3D Printer? Laser Cutter? CNC? Yes, Please

Most of us have, or, would like to have a 3D printer, a laser engraver, and a CNC machine. However, if you think about it naively, these machines are not too different. You need some way to move in the XY plane and, usually, on the Z axis, as well.

Sure, people mount extruders on CNCs, or even lasers or Dremel tools on 3D printers. However, each machine has its own peculiarities. CNCs need rigidity. 3D printers should be fast. Laser engravers and CNCs don’t typically need much Z motion. So common sense would tell you that it would be tough to make a machine to do all three functions work well in each use case. [Stefan] thought that, too, until he got his hands on a Snapmaker 2.0.

As you can see in the video below, the machine uses different tool heads for each function. The motion system stays the same and, curiously, there are three identical linear motion modules, one for each axis.

In addition to the interchangeable heads, you also have to swap out the beds for different functions. That means changing over quickly isn’t really an option. [Stefan] reports there are 22 bolts to attach the heated bed for 3D printing, for example.

This isn’t cheap, of course, but if you had to buy all three devices, you’d probably spend as much, especially for all aluminum framed machines. There are some compromises. The linear modules use a leadscrew, which is an unusual choice on X and Y axis for 3D printers because they are slow and have more backlash than belts. However, [Stefan] found the quality was good, even though printing speed was slow and noisy.

Of course, when machining with the CNC head, the rigid leadscrews are a plus, even though the 50 W spindle isn’t going to replace a larger CNC machine. He was even able to machine some aluminum slowly. The laser head is modestly powered, but it does have a camera and low-tech air assist, although it isn’t a proper air system. Overall, [Stefan] felt like the machine was usable in all three phases. He did miss a prominent emergency stop button on the machine or even on the graphical user interface.

Overall, the Snapmaker looks like a good concept with some implementation problems, but no show stoppers. Like most amateur builds, the machine is basically a small CNC with accessories to do laser cutting and 3D printing. Could you build better? Maybe. But it wouldn’t be trivial to match the build quality and software integration of the device.

We’ve seen conversions of 3D printers to a laser or CNC more than once. Results vary, of course, but it is doable.

59 thoughts on “3D Printer? Laser Cutter? CNC? Yes, Please

  1. “CNCs don’t typically need much Z motion”
    Try telling that to my CNC lathe.
    CNC _routers_ might not need much Z motion, but “CNC” is a much wider category than that.

    A less pedantic concern is that these devices seem to give _no_ consideration to passive laser safety. They might provide goggles, but that is no help to your cat. A laser should be in an box and only enable the laser when the lid is shut.

    As an aside, CNC is one are where there can be real confusion about whether the “router” is the machine itself or the device that connects it to your network. At least in the UK we pronounce them differently (The networking device is a “rooter”. The woodworking device is hard to spell unambiguously without using phonetics. “row” as in noise, not “row” as in “row a boat”)

      1. There is a large difference between a laser pointer and a laser engraver/cutter.

        It is like comparing a candle to a blow torch, and that isn’t even a remotely close comparison at times as far as laser cutters go….

        Though, I have seen plenty of professional fiber lasers have no protection for the people around other then at best a bit of a skirt. (usually not even that… Having operated laser cutters for some time, it does irk me a bit.)

          1. Yes.

            Though, an axt-acetylene torch is a few kW in a few square mm.
            Some lasers are tens of kW or more in less than one square mm…. (good for cutting through practically anything.)

            Not to mention pulsed lasers that go into the MW or higher. Though, the energy here is fairly small in comparison to a CW laser source.

          2. Though, the laser on this machine is likely just a “low power” die laser…

            So around a few watts.

            Still plenty enough for even a diffuse reflection to damage one’s eyes.

            And laser goggles aren’t perfect, they have gaps.

            It’s the equivalent of a bullet proof vest, it might “stop” a bullet, but the vest doesn’t typically cover one’s head. (And helmets aren’t really offering much protection either…) Not to mention, just like laser goggles, they have a peak energy and power rating…

            Some laser goggles can take pulsed power in the few hundred watts, but will melt if faced with a CW source. And some goggles doesn’t block more than a watt or two. Laser goggles aren’t a magical protection device after all…

            Laser goggles should only be thought of as a secondary measure, not the primary one.
            Though, the most important safety measure is to know what you are doing and the risks involved and where said risks are. But in an open workshop other people around might not be keeping track of what and where stuff is happening, so put your lasers in an enclosure.

