If you’re a serious artisan who’s looking to raise the quality of your products to the next level, it may be time to invest in a laser cutter, a software-controlled machine whose slim but powerful laser beam is capable of carving intricate designs and patterns through a range of materials. The versatility and sophistication of these devices come at a price, of course; you’ll probably be shelling out hundreds or even thousands, so choose your model wisely. You’ll need a well-ventilated workspace (industrial-strength laser cutters emit fumes), a compatible operating system through which to upload your designs, and, in some cases, internet access. We’ve assembled our top picks below.
1. Orion Motor Tech Upgraded Laser Engraver
This spiffy-looking machine is one of the best on the market right now. With a mind-bogglingly powerful 100-watt laser, this model is designed to cut through myriad materials from mylar to marble. This laser cutter is compatible with all three major operating systems (Mac, Linux, and Windows) and can even accommodate outsize materials, thanks to its dual pass-through doors. Plus, good news for tinkerers: It’s highly customizable, if the factory settings aren’t to your liking. Be advised that this a hefty piece of machinery, clocking in at 330 pounds. Even if you might be cursing while hauling it up the stairs to your apartment, we promise this laser engraver is a gift that will keep on giving. Plug it in, peer through its tinted acrylic glass cover, and watch it work.
2. Beamo 30W Desktop Laser Cutter
Beamo markets this device as the world’s smallest carbon dioxide laser cutter and engraver. Weighing less than 50 pounds, it is capable of slicing through materials with speed—about 300 millimeters per second—while producing crisp and accurate cuts. The 30-watt laser is best used for cutting lightweight materials such as paper, wood, and acrylic; it has a maximum cutting depth between 3 and 5 millimeters, depending on the material. A standout feature is its built-in, high-definition camera that captures the work surface so you can preview your design and ensure accuracy before you commence cutting. It’s mobile-compatible, so just upload a file of your design or sketch from your phone and let this whiz-bang engraver take it from there.
3. Ten-High 4060 Laser Cutting Machine
If you’re looking for a laser cutter with more power than Beamo’s machine, we recommend this well-built, charmingly retro option. It’s equipped with a strong, 60-watt laser that cuts with impressive speed and accuracy. However, it’s restricted to nonmetal materials, from plastics to paper. Easy to assemble and use, this is an excellent choice for those who want a reliable machine but aren’t quite ready to invest in a top-of-the-line cutter. It’s fully compatible with the graphic suite CorelDraw, but some report that this model is generally clunkier on newer operating systems. In most cases, however, Ten-High’s responsive technical support staff can help you get going.
4. Dremel LC40-03 Laser Cutter
For a premium cutter that delivers speed, consistency, and longevity, look no farther than Dremel’s sophisticated machine. This 40-watt laser cuts with reliable accuracy and is compatible with a range of nonmetal materials. It can handle heavy-duty tasks and is designed with lots of safety features, including integrated water cooling for the laser (so you don’t have to worry about it overheating), fire containment, and a strong ventilation fan for laser exhaust, which not only ensures safety but also eliminates unpleasant odors. Standout features include a built-in camera so you can preview the placement of designs, and native software that allows you to run the laser without internet connectivity.
5. Orion Motor Tech Laser Engraver Cutter
This Orion cutter impresses for its price, which is much lower than that of our other picks, but it does come with drawbacks. It’s capable of cutting through a range of nonmetal materials up to 3 millimeters thick, such as acrylic, glass, bamboo, stone, and plastics, but it can be quite finicky. Also, unlike its tricked-out cousin at the top of our list, this model isn’t Mac-compatible. (It is, however, compatible with most printer–scanners and with CorelDraw and CorelLaser suites.) We recommend this for tech-savvy crafters who are willing to invest some time mastering its ins and outs, as it can be modified to perform like a higher-quality machine without breaking the bank.