(This post is still being updated. Make sure to come back and read again to keep up with the latest info. Thank you!)
Hello, there dear reader. Are you shopping around or learning about laser machines? If so, I’m sure at a certain point you have stumbled upon the two main types of laser machines out there: CO2 and Fiber laser. And now you’re probably wondering which type of laser machine will be better for you or your business and why. That’s great. Because choosing the wrong type of laser machine can be expensive in time and money for you or your business. Don’t worry because in this post we’re gonna cover everything there is to know about CO2 and fiber laser machines.
My name is William from SENFENG and today I will show you the difference between CO2 and fiber laser machines, and which of those is best for your business or project.
Little Market Background
So far, CO2 (carbon dioxide) laser machines, are the most widely used laser machines in the market. That’s because they have been in the market for a longer time than fiber laser machines and they are cheaper to buy at first.
Even though fiber lasers are newer in the market, their popularity has been increasing incredibly fast. And for good reason.
At a certain point, fiber laser machines were the new kid in the park that couldn’t perform as well as CO2 laser machines. Now though, fiber laser machines have not only caught up in performance to CO2 laser machines but now even surpasses their performance in some areas. People are buying fiber laser machines just as much, or even more now, than CO2 laser machines.
CO2 laser machines are not out of the game yet though. There are still some reasons you might want to buy CO2 laser machines. Because there are some things fiber lasers can’t do that CO2 machines can. And there are also reasons why you might want to buy fiber laser machines over CO2 laser machines. It all depends on your needs.
Let’s dig in and see what are the major differences between these two machines and which one is right for your business.
What Materials Can CO2 Lasers And Fiber Lasers Cut?
The good thing about CO2 laser machines is that they can work with a wide variety of materials. They can work with both metals and organic materials (non-metallic). Organic materials are things such as wood, acrylic, plastic, rubber, leather, and anything similar. Fiber laser machines mostly work with metals.
CO2 laser machines can’t work with all kinds of metals though. That’s because some metals are highly reflective by nature. By reflective nature, I mean that these metals are able to reflect (throwback) light/laser. It’s like pointing a flashlight at a mirror, the light will be reflected back at you. Metals like aluminum, copper, gold, brass, silver, and anything alike are highly reflective. If light were to be reflected back to a laser machine, it will damage it costing up to thousands of dollars to fix! So make sure you triple check that a laser machine you buy can work with the materials you need without causing any damage. The laser beam of a CO2 laser machine gets easily reflected back by highly reflective metals. Fiber laser machines have a laser beam with a much lower beam frequency, which basically means it can be absorbed much more easily and not get reflected by reflective metals.
(In reality, pretty much all metals are reflective in nature. It’s just that some are much more reflective than others.)
The shorter wavelength from fiber lasers might be able to work with all kinds of metals pretty well, but works poorly with organic/non-metallic materials. CO2 machines on the other hand can work with organic materials like wood or plastic. If fiber lasers were to be used on wood it can cause a fire. If It were to be used on plastic, it can melt it.
CO2 laser machines can work with metals as long as it has enough power (watts) to do so. You need about 25-150watts to engrave something like steel and about 300watts to cut it. CO2 lasers will also need to use oxygen as support to be able to cut these metals. Note that it takes less power (wattage) to engrave/mark materials vs cut them.
I made a list of the materials CO2 and fiber laser machines can work with. I highly suggest you double/triple check online and with the business you’re buying from, that the laser machine you’re buying is compatible with the materials you want to cut.
Materials CO2 laser cutters can work with:
- Matte Board
- Wood Veneer
- Painted Metals
- Anodized Aluminium
Materials fiber laser can work with:
- Non-semiconductor ceramics
- Coated and Painted Metal
- Carbon fiber
- Stainless Steel
How Much Does It Cost To Buy And Operate?
When buying a laser machine, figuring out the overall cost is something you’ll want to know to see if you’re making a wise investment. The overall cost means both how much the laser machine costs when you buy it plus how much will it cost to operate and maintain/repair over time.
The initial/upfront cost of fiber laser machines today is higher than that of CO2 laser machines. High-end fiber laser machines usually start at 40,000 dollars. CO2 high-end machines usually start at 10,000 dollars. Fiber laser machines, in general, will very likely cost more than CO2 machines with the same stats and features like power (watts), size, speed, and so on.
The initial/upfront cost is just part of the equation when figuring out how much a laser machine will cost you. You also need to consider how much will it cost to operate, maintain, and repair the laser machine. Some people make the mistake of only looking at the initial price of a laser machine but forget to calculate the cost to operate. maintain, and repair the laser machine over time. Don’t make this mistake, especially if you’re gonna be using the laser machine a lot.
Figuring Out The Overall Cost
Usually, CO2 laser machines cost more overall than fiber laser machines when used a lot over time. Here are a few things to consider when calculating the overall cost of a laser machine:
- Consumables: CO2 laser machines need gas (such as oxygen or nitrogen) to operate while fiber laser doesn’t. (Fiber lasers can use gas to get better cut quality).
- Power consumption: Fiber laser cutters are about three times more energy-efficient than CO2 lasers. That basically means that a fiber laser uses 3X less electricity for cutting the same stuff.
