know comes from a reputable company that stands behind their product. Laser machines create a highly flammable environment, and I want to trust the company behind my laser machine.
That said, do your research and buy what is within your budget. xTool makes a line of open diode laser machines (xTool D1 Pro) that are highly rated and safe when used as directed. Start small and work your way into a bigger laser if you need to.
What is the Easiest Laser Engraver to Use?
All laser machines have a learning curve, but I find that the software is actually the biggest hurdle. The Glowforge App is quite user friendly, but I do not like that it requires a subscription to use all of the features. That should be included with a several thousand dollar laser machine.
If you are familiar with Silhouette Studio or Cricut Design Space, xTool Creative Space is similar enough that I think you will be fine!
What is the Best Laser for Cutting Wood?
All CO2 and Diode lasers will be able to cut wood. In general, the more powerful the laser, the thicker wood it can cut. I prefer a CO2 to cut wood, but my 40W xTool S1 does a great job as well.
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