Buying a Laser Cutter From China

We here at Hackaday have been pining over these cheap laser cutters on the e-bay. They are, however, just outside of the price range to make them worth ponying up for.  [Stephen Hobley] however seems to have taken one for the team in his three part series, and is allowing us to live vicariously through is experiences.

Not surprisingly the price point leads to the potential for headaches. The units ship directly from China, and see their fair share of rough handling from package carriers. Broken/misaligned laser tubes are not uncommon (replacement tubes are prevalent). Shockingly the laser tube managed to survive the seven thousand mile journey! That only leaves a couple crucial modifications and careful cleaning and aligning to get the unit up and running. You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

To top off all the modifications adjustments and cleaning steps [Stephen] found (in part three) that his controller board was on the fritz. With a new one on the way from China, [Stephen] is debating either reverse engineering the included controller board or coming up with his own CNC solution. We could suggest quite a few alternate solutions ourselves.

We will be glued to [Stephen]‘s blog for updates.

Stick around for a video of what we all really want to see, a laser burning stuff.

Comments

  1. Jan says:

    the question is: buy a crappy cutter and make it useful or start from scratch and build your own. Judging from the latest DIY cutter projects the price is almost the same (1000-2000US$ depending on strength of the laser tube)

  2. Kevin Gunn says:

    I just received the same laser (40W deluxe model from Full Spectrum Engineering) last week. I’ve been getting up to speed with it (and plan to post a review soon), but here’s the long and short of it.

    Great value. $2500 total with shipping. No bells and whistles but very, very hackable. Everything is very open and accessible. Lots of room in the case. Plenty of things to watch out for (don’t expect it to notice that you forgot to turn on the cooling pump), but it costs a fraction of an Epilog! I’m going to add a cooling pump monitor, time-averaged current monitoring and some other stuff eventually. Yes, the mirrors were out of alignment, but they are REALLY easy to align with an allen wrench and a piece of tape (to see where the beam is striking the entrance to the flying lens).

    I have it giving pretty good results on 1/4-inch acrylic (just cut an Acme Z-stage from my Makerbot). For the price: I LOVE this machine! I’ll post more about it over time via my Twitter account (kngunn) for anyone interested.

  3. Scatterplot says:

    I will second Kevin’s comment. I have had one of the Full Spectrum Engineering lasers for a few months now and I really like it. It’s the same Chinese box and laser tube, but they put in better optics and have written MUCH better software for it. If you like screwing around with the awful software the Chinese lasers come with, you can do it, but their RetinaEngrave software has been really great for me. It’s got a few bugs here and there but nothing too serious. It doesn’t do grayscale (like the Epilog type will do), but the software instead does supposedly pixel-perfect printing rather than using a built in dithering algorithm. I haven’t checked mine myself but it seems like it does that well so far, and I can always load up Gimp and get a dithered image that way. I would definitely buy from them again. Their website is fullspectrumengineering.com.

    Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with them in any way, just a satisfied customer.

  4. CutThroughStuffGuy says:

    “potential”

    Heh.

    After lots and lots of research, I went with an Epilog. Vastly overpriced and not even industrial quality but heaps better than Chinese made lasers – at least for the time being.

    I don’t mind messing with equipment or improving things but in my mind things should work when you get them and be able to be fixed without having to do major surgery on it.

    Hopefully others have better experiences as I am only one datapoint but the laser tubes are better built, are air cooled and last far longer. But when they go – Epilog lasers are crazy expensive to replace.

    If you can get the same output with less cost and not much more fuss – go for it. But I don’t know if that is the case with these lasers. My bet is they are not good enough yet.

    • jaypee says:

      I have also had a try on the Epilog Laser and it is pretty damned good, but waay tooo expensive for what it is!!! I want to know why the USA price is US$7995.00 but is almost US$20,000 in Australia???? There is something like greed and stupidity creeping in here somewhere…
      I haven’t made a decision yet (for obvious reasons) but I am still looking and I am going to Visual Impact at The Gold Coast next Friday to see what is Really on Offer.. I will Post again after that.. My advice is for people to look carefully..Servo Motors and Self Focussing are very important, because the Chinese seem to just have Stepper Motors and Manual Adjustable Tables.
      The Epilog have a honeycomb table too, which is a big plus as far as I can see..

      • kevinngunn says:

        The Full Spectrum deluxe also includes the honeycomb. Personally, I would skip autofocus and the motorized z-stage unless your doing commercial runs. Manually focusing only takes a minute, so the time savings don’t justify the cost on a hobby laser.

      • Lazy Larry says:

        i will be there on Thursday, hooking up with Richard Miles from Universal… actually Amiles but they sell universal… I too can not understand the price …of Epilog… when I spoke to the rep regards the US price…he could not give me an answer… I do like the Universal and the Epilog… but can not justify the price.. Going to see if Argus are there… importers of the chinese machines but from their price… 100 per cent markup?

