Buyer's Guide to Laser Engraving and Laser Cutting
I want to buy a blue laser - what should I start with?
Are you beginning your adventure with blue lasers? This page will help you find all the information you need. It will provide you with tips and help you choose an appropriate laser head for your needs.
For Opt Lasers, safety and quality isn’t just an empty slogan. It is the way we live and breathe. It transpires to every aspect of what we make. We always ensure that our clients are safe and satisfied with our service, and we strive to exceed our customers’ expectations every time.
Introduction & PLH3D-Series from Opt Lasers
When it comes to the selection of the laser itself - it is important to decide for what purposes you intend to primarily use it. Whether you need it for engraving or cutting or both. Other yet important aspects are what the thicknesses of the materials you want to use are, their structure, density as well as heat transfer among other properties. All these parameters affect what solution will work best for you. While this might sound complicated, we offer you this straightforward guide that will lead you through the process.
PLH3D-Series Laser Heads are designed for industrial, service and hobby applications. Our laser heads stand out with their small dimensions, long life, sturdy and user-friendly design as well as resistance to pollution and damage. PLH3D-Series Lasers can be mounted on almost any CNC router and CNC machine.
PLH3D-Series engraving laser heads are designed to process materials such as wood, plywood, balsa, cardboard, paper, leather, rubber, plastics and foams.
These blue laser heads also work well for marking and engraving stainless steel, tool steel, carbon steel and Titanium.
Hobby Use: PLH3D-2W
If you are looking for a light laser head which will not be used on a daily basis, PLH3D-2W is a great choice. It is a very compact (particularly so for a 3D printer) laser head which provides decent optical power and optical power density. It is quite versatile and, with some additional passes, it can be used to cut materials like balsa or leather that are approximately 3 millimeters thick. Nevertheless, you would have to take into account that it will require some time to cut through thicker or harder materials. It will work very well for thin materials that do not conduct heat well, such as textiles or thin colored plastics. It will however not be able to mark or engrave any metals. PLH3D-2W can be installed with or without the PLH3D-CNC Adapter connected, depending on how familiar and skilled you are in basic electronics.
Cost-Efficient and Versatile: PLH3D-6W-XF+
It is a highly versatile laser head that enables you to engrave and cut thin and thick materials alike. Furthemore, it can be used to mark stainless steel and Titanium. It is a great choice that doesn’t cost much. In addition, this laser head allows focusing lens exchange and is compatible with all available accessories, two most important of which are the uSpot Lens Upgrade and the High Pressure Air-Assist Nozzle. This allows to process a wide range of materials over the largest span of material thicknesses. This is achieved by the small size of the focused beam spot (and consequently high power density) as well as relatively low-angle cone of light that doesn’t scorch cut edges for thick materials. You can also learn more about all PLH3D-6W-Series laser heads.
Please bear in mind that XF+ laser heads can also be bought as a part of our CNC Machine Laser Upgrade Kits, which significantly lowers the price.
The Beast: PLH3D-15W
This is the highest power laser engraving head on our offer. It is better in every respect than any lower power PLH3D-Series Laser Head. The only downside is that it will not be as good for cutting thick materials. On the other hand, it has the precision of the XF+ with the uSpot Lens Upgrade combined with three times as high optical power density. This enables you to process more problematic materials and achieve high throughput. Unlike lower power PLH3D-Series Laser Heads, it can engrave stainless, carbon and high speed varieties of steel as well as Titanium. Metal engraving is defined here as removing a layer of the metal being processed. Additionally, it can mark metals 10 times as fast as the XF+ laser head.
It is currently the best compact blue laser head in the world.
Choosing Appropriate Laser Head Based on the Material Type
The main factor between material types that decides if a particular material type can be easily laser engraved or not is whether the material is metallic or not. Some metallic materials cannot be engraved at all. To engrave metals, ie. to remove a layer of the processed metal, it is recommended to start with a 15 W or higher optical power blue laser head. As of now, PLH3D-15W is the only compact laser head on the market that is capable of engraving steel as well as stainless, carbon, tool and high speed subspecies of it. It still is not powerful enough to engrave on bare Aluminium, Copper or brass simply because these materials either conduct heat too well or reflect too much laser light. It is possible to engrave copper with 30 W (optical power) blue laser heads. It is also possible to cut thin (0.1 to 0.3 mm) sheets of steel.
If you are satisfied with simply marking the metal, you can achieve it on stainless steel and Titanium (but not other metals) with 6 W lasers. Laser marking is defined here as changing the color of the metal surface as a result of overheating. Laser marking is however less durable than laser engraving, because the depth of the color change is much lower. Laser marked surfaces can withstand just a few scrubs with fine sandpaper. For this purpose, XF+ with High Resolution Lenses or the uSpot Lens Upgrade will do a good job. uSpot Lens Upgrade will allow you to do it much faster than standard High Resolution Lens.