      2. Lasers have classes, laser pointers fall into class 3R which is under 5mw where the blink reflex can stop eye damage. Laser cutters are all class 4, any exposure can cause permanent damage. About the only laser cutting systems that dont have to be fully enclose when running are CO2 systems since the light cant even penetrate the retina.

        So, no you dont need glasses when using a laser pointer that follows FDA guidelines.

        1. No, CO2 laser systems produce infra-red radiation, and the specular reflection of a CO2 laser can DEFINITELY cause retinal damage. The thing is that the laser light can be absorbed by glass or plastic lenses.

          Source. I work in a university physics department and we are making a CO2 laser, and the professor supervising the project is very familiar with laser safety.

          The idea that laser engravers are sold without enclosures absolutely floors me each and every time I see it.

          1. I agree that these lasers are inherently dangerous, and sensible precautions should be taken, however, isn’t it more interesting that the newspapers aren’t filled with stories of nasty incidents involving laser engravers?
            I know absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but where are the horror stories of laser engraving gone bad?
            Compare with hand guns in the US…

          2. “Compare with hand guns in the US…” uhhh how many people own how many guns, how many people own how many lasers that don’t have safety systems such as door interlocks?

      3. Are you joking or a genuine question? I hope your professor is using a display marker with a 0.5mw laser. The laser attached here is 1600mW. Both deserve different level of respect.

    1. Excellent point about the (lack of) laser safety.

      As for the concept of changeable powered CNC/print/laser heads, there used to be the excellent little EMCO Unimat lathe. It had a removeable and repositionable motor (from the lathe bed to a milling column) to allow it to do a range of machine operations.
      However (according to the shop I used to buy Unimat attachments from) it fell foul of newer European regulations prohibiting tools with removable motors, and new versions of the machine did not have this feature anymore.

    2. Just to be reverse pedantic, I did say typically. Of course there are machines that have significant z-motion or even five axis but I was thinking of what normal people have in their shops which is typically a router with a very limited spindle up spindle down capability. but since that’s not really what the article is about I want to get into all that and just said typically.

      1. You just hit a particular trigger of mine, using “CNC” to mean “Router”.
        Nearly everyone I know with a “CNC” has a machining centre, plasma cutter or lathe.
        But then, the people I know are atypical.

        That has prompted me to wonder if Plasma can be scaled down to desktop size, though.

        1. No reason you couldn’t shrink a Plasma cutter.. Got to ask why you would want to though – its not like the cuts a plasma torch can make are good for really small detail stuff, though I guess you can also shrink that – still seems like the wrong tech to go for small scale… Surely at that point you are looking at waterjet based or laser based, being able to do smaller details easily, and probably not being quite so stupidly heavy…

        2. The small plasma cutters like the Hypertherm 30 have a pretty tiny power supply. But you would never want to use something like a plasma in a desktop machine. They are incredibly messy and need major ventilation.

    3. Fair point about the laser safety; I shelled out extra for the enclosure when I got mine last year and have been quite pleased with it overall (the whole ensemble). The enclosure is made of dark cola colored anti-UV plastic panels on yet more aluminum extrusions which makes up the frame, and covers every side but the bottom. A worthy upgrade. It also helps keep the air temp inside stable for 3d prints, though the vent fan on it is basically just a PC fan, it still provides the negative pressure needed to keep fumes out of the workplace.

      1. The mechanics look very nice. I can think if all sorts of uses for those actuators.

        In fact my comments about laser safety were aimed at all of the machines that seem to think that bolting a laser diode to an axis system is all that you need to make a laser cutter.

        1. Technically yes.

          Though, there is hand held 3D printers. (“3D pens”, really lack luster to try to use in 3 dimensions, though some people do wonderful artwork with it that is damn impressive.)

          And one could likely make a hand controlled laser cutter, but one would likely need to make it like a manual milling machine, otherwise it can legally be considered a laser pointer, and that is a bit more legally dubious if it packs a lot of power.

