View Full Version : A Few Questions Regarding My First Laser Purchase

Russell Morgan
11-22-2013, 9:16 PM
Hello All,

I wanted to introduce myself to this forum and thank all those that have provided answers and insights to the many hundreds of posts. Although there is a great deal of information to be had, I do have a few questions prior to my first laser purchase.

I've narrowed my search down to either Trotec, Universal, or Epilog (in that order). I understand other domestic and international laser systems are available but my sense from the forums is that I'll have far fewer issues and be much more productive with a model from one of these manufacturers. I'm a firm believer in the notion of "you get what you pay for". I have an idea of some of the costs involved but have never actually been presented with quotes from each of the vendors. I will be attending SignWorld in Atlantic City on Dec 5-7 to get a better understanding of the machines and their pricing.

This purchase is intended primarily as a hobby and to advance my knowledge and skills of marquetry. If it branches our after that fantastic. I would not turn down the opportunity to supplement my income or convert my hobby into a full-time venture at some time in the future.

I plan to use the laser primarily for wood veneers, 1/8-1/4" hardwood sheets, 1/8-1/4" acrylics, Rowmark sheets, AlumaMark sheets, DuraMark sheets, and LaserTile. Most of the materials I plan to process are thin materials. I'm concerned about the products laying flat and incorporating the use of a vacuum table. The product at the top of my list is the Trotec Speedy 100 though it does not offer the vacuum table as an option if I remember correctly. Although the Speedy 300 does offer a larger bed and a vacuum table as an option I'm concerned that model may be a bit out of my price range. I guess the question is does a larger bed, vacuum table, and other standard features of the Speedy 300 trump the Speedy 100 when comparing their prices.

The other question I had was with respect to laser wattage. I really have no idea what wattage I should select given the types of materials I wish to process. I understand wattage translates to job throughput speed. Would a 25W system process all the materials I've mentioned? Am I being penny-wise and pound-foolish if I went with a 25W laser instead of something like a 50 or 60W system? What would I not be able to process if I went with a lesser wattage laser? How much longer would those same jobs take? Any thoughts or advice anyone had regarding sizing of laser wattages would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance to anyone able to provide any much needed advise,

Mike Null
11-23-2013, 7:48 AM
Given your parameters I think the Trotec 100 would fill the bill. I've been in the business for 16 years doing a lot of what you're describing without a vacuum table.

I started with a 25 watt machine and now have a 45 watt. My next machine will be an 80 watt. For the most part, the desire for more power is related to increasing the speed of my engraving process. A 25 watt machine will do what you want but you should always stretch yourself to the limit when it comes to power. My next machine will also be a Trotec.

Russell Morgan
11-23-2013, 11:25 AM
Mike, Thanks for the insight. If I could, just a few questions to help me understand a bit better.
- What do you use to help hold materials down that refuse to lay flat on their own?
- Will a 25W laser be able to vector cut (and raster engrave) the same materials and thicknesses as a 45W or 60W? Or, would multiple passes be required? Is the prime (or sole) advantage of a higher wattage system the ability to process materials at a faster speed? If so, is there a rule of thumb one could follow to calculate times? i.e. twice the wattage, half, the speed; three times the wattage, one third the speed.

Scott Shepherd
11-23-2013, 12:14 PM
Russell, there is no laser that I know of that has a vacuum table strong enough to pull down materials that aren't flat. I'm with Mike on that one. I can't tell you how many things we've cut over the last 7 years or so, and a vacuum table would have helped almost none of the time. The problem with a vacuum table is that it only works until you start cutting and when your cuts break the vacuum, the bow will eventually get stronger than the vacuum and your work will pop up. The vast majority of material with a bow in it can be worked around. There are times when the material is too bowed to work with. That's just the nature of a laser and I've not seen anything that solves that.

A 25W will not cut the same things as a 60W, no. Well, maybe. Yes, you would have to take multiple passes, which equates to time. If time isn't a concern then a lower power machine will work fine. If time is a concern, then the more power the better. Some woods are also a lot harder than others. Take Ebony for example, it's REALLY hard and the laser doesn't like it much. I suspect you'd have a heck of a time trying to engrave or cut Ebony on a 25W.

