Should I Buy a Laser Engraver? 10 Questions to Ask

A laser engraving and cutting machine can be a handy tool for the workshop and the technology continues to get better and better. What used to be a purchase that was out of reach for the average person, has now become an affordable tool for nearly anyone. Whether you are a hobbyist or someone looking to sell your work, there are options for all.

Are you a crafter? Woodworker? If so, a laser engraver is a great way to add customizations. Would a laser engraver be a good purchase for your specific needs?

You should purchase a laser engraver if you have a need for it and will use it regularly. If it only sees occasional use, you are better off paying for engraving work. Laser engravers can be quite expensive. However, once you purchase one, you may find lots of reasons to use it often.

Laser engraver engraving a piece of wood

A laser engraver opens up a new world of possibilities for you. Not only can you create unique items but you can also customize them to your or your client’s liking. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer custom engravings for clients if you are already creating products to sell.

It goes hand-in-hand with many types of crafting niches such as woodworking, metalworking, and leatherworking, just to name a few.

A laser machine can be affordable but some options are very pricey for the average home user. While some budget-friendly laser machines can be had for a few hundred dollars, some of the more expensive ones can cost well into the thousands. Beyond that, there are numerous accessories and other necessary supplies needed so you will need to consider all costs involved before making that final decision to purchase one.

If you are serious about purchasing a laser engraver and cutting machine, the following questions may help you decide whether or not to take the leap.

10 Questions to Answer Before Buying a Laser Engraver

1. How Much Will I Use It?

First, you want to decide just how much you will be using it. These are expensive machines only to be used every once in a while. If it makes sense because you will be using it often, then it may be worth the cost. However, if you are only interested in customizing a few items around your house, it may not be a worthwhile investment.

Like any tool, the excitement level after purchase is usually high but as the new wears off, it begins to see less and less action as it sits in a corner somewhere collecting dust. For those who have a small business and need a laser engraver for customizations, it’s a no-brainer. They are well worth the investment to a small business owner who needs them.

If you are a homeowner simply wanting to add engravings to your own artwork, you need to decide whether it’s worth it or not for yourself. If you have some expendable cash lying around, then go for it but if you are debating whether or not to spend your hard-earned money on such a tool, decide how much you are actually going to be using it.

Make a list of the projects that you will use it on or the work that you will do with it. If you can only come up with a short list and have trouble deciding just how you may use it in the future, you may want to hold off and pay someone else to do laser engravings for you.

You will be better off saving the money rather than throwing it away on something that will rarely be used.

2. How Much Do I Want to Spend?

Laser engravers range in cost from hundreds to well into the thousands. There are many differences when considering these price differences but mainly you will find that the more expensive laser engravers have a higher laser power. They can work faster, cut thicker materials, and engrave deeper. They may also have more bells and whistles such as cameras and built-in air-assist.

While a $500 laser engraver may be plenty for a hobbyist, it may struggle to keep up with the demands that a small business may require.

A small business that uses a laser engraver in a production environment may need to consider a higher-priced machine that can keep up with the demands. It will need to produce results in the fastest way possible. If laser cutting is also in your plans, you may need to consider a more powerful laser. A 40w laser will cut better and in fewer passes than a 10w laser will.

Besides power, there are different types of lasers including fiber, CO2, and diode. Fiber and CO2 lasers are generally more powerful and able to cut through thicker materials and produce faster results. However, they are also more expensive than diode lasers.

There are some budget-friendly models on the market that can certainly do the job and provide a great balance between affordability and capabilities. The Xtool makes some great options and is what I currently have in my workshop. It excels at engraving and cutting while being reliable and easy to use.

3. Do I Have a Place to Put It?

While some of the laser machines on the market may seem like big printers, they aren’t! They require some thought as to where you will place them. The biggest factor in determining a location for a laser engraver will be ventilation. These tools produce smoke while in use and will need to be ventilated. This means that it may need to be installed near a window or other area with easy outside access.

If you intend to purify the air rather than vent it outside, you will also need to determine a location for the air purifier needed to achieve this. These necessities take some consideration due to the size and complexity of designing a properly ventilated system.

Many beginners don’t realize how much smoke is involved in using a machine like this. I was unaware of it as well when I first started until my workshop became smoke-filled each time I used it. Simply raising my garage door or using a fan just didn’t cut it.

I ended up with an enclosure for my laser engraver that includes a ventilation fan. It sucks all the smoke outside each time I use it now so that I am left with only clean air in my workspace. It’s something to think about if you are going to be purchasing one. Make sure that you have a location and have considered how you will get rid of the smoke that is produced while using it.

4. Do I Have the Time to Learn It?

A laser engraver is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” type of tool. It will require a bit of learning to achieve the best results. Besides learning the tool itself, you will need to understand the software that operates the tool. Everything you do on a laser engraver will be commanded by a computer and what you tell the software to do.

While there are great software programs for achieving this, there is a slight learning curve in using them and getting all that you can out of them. Lightburn is one of the most popular options on the market but it does require some learning and not all machines work with it.

Oftentimes, laser engravers come with their own proprietary software that runs them. Glowforge has its own software that requires a monthly fee to use. Other machines such as the Xtool offers some excellent software that is very capable.

