LASER ENGRAVING SIDE HUSTLE SKILLS
It seems like everyone is doing a side hustle from home. With the advent of reasonably priced craft machines such as Cricut, CNC routers, and laser engravers, everyone is jumping into the game. This is a reasonably new phenomenon as well as desktop laser engraving machines have only been around a couple of years. There is one notable exception. The Chinese K40, CO2 laser.
I personally think every laser side hustle wannabe should be forced to own one of these first.
Modern, refined laser engravers do much of the heavy lifting for you these days. The K40 made you learn every single skill the hard way. It required a lot of tedious setup, and utilized a rag tag method of water cooling.
Early users had to draw their designs in Inkscape and the color of the line determined whether the software (K40 Whisperer) either engraved it, or cut it out. Additionally, just getting that machine set up, and aligned taught the user vital skills. The K40 forced you to learn the difference between vector and raster drawings. Having dirty lenses and mirrors were anathema to engraving success. DIY upgrades were often vital to keeping the machine operating within recommended parameters. Jumpers were installed on the main board which defeated safety measures such as detection of water flow. Wow! I’ve blogged about much of this in the past.
WHAT MAKES THE BEST LASER ENGRAVER?
The answer to that question can only be determined by examining how you intend to use your laser engraver. I’ll try to cover a few things in this blog that most people don’t think about before buying a laser. Here are some ways that a laser engraver can be used:
- For a Stay At Home business
- For a mobile business as a vendor at local festivals or flea markets
- As strictly a hobby device
- As a tool at your workplace
- As a way to supplement another machine such as a CNC (i.e. applying Makers Marks, logos, etc.)
If you decide that you are a Stay At Home user you can likely buy a larger, sturdier machine where speed may not be the most important requirement. Conversely, if you use your laser engraver as a mobile device you may desire a smaller, lighter, and more portable machine. The ability to make items quickly while customers wait could also be an important consideration.
USING MULTIPLE xTOOL LASERS WITH LIGHTBURN ON MAC
I have two xTool D1 Pro lasers and I thought it would be easy to hook the xtool’s to Lightburn on one computer. It wasn’t. While the solution is easy, the steps must be done in a specific order to make this work.
Using the xTool software, xTool Creative Space works perfectly. This is a Lightburn / Mac / USB issue.
Fortunately there is a way to make this work.
When I first started this I had the red D1 Pro 20 watt with the extended bed hooked up. It worked perfectly. Then I bought an xTool D1 Pro 10 watt and hooked it to the same computer.
This is when the trouble began.
Ortur vs xTool
Side hustle is a thing! One of the best side hustles going is laser engraving. In the world of desktop laser machines there are several purchase options out there but most users ultimately pare their selection down to Ortur vs xTool.
I own both an Ortur Laser Master 3 and an xTool D1 Pro. In the interest of full disclosure, xTool provided me a D1 Pro 20 watt kit to review, however in this article I’ll be mostly comparing the Ortur offering vs an xTool D1 Pro 10 watt, which I purchased with my own funds. Also in the interest of full disclosure I previously owned two Ortur Laser Master 2 machines.
Let the games begin!
Ortur Laser Master 3 Review
I’m a little late to the show on this one and the Ortur Laser Master 3 has been reviewed to death on the internet. It was released around mid-July 2022 so it took me around 5 months before I got my hands on one.
I previously owned two Ortur Laser Master 2’s and I considered the LM2 to be the first real viable, non-DIY desktop laser out there. I sold one of them about a month ago, and the other just a few days ago and took the proceeds from those sales and picked me up a Black Friday priced special.
I currently own an OMTech 50 watt CO2 laser and an xTool D1 Pro so the Ortur Laser Master 3 has some stiff competition. This blog will be strictly my first impressions and not an overall review of the machine.
First of all, while it was in the mail I watched all the assembly videos and read all the blogs and tried to get up to speed as much as possible. The Ortur Laser Master 3 has perhaps the easiest build of any desktop laser I’ve ever owned. However, there was one catch and that catch left me FUMING.
So you went out and bought yourself a laser engraver. Most people think they will just build the machine and start making money. But there are some tools and accessories out there that will make your experience a far better one.
NEIKO Digital Caliper
First of all, welcome to the world of precision. Your customers want their engravings centered. And in a certain spot.
And if you intend to do rotary operations, a set of calipers is a must have tool.
The only way to achieve precision is to own precision. You also need to measure material thickness frequently, and measure the size of your working area. You need a set of NEIKO Digital calipers.
These are great because they do both metric and imperial measurements and these calipers get really solid reviews on Amazon. The only thing that I will say about them is they take weirdo batteries, LR44, so pick up some spare batteries. And I recommend taking the battery out of it if you aren’t going to use it constantly.
I use calipers on a nearly daily basis while I use my laser engraver. Sometimes a tape measure will do, but calipers are king. And I’m a metric guy. Yeah, I was born and raised in Indiana but lived in Japan for about 16 years. I came to respect and admire the metric system. Say anything you want about the metric system but a precise millimeter measurement beats converting fractions to decimals ALL DAY LONG.
Updated xTool D1 Pro Review
NOTE: xTool provided me a D1 Pro + RA2 Rotary kit for review. All other accessories mentioned were purchased by me. xTool has never attempted to influence my review.
