What to look for in a portable laser engraving machine?

OMTech Laser

Laser engraving technology has evolved at an exponentially rapid rate. Large-scale manufacturing companies now regularly employ laser machines and technology to fabricate components for industrial giants in various sectors, while there has been a similar increase in the mass production of parts for aerospace, automotive, construction, kitchenware, and more is done using lasers.

The extensive applications for laser machines have made them essential pieces of equipment worldwide. What's more exciting is that we have now harnessed the power of these massive machines into portable desktop models for home offices, workshops, and businesses worldwide. 

Desktop laser engravers give home hobbyists and small business owners a way to use laser engraving technology to their benefit with their highly customizable designs and increasing array of accessories and design features as these portable engraver machines become a large part of the production process of so many products. Everyday items such as purses, wallets, home decor, signs, ornaments, jewelry, coasters, and so much more join simple projects undertaken for the simple artistic expression.  

What Are Portable Laser Engravers?

Desktop CO2 laser engravers utilize a focused beam of light to burn away layer after layer of a workpiece. Design software communicates with your machine to direct the laser to etch your desired pattern or image. How deep you want your engraving to be, how quickly your device performs, and which material you use are all variables you can address in your unit's settings. 

Owning a portable laser engraver has many benefits as so many newer models have improved and streamlined compact sizes. These small engraving machines fit perfectly in any workspace without sacrificing performance or quality. Also, because they are so lightweight, you will have no problem moving them around a workspace or traveling with more portable models. Finally, desktop laser engravers like the OMTech Polar and the OMTech 40W Desktop CO2 machine are more energy efficient, user-friendly, and affordable than their industrial-size counterparts. 

7 Key Considerations When Shopping for Portable Laser Engraver Machines

Because desktop laser engravers come equipped with a wide range of features, assessing the best machine for your needs can be confusing. Using this guide, you may better understand what each element does, which features will scale with your projects and generally help you make a more informed decision.

The Laser Output

An engraving machine's laser output refers to the strength of the laser beam. Measured in watts (W), laser output determines the depth of the etchings and how quickly the machine operates.

Many factors will influence how much wattage you will need for your projects. For example, the harder or thicker your workpiece is, the more power it will require. Specific properties or imperfections in a material will also have an impact. Some varieties of wood, for instance, have a high resin or sap content, which demands more power.  

While you can adjust certain machine and software settings to increase or decrease your power level, your unit's hardware will ultimately determine the maximum laser output. Generally speaking, a machine with a greater laser output will give you more flexibility regarding your materials and projects. 

For optimum performance, a laser output of 25W to 80W is ideal for CO2 laser engraving. Weigh your options carefully since price rises as the wattage increases.

The Range of Materials It Can Engrave

When shopping for a portable laser engraving machine, it's vital to consider the materials it could potential engrave. If you know that most of your creations will be on tile workpieces, you must ensure your new machine can work with that material quickly and efficiently at a reasonable setting. That said, OMTech carries a range of desktop models that can work with the following materials (and many more):

Acrylic Wood Glass Marble Rubber Tile Leather Granite Plastic

If you're undecided about what materials you wish to work with, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you choose:

What is your budget? If your tasks include large pieces of expensive materials, you must figure that into your overall cost. 

How readily available are your preferred materials? If you have to special order your items and then wait weeks for them to arrive, it will affect your timeline. 

How much contrast do you want your final product to have? Marking on a lighter material will produce a dark etching to make your design stand out.  

What Laser Software Is Compatible

The right software can boost your laser engraving experience. Your chosen program will be vital in designing your product and encoding and transmitting the information to your computer to your laser engraver. There are three types of software you will need for your desktop laser engraver:

CAD (computer-aided design) software: CAD programs assist in translating your ideas into an etching project. Your CAD should have a user-friendly interface so you can focus more on designing your product and less on figuring out a complex platform.   

CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software: CAM software encodes your design into a language your machine can understand. 

Control software: Control software shares the encoded design with your engraver. 

For your desktop laser engraver to work correctly, you need programs that address all three of these features. While there are many software options to choose from, OMTech machines are compatible with two of the industry-leading programs: RDWorks and LightBurn.  

The Type of Laser Power Source It Has

Two primary laser power sources are available for small engraving machines: fiber lasers and CO2 lasers. There are advantages to both types, so it's crucial to understand the differences between the two.

Fiber lasers utilize fiber optic cables to transfer the focused light to the laser head. Fiber lasers create incredibly powerful beams that can cut through metals like stainless steel. Because of the intensity of their lasers, fiber laser cutters are generally best in industrial and large-scale manufacturing settings.

Alternatively, CO2 lasers are generated in gas-filled tubes and directed by mirrors and lenses. CO2 lasers are ideal for small workspaces because they're easy to use and versatile at a lower price point. They are highly precise and etch detailed designs for users at all experience levels. 

The Addition of Water Cooling Systems

Water chillers are imperative for keeping your unit cool. If your machine overheats, it could undergo permanent damage or even require repair or actual replacement. Further, water chillers are a wise investment because they are vastly less expensive than a new engraver and take up very little room while they extend the lifespan of your unit.

However, not all water chillers are created equal. Confirm that your water cooling system has an intelligent control mode to ensure it operates effectively. Chillers with this mode can self-regulate their water temperatures by identifying the ambient temperature. For convenience and safety, the OMTech Polar and 40W desktop machine come with premium water cooling systems preinstalled.  

A Removable Workbed

If you plan on working with thicker workpieces, a removable workbed is a must. Removable workbeds are also necessary if your model allows for a rotary attachment. Rotary attachments enable users to etch on cylindrical or oddly shaped objects like vases or bottles. 

Double-duty Work Surfaces

A double-duty work surface incorporated into the base design is valuable for units without a rotary attachment option. It allows users to work with cylindrically shaped materials and flat workpieces. 

Make the Laser Engraving Process Simple With the Right Laser Etching Machine

The OMTech Polar 50W CO2 Laser Engraver is the perfect portable desktop laser machine for all your material-cutting needs. Visit the OMTech website today to see our impressive lineup of desktop laser engravers and accessories. Our team is excited to partner with you to find the perfect portable laser engraving machine for your projects.

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