View Full Version : Newbie questions, thinking of taking up a hobby

Ed Waters
12-17-2009, 7:33 AM
Hello all,
Great to find this forum, allow me ask some of the wise minds here some questions.
I'm considering taking up laser engraving as a hobby (I'm not interested in starting a business). It looks like it could be a fun hobby and would be easy to make unique gifts, cut paper in unusual ways, etch photos onto marble, etc. But before I get carried away thinking about what a laser could do, I'd like to know the real story.

First of all, how easy or hard is it to use a laser engraver? Do you need to take a class to learn how to use them or is it more like plug and play. Some of the engraving machine websites say you need to know corel draw or photoshop to use them -- how long does it take to figure out these programs?

Next, what kind of engraver to buy? I was first attracted to the Epilog machines, that company seems to be very customer friendly. On the other hand, at $7000+ as a starting price that would be a very expensive hobby. A lot of the Chinese machines are a lot cheaper (and I happen to live in China). So is a high-end machine easier to use or better quality than a lower priced machine? Is there software that comes with these machines that is specific to the machine? And is it possible to use a laser engraver without (or not attached to) a computer?

Lastly, I've heard that some of these machines require special ventilation. That's a problem, I live high up in an apartment. Any machines small enough to take out on a balcony to use? Or do not all applications require ventilation?

Anyway, I'd love to hear from anyone, as my knowledge is almost nil. Thanks for any replies.

David Fairfield
12-17-2009, 8:54 AM
Hey Ed

Laser is a fantastic hobby tool, you'll never get tired of it. The laser itself is very simple to use. Basically a plug and play like a printer, with more variables.

However, the drafting software (Corel / Adobe Illustrator) is not so simple. You will need to master this software before you can get full use out of the laser. I found it nearly impossible to teach myself, and so took a community college course. Its second nature now, but it was a steep learning curve.

Epilog makes the Zing, which is small enough for apartment use. I don't recommend balcony/outdoor use. Too easy to get wet and damp, that will kill the machine. You need ventilation. Better to make a simple wooden panel which you can place in the window to lead your exhaust outdoors, with a filter system in line to avoid blowing toxic fumes into the neighbor's windows.


Dan Hintz
12-17-2009, 9:23 AM
Not to completely disagree with David as the laser itself is (for the most part) plug-n-play, but the use of it is not so simple. You will not be able to slap some random item in there and get a quality engraving... that takes practice and experience. Expect to ruin a lot of test subjects.

Mike Chance in Iowa
12-17-2009, 3:05 PM
Anyway, I'd love to hear from anyone, as my knowledge is almost nil. Thanks for any replies.

All of the answers you seek, and questions you have yet to think of are all in this forum. There are over 8200 posts in this Engraving forum alone. Have fun reading the old threads. You will learn a lot that way.

Tom Bull
12-17-2009, 11:48 PM
I would add that if you engrave wood your neighbors probably won't complain, acrylic or leather stinky. From what I hear from a friend who lives in China, it might not matter as the air is pretty bad anyway.