When I was recently researching to buy a new laser cutting & engraving machine, I discovered there were few resources online giving realistic price ranges for different types of laser cutting & engraving machines. For budgeting purposes, I needed to find out How Much Does a Laser Cutting and Engraving Machine Cost. Here’s what I discovered.
So, how much do laser cutting & engraving machines cost? A typical home/hobby laser cutting & engraving machine with a 25~60 Watt CO2 laser source and a bed size of between 8″ x 12″ (200 x 300mm) up to 16″ x 24″ (400 x 600mm) will cost anything from $475/€475/£420 for a K40 Chinese import to $7350/€7350/£6500 or more for Red Sail Clone from a USA or European Supplier.
Many new laser cutting & engraving machine buyers select a laser machine purely on the price. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the most cost-effective system for your application and it’s not always wise to trust the claims of the manufacturers.
Laser Cutting and Engraving Machine Costs
Key aspects when choosing a Laser Cutting & engraving machine.
The choice of laser cutting & engraving machines available is vast, but there are a number of key aspects you need to take into account before passing on your hard earned cash.
- The working bed size: this is the maximum working area of the laser. If you are planning to manufacture products of a certain size the bed will need to be large enough to cut at least one up. Many materials come in standard sheet sizes, so it can be more cost-effective to get a larger bed that is able to take a standard sheet size of the material you are planning to use. It’s not usually possible to increase the bed size of a machine.
- Laser power: the higher the laser power allows you to cut thicker material, or thinner material faster. If you are only going to be using the laser for paper or cardboard, then a 25-watt laser source is more than sufficient. If you are looking to cut 6mm MDF or 10mm acrylic, you should be considering 40 or 60-watt laser sources. It is possible to upgrade the laser power in a machine, but it will probably require a new laser power supply and modification to the laser cabinet, as well as the laser tube itself.
- Laser source: there are two main types of CO2 laser source s available.
- The DC or glass laser tube which is a low-cost item and is usually classed as a consumable with a life of between 6~36 months. This is the tube you will find in machines at this price range.
- The RF or metal laser tube tends to be used in high-end systems due to its premium cost. You can expect it to last more than 4 years, but it can be as much as 10x the cost of the equivalent glass laser tube.
- Exaggerated marketing claims: It’s not unusual for manufacturers to exaggerate the laser power available on their machines. You buy a 40-watt machine, it only gives 30 watts. A quick rule of thumb is that every 5 watts of power require a 100mm length of laser tube. So a 40-watt tube should be 800mm long. This rule only applies to the 50~60mm diameter tubes.
- Safety: While not always the case, it is more likely that there will be safety issues on the lower cost laser machines. Whether that’s with respect to electrical safety, laser safety, interlocks etc. Claims that machines comply to CE or FDA legislation can be exaggerated.
- Reliability: The cheaper the machine, the more likely it is you will have some reliability issues or component failures. I’ve heard many reports of people buying direct from a Chinese manufacturer and the laser did not work on arrival or the laser tube and laser power supply failed in the first 3 months. There are reports that some manufacturers in China, supply factory rejected laser tubes, laser power supplies and controllers just to keep the cost down.
- Support: Unfortunately, at the bottom end of the market, once they have your money you can get little or no support. So if you are not technically adept, you may not be able to get you new laser machine up and running.
- Extraction: This is an aspect of laser cutting & engraving that receives very little coverage or consideration, even though it can have the biggest impact on your health. You need a dedicated fume extraction system for removing the toxic fumes from the workspace. Depending on the size of your laser machine, a full extraction system is likely to cost between $800/€550/£500 to $1700/€1430/£1300. You can pump it out of a window of course as suggested by some manufacturers, but this could be illegal in your locality as well as being anti-social.
- Recommended extras:
- Air assist: This is a necessity and refers to the jet of air that comes out of the laser nozzle. It has two functions; it keeps the lens clean and blows the smoke away from the cut to give an improved cutting performance.
- Dedicated water chiller: While a pump in a bucket of water is fine for some people, I would recommend getting a dedicated closed loop water cooler such as the CW3000, but watch out for counterfeits.
What’s Available and where to buy?
There are four main ranges of new products available at the suggested price range of $475/€475/£420 to $7350/€7350/£6500.