- Maintenance/cleaning of parts: CO2 lasers have parts like mirrors, turbines, and water tanks that need to be cleaned and serviced. If they’re not, they can break down and cost you money in repairs. So make sure you remember to attend to the needs of your laser machines. It can save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Repairs: CO2 laser machines have parts that are more likely to breakdown than fiber laser machines. It is estimated that it takes about 50,000 to 100,000 hours for a fiber laser machine to fail vs a CO2 that takes about 20,000 hours. Fiber laser cutters are what you call solid-state machines (it’s almost all in one piece). That means they have no moving parts. So the chances of something breaking down or not working properly are much lower.
- Lifetime: Every machine eventually breaks down… In general, high-end CO2 laser machines last about 10-15 years of usage. Fiber can last twice as long as that, if not 3 times.
Remember to keep these points in mind when trying to calculate the cost of the laser machine type you will choose. If you’re not cutting material very much and need to cut non-metallic stuff such as wood or acrylic, then CO2 machines will be your best option. If you need to cut a lot of metal, especially thin metals, then fiber laser will probably be your best choice.
There’s still one more thing you need to consider that can play a role in your overall laser machine. And that is time. You know what they say, time is money. How fast your laser machine works can play a big role in how much your investment is worth.
Cutting Speed – How Fast Can Your Laser Cut?
In general, when it comes to cutting thin (0-5mm or 1/4 of an inch) metal, fiber lasers are faster. A 2kW fiber laser machine can cut thin materials as fast as a 4-5kW CO2 laser machine. And, if the fiber laser machine has the same power as the CO2 machine, it will cut thin metals 2-5 times faster than that same CO2 machine. That’s because the laser of a fiber laser machine can be more easily absorbed by the metal it is working on, due to its really short wavelength. Also, fiber laser machines have a really high power density. This basically means they can deliver a lot of power in one spot, which means a fiber laser can cut through thin stuff like a hot sharp knife through butter.
CO2 laser machines seem better at cutting thicker metals that are 5mm and over. It seems like a longer wavelength of the laser is better at piercing through thick metal than the shorter wavelength that fiber lasers have. The long-wavelength works like a long sharp saw while the short wavelength works like a really sharp needle or drill. The really long sharp saw will be better at cutting thick stuff while a really sharp needle/drill will work better at piercing through thin stuff faster.
Cut Quality – How Smooth Do You Want The Edge To Be?
One advantage that CO2 laser machines have when it comes to cutting is that their cutting edge quality (sharpness/finer edge) remains consistent throughout all kinds of thickness in the material. That means that when you cut thin or thick materials, you won’t need to worry about the edge looking bad. Fiber lasers struggle to have consistent cuts as the materials get thicker.
Keep in mind that as time passes by, fiber laser machines are getting better. Today, the cut quality of fiber lasers in thickness is not so bad as back in the early days of fiber lasers. If you really want to get into fiber lasers but are worried about the cut quality, you should get the company you’re buying from to show you a demo. Here at SENFENG, we do just that. Anyone that is local we get them to walk in so we can cut out a sample of what they might need. This gives our customers the assurance that our machines will be able to successfully cut the products they need.
Safety – What Should You Look Out For?
Fiber laser machine lasers have a wavelength that can be much more dangerous to your body and eyes. You need to eye protection when using a fiber laser machine. That does not mean you shouldn’t do the same when working for CO2 machines though. CO2 machines can be as dangerous. So always make sure you wear eye protection and stayy 100% away from the laser. It is not a toy to play with.
Points To Consider When Buying A CO2 VS Fiber Laser Machine:
- Based on data I found online, the average cost of CO2 laser per day is $12.73/hour for a 4kW CO2 laser cutter. The average cost for a 4kW fiber laser cutter is $6.24/hour.
- The main uses for fiber laser machines are cutting thin metals (0 – 5mm) and metal marking, engraving, annealing, etching, and even wielding.
- CO2 laser machines are ideal for cutting, marking, engraving a wide range of non-metallic materials including plastics, textiles, glass, acrylic, wood, and even stone.
- Fiber laser machines take up less space than CO2 laser machines. CO2 laser machines require gas storage tanks, pumps, and pipes. Fiber machines are far more compact, by comparison.
Conclusion – So… Which One Should You Get?
Sooo…. What kind of laser machine should you get? CO2 or fiber? It all depends on your business requirements. (Check out this post where I talk about how to figure out the requirements you need for your business before buying a laser cutting machine).
If you’re gonna be cutting/engraving organic or non-metallic materials, then you will off course go look for a CO2 laser cutting machine.
If most of your production will be dealing with thin metals, you might consider investing in a fiber laser machine. With a fiber laser machine your production will be faster and your cost overtime will not be as high as with CO2 laser machines. Also, if you’re gonna be dealing with reflective metals (aluminium, copper, brass, silver, gold), then fiber laser is the choice to go.
One thing I’ve seen people consider is they would first buy a CO2 laser machine since they have low production and might need to use a wider variety of materials to work with. And then once their metal production increases, they will get a fiber laser to keep up. This might be something you will want to do.
One last thing. Before ever buying a machine, make sure you always double or even triple check other online sources. Also, double and triple check with the business you’re buying from to see if the machine you buy fulfills the needs of your business. Thank you for reading and hope you pick the best machine for your business.