The Lasercutter is the workhorse of any FabLab.
Standard in the basic MIT inventory is the EPILOG 24″ x 12″ laser cutter with a price around € 15.000 and a bed of 600 x 300 mm.
At the miniFabLab we now have a Full Spectrum 45W H-Series 5th Gen CO2 Desktop Laser that started as a Kickstarter project. With a bed of 500 x 300, priced at USD 3500. It has a removable Z-floor and RetinaEngrave 3D Ethernet+USB dual processor ARM+DSP engraving processor with direct print software drivers. Not open source. We tested this machine for the Small Fablab Suite. It is a fine machine and can be carried by one person, handy if your lab is mobile.
The Frysklab mobile fablab drives around with a Full Spectrum 45W on board.
If you’re in the Benelux: Stijn de Mil from fablabfactory.com is importing the Full Spectrum. Same price as directly from FSLaser (machine, transport and tax), but he takes care of the import hassle. And he stocks spare parts like lasertubes and power supply.
[History note: mine came in from the US with a 220/110V stepdown transformer, but I found out that when you removed the bottom you could switch the powersupply to 220V. Source your own 220V compressor (Hailea ACO-328, €50) and a 1200l/hr aquariumpump (like Eheim Compact 1000 or Tetra WP1000, €35).]
At the NYC Makerfaire on 25Sep2015 the Glowforge was introduced, with a bed of 30 x 50 cms for $1995. We immediately ordered one. As this could become a game changer. It has closed cooling, air assist and advanced features like position cameras and real time autofocus. It will only work with an internet connection, as all processing intensive work in done in the cloud. It has closed optics and the tube travels on the gantry, so no mirrors to adjust.
After one month Glowforge had rounded up $ 27.9 mio, biggest crowdfunder in history. Price is up to $ 4000 now. Do not be fooled by its round forms: it is larger than the FullSpectrum. The box under it is the optional airfilter $ 1000. The specs are here. They announced to start shipping in June 2016. But ....
UPDATE (19Apr2016): 'Due to schedule delays, we plan to ship your Glowforge by December 2016 instead of the original date of June 2016. New orders will ship after yours, in 2017.'
UPDATE (2Dec2016): 'All orders placed before Oct 26, 2015 will be shipped by July 31, and all subsequent orders by August 31'. In 2017.
UPDATE (Sept2017) : '30-day campaign orders are scheduled to be shipped in October'. 2017
UPDATE (Dec2017): 'Yours will be shipped 27Feb18, filter on 26May18'
UPDATE (March2018): 'Please supply shipping address'
HUZZAH! It arrived. Beautiful to see. Did not work. No connection to GF's servers. "Contact GF Support" it said. No reaction from GF for 5 days. Nothing to tweak or to experiment, it does not even have ethernet. Beautiful brick. It works now and it works fine, but my enthousiasm for the thing is gone. The Maker Manifesto says: "If you can't open it, you don't own it'. You do not own a GF, GF owns you. You can not even change the name you gave to your machine yourself, you have to 'Contact GF Support' to do so. Sold it.
But it does fit in the MAKERKAR Library Makercart, because that was dimensioned on the GF. The GF airfilter is announced for September.
Possibly feeling the heat of the Glowforge Full Spectrum announced a form factor alike MUSE. Basically an upgrade of the 5Gen with a camera and a touchscreen. Same classic tube and mirrors as the 5Gen., so not the flying optics from Glowforge. But operable with a local browser and not via a cloud service. USD 5000.
At the NY Makerfair in September 2017 DREMEL also announced such a desktop: DIGILAB LC40. No details yet: 'Tech specs coming in 2018'. Separate cooler, how about an air filter? Looking at the few pics available it might well be a rebranded MUSE or clone.
In the desktop category is also the German Mr Beam II Kickstarter a working space op 51 x 49. It has a 5W diodelaser. Fully enclosed class 1. Camera assisted. € 2985 ex tax, pre-sale with discount for € 2686. With air filter € 3599 / 3199. Because of the low wattage the air filter is pretty small 25x25x40cm. Estimated delivery August 2018.
We ordered one: will it cut 4 mm plywood? and in how many passes? For school and libraries 3mm plywood is sort of standard.
FabKit Mk5 is a a assemble-yourself lasercutter from FabCreator with a bed of 680 x 470. The Yongli lasertube moves on the y-gantry, which means closed optics. The case is aluminium. Complete machine with chiller etc. available for € 5500 ex VAT. Fully open source. To be powered by LaserWeb software, downloadable here.
At the low end there are many chinese lasercutters from even as low as a € 400 on eBay for cutters without basic safety switches and no Z-table, like the Shenhui K40 III. Stay away from them or at least read this.
If I had the funds for that range I would opt for the 80W GCC LaserPro X252 63 x 45 cms € 7999. It has servomotors, autofocus and a frontloading door.Further the Epilog Zing (406 x 305) and the Trotec Rayjet (457 x 305) for some € 7500. And the Trotec Speedy (610 x 305) starting at € 10.300.