- The cheapest and entry level is the K40 Laser cutter or Chinese Blue machine available as a direct import / Alibaba / eBay / Amazon and similar sites. These machines are very basic desktop units, with a small bed size 8″ x 12″ (200 x 300mm) and low laser power (25~30W). Prices tend to range from $475/€475/£420 to $815/€815/£720. If you are importing, don’t forget to factor in shipping costs, duties, local taxes and local delivery.
- Next are the direct import Red Sail Clone laser machines. These are typically purchased directly from the Chinese manufacturer or through sites such as Alibaba. These units can be desktop or standalone units, bed sizes are from around 12″ x 16″ (300 x 400mm) and laser power from 25~60W. The Z-axis on the standalone units can be over 200mm, allowing you to engrave directly onto products. Prices tend to range from $950/€950/£840 to $3100/€3100/£2750. If you are importing, don’t forget to factor in shipping costs, duties and local taxes.
- The next step up in cost is the locally supported Red Sail Clones. You would typically purchase the laser from a local agent, distributor or re-brander who will test, deliver and install the system. There should also be some after sales support. Prices will typically have a 50% premium over the manufacturer’s price, but the international shipping, import duties and local taxes will have been covered. You also have the safety net of a local company to assist you should you experience any issues.
- For example; the used machine shown below with a 1600x1000mm (63″ x 39″) bed and 150 watt laser source is for sale at £11,500 / £15,870 / €13,427 on eBay
- Finally, there are the US and European manufacturers. This does not include the top brand names such as Trotec, Epilog and Universal as $7350/€7350/£6500 wouldn’t get you an entry level machine. It does include a number of US manufactured “Hobby Enthusiast” desktop machines, with bed sizes up to 12″ x 24″ (300 x 600mm) and 40 watts of laser power, but there are a lot of conflicting views on their features/benefits/value for money. There are also a number of European manufactured systems, that are higher quality versions of the Red Sail Clone systems from China.
- For example; the used machine shown below with a 726x432mm (28.5″ x 17″) bed and 80 watt laser source is for sale at £19,000 / £26,220 / €22,185 on eBay
Which route would I take?
I’m fortunate enough to have experience with using and occasionally repairing laser machines, so buying directly from China would not be a major concern for me. But I would set aside some cash in case I have to replace the laser power supply and laser tube in the first year.
I’d be looking for a machine with a bed size between 12″ x 20″ (300 x 500mm) and 16″ x 24″ (400 x 600mm) with a 60-watt laser tube. I’d also want it to have a Ruida controller and display panel as the RDWorks software used on this set-up is pretty good and regularly updated.
For someone new to the world of lasers, buying a Chinese machine from a local agent/distributor/re-brander should offer the best value for money with peace of mind. Just do your homework and try to get feedback from existing customers of the product you are considering.
Which Route Did I Take?
After writing this article on How Much Does a Laser Cutting & Engraving Machine Cost? I ended up buying the Tangerine Tiger machine as videoed by Russ Sadler and upgrading it in numerous ways. Check out this post on my experience with buying a Chinese laser cutting & engraving machine.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a laser cutter work?
A laser cutter works by focussing a laser beam through a lens, to a very small diameter of typically 0.15 ~ 0.4mm. This intense focussed laser beam then interacts with materials to instantly burn or vaporise the material to create a laser cut.
Is laser engraving the same as laser cutting?
The key difference between laser cutting and laser engraving is the amount of energy being transferred to the material at an instant of time. For laser cutting you will need high power and a slow movement of the laser beam. For laser engraving you require a low power at high speeds in order to “mark” the surface of the material. In reality laser engraving is just low depth laser cutting.
What can a laser cutter cut?
Your standard CO2 laser cutter (up to 150W) is capable of cutting a wide variety of organic materials such as wood, paper, leather and fabrics. They can also cut a number of plastics such as Acrylic and Delrin, although great care needs to be taken as not all plastics are safe to cut with a laser.
How much does it cost to buy a replacement laser tube?
You can expect to pay around $175/€150/£135 for a decent 60W glass CO2 laser from China, but don’t forget to take delivery costs, insurance, duties and local taxes into account. Buying from a local supplier will probably add around 50% to the price, plus local delivery.
How much does it cost to run a Laser Cutting Machine?
Laser cutting machines cost surprisingly little to run. Laser cutting cost per hour for a 60-watt glass CO2 laser running at 50% power output for an hour will consume around 360 watts, equating to approx. $0.14/€0.14/£0.12 per hour. Add a fume extraction unit and a laptop and the hourly rate goes up to around $0.42/€0.42/£0.36.
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Last updated August 26, 2021
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