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Ben Poulin
10-27-2011, 12:08 AM
Tips on buying a laser from China.
Everything in this guide is either information I have picked up on the forums, experienced myself, or my opinions. If you find any of my information wrong, please inform me. I will change or edit this as necessary. Feel free to add anything if I missed something. I know I'm not a very active member here, I spend most of my time on another forum. But I thought everyone here would appreciate this as well.


Shopping:
Ask to see other model sizes, Sometimes the next size up, sometimes several sizes up, are only a few hundred dollars more, and financially are a wiser decision. Unless space is the issue, ask about larger models.
Shop around, but sometimes buying the least expensive laser you can find isnít the best idea. Not all lasers are created equally. Finding a lower price competitor can be used to your advantage when dealing with a reputable company, they probably wonít price match but they may come down on their price some.
ASK US ABOUT THE COMPANY!!! There are a lot of people here on the CNC forums who have already done this. Search for the company name, and if you donít find much, ask. If nobody has ever heard of the company, check other forums. If theyíre new, pass, buy from an established reseller. I know all companies have to start somewhere. Unless you plan of flying to China to make sure they arenít a couple guys in an office reselling lasers from another company, go with an established company.
Ask to see samples of the work and videos of the machine in operation. Most companies wonít send you samples, simply because they are trying to keep their overhead down. But ALL companies should be able to show you videos of their machine working. Any company that canít do that, pass on them. If you plan on using a specific material more often than others, send them a sample of what you will be using. i.e. If you are going to be cutting thick leather, mail them a swatch of leather and ask them to cut or engrave it for you and send it back, and/or send you a video of it.
Make sure the company you are dealing with is willing to send you parts via DHL in less than a week. Some companies only want to send parts via freight, or snail mail that will take you over a month to get.

The sale:
NEGOTIATE!!!! Everything is negotiable. Usually the price is fairly solid. There is so much competition the prices are pretty much rock bottom. You might be able to get the price down a little bit, but try to negotiate for spare parts instead.
Buy spare parts now! As many as you can afford. As a rule of thumb, buy the items that will most likely stop your laser from producing products for an extended period of time. Here are a few things you shouldnít buy a laser without.
Laser tube: these can be expensive, but they are also slow to ship due to being fragile and large. It is not financially viable to ship them any kind of express. My rule of thumb on these is keep one spare, and when you have to use it, order another one. That way youíre not in a rush to get the new one.
Belts: nothing will take you out of commission faster than a broken belt. And most are odd sizes, that canít be found in the USA. I would love to be proven wrong in this one, so if you know of a supplier PLEASE let me know.
Mirrors: These are actually consumables, so treat them as such, order at minimum one extra set. They are very cheap, and you donít have to pay any extra shipping if you buy it with your laser.
Lenses: Again these are also consumable, and you can buy a variety of focal lengths to accommodate cutting and engraving. Also buy any special nozzles you may need with these lenses. Extremely short focal lengths often require a shorter nozzle.
The bigger items I donít think are a necessity, but if you can afford them, it will keep you from having down time in the future. Things like extra stepper motors, motherboard, stepper drivers, lcd panel etc. All of these can be sent via DHL for a reasonable cost, so you should be back up and running in less than a week. But if a week is the difference between losing a client and not, order them in advance.
Extra keysÖ I have been to locksmiths here in the USA, they can sometimes make keys that fit, but they always require filing and never fit as good as the original key, negotiate to get these for free.
Extra laser head assembly. This is another preventative buy, not a necessity. In case of a mistake, or limit switch failure the first piece of equipment to hit something is the laser head assembly. If it gets bent or broken itís useless. So having a spare handy can get you back up and running quickly and they are relatively cheap.

Understand what you are being sold. Some options have several models to choose from. Such as the chillers, and lenses, do research on the different options before you chose.
Buying Options: Not all options should be options, while others you may not have a use for. In my opinion DSP offline control should be standard on any laser. It offers you more control over the power of the laser than a standard Pot style power control, and the cost is justified by the features it provides.
Rotary devices, there are 2 types of rotary devices. Each has a different function, make sure you know which one they are offering before you buy it.
3 jaw chuck with a pointed tail stock, good for holding dowel like pieces, not so good for glassware or fragile pieces.
Flat wheel rotary: good for glassware and fragile pieces. The part sits on top of the rotors and is turned.

