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Daniel Perry
12-28-2018, 2:51 PM
Please bear with me, as I'm about as 'new' to lasers as humanly possible. As in, I've never even touched one.
So, how dumb am I, if I was to purchase an Epilog or Trotec (the two brands I'm looking at), without having ever even seen laser engraving in person? I live in a tiny mountain town, in Utah, so I'm not sure there will be options for me to go somewhere to 'test' them out. How can I be sure it is something I would even enjoy doing? Would it be smart of me to buy a cheapo laser to see if I enjoy the process? But, would the processes be drastically different on a cheapo consumer laser, vs one of professionals (Epilog or Trotec)?

Now for a little backstory as to why I'm thinking about getting into laser engraving:
I'm a 3D animator in the video game industry, with a 'unicorn' job. Basically put, I've been doing this for a decade and a half, and I know the position I hold is extremely rare. I went from working in studios, to working from home. I know that I won't be able to keep this up, as it's just such a rare thing, and I'm lucky to have it. Being unable to go back to studio work (my wife's private practice is located here and all the local studios shutdown), being trained in this one very specific thing, and having medical issues that keep me from labor work, I'm feeling very cornered. So, with my love for all things tech, my artistic abilities, and my interest in firearms, I thought about firearm laser engraving. I know I wouldn't be able to survive on that alone, so I'd also like to get into other areas of engraving that have to do with outdoor life. It's something I could start from my home, and if it takes off, maybe one day have a store front. I know I'll need to get an FFL and other permits for dealing with customers' firearms. My only other option that I can think of is getting into programming, which means going back to college or otherwise. So, while I have a fulltime position, I thought it would be smart to start this off as a learning hobby, that could hopefully turn into a business that I could pay my bills with.

So, in a more formal way, here are my questions:
1. What is the best way to get my feet wet, to see if I want to jump in?
A. Buy an Epilog or Trotec desktop machine? (knowing I'll need something bigger for engraving the metals in a firearm, and a bigger table for them)
B. Buy a really cheap brand? If so, which brand!?
C. Otherwise? How can one find a local place that allows the use of their laser systems?

2. Is going from absolute zero experience with lasers to a thriving business, in a somewhat short time, another unicorn?
A. I currently make six figures and really count on that income for our current living situation. Is it way too wishful thinking to get anything close to that, esp given that I'll be the new face in the business?
B. If I engrave on nights and weekends, how long could I expect to engrave for, before I could expect to be good enough to go into business?
C. Know of any places I can go read about people FAILING at this, as a business? Success stories are all over the place, but finding sob stories is much more difficult. I'd like to know the major pitfalls and damages from failed attempts.

3. While Sawmill Creek seems to come up 99% of the time in my engraving google searches, what other locations do you use as useful information gathering?

4. The question I've seen and read about 8 million times... is there a machine above all other machines, especially for firearm engraving/marking?

Any and all help would be greatly appreciated! You do not have to hold back any of your responses. If this is a totally dumb move on my behalf, I'd like to know.

Bill George
12-28-2018, 3:23 PM
If your purchasing a machine for a hobby and just have fun, just order what you can afford. Are you mechanical or electrically gifted, then a Chinese laser might be for you. Buying to make money and pay off your machine and bank the profits? #1 Who is your customer base and are they the folks that want to purchase artsy crafty stuff? Here in Iowa, No thanks I can get that at Walmart. Want if personalized sure, more than say $5..... well no, not right now. Firearms a lot of money to be made if you have a FFL (its been debated) if so you want a fiber machine 20 to 50 watts. What is your customer base for that? Of course now you really want two machines a co2 and a fiber.

A lot of others on here will be chiming in on this so l will get out of the way. There is So Much information on here, I am sure you can find answers.

Daniel Perry
12-28-2018, 3:33 PM
There is So Much information on here, I am sure you can find answers.
Thanks Bill! I've been on this site and a couple others, for a few months now, quietly reading, learning, and observing. Such a plethora of information to take in! To the point of almost being overwhelmed... well, I am overwhelmed, to be honest. So many options, opinions, and directions to go. I've done the extremely expensive hobby-to-business thing before, and sadly failed. That failure has been making me quite trigger shy, as I cannot afford to fail again. Simply put, doing this as a hobby only, is just too expensive. While I think it would be a neat hobby, it's not hobby level money, to me.

Daniel Perry
12-28-2018, 3:38 PM
Are you mechanical or electrically gifted, then a Chinese laser might be for you.
While I'm very computer friendly, I'm not so much mechanically or electronically gifted. I was looking at the american made systems, for this reason. If something goes wrong, I'll want/need a lot of information on what I need to do, to get it fixed. Availability of parts, is another reason for my want to go with Epilog or Trotec. Need a new tube? Call them. Need a bigger service? Have them come and do the service.
*Sorry for the double post, accidentally posted before I was finished.