        • jaypee says:

          I just got back from the Visual Impact Show on the Gold Coast.
          You hear prices so often in the same price bracket that eventually I just stopped frowning!!
          However, I was able to get an explanation from one exhibitor for the price differential…
          They all justify it because they say that they have to provide total support and training to buyers..
          When I mentioned the fact that Epilog in USA is only $7995.00 the exhibitor knew I had done my homework and then proceeded to inform me that the biggest seller of Lasers and Epilog in USA actually works from home!!! But he just sells the machines and doesn’t train or anything!!
          Isn’t that all that we all want????
          There is already adequate support from the Major Manufacturers Online and Email..
          The Chinese makes weren’t bashed by the exhibitor at all, and actually agreed that eventually ALL the Laser Engravers will come from China..
          I am seriously having a good think about Triumph Lasers now, because they do (or claim to do) all and more for a fraction of the current prices we have here.. The Videos on YouTube and elsewhere are plain to see… Well??That’s my five bob’s worth for the moment!!

          • Lazy Larry says:

            I too attended the VIS on the Gold Coast… on Thursday… there were a few chinese bashers but I did meet a guy from ARGUS… a chinese machine… I can import the machine for around 6 they want near on 20 … that is with training etc… plus I was informed that they can supply and install a replacement tube for ONLY 1500.00 … good deal there….but they do deliver and set up and make sure it all works… I think I will use the saving of 14,000.00 for something else… Oh and I can get the RECI laser included in the 6 thou….I was almost tempted to save up for a expensive USA brand but the more I see and read and hear…. I think chinese might be the way to go…

  5. Eli-0 says:

    It is too bad they sanded off the markings on the IC’s for the controller board. No chance repairing it yourself.

  6. Jan says:

    there is also the LAOS project for an opensource laser cutter software, still early but i think made by guys who bought those type of lasers.

  7. Steve Hobley says:

    Yes, I would agree with the two posters – since I owned a bunch of laser optics (fell off the back of a laser harp) and a couple of CNC gantry systems I thought the most cost effective approach was to hack a cheap system.

    But to do it all from scratch you’d probably be spending the price of a second hand Epilog.

    Good choice of picture BTW – that’s my favo[u]rite!

    Steve

  8. CutThroughStuffGuy says:

    “It is too bad they sanded off the markings on the IC’s for the controller board. No chance repairing it yourself.”

    Maybe somebody should start to put together a stripped IC die searchable database. So you could more easily search the chip you have based on essentially dissolving the case and photographing it and then cross referencing the photos to other, known ICs.

  9. Bob D says:

    I like hacking around with stuff, but I want my tools to work. Scratch that, I ~need~ my tools to work.

    I’ve been going back and forth between biting the bullet and shelling out for an Epilog and going the cheap Chinese route. I have access to a few of each. The Epilogs always just work. The only universal complaint is that everyone wishes they had a bigger bed and/or more powerful tube.

    Of the Chinese budget cutters I know only one that’s reliable, and that took over a hundred hours of messing with it, replacing things, etc. For a tool I use in my business that’s unacceptable. The rest of them are in what I call a constant state of Makerbot. Yeah, it sort of works, not really that well, but we all gave up trying to get it to work right. We’ll monkey with it again next time we try to use it. Again, unacceptable.

    I wouldn’t be against building my own, the mechanisms aren’t that complex and I’d rather service it myself than wait a week for a guy from Epilog to come out. However the plans I’ve seen so far don’t really impress me much.

    But I don’t need to buy for another few months so I’ll be watching posts like these with great interest.

  10. Mike says:

    The Thinkhaus in Hamilton actually purchased one of these. We bought it from a local reseller in order to avoid all the problems with terrible shipping and broken parts. We then redid the controller board for the unit and now have a decent laser. You can check out the post that shows the schematics

    http://www.thinkhaus.org/2010/06/19/howto-turn-a-cheap-chinese-laser-engraver-into-a-pretty-good-laser-cutter/

  11. Ryan says:

    I built my own based on the open source design. You can see it here:

    http://buildlog.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=391&start=10#p3016

    From my dealings with Full Spectrum I would not hesitate to recommend them if you want a plug and play laser. They are great people and will make sure everything works.

    I haven’t done measurements yet but after tightening the belts I’m pretty sure I’m getting better than 0.01″ accuracy/repeatability if not better. Plus having built everything myself I’ve learned enough to convert my mill to CNC.

  12. charliex says:

    the only thing i didn’t like about full spectrum engineering was they were happy to let you buy the $2500 laser online, then email you a day later tell you they didn’t actually have any and had changed the model, and if you let them keep your money they’d send you one in approx 7 weeks but include free upgraded board, which is vastly over priced in the first place.