If you are going to learn how to get the most out of your machine, it’s best to settle on a software solution and then learn all that you can about it and leave the other ones behind. There are plenty of tutorials online that can walk you through each of the options on the market but you will need to sit down and spend some time learning. Do you have time for this?

In order to achieve professional results, you’ll need to make time to understand all that you can about how your machine works and how to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the software.

5. What Size Do I Need?

Is a small home-sized unit enough for you or do you need an industrial-sized, powerful machine? This will depend on why you are using it in the first place. A small-sized laser engraver will be perfect for the hobbyist who creates small crafts. A larger engraver may be needed for those who engrave larger materials or need the space to be able to engrave lots of smaller objects at one time.

Industrial laser engraving

They come in all sizes and as you can imagine, some of the larger ones are the most expensive ones. Some laser engravers and cutters require special setups and are extremely heavy to move if you decide to move to a different location. A small laser engraver will be perfect for those who have a small workshop or area in their home where it will rest.

There are even handheld laser engravers that can do the job of small work as needed. These may work great in conjunction with a larger engraver to accomplish more projects in a shorter amount of time.

6. What Materials Do I Want to Engrave?

There are lots of different materials that can be engraved. If you can work with it in your crafting niche, chances are, you can engrave something on it. The following list is an example of some of the most popular items that people engrave.

  • Wood
  • Leather
  • Stone
  • Marble
  • Glass
  • Acrylic
  • Cork
  • Metal

Whichever material you intend to engrave, be sure and do your research before purchasing a machine. Some types of lasers will be better on certain materials than others. As an example, a diode laser will not be able to cut clear acrylic but a CO2 laser will have no problem with this task.

Wooden ring box with engraving on top

In general, most laser engravers function the same way when engraving but more power may be needed for some materials than others. Keep this in mind as you search for the perfect machine for your needs.

7. Have You Considered All Costs?

As with most things, there are usually hidden costs when considering a purchase like this. The initial setup of a laser engraver can be quite expensive once you consider all parts required.

Once you have purchased the laser tool itself, you may need to clear out a place to put it, a way to purify the air, and you’ll need a plethora of materials in which to engrave regularly.

Materials cost a lot of money and there’s no doubt that you will go through a learning curve at the beginning in which materials will be wasted. For the most part, once you have your machine set up, you will only be required to purchase engraving materials after that.

8. What Power Do I Need?

Laser engravers and cutters come in various sizes and can range from 5 watts to thousands of watts for a fiber laser. This power of the laser will determine how thick of material you can cut as well as the depth and speed at which you can cut or engrave your project. A stronger laser beam will be able to engrave faster than one that isn’t so strong.

A 5-watt laser may have to make multiple passes to accomplish what a 40-watt laser can in one pass.

The power of the laser that you need will depend upon the type of work you will be doing. A hobbyist can get by with a 5 or 10-watt laser with no problems. However, a small business that utilizes its laser engraver or cutter all day long will want a more powerful machine.

The more powerful, the more pricey but you will save time and be able to do more with a more powerful laser beam.

9. Does It Come With Air Assist?

My laser engraver did not come with an air assist and it had to be added after the fact. After the addition of an air assist, my engravings improved significantly!

Before being equipped with an air assist, I used lots of transfer tape and masking tape to avoid burning the wood around my engravings. The air assist allows you to get cleaner results when you are both engraving and cutting materials. This is especially noticeable on wood.

If you are considering laser engraving, I would highly suggest choosing a model that comes with an air assist. If it doesn’t come with one, be sure that one can be added. Without it, you simply will not achieve as good of results as you can with one.

An air assist is important for cooling the material as you are engraving or cutting and it also helps to remove smoke as you are engraving. You will notice much cleaner results when using an air assist. See the picture below for a comparison between wood that was engraved with air assist and without air assist.

with and without air assist comparison

You can see a huge difference in the results and if you are doing this professionally, it makes sense to spend the extra money for a properly installed air assist on your machine.

10. Is the Company Reliable and Easy to Deal With?

As with anything you purchase, it’s a good idea to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company that is easy to deal with when problems arise. These types of tools are complex and could have issues along the way.

Do your research and make sure you have chosen a company that responds to problems, offers a warranty, and will help you solve problems.

Most reputable brands will offer a warranty and some type of customer support. Make sure you are considering this as you go about your search.

Bottom Line

It’s amazing what you can do with a laser engraver. You can produce some very detailed engravings on a variety of different materials. However, purchasing one is not something to be taken lightly. It requires some thought since there are lots of questions to ask before you make a decision. Hopefully, the ten questions above can help you make a better choice during your search.

As a newbie, I had no idea what I was looking for when I purchased my laser machine. Over time, I have realized how ignorant I was about a few things that I should’ve known in the beginning. Proper research would’ve led me to the answers and what I have presented in this article hopefully do the same for you.

Above all, stay safe when using a laser engraver as these types of devices can be dangerous if not properly used. Proper safety glasses and usage should always be considered especially if your machine is set up in a location where children or others may be exposed to the tool.