Bruce Volden
12-28-2018, 4:20 PM
Daniel,
It just seems to me you want a laser. I bought my first laser before there was a "internet" by hunting a mfg'r down in the old Thomas Catalog.
I too wanted a US machine (no Chinese back then (1995)). No Corel forums, no fix it forums... just phone # for the dealer. I also wanted to be able to
throw it in the back of my truck and drop it off if something went wrong.
OK, I did not want it to start a business--just to play with. Word gets out fast though and pretty soon I had 2 of my kids running files for 8 hours
a day while I was @ work. I would relieve them when I got home.
Fire arms can be disassembled easily (most) if you're looking to engrave gun stocks so a BIG machine isn't needed (usually). For metal you will need a fiber machine
as Cermark will NOT always work.
You sound like you have done some looking into things and have a good base knowledge--go for it!

Bruce

Daniel Perry
12-28-2018, 4:33 PM
It just seems to me you want a laser.[...]
Fire arms can be disassembled easily (most) if you're looking to engrave gun stocks so a BIG machine isn't needed (usually). For metal you will need a fiber machine
as Cermark will NOT always work.
You sound like you have done some looking into things and have a good base knowledge--go for it!
Thanks Bruce! I will not deny that I want a laser. Figuring out if that is smart, is another question.
I was looking at the Fiber machines, for this very reason. But, I'm wondering if that will limit me at all, and I'd wish I wanted a CO2, as well. Then you get into the talk of dual head machines. Only reason I was thinking I might need something big, is for the larger gun parts (long shotgun/hunting rifle stocks). Though, I could always start with doing handguns and small long-gun parts (AR uppers/lowers).
Is starting with something like a Glowforge, that I can just buy cheap and play with other materials, a better starting point than an expensive Fiber machine?

Bruce Volden
12-28-2018, 5:05 PM
Glowforge? there is/was a very long discussion on that subject (search it out). You went from Epilog, Trotec to Glowforge-now that's funny. A wise old-timer once told me that he is a poor man and
could only afford the best.
There are quite a few members here running Chinese machines and having very good luck with them! BOTH CO2 and fibers!!
These machines certainly are much more affordable that my original laser. I could buy both CO2 and fiber Chinese machines for much less than I paid for
my 25W CO2 machine!!! (Insert envy here)

Bruce

Daniel Perry
12-28-2018, 5:11 PM
Glowforge? there is/was a very long discussion on that subject (search it out). You went from Epilog, Trotec to Glowforge-now that's funny.
Well, this goes along with my actual questions, and how I stated it is different than changing direction. It would be a stepping stone, to see if it is worth my time. Meaning, why buy a $40,000 machine (financing it), to find out that I don't like it. While I could get a $5,000 machine cash, and not disrupt my day-to-day very much. It would simply be something I had for a couple months, to see if the Epilog or Trotec is a good purchase for me. Or, if that step is not worth one taking, because the differences are too great (original series of questions I posted).

Bill George
12-28-2018, 5:32 PM
Daniel If your in a touristy area or near a large city or can set up a website to sell off of then that's something to consider. I have a couple of large commercial customers and do sell off my website. Craft or other events, never did enough to pay my gas money. Local sales to Joe and Jane, its always about price, and I do not work cheap. Anybody can give their time away, If I am going to do that I will donate my time to our church.

Kev Williams
12-28-2018, 6:12 PM
JMO, but with decent fiber lasers available for under $4k, getting into the gun engraving business to 'make a living' is going to be tough. And not so much because all the potential would-be competition will thin out the market base, but more likely because your would-be customers are figuring out that for the price of 2 mid-level weapons they can buy their own laser to engrave the things. I've noticed that roughly half of my steady fiber-laser customers already have their own fiber lasers- and they're just the ones I know about. Many of my other customers have their own C02 lasers and rotary tool machines too. What keeps me in business lately with these customers is relatively simple; my pricing works for both of us, there are jobs I can do that they can't, and just to be honest, I'm better at it ;)

I make a good living in this business. But it's due to my unique and diverse abilities, and having acquired enough machinery over the years to make use of them. But If I were to whittle down my work to a single sector, such as ONLY fiber laser work, or ONLY C02 laser work, etc, I'm not sure 'a good living' would describe the income ;) ....

As to a brighter note, my BIL who started with one machine and one customer does quite well, as his customer's business just keeps growing...he added a machine a couple of years ago and is looking for a 3rd machine to keep up. The potential is always there :D

There are a lot of variables involved, engraving materials, consumables, where to get them, the learning curve... My only piece of advice for someone in your position, looking to buy a "good" machine: buy a good used machine first. They'll usually give you years of service, and should the need to sell arise, it will still have a decent resale value...

Daniel Perry
12-31-2018, 1:56 PM
Daniel If your in a touristy area or near a large city or can set up a website to sell off of then that's something to consider. I have a couple of large commercial customers and do sell off my website. Craft or other events, never did enough to pay my gas money. Local sales to Joe and Jane, its always about price, and I do not work cheap. Anybody can give their time away, If I am going to do that I will donate my time to our church.
I'm actually in a very touristy area (quite close to Park City, Utah and my own town is touristy). I am also one that will not be working for cheap (as I do not in my current field either)... Thanks for the feedback!