First of all let me expand on my note above. Had I not been impressed with the xTool experience I would not have purchased any accessories. So far I have bought an IR module, a Honeycomb kit , an Extension Kit with 1 additional Honeycomb panel, 8 risers, and a Laser Parts Kit. And now I’m eyeing the Air Assist kit because a friend of mine has one and it is SUPER quiet.
Also it pulls about 17 watts and the current LOUD air assist pump i use now pulls about 40 watts. If I run a job and I have any concern that a power loss would ruin the working piece……..I use a portable power supply such as a Jackery.
Anyway, I’ve had my machine about a month now and I have a few more things to say about it. Some may be things that I have mentioned before but have become more and more impressed with. But first here’s my setup:
Extension kit, anyone?
I added the Extension kit which makes this thing a beast with a working area of 430mm x 930mm (16.9″ x 36.6″). That’s over 3.5′ long!
I do some work with Live Edge planks of wood which are large. Typically, I make them for campers and they might have an engraving of a Compass, then the State they are from, and then the family name.
In the past I have had to treat this as 3 separate operations, moving the wooden plank and painstakingly set up each position. NO MORE! One and done, baby. So right off the bat let’s just say I love the size of the extension kit. Only one thing to note about the honeycomb panel is that it is possible when cutting to mark up your table where the two pieces butt up against one another. I may have to get some aluminum tape or something to deal with that seam. Or make a large plywood spoil board. Probably that’s the smart move.
xTool 1064nm Infrared Laser Review
I was provided an xTool D1 Pro + RA2 Rotary kit to review for xTool. The IR Laser reviewed below was purchased by me.
So I have been using lasers for a few years now however the ability to engrave metals has eluded me. One of these days I’ll probably pick up a proper fiber laser but I haven’t done it yet. Since I have an xTool D1 Pro 20 watt I decided to grab the xTool 1064nm Infrared Laser.
And as usual this blog will take you through the things that I have discovered while using it and not the typical unboxing video or walking you through the specifications.. The first thing that I discovered was that the box contained the xTool laser module and a power brick, however the power brick didn’t contain the cable that goes from the outlet to the brick.
At first I thought it was a mistake but the manual shows that the power cable is indeed NOT included.
It’s okay because I guess the presumption is that you already have a brick hooked up to the laser and you just swap in the new power brick.
This is all good but for $559 I kind of think you ought to get the cable.
Anyway, it’s a common cable and I probably have 10 of them laying around the house. No problem.
So I swap out the brick as per the instructions then later I see in the FAQ under #14 that if you own the D1 Pro 20 watt there is no need to even change the brick at all. As long as your brick is capable of outputting 100 watts it will be sufficient. This is not mentioned in the user manual.
Okay, it’s hooked up now so let’s take a peek at how it works!
NOTE: This blog is about using your laser for business and staying operational. If you want a hobby machine and don’t care about business buy an xTool D1 Pro kit. Period. End of story. You’ll thank me. If you want to be in business to make money and satisfy customers………….read on! Actually I still recommend the xTool offerings for business too. But I do discuss other options.
If you read this blog at all you know that one of the things that I have witnessed over and over again in my time with laser machines is what happens when they break. It does not matter:
- Who the manufacturer of the laser machine is.
- What type of laser (CO2, Diode) it is.
- What happened to break the laser.
You will see a frantic call for help that goes something like this: “My laser just broke and I have orders to fulfill and I am screwed.”
Then there will be a tirade about the company and their quality. Forget the fact that they ran an open flame for 10 minutes under a 1mm thick piece of optical glass with the alarms silenced (or something like that).
The REAL PROBLEM is not that your machine is broken, the REAL PROBLEM is that you were operating a business with no plan to prevent downtime. This blog will try to take a look at some of the real costs involved in staying operational.
This is uniquely frustrating and equally interesting, and also a cry for help. I’m researching laser history and while there is considerable reference material out there, none of it has anything to do with the timeline of hobby lasers or the timeline of consumer laser products beyond laserdisc players or laser printers, or barcode scanners.
There simply isn’t much documentation of the development of consumer grade desktop lasers. Forum discussions from the early 2000’s now point to a bunch of dead links. It would take considerable effort to rebuild that knowledge.
Best I can tell the consumer market started at least down this path:
The Chinese developed a CO2 laser that was cheaply made solely for purpose of making rubber stamps for your signature for official documents. But I have no idea when they first began making them. The CO2 laser was invented in 1963 and the oldest reference on the internet I can find for someone in the US buying one of these units is from 2008 off of eBay.
Current K40 laser
These things have been around at least since then, and maybe a couple of years before. Pre Pandemic you could get one for about $300. Now they are about $450 and currently are affectionately called the K40 as they are 40 watt CO2 lasers.
They originally came with a control board that only worked with software called Moshidraw and I can find no real timeline for that software development either. I believe that board was referred to as a Moshi board. The DIY folks began developing boards for these lasers and that continues to this day. Until recently I owned my own K40 and while they looked pretty polished the purchaser had to upgrade and mod these things to make them sing. You almost certainly had to add a control board that was compatible with laser software such as Lightburn.