Nevertheless, if you want to do it really fast (>30 mm/s), then you will need a laser with 15 W of optical power. Depending on the chemical composition and type of stainless steel you can assume speeds of 0.5 - 2 mm/s, 8 -15 mm/s, or 20-40 mm/s for the XF+ High Resolution Lens, XF+ Uspot Lens and PLH3D-15W respectively.
For thermoformed plastics, optical power density is significantly less important than optical power. The more optical power you deliver to the surface being processed, the faster it melts. For this very reason, 6 W laser head is a good choice, while higher optical power 15 or 30 W laser heads will do an even better job. 2 W is generally not recommended for processing thermoformed plastics.
There are many dangerous materials, particularly plastics, for which you should research whether a given material can be safely laser processed before any laser processing takes place. For these materials, you should have a ventilation system set-up in place and well as use an air-assist nozzle to protect the lens. As a result, PLH3D-6W-XF+ with the High Pressure Air-Assist Nozzle (with or without the uSpot Lens Upgrade) or PLH3D-15W, which has an air-assist nozzle built-in as a standard feature, would be the only suitable choices. It is a good practice to have a ventilation system set-up for laser processing any plastics.
Unlike thermoformed plastics, for white materials that can be processed with blue laser heads it is recommended to utilize a high power density laser head. The higher the optical power of your laser head is, the higher variety of materials you will be able to cut. Hence the best choice for such materials is either PLH3D-15W or XF+ with uSpot Lens Upgrade.
Other Types of Materials
As a general rule, most laser heads can process similar material types. Only a few particular types of materials require the laser head to have specific properties. The most common problematic materials were mentioned above.
Other types of materials can be processed with all laser heads that have at least 2 W of optical power, and the main difference in their application would be the throughput obtained.
Choosing Appropriate Laser Head Based on the Material Thickness
The maximum thickness of the material that can be cut is determined by a few parameters. The most important factor is the material itself. Secondly, it also depends on the optical power and optical power density of your laser as well as the angle of the light cone. Foams in general are the thickest materials that can be cut.
As a general rule, PLH3D-15W will perform better at cutting anything thinner than 5-6 mm. For material thicknesses above 8-10 mm it is advised not to use PLH3D-15W or XF+ with the uSpot Lens Upgrade as they will cause edge burning as a result of light cone angle. Thus for materials with 8-10 mm thicknesses it is advised to use standard XF+ laser head equipped with either G7 lens or High-Resolution Lens. Standard XF+ can be used to cut quite thick materials up to 40 mm. It can for example be utilized for cutting 40 mm foam in just 4-6 passes. We have also tested cutting 10 mm balsa with PLH3D-6W-XF+ Laser Head, but it is definitely possible to cut even thicker balsa with additional passes.
The uSpot Lens Upgrade for the XF+ laser is designed specifically for cutting thinner materials as well as high resolution engraving. PLH3D-6W-XF+ with uSpot Lens Upgrade has the same spot size as PLH3D-15W, but a 3 times smaller optical power.
PLH3D-6W-uSpot will perform better than regular XF+ at cutting anything thinner than 4-5 mm. Adding the High Pressure Air-Assist Nozzle to your laser head will help increase the speed of cutting, lower the number of required passes to process the material of choice as well as increase the maximum thickness of a material that can be cut.
Compatibility with and Connection to Various CNC Machines and 3D Printers
PLH3D-CNC Adapter allows you to quickly connect your laser head to almost any CNC machine, including 3D printers. You may require basic electronics skills to connect it to more complicated controllers. Nevertheless, common controllers such as BlackBox controller, Duet 3D or xPro v4/v5 are quite easy to connect. We also have a controller connection database showing how to connect your PLH3D-CNC Adapter to a wide range of controllers.
CNC Milling Machines
Basically, with the help of the PLH3D-CNC Adapter, it is possible to connect the laser head to almost any CNC machine to turn your CNC machine into a laser engraver. One of the most important things, besides the connection, is generating an appropriate G-Code. G-Code for a laser engraver differs from the standard G-Code. The laser needs to be switched off for the duration of any idle movement while a spindle could be left spinning. The two most similar aspects of the laser and spingle g-codes are the power and the rotation speed. The same PWM signal that controls the rotation speed of the spindle can be used to control the laser power. Typically, this is done with the S0 - S255 command (0 for 0% power and 255 for full power), but depending on your CNC Software and Controller, you might end up using different values, for example, S0 - S1000.
While it is possible to connect the laser without the adapter, it requires basic electronics skills and an additional power source.
Connecting your laser to a 3D printer is somewhat more problematic than connecting it to a CNC machine. This is primarily caused by the fact 3D printers don’t have a dedicated output for spindle control. As a result, you don’t have a PWM signal designed specifically for the purpose of controlling an additional accessory. Nevertheless, a 3D printer has a few additional outputs for heater and fan control. These outputs can be used to control your laser. Using the PLH3D-CNC Adapter adds additional safety features and allows you to use enable signals. While the connection can typically be done in a few different ways, adding PLH3D-CNC Adapter significantly simplifies the connection and allows you to easily connect the laser head without the need for familiarity with basic electronics.