Daniel Perry
12-31-2018, 2:04 PM
JMO, but with decent fiber lasers available for under $4k, getting into the gun engraving business to 'make a living' is going to be tough. And not so much because all the potential would-be competition will thin out the market base, but more likely because your would-be customers are figuring out that for the price of 2 mid-level weapons they can buy their own laser to engrave the things.
This is exactly what is happening to the photography industry! Everyone is starting to realize the camera phones in their pocket can achieve quite nice results, without having to go to a 'pro'. Our only option is to really show them that 'pro' comes with more than just hardware. It's really the only reason there are still professional landscape photographers.


But If I were to whittle down my work to a single sector, such as ONLY fiber laser work, or ONLY C02 laser work, etc, I'm not sure 'a good living' would describe the income ;) ....
I've been mulling over the dual head systems that can do both fiber and CO2, for this very reason... Thanks for the input!


As to a brighter note, my BIL who started with one machine and one customer does quite well, as his customer's business just keeps growing...he added a machine a couple of years ago and is looking for a 3rd machine to keep up. The potential is always there :D
This is kind of how I hope to start off. I have two other businesses that have already shown interest in working together, and I haven't even purchased a laser (guess that's the one good thing of living in such a secluded area).

John Lifer
12-31-2018, 4:11 PM
Is there a Maker's center there? or at least close? Usually a school has one set up or a lot of universities. Univeristy of Arkansas has several Epilogs running for mainly the architectural department. (I get two or three overflows every semester so I learned of it quick) At least you could talk to someone there and if maker studio, can actually use it. Maybe free, maybe for slight fee. You need a galvo fiber in my opinion for firearms, not an epilog dual machine (and their big galvo is about $50K to start).
And a decent size CO2 machine. This way you can do a LOT of things. Get a CO2 machine large enough to install a rotary and you can do cups. Still a good market there. I'm not making a living yet and I'm finishing year 2 in January. But I'm shoestring and at home. If you are in good location, and have a lot of traffic, just doing trickets might keep you busy. Read and learn.....

Daniel Perry
12-31-2018, 5:58 PM
Hey John, thanks for the input!
- I haven't been able to find a center, like you are suggesting, but that doesn't mean they don't exist! Just haven't Google Ninja'd a result, yet. My guess is that Salt Lake has one, I just need to find it (though, an hour away)
- Why not a dual machine?
- Why Galvo? This is the first time someone suggested that, for firearms, that I've read.

Bill George
12-31-2018, 6:43 PM
Buy a good co2 laser, about 60-80 watts and just do it. If you have a touristy trade that will purchase locally made things that are personized. The dual purpose machines from what I understand are pricey and limited in what they can do according to what I have read here. Maker spaces are not around here and I bet your town does not have one either. PS you might look for a good used machine, Epilog or ULS.

Kev Williams
12-31-2018, 6:49 PM
yeah there is, one of my customers has been there, I'll see what I can out--

Ok, here's one in Salt Lake, probably it-- linky: https://makesaltlake.org/contact/

--one in Provo, at least I think ;) : http://www.provolt.org/

Bert Kemp
01-01-2019, 10:13 AM
Rabbit Laser has good quality Co2 lasers with great support and reasonable prices. I've had mine for going on 5 years I think and its still working great, Knock wood :D a 60 or 80 watt 6040 would be a good machine to start with. Its big enough to do a lot of stuff on and will last a long time if you take care of it. Give Ray Scott a call at Rabbit Laser USA and ask him about machines. I think he might even have some fibers in stock now. not sure on that but check.

Steve Clarkson
01-02-2019, 11:52 AM
Daniel.....first, I would be shocked if you could make $100K+ doing gun stock engraving as a startup. You might be able to gross that amount, but I think it would be a miracle to net that.

Second, you should probably forget the Glowforge…..I think the Z clearance is like 0.5"....and for gunstocks you'll need atleast 4-5" I'm guessing. You probably don't need a huge bed either.....if you can get a laser with a pass thru or where the interlocks can be overridden, you can do the top or bottom 12-18".....which is where most designs are engraved. You should also look at CNC machines.....lasers like flat surfaces and gun stocks usually are not. A CNC can do more "3D" type engraving. Although CNC's are generally cheaper than lasers, the software learning curve is substantially higher.

Third, you need designs and practice....."putting a little scroll work" on a stock SOUNDS relatively simple, but I guarantee you will do far more work on the design and set up than you will do for the actual engraving. Although living in a tourist town might be beneficial if you are making tchotchkes, atleast here in New York people don't walk around town with a gun on their hip and suddenly decide to get it engraved. Your best source of business will likely be referrals from gunsmiths. My recommendation is that you find every gunsmith within 1/2 day's drive and visit them, get feedback from them, develop relationships with them and ask if they have any "broken" gun stocks that you can have for free or dirt cheap so that you can practice on them.

And gunstocks are usually not cheap and are sometimes irreplaceable. What are your plans when you screw it up? If Joe asks you to engrave "1864" on great grandpa's gun from 1865.....what do you do? Even when Joe insists he told you "1865"? It's a no win situation. FYI.....you WILL screw something up. It's guaranteed.

