For some reason the formatting is lost when I cut and paste so I apologize for the formatting!
The distributor of my lasers, Orion Motor Tech/Preenex, reached out to me to answer questions and write an 800 word essay on my laser journey. They gifted me a $75.00 Amazon gift card for my efforts. They then asked if I would post the essay to the forums I frequent. I told them that I would have to give full disclosure that I was compensated for the essay. They were understanding and said that was fine.
Here is the essay. It contains my honest opinions that I have already expressed in past postings.
Laser cutter/engravers are getting more popular for use within the hobby community and more economical for use in small businesses. There are dozens of manufacturers and twice that amount of distributors, so how do you choose the right one for you?
I have personally been involved with CO2 lasers for over 25 years. I first worked with and on them in the manufacturing industry. These were built to last and be used 24/7 reliably. Around the same time, a desktop laser system was developed but was too expensive for the average consumer. I still work with lasers at work and at home, and I am now one of the Laser Safety Officers at the hospital I work at. My responsibility includes that the CO2 and holmium lasers are used correctly and that patient and staff safety is observed.
So you want to purchase a laser for home or business use. As with any product, you need to do your homework. What is your comfort level with software, hardware and electronics? Have you ever used another similar product such as a hobby paper and vinyl cutter or CNC machine? Do you want to engrave, cut or both? Most important, what is your budget? All these questions and subsequent answers will help guide you to a machine that fits your needs.
What I currently own and have been using for the last 2 years is a 60 watt CO2 laser purchased from Preenex. This is actually my second laser purchase from them. My first was the K40 style. The bed size is 28 inches x 20 inches (700 mm x 500 mm) with a manual adjustable bed depth of 9 inches (23 cm). This machine has the ability to do pass through engraving which means I can open the front and rear of the machine to engrave items longer than the bed length. I cut and engrave wood, leather and acrylic with ease. The thickness of the cut depends on the power of the laser and the density of the item being cut. Even with higher wattage lasers, multiple passes might be needed to cut all the way through. The laser itself is controlled by a DSP controller. The DSP controller comes with free software but is compatible with a third party software, Lightburn, which I use. The laser also came with an extraction fan and water pump to cool the laser tube.
Purchasing a laser is big decision, so how did I decide on purchasing one from Preenex. After purchasing a solid state diode laser to attach to my CNC machine, I quickly realized that I would need a more powerful laser to achieve the results I was looking for. Online forums are a great resource for information on specific topics. A search of multiple forums resulted in the recommendation of purchasing a laser from Preenex. From the forums I also ascertained that the K40 style laser would need to be modified to be useful for my purposes. I purchased a K40 laser and learned the ins and outs of a home laser system. This was far from a plug and play system but since I have experience with laser systems and electronics, I was able to install upgrades myself. The online forums were also a great resource of information for repair and maintenance. After a year, I outgrew the K40 and purchased my current laser. I sold my K40 to a friend who is still using it with great success.
Support is also important when selecting a laser. The more expensive lasers all have varying degrees of reliable support, with Preenex, I have never had an issue. I did have a power supply fail and purchased a new one. The replacement was received within 3 days of ordering. Unfortunately that replacement failed within a few months of use. I was able to quickly contact Preenex and they had a replacement sent immediately. That is what I call service! There is a forum for another laser company that has an average price of $6000.00. It is filled with stories of the unresponsiveness of their support department. That alone would caution me from ordering one of their products.
I assume most people believe that you get what you pay for. For the most part this is true to a point. I have a friend that has a fancy sports car. It cost 5 times what I paid for daily driver. I can get maintenance and parts for a very reasonable rate, as he pays 5 times what I pay for the same thing! I do believe my car is actually more reliable too. My Preenex laser has been a work horse and very reliable even though I did not pay a premium for it. In my opinion the Preenex laser has quality parts that are user replaceable. Manufacturer support is responsive and so is the vast network of communities that support home and business lasers.
In conclusion, finding the right laser for your needs is not that difficult if you utilize the tools available and ask the right questions. For me, it has been a great user experience, responsive support and knowing my strengths and weaknesses with this type of laser is what keeps me returning to Preenex for my laser needs.