  2. Laser safety goggles are included with the machine.
    A laser-tight housing can also be ordered.
    Likewise an emergency stop switch.
    The housing is equipped with doors that stop the machine when it is opened, a smoke vent for the laser and 3D printing is also integrated in the housing and it also serves to reduce dust and noise.

    1. > A laser-tight housing can also be ordered.
      > Likewise an emergency stop switch.

      “can also be ordered” is insufficient for a laser designed to at least etch if not cut.
      And a non-handheld machine with no EPO is a toy not a tool.

  3. No heated chamber; Therefore nothing more than maker crap as a 3D printer. CNC? So cover everything in chips and oil then transition to laser?

    Someone had too much free time on their hands and not enough foresight.

    1. You don’t need heated chamber for most FDM 3D printing work.

      Even ABS can be printed without any enclosure at all if you take care to avoid drafts, otherwise you can always enclose it – even a non-heated enclosure gets sufficiently warm from the heated bed and extruder that you won’t have any issues with most common materials that a small shop is likely to print (ABS, ASA, nylon, PLA, etc.)

      Of course, you can buy a machine which does have it (e.g. some Zortraxes or Stratasys) – but then we are talking a totally different price range as well.

      Seriously, the lack of the *heated* chamber on this machine is the least of my worries. The toy spindle, the lack of emergency stop (this being an optional extra is really not an option!) and the lack of any sort of enclosure for the laser (so no chance of this to satisfy any kind of safety regs) are way bigger problems.

      1. Agreed on all counts. Though an enclosure of any sort heated or just a box really does cut down on trouble keeping all the air still, so I’d like to see that simple box on any printer in this price range, even more so when its a good idea (should be required) to have the laser safe box anyway…

        Plus the chips and oil hit by laser risk isn’t that great as you are using different beds for each job it seems (plus you really should clean up between passes even in just pure CNC use). Start looking at pumping a CO2 tube through such a system and cleanup to change tools might start to really matter, as even out of focus the small 40W tubes are way more potent that these tiny diodes, and the reflection of a chip could really still melt/cut stuff…

        1. Sorry for the delay in commenting.
          If you guys think that a heated chamber is not required, then you are talking about maker crap.
          I am talking about market-viable printing for engineering grade prototyping and production.
          Correct, if you are printing cool figurines in your mom’s basement, then the maker crap is fine.
          If you want the equivalent of a professional grade tool, you’ll want a heated chamber.
          Learn about materials.

  4. Ok. That’s a whole lot better than I expected.

    But still.. no.

    Could one build, a separate, optimized for task 3d printer, cnc router and laser cutter? Well, no. But I wouldn’t call an open-framed diode powered device a laser cutter. I would call it a “budget” (although this one is expensive) laser engraver. And I think one could definitely build a similarly sized 3d printer, cnc router and open framed laser retina engraver for that price.

    But maybe it’s aimed for the beginner. Someone who would not be building such things themselves. Ok. But I think the lack of a laser proof enclosure and the lack of a kill switch are bad ideas even for a pro, doubly so for a beginner. Of course those things are available as add-ons. But wow! It’s expensive enough without add-ons! So sure. If I knew a beginner with all sorts of money to just throw around without a care that insisted on starting in all three at once. Then I would recommend it. That’s a pretty specific market!

    Besides all that I find the anemic heated bed and the noisy stepper drivers mystifying. What were they thinking‽ For the price I would expect Trinamics and a nice high-wattage silicone heater to be a given. And while I think it’s great that the bed swaps out for conversion between routing and 3d printing I don’t understand why the springs are part of base and not just part of the 3d printer bed. Even if it meant the 3d printer bed module needs an extra layer so what? It’s not like they need worry much about weight when everything is a leadscrew. There should be a solid, spring-free mount when it is configured for CNC.

    1. I think the noisy stepper drivers are a consequence of them needing to have enough torque for the CNC milling part. The silent Trinamic drivers are cool – but they have also much lower torque in the silent mode than the common “noisy” ones. And the difference is pretty significant. This is maybe OK for 3D printer or laser but it was likely a no go for an already marginal CNC router design.

      And seriously – if you are using a CNC router then noisy steppers are likely the least of your worries given how much racket the milling makes. This is not a machine you would want in your bedroom even if the steppers were silent.