I did all the gunstock engraving for a large national outdoor retailer until they screwed me over when they filed bankruptcy a few years ago. I never had a FFL license, so I doubt you would need one. You just need to be crystal clear about what parts they can and cannot send you. But I can almost guarantee it will happen......so you need a plan for when that does happen. It happened to me once.....and these were professional gunsmiths who KNEW that I did not have a license.

My recommendation, for what it's worth, is that you get a few gunstocks to practice on, get a copy of CorelDraw or whatever design software you plan to use, then find a makerspace (even our libraries in NY have lasers now) no matter how far away it is, where you can engrave a few. Then go out and buy a used laser and use that until you can start making a profit. Once you have proved to yourself that this can be a viable business, then you can buy a sleek new machine for $20K+...….and if it doesn't work out, then you should be able to resell that used laser on Ebay and walk away without too much of a loss......or you can keep it and start making tchotchkes...


Good luck!

Kev Williams
01-02-2019, 1:27 PM
I just noticed the '6 figures' thing...

Just to GROSS $100k in a year you have generate sales of $274 per day, EVERY DAY of the year. Should you want your weekends off, that figure jumps to $383 per day...
-now start factoring in CODB... :(

>edit> -- Engraving stocks without an FFL-- legal ONLY if the stock is divorced from the receiver. This according to the ATF agent who presented me with my C&D order...

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 2:19 PM
Rabbit Laser has good quality Co2 lasers with great support and reasonable prices. I've had mine for going on 5 years I think and its still working great, Knock wood :D a 60 or 80 watt 6040 would be a good machine to start with. Its big enough to do a lot of stuff on and will last a long time if you take care of it. Give Ray Scott a call at Rabbit Laser USA and ask him about machines. I think he might even have some fibers in stock now. not sure on that but check.
Thanks for the input!

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 2:43 PM
Thank you for the very real reply! I've spoken with a few gunsmiths and gun shops, but I could certainly visit more! So far, they all seem interested, which is much more than expected. While I wasn't expecting to make 6+ figures quickly, I was hoping it wouldn't take a decade to reach.

I've got a lot of firearms and other things to hone my skills, but asking for broken parts is a great idea! Thanks for that!

Mistakes, something I think about daily... I thought about setting a 'limit' to what I'd be willing to engrave (ie not that 1864 you mentioned). But, limiting myself can limit my customer base as well... constant battle in my head. Hoping insurance can help with those realllly big screw ups. I can take a Glock 17 mishap on the chin, not a M1-Garand. With so many different finishes on firearms, I've also thought about sticking to certain finishes, as I start off. Getting into bluing and such, is something I'm also researching.

Practice, the one thing I know I'll do a LOT of, before taking a single non-personal firearm into the machine. I'm a bit OCD about my art, so I'm sure this will be a while, haha.

I've been looking into CNC machines as well! While I think I'll get one eventually, sticking to the 'flat' parts may be my step 1.

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 2:46 PM
I just noticed the '6 figures' thing...

Just to GROSS $100k in a year you have generate sales of $274 per day, EVERY DAY of the year. Should you want your weekends off, that figure jumps to $383 per day...
-now start factoring in CODB... :(

>edit> -- Engraving stocks without an FFL-- legal ONLY if the stock is divorced from the receiver. This according to the ATF agent who presented me with my C&D order...
Yeah, the math on what I'll have to clear, scares me. How big of a shop would I need to be able to make close to what I make now? Seems unlikely for years to come... but maybe one day?
I don't plan to do this without an FFL, just from all the stories I've heard. Not to mention wanting to do things like slides, etc. which all have SN stamps.

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 2:48 PM
Good luck!
Messed up my reply, that long one was to you :) Thank you!!

Tony South
01-02-2019, 4:42 PM
I bought mine from engraving machines plus in Florida.
Take a look. https://salelasers.com
Galvo will give you about 12x 12 inches
engravings area max and you can fit a large gun or whatever under it and you arent confined to a small box. Chinese lasers are good machines. US machines are better but way more expensive like you know. You can buy a power supply and a scan head with mirrors off of eBay. But youd have to know how to install it. The main problem with buying from China is the after purchase support. You will probably get a laser that will work good but if something breaks or you need help with a certain material they may or may not help you. You could purchase a Chinese laser from a US dealer and have support and knowledge. The link I posted above is a company in Texas that sells a Chinese machine that they train you on specifically on firearms. Its a bit more than buying direct from China but it gives you some support if you need it. Or just buy a Trotec open desktop machine and pay a lot.

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 5:07 PM
I bought mine from engraving machines plus in Florida.
Take a look. https://salelasers.com
Galvo will give you about 12x 12 inches ... The link I posted above is a company in Texas that sells a Chinese machine that they train you on specifically on firearms. Its a bit more than buying direct from China but it gives you some support if you need it. Or just buy a Trotec open desktop machine and pay a lot.
I love the idea of getting training in the exact market I want to target, but I'm not so sure on the laser itself. I really wish there weren't so many options, haha!

Gary Hair
01-02-2019, 5:11 PM
Yeah, the math on what I'll have to clear, scares me. How big of a shop would I need to be able to make close to what I make now? Seems unlikely for years to come... but maybe one day?
I don't plan to do this without an FFL, just from all the stories I've heard. Not to mention wanting to do things like slides, etc. which all have SN stamps.

