I came across this post today from Hack-a-day about the thoughts on someone who bought and is using one of the cheap generic Chinese laser cutter / engraver.
If you search ebay for “co2 Laser Engraver”, you’ll see lots of these things that all appear to be made by the same manufacturer, or at least from the same set of plans. There are also lots of distributers that rebrand the same generic machines.
I hope that this article will help you decide if you want a Chinese Laser vs an Epilog or other fancy laser cutter.
I have been using more or less this exact laser for almost 2 years now for all my laser projects (I have quite a lot of them). I’m not sure how many hours I’ve logged with this laser, but I suspect it’s several hundred.
About the mechanical quality
It is durable and well built in the mechanical aspect it could be better, but I'm not worried about breaking it, or it breaking down. It does need adjustment and cleaning from time to time, but I suspect that is the case with any laser.
About the electrical/control systems
They are cheap, but work. I've seen lots of people take out the electronics and replace them with a "standard" CNC stepper controller so that other software could be used.
The biggest issue I had over the years was the laser tube control failed on me after a hundred or so hours of use. I was able to easily by a replacement for $150 on ebay.
On the software
The software that it comes with is not good, but it is usable and not totally broken. I know that I could switch the electronics and use something "better", but for my uses it works fine.
The very first time I used the software I spent a confused hour or so just trying to figure it out, but now that I’m familiar with it, I can make it do pretty much anything I want. It even has some features that a purely CNC based program would not have. Things being able to import lots of file types (not just g-code files), mirroring, multiple copies on a sheet, etc.
On cut quality
This machine comes with a 25mm focal point lens, so the maximum thickness you can cut well is 1/4in (6mm) materials. If you switched your lens for a 50mm focal length lens you could have some more penetrating power. (The beam's effective focus range would be longer)
The cut quality is good in general, though there is a slight slant to edges that is 0.25mm to 0,5mm (approx.). This again comes from the beam focal angle, and easily fixed with another lens.
I almost exclusively cut 1/8in (3mm) materials for my projects so it works fine.
The cutting envelope is only 8x8in (200x210mm), and is somewhat limiting, however I’ve found there’s lots of ways around this limitation in practice. In general I tend to use more smaller parts.
On the Laser Tube and Power
I’ve put hundreds of hours on the original tube that came with my machine and it has not failed me yet. I do use a water chiller to keep very cool water running though the tube at all times, usually around 40F.
I’ve also found that the temperature that the tube is at does greatly affect the power it puts out, in one accidental misuse of my chiller (it was turned off), the water circulating was pretty warm (60-70F) the power output dropped quite a lot, 30-40% in my estimation.
As for power, I’ve never had too many issues with my cutting 1/8th to 1/4th inch (3-6mm) woods and plastics. For thicker materials, I do find it desirable (less burny) to make more fast cutting passes a medium power, then one slow pass at high power.
When I bough this laser I got it used on eBay for less then $1000 with the water chiller. New ones are a bit more, but there are deals from time to time.
With all it’s flaws and limitations, for me they all boil down to spending a little more time planning and working to get what I want, and this laser has served me well over the years and I’m glad I bought it.
Even if I did have the money to buy a laser that is worth more than my car, I wouldn’t do it. Even with it’s flaws and limitations I could buy five of them for less then that cheapest epilog laser.
However, there is one caveat, if you are planning on running your laser all day long every day, or are the kind of person that hates to fix and tinker with things, this probably isn’t for you.
I’ve written this article with only the benefit of using my cheap laser and watching lots of Epilog demos by video an in person and looking at many photos of parts cut with an Epilog laser. However, if you want to try and change my mind, I would be very open to receiving one of your (what I assume are) great products.