  13. Scatterplot says:

    You’re not paying for the board components, you’re paying for the engineering time and software. You get the software with the boards.

  14. Twerpling says:

    I also have a Full Spectrum Engineering Laser. It is not worth the price. I got it two months ago. The software is faulty and does not cut correctly. This is not because it is broken, rather it is poorly designed. You are better off buying an eBay Chinese laser as the FSE board is literally garbage and you’ll end up using the Parallel interface anyway.

  15. tim says:

    Has anyone tested the real output power of these laser tube ?
    And is the life-time really only 800 hours as they say on the manufacturer website.
    Have you ever seen something sold with a 60 days limited warranty !?

  16. Steve Hobley says:

    tim : This was a concern – but I checked with Andy Slater and he’s been using his for 2 years.

    I do expect the tube to be replaced eventually, but I think that I can expect to get a decent period of usage from it.

    But it’s all a gamble after all…

  17. tim says:

    why pay so much when you have the same on ebay for 499$ ?

  18. Scatterplot says:

    “I also have a Full Spectrum Engineering Laser. It is not worth the price. I got it two months ago. The software is faulty and does not cut correctly. This is not because it is broken, rather it is poorly designed. You are better off buying an eBay Chinese laser as the FSE board is literally garbage and you’ll end up using the Parallel interface anyway.”

    Have you actually sought out tech support? The software works fine. It sounds like you have EMI interference problems, which has been an issue for some people. They have been easy to work with so far in my experience. My board works fine- if it was poorly designed, as you say, then *none* of the boards would work.

  19. Steve Hobley says:

    >why pay so much when you have the same on ebay for 499$ ?

    That’s an excellent question…

    I looked at the $500 ones first, and then thought about it for a bit, and then decided to go for the $1000.

    I reasoned that I needed to pay somewhere in the middle to get a chance of support.

    Steve

  20. Pete says:

    On the subject of “cheap” Chinese stuff I recently bought a Chinese frequency counter. It arrived with the power transformer inside rattling around because whoever installed it stripped the screws out. I had to open it up and repair the mount but, in the end I have a frequency counter that I didn’t have to make my self, cost less than an equivalent name brand model and is spot on as far as accuracy.

    That was $100. I was fully prepared for the entire thing to be a waste of money so in the end I was pleased. I may not be so happy spending 25 times that much money for something I have to repair. I guess there is a happy medium when the benefits to your bank account and risk you are willing to take balance out.

  21. Jeremy says:

    I’ve been using one of these cutters for over 2 years and have logged hundreds of hours on it

    I’ve written an extensive review at:

    http://4volt.com/Blog/archive/2011/04/14/about-cheap-generic-chinese-lasers-cutters.aspx

    However, here is my conclusion:

    With all it’s flaws and limitations, for me they all boil down to spending a little more time planning and working to get what I want, and this laser has served me well over the years and I’m glad I bought it.

    Even if I did have the money to buy a laser that is worth more than my car, I wouldn’t do it. Even with it’s flaws and limitations I could but 5 of them for less then that cheapest epilog laser.

    However, there is one caveat, if you are planning on running your laser all day long every day, or are the kind of person that hates to fix and tinker with things, this probably isn’t for you.

  22. greg says:

    There is a great review here http://youtube/M9kZXma0CxI about the 40W Full Spectrum Engineering laser cutter.

  23. Steve Hobley says:
  24. Kevin Gunn says:

    And here is my review of the laser now that I’ve had a couple of weeks with it:

    http://www.kevingunn.org/?p=227

    • Javier F says:

      Hey Kevin,

      Just curious to know how your Full Spectrum 40W laser is holding up after several months of use. Your review was one of the key factors that influenced my decision to go with this laser, THANKS!

      • Kevin Gunn says:

        Beautifully! I actually did a bit of maintenance on it about a week ago. The alignment hadn’t slipped AT ALL. The mirrors were simple to pull and clean with a microfiber cloth. The only other thing I needed to do was change out the cooling water and clean the water tank. This weekend I was using it to make Star Wars coasters and acrylic gears (for a sculpture piece I’m making). If you are on Google+ look me up. I have pics posted there with instructions on my technique for staining tiles.

  25. Lawrence says:

    I bought one of the Chinese ones to mess with a month or three ago. They’re about 2500rmb locally here (slightly under 450$)

    Shipping and taxes makes that double to the states sadly…

    Also planning to replace the controller board – its complete shit, and fairly easily replaced. Purchased a new USB based 4 axis CNC controller for 50RMB, but yet to hook it up.

    Still need to get FEC 12 pin female and mount it argh…

    TBC..

  26. Eric Larson says:

    Hey guys, I’ve been looking into getting a laser cutter and have been looking in China for some because of the price difference.