How much revenue you generate depends solely on your market. My first couple of years in business I had a hard time grossing over $50k with laser and dye sublimation. One of my best years with one co2 and one fiber and doing sandcarving, I grossed almost 10 times that much. Realistically and sustainably, I can gross $250k with one c02 and two fiber machines - by myself and with very little overhead. You just need to find the right niche and become the "go-to" person in that area.

edit: just to give you an idea of the power of creating the right business, I just googled "laser engraving" in my previous state and I still come up first in the list - and I haven't been there in over a year!! You can't do that overnight, but if/when you do, you'll be extremely happy!

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 6:54 PM
...You just need to find the right niche and become the "go-to" person in that area.
While firearms and the like, are what I'd really love to be in, I know and am willing to change that, based on clients. Thanks so much for the input and even giving me some numbers, on what you've been able to gross. Those are some impressive numbers! I won't dare dream of such numbers, for a long time to come, haha.

SEO and other website investments will be huge, for me. I'm hoping that my work (assuming I'll be good) will set me apart from any competitors that are around.

Daniel Perry
01-02-2019, 7:03 PM
Thank you everyone for all of the information! I also spent a couple hours on the phone with Epilog and Trotec, today.
Sounds like I'm going to go in one of three different directions:
1. Buy a dual head machine (fiber and CO2)
2. Buy two separate machines (fiber and CO2)
3. Buy CO2 now, and then add a fiber machine, later down the road. (this is my top choice right now)

I know that #3 means that I won't be able to get into engraving on the metal parts, but this also means that I can 'break into the industry' without breaking my bank, too harshly, too quickly. Which, in turn will also allow me to get into #2, down the road, which means I have two machines running, at one time, and can do almost everything I have planned. While #1 will save me the most money in the long run, it means I'll have two machines that I can only use 1 of, at a time. Though, being able to do one job with one machine, does sound nice (knife with wood handle).

So, I'd like to direct my questioning to Epilog vs Trotec. Is it really just preference? For some reason, I keep looking at Epilogs, and they seemed the most willing to spend time on the phone with me (spent over 2 hours on the phone with them today). But, Trotec has some really great machines too! Figuring out which direction to go, seems like splitting hairs. Do I just choose one and live with that choice?

Gary Hair
01-02-2019, 10:05 PM
SEO and other website investments will be huge, for me. I'm hoping that my work (assuming I'll be good) will set me apart from any competitors that are around.

Don't bother with a fancy website and SEO. I traded engraving for my website and it looked pretty nice and was very flexible for adding pictures, but I spent zero $ on SEO. Your best bet to do firearm work is to get to know your local firearm groups, vendors, distributors, gunsmiths, etc. I had three customers that were outside 50 miles of my shop, the rest were local. Regardless of how much you spend on your website and SEO, there are too many others doing the same thing and you'll never get to a point where you are "the one" to go to online. You can, however, do that locally if you do great work at a reasonable (not cheap) price and offer the best service. Check out your local competition and find their weaknesses and make them your strengths. When I did this I found that my competitors were quick to say no to a difficult job or something they hadn't tried before - I made it my goal to say no very seldom and become proficient enough with my equipment that there was virtually nothing I couldn't do. It got to a point where the other shops would refer jobs to me that they weren't willing or able to do because they knew I could get it done.

Gary Hair
01-03-2019, 7:02 AM
If you want to ever do metal engraving then don't go with a co2/fiber combo. A gantry fiber simply will not deep engrave metal in any kind of timeframe that will make you any money. If you want to engrave metal then you could start with the fiber and add co2 later. Granted, the fiber will limit the "other" materials you can mark vs co2, but if metal is your primary focus then it's your only choice.

Ian Stewart-Koster
01-03-2019, 9:21 AM
If you already have a 6-figure income, I'd suggest being content with that.
You ask how big a shop is needed to gross $100k+?
I'd suggest a customer base and your own design abilities and skills are needed, rather than shop floor-area of whatever square feet or metres.
The roof area of the workshop does not dictate ability.
Plus a demand is needed.

I'd suggest a 2nd hand Universal laser be considered.
Software learning curve is so simple.

We have a ULS and two quality chinese systems.
The little ULS with the RF tube gives small item quality, to way exceed what the CO2 tubes in the two great chinese systems do
.

Daniel Perry
01-03-2019, 3:17 PM
If you want to ever do metal engraving then don't go with a co2/fiber combo. A gantry fiber simply will not deep engrave metal in any kind of timeframe that will make you any money. If you want to engrave metal then you could start with the fiber and add co2 later. Granted, the fiber will limit the "other" materials you can mark vs co2, but if metal is your primary focus then it's your only choice.
Thanks Gary! After speaking with the people from Epilog and Trotec, they are kind of telling me to go the opposite direction. Start with CO2 and then get fiber, down the road. Yes, metal is on my list, but I can do a lot more with firearms, with a CO2, than a fiber. Think a galvo for the metal work, is a good idea?

