Best controller for co2 laser?


Building a co2 laser (Further Fabrication style).
What viable controllers exists out there?
Most people seem to go for Ruida based, but what other (good) options exists?
Is for example esp32-grbl even an option?
I will do 95% plain cutting.

I’ve been thinking about this for my own build. Like you, I’m focused primarily on cutting. I have one of Bart Dring’s boards that I could try for ESP32, or might run either grbl or smoothie on an lpc like cohesion3d. I’m planning 3 axis. I’m not exactly the target market for smoothieware; I’m not sold on the value of a configuration file over rebuilding firmware. And the instructions that say you must start over building your config file from scratch with every new smoothie version aren’t my favorite thing. Incompatible configuration every time I update firmware feels discouraging. Using grbl of some flavor is therefore attractive.

Honestly MeerK40t makes me think that if I were making a two-axis laser I’d think about using an m2nano. :slight_smile:


There are many factors to consider when choosing a controller not the least of which is identifying the toolchain do you plan to use. So it’s hard for anyone to make clear recommendations for another’s needs. So this is how I approached it.

Tool Chain

  • CAD software
  • Gcode post-processor
  • Machine Interface Software
  • Firmware

Here are some of the popular controllers classified using my own hardware perspective.

Full function, good documentation, schematics, good support, programmable hardware

  • Smoothie
  • Smoothie certified: Cohesion 3D

Full and unique function, good documentation, schematics, good support, programmable hardware

  • Awesome Tech

Uncertified smoothie clones (I don’t name them cause I don’t like open-source cheaters), some schematics, poor support uses smoothie firmware.

Stock, minimal documentation, no schematics, minimal support, not gcode

  • m2Nano**
    ** MeerK40t has some good information on the controller

I use a smoothie 5 as most of these controllers were not available when I built my machine.
I learned the hard way to use controllers that support gcode as that opens up your software options and makes your toolchain almost compatible across CNC machine types. i.e. laser and CNC routers. It minimizes the changes you have to make in source files.

I almost never use electronics in my projects that I don’t have schematics for which I have had to refer to multiple times to solve problems.

If I had to do it over again I would use smoothie for CNC router and Cohesion3D for laser.

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Currently using k40whisperer on my k40, like it quite a lot.
Toolchain will probably continue to be, Freecad (just ditched Fusion), Inkscape, insert contoller sw here, cut :slight_smile:

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As someone who has owned many lasers over the years with various controllers, including the M2Nano, Cohesion 3D mini, Cohesion3D Laserboard, Lettro DSP, Ruida DSP, Smoothie clones, Real Smoothieboiard, and an awesometech miniGerbil and SuperGerbil, I much prefer the Ruida over all the others.

The Ruida 6442 or 6445 just works. It has every feature that you could ever want, is extremely fast, and documentation is not an issue with it as tens of thousands of users have experienced every configuration possible, and the internet has a wealth of info available.

For approximately $300USD you get an industrial controller that runs either the free RDWorks software or the new industry standard LightBurn software which is inexpensive, feature rich, and under active development with fantastic support.

From the LightBurn forum and the owner of LightBurn:


Forgot to mention that I prefer to use Linux in my lab…
Think I will try out meerk40t instead of whisperer on my k40.
And then maybe go with a riuda, and try to chip in on the rudia support on meerk40t… (and use rdworks as fallback)