      1. I actually really like the noise it makes when printing or lasering; you can hear the geometry of what it’s working on. The multiple motors will harmonize on and off and create weird rythems… Or maybe it’s that my partner has been playing with their synths a lot lately 🤭

        1. I’m the same, I like the noise, and knowing whether it’s doing arcs and curves.
          Just like I prefer mice that have a red LED underneath, rather than the “improved” IR LED tracker ones.

      2. I haven’t been able to find a satisfying answer on this – are Trinamic drivers much quieter than cheap drivers like DRV8825 or A4988, when not run in stealth mode? Trinamic says they use a current control algorithm that’s better, and therefore quieter, but I’m not sure how much of a difference that really makes.

        1. On half-step mode your torque drops to around 80% of the theoretical best your motor could provide. Your repeatable positional accuracy is 5% of the step angle at best on most steppers, and It only gets worse with more drive features added.

          For CNC, you are far better off getting slower 0.8’/step high-toque long body NEMA23 form motors, and use a toothed belt reduction drive to increase precision and holding torque.

          Quieter or micro-step (aka variable torque lotto drive) motors does not mean more precision machines unless used for relatively low-load applications like some printers.. The 800 discrete steps per lead screw inch all of a sudden becomes probabilistic. Thus your machine may behave like an elastic-band under varying tool loads, and the surface you print/cut will likely reflect that problem to varying degrees depending on the motion path… Thus, that >5% error floats around depending on the driver phase, load, and inertia… all bad if you want something square, and repeatable..

          For CNC milling half-step mode is as good as it gets… for small laser engravers or 3D printers, than smoothed micro-stepping becomes more useful.

          I respect the attempt to build a universal machine, but if people use aluminum extrusion it just isn’t going to give the results most will be expecting at that price point. One could also get a taig mill, k40 laser cutter, and FFF printer… handle 3 concurrent tasks, and still have budget left over for tooling.

          Save your money, as even studies proving micro-stepping is silly for CNC will never convince some people they wasted their money at best, or bought a problematic machine at worst. Klipper does do its best to mitigate some of these problems in 3D FFF printers, but YMMV for the reasons already stated… ;-)

          Best of luck,

  5. I wonder how much rigidity is lost from that spindly y carriage. I feel like if they used a big chunk of aluminum (they’re leadscrew drives!) it would probably have enough rigidity to fit one of those 500W DC motors as a spindle and not be stuck with the gimped 50W spindle that every $200 3018 router ever uses.

  6. Oh *sigh*, such lovely comments from people that have not actually used it. I own one and it does exactly what it says on the tin. The hardware is fantastic. GUI and software, again fantastic. Packaging and documentation, un-freaking-real-tastic. For those of you claiming “bUt it’S NoT prOfeSsIoNaL!!!” You are absolutely correct. It’s not marketed nor intended to be a professional, make your living on, 100% duty cycle, print, machine, cut, mark on any conceivable material, tool. It’s intended for the hobbyist that needs the infrequent, random, “Gee, I wish I had a CNC that could save me time and accurately help in my spare time endeavors.” tool. So far, I only have one quibble. The bed could use extra stability; but its an easy fix.

    1. I’m considering one for simple jobs, like you to satisfy that urge to try things out, I don’t need professional results, but my main question is how good are the 3D prints, and how do they compare to printers like the Prusa printers. I ask as complete novice to 3D printering. Its frustrating that few of the online reviews Ive looked at go much beyond a fidgety dude unboxing it, printing a benchy and saying hey thats great, bye.

      1. The prints are pretty good, my first ones came out just fine with zero tweaks, though I’ve since learned how to calibrate things better (and that I should have done so from day 1) so improvements have been made as well. It’s a 0.4mm nozzle by default, and though I’ve bought a few more sizes for it I don’t intend to use it for printing tabletop game miniatures (the fine detail just isn’t realistic with that large of an extrusion) though I did make a custom case for a raspberry pi and that works fantastic!

        It’s been my first printer and a good one to learn on. Also lasering things is FUN.