Daniel Perry
01-03-2019, 3:19 PM
If you already have a 6-figure income, I'd suggest being content with that.
You ask how big a shop is needed to gross $100k+?
I'd suggest a customer base and your own design abilities and skills are needed, rather than shop floor-area of whatever square feet or metres.
The roof area of the workshop does not dictate ability.

If you read through the original post, you'll see that this is not a job that will likely stick around. It's a unicorn, and a dying one at that. But, we rely on my income, so I'd like to be able to get back to it.
I didn't mean 'big' as in size.
Thanks for the input!

John Lifer
01-03-2019, 3:20 PM
SEO is EASY. If you are one of the few laser engravers in the area. My local Chamber had their list on the top of the search but only put the company name and phone number. I gave up on them after a year when they wanted us to spend on an App.
I have a website through WIX and their SEO information put me at the very top of the search list under Google immediately and I'm there for past year. It's not worth it to pay someone to do this for you unless you have immense competition, and if you do, you will have a hard time breaking into the business anyway. Keep your 6k salary and start as side business if you can. This way you can determine if you want to push it to be your main income. Good luck.

Tony Lenkic
01-03-2019, 4:42 PM
Daniel, (and other potential purchasers).

You should try to make it to APA Las Vegas 2019 trade show mid February.
You will find many laser manufacturers as well as engraving products mfg/sellers.
Google APA Las Vegas 2019 trade show.

Daniel Perry
01-03-2019, 5:02 PM
SEO is EASY. If you are one of the few laser engravers in the area. My local Chamber had their list on the top of the search but only put the company name and phone number. I gave up on them after a year when they wanted us to spend on an App.
I have a website through WIX and their SEO information put me at the very top of the search list under Google immediately and I'm there for past year. It's not worth it to pay someone to do this for you unless you have immense competition, and if you do, you will have a hard time breaking into the business anyway. Keep your 6k salary and start as side business if you can. This way you can determine if you want to push it to be your main income. Good luck.
Thanks for the input! I've always been bad at SEO work and I'm quite behind on the internet fads, so it may behoove me to just pay to have it made for me. WIX does seem to be a top competitor these days, thanks again!

Daniel Perry
01-03-2019, 6:17 PM
Daniel, (and other potential purchasers).

You should try to make it to APA Las Vegas 2019 trade show mid February.
You will find many laser manufacturers as well as engraving products mfg/sellers.
Google APA Las Vegas 2019 trade show.

Could have sworn I replied to this already... Anyways, thanks for the information! I was hoping to get into the SHOT show, but no dice. The APA seems like the next best thing, for me!

Jerome Stanek
01-03-2019, 7:12 PM
When you go to those shows you will see some of my work on some of the booths. I cut lettering and designs for some of those trade shot booths. Just finished a job for Colosseum booth today.

Gary Hair
01-03-2019, 9:01 PM
Thanks Gary! After speaking with the people from Epilog and Trotec, they are kind of telling me to go the opposite direction. Start with CO2 and then get fiber, down the road. Yes, metal is on my list, but I can do a lot more with firearms, with a CO2, than a fiber. Think a galvo for the metal work, is a good idea?

Hmmm, big surprise that two major co2 laser manufacturers would recommend their product... There are typically three materials used on a firearm - metal (steel and/or aluminum), plastic, and wood. A fiber can mark, and deep engrave, metal and plastic. A co2 can mark and deep engrave plastic and wood, and to some degree mark metal, but can't deep engrave. Your market, and your niche, may be different, but I made 95% of my money on firearm marking with my fiber, marking and deep engraving metal, I made very little marking wood with my co2. There is a ton of "traditional" engraving that you can do with a co2 while you build up the business requiring a fiber, so you'll likely have more immediate revenue from co2, but the most revenue will likely be from the fiber. There are plenty of people on here, like Kev for example, that probably make the bulk of their revenue from co2 and relatively smaller portion from their fiber, but if you want to specialize in firearms then it's not going to work that way.

For metal galvo is the only way to go! The one exception to that is if you have a ton of anodized aluminum parts that you can gang up in a fixture, then the co2 will be much faster. For example - I have a part that's about 5/8" by 1/2" with an engravable area about .3 x .2. There are about 135 different designs that we engrave on them and this particular part is done on the co2 in a fixture that holds 80 at a time. I do anywhere from 2-5 of those fixtures full every day. I have other parts that are similar in size but with only 25 designs, and I do anywhere from 5-50 of them per day on the fiber. It's extremely fast to merge the images for the 80-up fixture but it's not for the 5-50 parts due to the time it takes to merge such a small number so the fiber processes them faster than the co2 ever could. My preference would be to fiber mark all of them as the fiber marks anodized aluminum much better, more evenly, and with more detail than the co2 can, but the trade-off between a better image and significantly more time has to be considered.

Ross Moshinsky
01-03-2019, 9:18 PM
My recommendation would be to make a local connection with someone who has equipment. Setup some sort of pricing schedule. Make a website and start marketing/selling.

$20-30k and you can have a fiber laser, CO2 laser, and a lot of the necessary accessories to run an engraving business. It's not about the investment in capital, which is fairly manageable compared to many other businesses. Running the equipment takes some time to learn and become an expert, but is generally not considered a high paying position. An engraver's salary is normally sub $20/hr. Most of the money is in actually using your graphic design software, which you seem to be overqualified in.