Power, in many cases, and to a point, does equate into speed. There are limitations to all of that. It gets a little complicated to explain in text, but I'd say as a general rule, more power is going to allow for faster speeds up to a point, and that point varies with each different material.

There is no magic formula to calculate it all because it's all material specific. More power might make a huge difference on one type of material and not much of a difference on another material. It's just not black or white, it's more dynamic than that.

Kev Williams
11-23-2013, 12:26 PM
As to holding down some items flat-- if you have a solid table like both my lasers, one way to keep thinner items flat like laserable plastics, is to get some 12x24 inch sheets of laser STEEL, like the black/gold .020" trophy stuff, as many as you need to cover your table, have those sheets covered on the back with ADA double-stick tape, then tape them to your table. Next, if you don't have any, get a dozen or so magnetic badge clasps, the magnets are strong and relatively thin. Then just figure out where on your material where you'll have non-engraved space for the magnets, and put them down. They work okay on 1/16" material, but REALLY well on 1/32" and thinner, which tends to warp upwards when lasering.

Dan Hintz
11-23-2013, 12:59 PM
As to holding down some items flat-- if you have a solid table like both my lasers, one way to keep thinner items flat like laserable plastics, is to get some 12x24 inch sheets of laser STEEL, like the black/gold .020" trophy stuff, as many as you need to cover your table, have those sheets covered on the back with ADA double-stick tape, then tape them to your table.

Is the table itself not ferrous on your system?

Wilbur Harris
11-23-2013, 2:09 PM
I'll second Scott's words as gospel. When dealing with a specific material for the first time, don't say you can until you try it. Furher, don't price it until you know for sure how it acts.

Ross Moshinsky
11-23-2013, 2:39 PM
I don't know your budget but I don't see why you'd buy a brand new highish end machine for hobbyist use. A used name brand 25-40W will do whatever you want most likely. Sure you might not have the best tool for the job in all circumstances but how many hobbyists have the best tool for the job?

If vector cutting is your primary focus, it's hard to beat the value you get from a Chinese machine. Big table and a lot of watts for not a lot of money. The concern with Chinese machines to some degree is the accuracy so keep that in mind. If you're looking for high precision, it might not be the best direction to go.

As for your concerns about flatness, tape and magnets go a long way.

David Somers
11-23-2013, 3:48 PM

Keep in mind I ask this as a pre-newbie. Don't have a laser yet.

When you say "The concerns with Chinese machines is the accuracy....high precision".... Can you explain how you mean that please?

For example....do you mean a straight line may not be straight? Or that it may not get burned quite where you expect it to be burned based on your home point? Or that a given operation may not be quite repeatable in terms of depth of cut, power applied, PPI applied, home position, etc? Other types of inaccuracies? All of these things?

Just curious. Trying to learn all I can before I go in any particular direction here.



Kev Williams
11-23-2013, 8:47 PM
Is the table itself not ferrous on your system?
Nope- My 25w ULS has a solid aluminum table that measures just under 5/8" thick , my LS900 has a 3/4" hollow aluminum table, with a corrugated core. Only thing that sticks to those is tape! :)

Mike Schnorr
11-23-2013, 9:16 PM
I bought a 25W Epilog in May of 2000 and it has paid for itself many times over. There is nothing on your list it wouldn't do. I replaced the laser after about 9 years to the tune of $1500.00 and am still going strong. I can't see replacing it unless it finally gives up the ghost. The only thing I would like would be to have a bigger table (mine is 12 x 24) but I can't see buying another one when there are so many other things I would like to have. There might be projects that I can't do but how often do you think you will really need all that extra power?


Dee Gallo
11-23-2013, 9:56 PM
Welcome to the Creek, both Russell and Mike!

I am in the same camp as Mike Schnorr. I started out with a used Epilog, upgraded to a more modern Mini 25 when it was about 15 years old and still going strong. I now have 2 Mini 18s (25 and 35) . Nothing I do is too big for my beds, so that's different from a lot of people here. I could easily do any of the work you describe with my "low power".

just my two cents, dee