    2. for many of us who are using this to learn of just for light hobby work. this can be the right product for the semi-right price. I agree with you even though I do not own one of these. To me this would be like people complaining about consumer drones not being professional because they can not bomb a foreign nation with them. Or early IBM saying no one would use a Computer in their home at the time that the professional machines took up entire buildings.
      I have numerous 3D printers that are crap compared to the large professional systems. I have 2 cheapo Chinese CNC’s. I have a laser engraver I made out of an old cd burner which really is pretty useless. But for me and my needs they work perfect. I do not plan to make anything I am selling on them. They are toys and learning environments and not much more. sometimes they go months without even being turned on.

  7. If you’re thinking of getting one of these, you may wish to check out their Facebook page with 17K members – ‘Snapmaker Support’, and also ‘Snapmaker Enthusiasts & Users Group’ with 6.1K. Some people say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but quite a few people are having problems with quality control on the linear modules. I wan’t one, but the complaints on the Support page are putting me off at the moment, you might have a different opinion.

    1. The prolbem is that most people find forums with hopes of answering a prolbem or issue. Most people dont post the good stuff unless they are braging to some extent. In most car groups its about mods and issues. Same goes here. Im in all of them.
      And have a sm2.0a350. And i love it.
      With more space could have got 3 comprable puces of equipment. But overall its legit. Solid. The resolution of the output is far better than the diy home brew ones.

      I got it for the backer price 480 off. Idk if i would of at the fill asking price. But i am also intrested in the rotary module too now so. 4th axis milling too.

      Its kinda cool for what it is. And solid.
      Alot of there qc issues were addressed. The delay in techsupport and shipping were my only issue. But ita a startup. Andthey are far out. And the rhona. So yeah. Things happen in that sence.

      So far i love my machine and wouldnt trade it.

      Im sorting out plans to byild a larger cnc w a hand router. And i have a prusa i3 for rapid prints. The laser has been alot more handy than i thought.

      Overall glad i made the impulse buy

  8. So, my new 3D printer prints at about 60mm/s. Or about 140 in/minute, while the old 3 axis mill moves at about 350 in / min…
    Why is the cnc slower than 3D printing???

    Even a decent diameter cutter (Bigger than hobby size 1/8″ or 3mm stuff) on a high speed spindle cutting aluminum moves pretty fast compared to the 3D printer! A lot of big CNC mills have rapids near 1000in/min (420mm/s).

    And, do any drilling with a normal drill and drill chuck in a CNC mill, and you’ll need more Z axis that the silly 3D printer! ;)

  9. Seems a tad in the expensive side for what it is. You could buy something like an Ender 3 3D printer, a K40 laser cutter, a 3018 CNC router and still have over £500 spare for other toys.

  10. Oh yay, I can engrave balsa wood or cut cardboard, and only risking permanent blindness.
    Then I can engrave softwoods or aluminium and get all those chips into the leadscrews, to really mess up my next 3D print.

    Pass. Sorry, as loads of people have already said, just because a laser engraver, ‘CNC’ router and 3D printer share the concept of an cartesian robot, doesn’t make one such implementation a good solution in all cases.

    Poor rigidity, no cooling and toy spindle mean a crap CNC experience.
    Poor laser power, no air assist and no fume extraction (at least without the enclosure) and no axis encoders to get accurate bitmapping, mean a crap laser experience.
    At the 3D printer implementation doesn’t look too bad, but I bet it doesn’t have any auto-levelling functionality.

    Hey! My local carwash is a cartesian robot too – maybe I that could double up as a 3D printer? Car-sized benchy anyone?

    1. In fairness, the leadscrews are really well protected, that’s one of the nice things about the mechanics.
      It isn’t stated, but I imagine that the cover strip passes up and over the leadscrew nut, in a manner equivalent to that of the 1940’s Smart and Brown Model M lathe. (And, more recently, a combo lathe/mill that I converted to CNC)

      1. Well, fair enough on the leadscrews. To be honest I didn’t bother to give it much of a lookover, since this concept has been done (badly) to death so much already. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now :)

        I really want a desktop box that can do it all, but it just feels like the holy grail of personal fab is still out of reach.
        For now, well just have to soldier on with multiple dedicated machines.

  11. So long as it has servo control, it is an CNC machine. Which is quite a huge catagory consider many of its sub types. And that’s about it, it is not a proper laser cutter nor a 3D printer, it is just a CNC platform with questionable reliability.

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