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Thread: To buy or not to buy

  1. #1

    Question To buy or not to buy

    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.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Iowa USA
    Posts
    3,286
    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.
    Retired Guy- Central Iowa. , LightObject 40w CO2 Laser and Chiller, MakerGear M2 3D Printer. Qe60+ Vinyl cutter. Fine Line Automation 4x4 CNC Router- Mach4 ESS

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill George View Post
    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.
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill George View Post
    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.
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    SE South Dakota
    Posts
    1,352
    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
    Epilog TT 35W, 2 LMI SE225CV's
    CorelDraw 4 through 11
    CarveWright
    paper and pencils

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Volden View Post
    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?
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    SE South Dakota
    Posts
    1,352
    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
    Epilog TT 35W, 2 LMI SE225CV's
    CorelDraw 4 through 11
    CarveWright
    paper and pencils

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Volden View Post
    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).
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Iowa USA
    Posts
    3,286
    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.
    Retired Guy- Central Iowa. , LightObject 40w CO2 Laser and Chiller, MakerGear M2 3D Printer. Qe60+ Vinyl cutter. Fine Line Automation 4x4 CNC Router- Mach4 ESS

  10. #10
    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

    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...
    ========================================
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle


  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill George View Post
    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!
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    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!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    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
    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).
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    NW Arkansas
    Posts
    1,488
    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.....
    Woodworking, Old Tools and Shooting
    Ray Fine RF-1390 Laser
    Ray Fine 20watt Fiber Laser
    PM2000, Delta BS, Delta sander, Powermatic 50 jointer,
    Powermatic100-12 planer, Rockwell 15-126 radial drill press
    Rockwell 46-450 lathe, and 2 Walker Turner RA1100 radial saws

    RIA 22TCM 1911s

  14. #14
    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.
    I own no lasers... I've never used a laser... I could really use some help.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Iowa USA
    Posts
    3,286
    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.
    Last edited by Bill George; 12-31-2018 at 6:47 PM.
    Retired Guy- Central Iowa. , LightObject 40w CO2 Laser and Chiller, MakerGear M2 3D Printer. Qe60+ Vinyl cutter. Fine Line Automation 4x4 CNC Router- Mach4 ESS

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