    Anyone found anything over there or even in the states for around 750.00??

    Will be cutting wood at 3mm.

  27. Ray says:

    I’ve played around with a FS Laser hobby laser and just wasn’t impressed – too small and restrictive…you’re working in a confined box with no pass throughs. Mixed reviews with support I’ve elected to go with larger laser anyway….if you can afford it get the most engraving space and Wattage for your $.

  28. Mark wyllie says:

    Hi,
    I have been using a 80W Weike LC1390 for the last 2 years- imported to Czech from China. It has been very reliable though I did break one tube when I moved house. I have posted videos and photographs here. http://Www.buy-laser-cutter.com
    There is a lot of information around but not so many places to see the way it all fits together. Hope the info is of use and that someone will buy my cutter too! It deserves a good home.

  29. Hi, why don’t you check out http://fslaser.com/products/lasers/hobby-lasers US made product. Found it originally on the kickstarter.com website, their idea was to make a laser cutter in the US for less. Starting at $1850.

  30. Found another cool company/organization… Open source laser cutter. http://labs.nortd.com/lasersaur/

  31. bryan says:

    Hello guys.
    I am new the community and really looking into getting my own laser.
    I have been reading all the post lately and I am really searching for a plug and play laser if that even exist. However, I dont mind opeing up the machine and doing a little tinkering around to adjust things, however I curious to know if maintainencing a laser requires me to have any prior knowledge of anything or is this something that I can really figure out. For instance I do all my own basic Macbook repairs but I am not a computer wiz or anything. My biggest worry is buying a laser then having to shell out a bunch more in cash to get someone over to hook it up correctly and fix misaligned things so that it cuts properly and accurately.

    • kevinngunn says:

      Oddly, my reply to this end up attached to the next comment down rather than this one after the system prompted me for my WordPress login. Thhppptt… Look under John’s comment below for my comment on laser maintenance.

  32. JOHN says:

    I bought a Triumph 50W Laser 500 x 300 working area a year ago with Rotary attachment, Spare Co2 Laser Tube, Spare Mirrors and Lens, complete with internal light, extractor Fan, Red Dot Laser Pointer (all of these items are Standard,) and cost including shipping to Australia was $3800 and it is very accurate and reliable. I already had Coreldraw X5 for doing designs etc., I am very satisfied with the whole dealI did. The Laser is very well constructed and runs without missing a beat. It is already earning its keep and I recommend it to anyone sitting on the fence right now. Support is good too.
    Only one thing I would like to have is the Laser Driver software doesn’t have enough re-editing Tools for making final adjustments, but even that isn’t a hassle.
    Epilog is made in USA and uses Metal Laser Tubes which cost $3000 plus to buy as replacement spares, so I urge you to go for the Co2 Glass Laser Tubes which last for ages anyway (couple of years or more) and only cost around $200 each to buy as replacement spares anyway. So that means that you could have 12 of them for the price of only one of the Epilog Laser Tubes!!! Not that you will ever use that many anyway!!
    It’s interesting to note that the Epilogs cost only $7200 in USA but cost more than $18000 in Australia and that’s without all the spares I got included!!
    Makes perfect sense to me and I haven’t regretted buying Chinese~~~

    • Kevin Gunn says:

      My Full Spectrum is pretty trivial to adjust and maintain. A couple of screws to adjust the alignment (and a little piece of paper tape to see where the beam is entering the lens). Clean the mirrors occasionally. Keep the cooling water plentiful and clean. Done. I guess I’ve had it for a couple of years now and that’s been about it.

    • juan otalora says:

      hi i want to know if the brand is triumph shenzhen laser system. I’m negotiating one, and I would like to hear from people
      I have bought to be safer.

  33. Larry says:

    I saw a Full Spectrum laser,
    Flat Bed 98″x51″ 130W (Master Series)
    Sku: masterflatbed for $31,500.00. Does Full Spectrum build their on lasers
    or do they get them from China? I think I’ve seen this same laser when looking at some Chinese laser sites?

    • barry says:

      Larry Full Spectrums machines are imported from China. They assemble their 20×12
      hobby laser in their shop but most of the parts are imported. They use their own software however. But their master series lasers are chinese. Look at the feedback on their support on the forums and you’ll want to pass…I would look at Jamieson or Boss Laser. Boss has 4×8′ and bigger and I’ve talked to support and found it good as well. Not talked to Jamieson but forums seem thumbs up.

  34. BL says:

    After purchasing a china ’40’ watt laser on ebay I was having trouble getting even 1 mm of cut depth on poplar… alignment was good so I decided to test my power. I discovered
    later on that my 40w chinese tube was only putting out about 15W or less. Of course warranty was only 3 months and shipping was almost as much as the tube….I wont buy from China direct again.

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