What makes or breaks this type of business is an ability to get good jobs in. If you can't get the good jobs, it's just a grind. If you can get good jobs in, you'll do well. It's all about getting the good clients.

John Lifer
01-04-2019, 6:52 PM
What makes or breaks this type of business is an ability to get good jobs in. If you can't get the good jobs, it's just a grind. If you can get good jobs in, you'll do well. It's all about getting the good clients.

That's for sure. I can say after year 2, I'm a poor marketeer, and I cherish the jobs that are good. Those have been the 'monkey work' jobs. The 100, 500, 1000 part orders of the same item that is a repeater. May not be $20 to engrave that knife, but I can make more doing monkey work than people bringing me single items to engrave. Industrial clients, or someone who you engrave for and THEY sell.

And I'll reinterate Gary, I mark 10 to 1, maybe 20 to 1 Handgun slides and receivers than stocks. I think I marked three shotgun stocks over Christmas. About the same last year. Unless you happen onto a manufacturer that needs someone to create and engrave stocks and there isn't many of those that don't do it themselves. Get a Galvo.

Kev Williams
01-05-2019, 12:55 AM
Was perusing my books the other day, year end and all-

Last year I had 145 unique customers, not counting one-off cash customers, of which there were probably 150 or so. Most of the 145 customers, guessing 80%, came up with repeat work. 30%-ish of them repeat regularly, with a handful having work here almost constantly...

Adding the numbers, the first 5 customers are responsible for exactly 50% of the sales, the first 2 total 34%--!

This is good evidence that 'getting the good jobs in' is paramount-
pretty scary really that the bottom 140 generate only as much income as the top 5...!

(I turn 65 in July- guess what my semi-retirement plans are?)

Gary Hair
01-05-2019, 12:53 PM
(I turn 65 in July- guess what my semi-retirement plans are?)

Fire the bottom 140? Even though the top 5 are 50% of your income, my guess is that they don't represent 50% of your time working, I'd be willing to bet it's closer to 25%. How could you not pass up 50% of the revenue for 25% of the work? (you just effectively doubled your pay rate)

Kev Williams
01-05-2019, 1:05 PM
Preeee Sicely :D My calcs are pretty much dead on to yours...

Gary Hair
01-05-2019, 1:22 PM
Preeee Sicely :D My calcs are pretty much dead on to yours...

I neglected to add that the bottom 140 are probably the pita customers anyway, at least the bottom 50% of them I bet! So - less work, more pay, less headache - what a better way to retire!

Ross Moshinsky
01-05-2019, 4:11 PM
When you're close to retirement it doesn't matter that much, but generally speaking, it's not a good business plan to have such a large percentage of your sales from one customer.

Lose a single customer and you're potentially going out of business. Not exactly an ideal business model.

Kev Williams
01-19-2019, 12:49 PM
When you're close to retirement it doesn't matter that much, but generally speaking, it's not a good business plan to have such a large percentage of your sales from one customer.

Lose a single customer and you're potentially going out of business. Not exactly an ideal business model.

Don't know what to say about that, other than we've never had a 'business model'. My old man worked for Hill Field as a machinist, and learned engraving on a Gorton 3U- Around '59 Litton hired him to be their machine shop supervisor. Litton had a pantograph up in an attic loft, I watched him engrave some desk nameplates on the thing when I was about 8... He loved engraving so he bought himself a Scripta 3D pantograph in 1966, got a hobby license; we moved into this house in '69, almost exactly 50 years ago, and Dad got an actual biz license. Litton moved his job to Texas, mom would have none of that so engraving suddenly became important. His customers were old work buddies who'd changed jobs, needed desk signs, name badges, followed by ID plates, etc- and they all knew dad had an engraver. For about 3 years we had steady work making and engraving smoked plex CRT 'protectors' for medical computers. Then sometime in 1974 one of his friends now working at Univac wondered if he could engrave computer keycaps. And when all the local companies building newfangled 'character generators' found out, all hell broke loose :D --Dad bought four IRX-IV pantographs to engrave keycaps and an old Gorton 3U deep-throat to make the masters... Lots more to this story, but from then till now, we have never searched for work, it's always found us. And our 'business model' slowly changes every year, we lose some customers, we gain some... Right now a single customer since October is dwarfing all others in sales. But it won't last forever. Guess we could call it the 'Sears Effect' ;) -for sure, no one is immune!

As for my 'retirement model', my reputation is my model. While I've never searched for work, if I did, I'd find it. One FFL license and one phone call would swamp me... ;)


And fwiw- many lasers, including cheap Chinese fibers do have 'time clocks'-- My Triumph is up to 457 hours in 2.5 years of use
401634
with 'only' a 50,000 hour life span, at my current rate of use I still have 274 years to go ;)

(My 14 year old LS900 has logged 3240 hours, my 4-ish year old LS100 is up to 186 hours)

Bill George
01-19-2019, 3:21 PM
So toni plaza please tell us what laser engraving machine do you own or are you a dealer selling these?

