Best Laser Cutters and Engravers
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Best Laser Cutters and Engravers

Aug 30, 2023

Slice through wood, acrylic and other materials or burn text and images onto them.

While the best 3D printers can turn a spool of filament or a vat of resin into a working model, sometimes the best way to build something is by cutting through layers of acrylic, wood or metal to get the shapes you need. Other times, you just need to imprint an image or text on an existing surface. For these use cases, you need a laser cutter / engraver.

Laser cutters, also sometimes called laser engravers, come in all shapes and sizes, allowing you to safely work with a variety of materials from oak to iron-on transfers. You can get one of the best low-power laser cutters for as little as $220. Low wattage lasers are cheaper and perfect for engraving images and cutting thin materials. Higher wattage machines are more expensive, and can cut through thicker material in one pass. To help you choose, we’ve tested several models and listed the best laser cutters below.

Lasers are tested using both the supplied samples as well as popular project blanks, such as basswood sheets and bamboo cutting boards. We complete several test projects to evaluate how the laser performs while engraving text and images, whether it can cut acrylic, or etch something more difficult like stone or metal. Finally, we put the laser to work cutting thicker pine boards to determine if it meets manufacturer's stated capabilities.

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There are several factors to consider before buying the best desktop laser for you, so be sure to consider these questions before making a choice.

Our expert review:

If you want to laser all the things, the xTool P2 does nearly everything with speed and accuracy. It can engrave and slice a wide assortment of materials, including 20mm thick Walnut and clear acrylic. It's fully enclosed with a camera for remote operation, air assist, exhaust fan, and metal grill. The lid locks for extra safety and pushing the release button will automatically stop the laser.

The P2 comes with all the bells and whistles, and is priced accordingly. At $4999 it may not be in the budget for the average hobbyist, but is definitely a good investment for a small business. The only downside of this “desktop” machine is its size. Weighing in at 99 pounds and taking up 39 inches of counter space, this laser cutter practically needs its own workshop.

xTool offers plenty of support for budding entrepreneurs with a website full of advice and a shop stocked with unbranded materials to engrave. Sure, you could source all your own materials, but everything that xTool sells has a preset profile in the laser’s custom software to make engraving and cutting effortless.

Material: Wood, bamboo, cork, stone, leather, fabric, cardboard and all acrylic.

More: xTool P2 Review

Our expert review:

Want to try out laser cutting / engraving without a huge investment? The Creality CR Laser Falcon will get you started for just $299. Produced by a popular 3D printing company, this was the first desk top laser we tested and it impressed us with its simple build and ease of use.

The Laser Falcon is an open frame diode laser with a manual focusing system and a surprisingly powerful exhaust fan with a carbon filter attached to the tool head. The tool head is wrapped with a laser proof acrylic shield and comes with safety glasses. You can purchase an optional enclosure from Creality for $79.

Cable management is pretty basic, but mesh sleeves manage to contain the wiring. No base plate is included with this machine, but if you’re only using it to engrave you can make do with a sheet of fireproof material like cement board from the hardware store. There’s no WiFi, so it is best used tethered to a laptop. You have the option of loading files onto an SD card and operating it with a single button on the machine.

The Laser Falcon we tested is the low power 5 watt model, which is excellent at engraving and can slice through wood up to 5 mm thick.

Materials: Wood, bamboo, cork, stone, leather, fabric, cardboard and most acrylic.

More: Creality CR Laser Falcon Review

Our expert review:

The TTS-55 by Two Tree’s is a no-frills 5 watt diode laser cutter / engraver that’s a good starting point for budget minded buyers. It's easy to use and produces nice dark engravings in a short amount of time.

The Two Tree’s laser retails at $219, and doesn’t include a base plate. If you plan to mostly use the machine for engraving instead of cutting, you can protect your work surface with a sacrificial sheet of fireproof material – we used a cement board from the hardware store.

It comes with a tinted acrylic shield around the tool head and one pair of safety glasses. Two Tree’s sells an optional enclosure for $129 which will make the laser safer to run while also assisting with smoke removal. They offer a wide variety of upgrade options to customize your set up, such as a honeycomb work surface, frame extensions, air assist and rotary machine.

There is no native software for the TTS-55, however it is compatible with LaserGRBL and LightBurn.

Material: Wood, bamboo, cork, stone, leather, fabric, cardboard and most acrylic.

More: Two Trees TTS-55 Review

Our expert review:

Laser attachments for 3D printers seems like a no-brainer – after all, you already have a perfectly good motion system, right? But the hassle of unscrewing your normal tool head and reprogramming the main board isn’t always so easy. Plus, laser safe enclosures for 3D printers are hard to find.

Enter Snapmaker Artisan, a 3-in-1 printer, laser and CNC combo that literally has it all. The machine has a handy auto focusing program, plus it uses a camera to guide material placement. Custom software from Luban is included with the machine to operate all three functions.

Switching between printing, lasering and milling is simple with quick release tool heads and snap in place work surfaces. A well vented, laser safe enclosure comes standard with the machine.

The Artisan has two drawbacks – it is very, very large and rather expensive. Priced at $2,999 it is more than an xTool D1 Pro with all the extras. But if you’re interested in lasers, 3D prints and milling – it may be the perfect all in one workshop tool for you.

The Artisan comes standard with a capable 10 watt laser and roomy 400 x 400 build surface. The machine can be upgraded with 20 and 40 watt tool heads that also have air assist.

Materials: Wood, bamboo, cork, stone, leather, fabric, cardboard and most acrylic.

More: Snapmaker Artisan 3-in-1 Review

Our expert review:

The xTool D1 Pro is an open frame laser cutter that can cut and engrave with ease. We sliced 10mm pine boards and 3mm pieces of acrylic with its powerful 20 watt diode laser. It was also able to quickly etch slate tiles and painted metal travel mugs.

The D1 Pro is very much a professional tool for makers who take their hobby seriously. It comes with feature rich software custom tuned to your laser and the website is chock-full of helpful tutorials and advice for entrepreneurs. xTool also sells label free goods and raw materials for making just about anything your laser can handle.

One of the advantages of the D1 Pro is its set of sensors: limit switches to prevent the laser from hitting the sides of the frame, a gyroscope to switch the machine off if it’s picked up, or falls, during operation and a flame detector to switch the laser off in case of fire. You also have the option of upgrading the tool head to more powerful wattage or an infrared tool head for etching plastic and metal.

The D1 Pro is not for the budget conscious, especially if you want all the extras. Its speed, quality and power are well worth the $1097 starting price tag for those who use a laser frequently. This is an excellent model for hobbyists looking to start a small business, but not ready for the investment that comes with a C02 laser.

Materials: Wood, bamboo, cork, stone, leather, fabric, cardboard and most acrylic.

More: xTool D1 Review

Each laser we review is carefully vetted for safety, performance, and ease of use. Depending on the capabilities of the laser cutter, we will use it to engrave on or cut patterns out of various materials including wood and acrylic.

We always first test the laser using the supplied safety gear, but we reserve the right to move the equipment into a 3rd party enclosure if needed.

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Denise Bertacchi is a Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering 3D printing.

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