Other CNC Machines
Opt Lasers Laser Heads are designed to work with any CNC machinery and connecting them to your system is pretty straightforward. To fire the laser head, you need to provide it with a 5V or 10V analog signal, or you can use a PWM signal. Opt Lasers laser heads can be mounted on robotic arms, robots, rovers, lathes and all kinds of CNC machinery that can operate a modulating signal or a 0/1 digital signal.
What lenses should I choose?
For a given lens, the focusing effect will be similar for a 6 W and 2 W laser head. PLH3D-15W is shipped with premounted lenses that cannot be exchanged. You can also familiarize yourself with an article comparing different lenses and their capabilities.
What Accessories should I buy?
All accessories as well as descriptions of their applications can be found on the Opt Lasers Accessories webpage.
The most important accessories you should consider for you laser system are:
uSpot Lens Upgrade
To put it simply, this accessory speeds up laser engraving speed up to 3 times the base speed. uSpot Lens Upgrade increases the resolution of your laser engraving because it generates twice as small beam spot. It is also an ideal choice for cutting thin materials. You can also discover more information about it on the uSpot product page.
High Pressure Air-Assist Nozzle
Simply put, this accessory can speed up laser engraving and cutting speed by up to 6 times the base speed. It also enhances the quality of obtained edges and protects your lenses. You can also discover more about the High Pressure Air-Assist Nozzle accessory.
If you work in a dusty working environment and you are not planning to buy a whole kit, then the LaserDock will help you to keep your laser clean by allowing you to quickly attach and detach the laser head. If you possess more than one CNC machine, you can purchase additional laser docking stations and adapters to quickly move your laser head from one CNC machine to another.
Laser Safety Glasses
If you want to show your work with laser as it happens to anybody else, you will need an additional pair of Laser Safety Glasses or Goggles for each visitor you want to show it to. Every person present in the laser processing room must avoid eye or skin exposure to direct or scattered radiation (400-480 nm).
How to choose an appropriate CNC Machine Laser Upgrade Kit for a Particular CNC Machine?
The majority of our laser heads are available in ready-to-buy kits that contain all the most important accessories you would need. Each kit is clearly described in terms of what products it contains.
Opt Lasers 15 W Laser Head can only be bought as a part of a relevant kit to ensure the unambiguous and reliable installation of this product. On the PLH3D-15W product page you can choose the wiring of choice and then add a relevant kit to your cart. If you cannot see your CNC machine on the list, please get in touch and we will quickly advise you what you should choose. On such occasions, it is typically sufficient to choose a universal kit and have a correct adapter program set.
The rectangle below depicts where exactly you can choose a PLH3D-15W set that is suitable for your machine:
We also highly recommend taking a look at the PLH3D-15W product release video:
PLH3D-6W Laser Heads are available in kits for numerous CNC machines. These kits include, but are not limited to kits for CNC machines such as X-Carve, Stepcraft or Openbuilds machines.
You can also create your own kit by choosing relevant products of interest and adding them to your cart. However, you would lose out on an attractive discount that comes with buying a preset kit.
In case you cannot see a kit for your machine, please try using the search window and type in the name of your machine.
Nevertheless, if you still cannot find anything relevant, please contact us and we will help you find a kit that will work for your CNC machine. It is quite common for us to release new kits starting out from the point of a customer being interested in adding a laser head to his CNC machine.
If you add a 2 W laser head and an appropriate adapter kit for your CNC machine, our team will send you a suitable wire to connect PLH3D-CNC Adapter to your PLH3D-2W laser. You can also buy a ready universal kit, which can be connected to all CNC machines. You would just need to connect it appropriately and set a correct Adapter Program.
You can find a lot of useful information in the same tab this article is.
To find out about typical achievable engraving and cutting speeds for different materials, please visit:
Step-by-step installation guides for a wide range of popular CNC machines and 3D printer can be found below:
To familiarize yourself with product manuals, please go to:
To find the answers for standard questions, please see the FAQ:
Instructions, 3D files, Software, technical drawings etc. can be found here:
Movies on YouTube
There are a lot of movies on Youtube that show connections for different machines or present various interesting projects. You can also visit our Youtube Channel, which you are more than welcome to subscribe to.
There are a lot of related videos made by professional users as well as hobbyists. You can check them out here:
We have a few playlists that differentiate our videos based on the topic discussed. These for example include playlists related to specific CNC machines, Opt Lasers Educational Series or laser projects:
Facebook Group and Fanpage
We highly encourage you to join our facebook group. You can use this group to show your work, exchange experience as well as ask any questions you might have:
Build a supportive community together with us.
You are also recommended to give our fanpage a thumbs up. By clicking like, you will gain the added benefit of first-hand information about our exciting new product releases, interesting laser processing movies, handy tutorials and other materials:
You can also follow our other social media:
Additional YouTube Videos
Below you can find our Youtube videos showing cutting and engraving tests, technical explanations and reviews as well as other valuable content:
Tests of PLH3D-15W - Videos
YouTubers Tests and Reviews