Gary Hair
01-19-2019, 6:13 PM
Sorry if this sounds accusatory but you sound like a salesman inching his way in to make a sale, most end-users don't have the specific information you have been posting. So Toni, what's your angle?


There is no dealers for Keyence. If new you can buy only directly from manufacturer, or second hand when you are lucky to get it. They start at 35G and go up to 100, just for the marker. Some come with build in cameras, or you can buy vision system. They have co2, fiber, yvo4, green, uv. Keyence had 12000mm/s speed and 1m/2m/5m marking resolution 15 years ago. Chinese markers even today go only to 7000/8000mm/s max and highest resolution of 20m/30m/50m only. Regards.

Bill George
01-19-2019, 7:27 PM
Q: are you a dealer A: There's no dealers. you can call Keyence and verify. Keyence will tell you the same. Just dealing with the Keyence sales force people. So no dealers.
Now I have to have an angle. There is no angle. Just a surprise that no Keyence nor Omron nor Rofin now Coherent users here. And it looks like people are not aware of these top of the marking industry companies. NON is aware. So once more - NO ANGLE. I just provided some answers to people having questions. Regards.


Well Toni you are posting on a Laser Engraving Forum about industrial machines you call laser marking machines. There are folks on here using Chinese and USA made machines, and some made in Europe. None have any use for the machines your promoting and selling.

Gary Hair
01-19-2019, 10:50 PM
and what I am selling? Bill George, what did I offer to sell to you? Topic was; what to buy? I bet you are not even aware that all Chinese fiber lasers copied Rofin F line from 2006/2007/2008, repacked it in cheap cases, lowered the specs to 1/4th of the F line and selling it to you, and you being so unaware of it at all "fiber forever guy". Regards.

Every post you have so far has Keyence as a suggestion - you either have an agenda or you are a troll. Either way, it's pretty annoying. If I'm wrong I'll apologize.

Bill George
01-20-2019, 10:01 AM
Ignore troll mode engaged.

Gary Hair
01-20-2019, 12:40 PM
I'm surprised it took me so long to recognize!


Ignore troll mode engaged.

Kev Williams
01-20-2019, 4:51 PM
"Just a surprise that no Keyence nor Omron nor Rofin no[r] Coherent users here."

My LS100 does in fact incorporate a Coherent laser, which I'm very pleased with; while rated at 35 watts tested out to between 45-47 watts, and it IS noticeably more powerful than my 40w LS900...

Assuming no trolling going on, at issue is that Keyence, Omron and similar machines are much more suited for high-end manufacturers and mass-production companies needing their work done in-house, than for the typical owner of a '3rd party' industrial engraving shop (like me, Gary, Tim, etc.) or an awards and recognition based shop (like many others on this forum). Big companies have more need for, and can more afford high-end laser equipment. We smaller shops are strapped with enough overhead as it is, and our markets won't bear the pricing needed to make a profit with the added cost of paying for mid-5 to low-6 figure machines. If you're lucky enough, you could monopolize a particular market and do well. but chances of that happening are rare ;) ...

Tony South
03-06-2019, 11:20 AM
any updates?

Tony South
03-14-2019, 4:31 PM
Any Update?

Mike Null
03-14-2019, 6:02 PM
My first Trotec had a 45w Coherent tube. No issues. I am in touch with the people who bought my Trotec and they are still using it without any maintenance expense. It was new in 2006.

I concur with Kev. I looked at Keyence several years ago and was very impressed with the equipment but it was well beyond what I could afford. The machine would have permitted me to do many things I can't currently do but it just wasn't right for me.

Ian Stewart-Koster
03-15-2019, 9:08 AM
6 figure salary? Keep it as long as you can.
Epilog/Trotec ? Don't forget ULS - and don't forget second hand as an option.
Dual capacity machines - nope.
Making $ from it ? OK what's the next joke? Experience takes time, and $ takes clientele with fussy tastes and needs.
Those two items cannot be bought or swapped. Familiarity with DESIGN is needed, and good design, and that's not the same as using MS Word or Publisher to set out a child's birthday card or an arrangement of clip art. Good layout and design skills can take years to hone.

Lasers are just tools, like quality chisels, hammers and a good workbench.
It is your ability to use the tools that makes all the difference, and can make, or just as easily break, you!

I wish you well with your learning curve!

Bruce Clumpner
03-18-2019, 2:48 PM
Since you don't have a maker space close by, I'd suggest a road-trip over to Epilog in Colorado. I've heard they're happy to show you the ropes with their equipment...

Daniel Perry
03-29-2019, 5:37 PM
No real updates to speak of. I've had several conversations with several different distributors and manufacturers. Still also very much up in the air on whether or not I am going to try and make a business of this. Call me very trigger shy, as I've already had one losing business, and I'm honestly scared to fail again.
Currently I'm looking at a TYKMA system, which would be a great starting system for firearms, I believe. I'm getting a demo, by a local representative, next week.
PS: Sorry my replies have been far and few between. I didn't get notifications, and the forum style was showing me the latest post was months ago, not days ago.

Chris DeGerolamo
03-29-2019, 8:57 PM
Dual capacity machines - nope.


^^This. (10 characters)