Chillers: Depending on the model, I have found, from other peopleís experience that the CW-3000 is a radiator with a fan (this may vary depending on the mfg) the CW-5000 is a true chiller, and the CW-6000 is a powerful chiller. When people ask me I suggest the CW-3000 not be used on a laser larger than 60w, and even then thatís pushing the limits. 60 and 80w I suggest the CW-5000, and 100w or larger get the CW-6000. You can skimp here but youíll notice as your coolant gets warmer your tube loses power.
Motorized up down table. I consider this a must have for larger machines. The small desktop units itís fine to have manual control, but when you have 10Ē of travel your arms are going to get store. Also it is a must have if you want auto focus.
Autofocus: This is a tricky subject. Often this is simply a limit switch mounted on the head of the laser, once the switch is hit, it backs the table down a set distance for engraving/cutting. You can do this yourself if you find out where the limit switch is supposed to connect to, and the exact distance it needs to make contact from the lens. Some other companies provide different types of autofocus, so use your own judgment.
Red dot focus, there are 2 types, the type that is off to the side of the laser head, and the type that follows the laser beam path and uses a beam combiner. Each has its own positives and negatives.
Standard Red Dot: this is the kind that is off to the side and fires at an angle to the laser path. I personally like this kind because you can fire the laser, then adjust the nozzle or bed until the red dot is on the burned dot, and now youíre focused. Very easy to use. Down side is itís easy to be knocked out of alignment if you bump it or it strikes a work piece.
Red dot through lens: This utilizes a beam combiner, I have no personal experience with them but others say it will cut down on your laserís power. Also it provides you with no focus reference, it will always point where the laser is going to fire regardless of how far away the piece is from the proper focus point. Positive points are, it will allow you to align your laser easier, adjust your mirrors until the red dot is in the center of the mirror. No more test firing and cleaning up a charred mess. Also if your red dot beam is dispersed or not striking your work piece you know there is an alignment issue. Personally if I were to buy this option I would also include the standard red dot, that way when both dots are aligned you know youíre at your focus point.

Honeycomb table: these are fairly simple, and they are all pretty much the same. I think most laser sellers have reasonable prices on these, if youíre not sure you can go to mcmaster.com and see their prices. Online they say the max size is 24Ēx48Ē but they may be able to special order larger sizes. Also theirs are the core only, no aluminum trim, so keep that in mind too.
Synrad tubes, and servo controls: Some manufacturers offer these, they do cost a premium, but as you know, they are generally worth it. But keep in mind Synrad tubes usually have lower power, so if youíre looking for brute force cutting power, you may have to stick with a glass tube.
Glass tube vs. RECI tube. This is an easy answer, if itís an option, go with the RECI tube. It will last longer, and from what Iíve heard they seem to test at a higher power than they are rated. Iím sure there are some people on here who can explain their differences to you, but Iím not one of them. I just know the quality is higher, and usually they come with some kind of warranty.

Shipping costs: This is usually a FOB price to a city near you, what you need to understand about this, it only covers the actual shipping cost, not the import fees, paperwork fees, and warehouse fees. In the US, this can be close to $800 in additional fees. Other countries this will vary just be aware of what they are paying for and what you are paying for. Also rarely does their price include shipping to your door, only to a warehouse near you. Near you may also be a relative term if you are far away from a big city.
Payment: Almost all companies require you wire transfer the money. This is not reversible once you send the money itís gone. This is why you need to do your research, and go with a reputable company. Most companies will require 50% up front, and remainder on completion. I suggest you use this unless you have done a lot of business with the company before, then you can save yourself the wire fees and pay 100% up front.
US customers, make sure the company you buy from has all their paperwork in place and are FDA compliant. If they are not FDA compliant you will have a heck of a time getting it through customs, and you may not be able to get it if they canít/wonít provide the information needed.
All other countries, learn what the requirements are for importing to your country, and make sure the company you chose has already met those requirements, you donít want to be the first import theyíve done to your country. If you are you risk losing your machine to customs due to lack of compliance.