Any lasercutter requires an exhaust to the outside unless equipped with a filter. In-house BOFA filters are possible, starting around € 1200, but are expensive to maintain. Please note that manufacturers may grant an educational discount of 20% to fablabs.
Build your own
If you want to build your own open source lasercutter look at Buildlog.net. There is a whole community around it to help and a store to get the parts.
Another one is the 60 x 50 cms DIY blackTooth 40W Laser with the tube flying on the gantry.
Clear step-by-step building instructions. Total cost around $ 2500
Many more examples on Openbuilds.
They use 2 to 5 Watt diodes as energy source, which is fine for cutting cardboard or paper. And for engraving. These diode lasers have a wavelength of 455 nM, and are Class 4, which means you always have to wear safety goggles !
The upcoming Australian Emblaser2 has a 5W diode, but will come in a totally enclosed box, with a protective covershield. Therefore is may be classified as a Class 1. Has WiFi.
It has a working space of 50 x 30 cms, like the FullSpectrum and the Glowforge and the MrBeam.
Outside dimensions are 72 x 54, so it will fit in the MAKERKAR too.
Pre-order price (ex tax) was USD 1299 with an optional air filter for $ 375 and an air assist for $ 100.
It is available on the website now for AUD 3495 ex tax and filter AUD 513.
If you want to build your own, Emblaser1 is class 4 and comes as a kit in a A4 version ($ 650) and in an A3 version ($ 800)
At FAB11 in Boston Moushira Elamray won a ‘minifablab’ for her design of the RISHA portable laserprinter. Made from scavenged rods from inkjetprinters with connectors 3Dprinted with an Ultimaker, like the classic RepRap Darwin. It uses a max 2W laser pointer and cuts paper. Use goggles. All plans and BOM are here. Try the ORDER button too 🙂
If you want to build low cost from components, take a look at Banggood
We started by ordering a better one directly from China and it arrived with a broken laser tube. Tough luck. So we looked for an European importer, who could give guarantee and service on such machines if needed. Like HPCLaser in Halifax UK, who sells them under their own brand.
Their smallest cutter was the LS3020 with a bed size of 300 x 210 mm for € 1350. It had bad software, but we modified it for the LaOS open source electronics. Details on the LaOS, Laser Open Source project are further down.
The 3020 cuts fairly well, though not as sharp as the Epilog with its presumably better optics. HPC now sells the LS3020 LSCT, same machine but with better controls and Lasercut 5.3 software, for £ 2150 ex tax and shipping. Windows only.
End Feb2013 we got a 40W BRM ‘Thuislaser’ 4030 cutter, which costed less than € 3000 ex tax. They now have a 60W version too for € 3950. It feels like a scaled down big machine with heavier bearings than the more desktop type LS3020. Motorized Z-table. You need two persons to move it. Its front and back panels open for longer materials. As neither the machine nor its dongle-free software LaserCutEngrave was documented, we wrote a BRM 4030 Quick Start Guide (no longer available i).
Our intention was to replace its controller with a LaOS-board. As we had done with the LS3020. But the machine proved too huge for my garage and moved to the Kaasfabriek Alkmaar Fablab. And we obtained the Full Spectrum.
LIONLASER discontinued their BabyLion with a bed of 460 x 300. With an inventive closed water cooling system and an expandable front-loading cabinet. High end quality for € 6000+. Not open source.
LaOS, the Laser Open Source project.
The LS3020 cuts fairly well. However, with its proprietory driver board, it will not work without a dongle and its software NewlyDraw is unfriendly, to put it mild. And Windows only. If you want to set up the LS3020, you get half-chinese screens, with identical question marks on the two buttons you have to choose from (always hit the left one…). NewlyDraw itself is a mix of a driver and a drawing program. It will import .dxf, but will lose layer attributes, which means you have to define again in NewlyDraw what should be cut and what should be rastered. And you can not export that file back into your computer. So you have to define it again. And again.
You can learn to live with that, but this is not what you want in a fablab. You want to access the cutter as just another printer in a network. Unfortunately there is no open source laser software that does this.
As these machines are mechanically o.k., some folks in Holland discussed whether we could develop an open source controller board, that can be dropped in any lasercutter, large or small. So LaOS, the Laser Open Source, project was born. A stable version of the driver board (rev. 4) is available and for sale at laoslaser.org. It sports a 100 mHz mBed processor, ethernet for network access, I2C, CAN.
Also the firmware is finished and honed. See the LaOS WIKI for the progress. Mid 2013 we had about 30 LaOS machines working (including a few K40-III’s) and now many more.
Our aim was different. The HPC’s are mechanically good and with a ‘brain transplant’ they would offer an affordable A4 lasercutter for anyone who wants to make small things. For under 1500 euros. And on all platforms. But the LaOS board can drive any size lasercutter.
And actually - mid 2016 - spanish BCN uses the board on their BCN Ignis.
Thomas Oster in Aachen takes a complementary approach. He develops a user interface called VISICUT for the Laoslaser driver board. It can be downloaded from www.visicut.org. With a small plugin you can directly print from Inkscape.