The Import:
Letís all be honest here. This is the part that has us all scared, itís the only part of the whole process we have absolutely NO control over. Itís the part of the process our respective governments have to look it over and give the OK stamp to our precious laser. But hereís the good news, if you followed all the previous tips, youíre golden. If the company has a history of importing lasers to your country, then their freight handler should already be familiar with the paperwork, and you know they are compliant with all the requirements.
Start filing your paperwork with the freight handler as soon as possible. US customers, there is a late filing fee, if your item has been received by the shipper and has started the shipping process, it is considered shipped. Once the item is shipped, if you havenít filed your paperwork, there is a late filing fee. Also it increases the chance of your crate getting flagged for extra inspection.
Know what your fees are. The freight handler will be able to quote you exactly how much they charge for filing fees, but they usually wonít tell you how much the duties and taxes will be. This is because customs normally goes off declared value, but if they feel that the declared value is too low, they can assign a value and tax it at that value. So point here is keep your declared value near the actual cost and youíll be alright.
Hidden fees. Be prepared for a few hundred dollars of fees nobody talked about. Mine was a final destination fee. It was the fee charged by the warehouse I picked up my machine at. $218 to be exact. I was informed of this fee after my laser left NYC and was headed to ATL, and even then I wasnít told of it, I was told there would be a fee, but I had to call the warehouse to find out the exact cost of the fee. Which the warehouse couldnít answer until the paperwork was in their system. By in the system they meant after they received it in the warehouse. So this fee was up in the air until they had my crate. So be prepared for that fee as well, and all will be good.
LumpersÖ AKA Dock hands, forklift operators, whatever you want to call them. Some warehouses employ them and them loading/unloading freight is part of the services offered by the warehouse. Others use private contractors who charge for their services, this is usually a small fee, especially if you only have one crate. I would bring along a $50 bill to cover that expense. It shouldnít be anywhere near that much but if you have it, you donít have to worry about it.
Getting it home, this is quite often overlooked. So you bought an awesome 1200x800 laser machineÖ Now whatÖ Donít plan on putting this thing in the back of your pickup truck and taking it home. Youíll need a trailer, if itís enclosed make sure to check the shipping crate dimensions and see that it will fit in your trailer. Also be aware of the weight, my 1280 machine weighed right at a half ton with the crate and accessories. My order was a bit larger, and totaled about 200# shy of a full ton. Make sure your tires are inflated, and the trailer and hitch are rated for the weight. Most bumper hitches are only rated for 500# of tongue weight, so if youíre putting 2000# on the trailer there is a good chance youíll be over that tongue weight. So borrow a vehicle that has a Reese style hitch, or have one installed.


Great now we have it on the trailer, the nice guy with the forklift put that crate right in there for youÖ Whatís the plan on getting that half ton machine out? If youíre planning on wheeling it down a homemade ramp into the garage, I hope you bought a few spare partsÖ If your trailer has a ramp thatís great, but remember the machine is bolted down to the steel frame of the crate. It is possible to take one off its crate in the trailer, Iíve done it, itís not fun. If you want you can rent different types of forklifts, Sunbelt has them, and so do most local equipment rental places. This is by far the safest way of getting it out. You donít have to rent one, just have a plan and everything should be fine.

Well I hope this is helpful, I wish I had a single resource I could go to, to find all this info when I bought my first laser. I plan on doing another one of these for what to do with your machine once you get it home. Itíll take me a little time to get around to it. But this is a good place to start.

Rodne Gold
10-27-2011, 2:03 AM
Well done , a great write up and great advice.
You covered most of everything.

Bruce Dorworth
10-27-2011, 3:22 AM
Right on! I wished you had written this about six months ago. I thought an SDK 1290 was a standard machine. I had seen one and that is what I wanted. When mine arrived I found out that there is a model that uses a PCI card instead of a USB cable ,it also didn't have the LCD panel, or internal memory so you could upload several files and choose the one you wanted. I did at least get some spare parts.

Then I learned about freight. There was a charge of about $100 because this freight company took my laser from the docks to his warehouse, and oh yeah the fork lift operator. He tells me to back up to the dock. The dock is about five feet off the ground, my trailer is only 3 feet off the ground. Looks like I am going to have to use the fork lift. I will have to charge you a loading fee. there goes another $75.00. All in all I saved money by importing the laser in myself.

The other thing you need to add is customer support or tech support. I was nervous about buying a laser because lack of experience and my sales girl kept telling me not to worry she would help me. Well I needed it and yes her company did help me get it running.

Bruce

Jiten Patel
10-27-2011, 6:00 AM
Fantastic thread. and really useful. Thank you very much, much appreciated.

Khalid Nazim
10-27-2011, 10:21 AM
Great write up Ben. I concur with everything you have written. I am just going through this experience myself and am on the last leg of this process - just got a call from my shipping/custom clearing agent that Canada customs have cleared the machine and they will deliver it to my home today :)

Eric Luther
05-12-2012, 10:51 AM
Thanks so much for this, I am in Anderson SC about 2 hours from you and just beginning the process of choosing my laser etc. Shipping cost has me the most worried.

I plan on ordering a small one 500x300 and 50 or 60w. Is DHL a viable shipping option for a smaller one?

Thanks!

Eric