Laser cutter vs 3d printer, what are the differences?

When it’s about making 3D models, you get two kinds of options. You can either use a laser cutter to cut and engrave items or use a 3D printer to print the models. Now, the trouble begins with choosing a laser cutter vs. 3d printer.

That’s why I am here to help you out with that. I will go through all the details of both the methods and give you a little comparison. So, you can figure out which one is better for your needs, as I don’t think anyone is superior to the other.

Without wasting any time, let’s get on with it.

Laser cutter vs. 3D printer

While the purpose of both laser cutter and 3D printer is pretty much the same, the process is different. And the differences between both these ways are evident as well.

Using a 3D printer, you can create models and items by creating layers after layers. It’s an additive process of manufacturing. You take some base material that works as the ink or raw material for your making model.

On the other hand, a laser cutter cuts down a material to reshape it into something you want to create. It’s a subtractive form of manufacture. Here, you take a larger portion of the base metal to cut into the shape you want to make from it.

Now, in both methods, you are using a base material. But their forms are a bit different.

3D printing

In the 3D printer, you are using the base materials in a smaller portion. To make it easy to understand, here’s an example.

Consider the base metal for 3D printing as ink. And whatever you want to make is art. You load the 3D printer with the ink or base material and put your design on it. Then it will create the design in a 3D form which is your end product.

So, what you are doing here is adding the little portions or components of the filament to create your models. Those filaments add up layer by layer to give you your 3D model.

Laser cutting

In the laser cutting process, you will be using a material that has to be larger than what you want to make. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you want to make a model using wood. So, you have to take a large piece of wood and then draw the design you want to make on it. Then you have to put it in the laser cutter, which will follow the drawing and cut the wood into your desired design.

What you are doing here is, essentially, cutting down the source material to carve the design. So, it’s pretty obvious that the source material has to be larger than what you will make as you are subtracting from it to make your desired model.

Now, the real question is which one is better? And which one should you go for? To find that out, I will list out some benefits and some issues with both the processes. So, let’s go through them quickly.

Benefits of using a 3D laser printer

First, let’s check out what benefits you get from using a 3D printer-

Great for making prototypes

You can use 3D printers to make prototypes. They are a great way to create prototypes for projects that you will be working on. Especially if you have to make tiny prototypes, then 3D printing is the best way to do so. Also, it doesn’t take too much time to make prototypes through 3D printing.

Once you see the results of the prototypes, you can even go for the finished good in this method. The product development process becomes much better.

Less waste of material

In 3D printing, you will be using the amount of material your project needs. It doesn’t usually have any material wastage whatsoever. That’s mainly for the additive manufacturing aspect of 3D printing. So, this is a great way to get the best value of the material you are using.

Making complex designs are much easier

3D printing is a great way to make complex designs with the best possible precision. If you have a quality 3D printer, you can get complete details on the most intricate designs possible. It doesn’t matter what the size of your model is; you can get the tiniest bit of detail with a good-quality 3D printer.

And to get that, all you have to do is figure out the right settings for the project and upload the 3D printing file. Learning the best settings is fairly simple, so you won’t need to worry about that.

Variation of materials

This has to be one of the most important benefits you can get from 3D printing. There are so many types of materials that you can use for 3D printing. Different ones have different features. These features can serve different purposes you may require from your model.

For instance, if you want some strength and resistance in your model, you can go for 3D metal printing. If you have to make prosthetic body parts, you can rely on resin materials.

It’s safer to work with

Working with 3D printers doesn’t come with many risks. Especially as an adult, you will know what safety measures to take while working with a 3D printer. And trust me, it’s not many. Also, the risks involved with 3D printers aren’t that much either.

Now, it’s not all good for 3D printing. You still get some drawbacks in the 3D printing process. Here are a couple of them-

  • The 3D printing process is quite costly. First of all, a quality printer is usually comes a bit expensive. Then there is the constant cost of filament. Some filaments can be costly, for example, resin. So, you have to get into 3D printing, knowing that it can be costly.
  • Learning the proper settings of a 3D printer can be pretty tricky. Without proper settings, you will be wasting a lot of materials in the 3D printing process. This is something you wouldn’t want to face at any cost.

Benefits of using a laser cutter 

Now, it’s time to check out the benefits of using laser cutters for your projects-

It is beneficial for bigger projects.

Laser cutting is a great solution if you want to make some large-sized models. You can use the laser cutter to cut individual parts of the model and assemble them one by one. You get excellent precision and finishing on the cuts using a laser cutter.

All you have to do is place the material in the perfect position. And load up the design that you want to cut out from the material. Start the laser cutter and let it do its job. It’s that simple.

This is a cost-effective process.

To use a laser cutter, you don’t have to spend on anything else except the machine. Once you get the laser cutter, that’s enough to cut the materials you want.

Now, what kind of laser cutter you get depends on the type of projects you do. Depending on that, the price of your laser cutter may vary. But usually, a quality laser cutter comes expensive.

A variety of materials to work with

As you don’t have to use a particular material type as a source, you get the option to work with various materials. The best material to use a laser cutter on is wood, which also comes at a lower cost. Plus, you get strength and durability in your structures. And you are not only limited to that.

If you have a powerful laser cutter, you can even cut through metal, stainless steel, aluminum, and so on. Aside from that, there are so many types of material, such as plywood, MDF, acrylic, etc.

Laser cutters are fairly easy to use

The learning curve with a laser cutter is way less than other options. Usually, laser cutters are much more intuitive, which makes them very easy to use. You don’t need to worry about different sorts of settings. Knowing the speed and power parameters are enough for laser cutters. Also, finding out the perfect settings isn’t difficult either.

Once you get the perfect settings, it’s straightforward from thereon. You load up the design and place the material in place. Startup the laser cutter, and it will do its job flawlessly.

Getting fast and accurate results.

Laser cutters yield a faster and more accurate result. You don’t have to spend a whole to get a project done. You can do that within hours. Depending on the power of your laser cutter, the duration may vary. But usually, it’s much quicker than you would expect.

Also, the accuracy you get is top-notch. As the laser beam can get very pointy and accurate, the overall precision of the operation is amazing as well.

Apart from all these benefits, there are some drawbacks to using laser cutters as well. Here are some things that may not be satisfactory about the process-

  • Laser cutting isn’t the safest option to use. You have to go through quite many safety measures to ensure that you are doing it safely. Also, it can get very risky to do at times. So, you have to make sure the machine has some safety features; also, you are taking all the safety precautions.
  • With laser cutting, you will be wasting a lot of material. In most cases, the model you want to make will be cut from the actual material size. So, anything besides the model is a waste of material. And, as the cut will be from the center, you won’t be able to use the rest of the materials for later use.

How Do You Turn a 3D Printer into a Laser Cutter?

Here’s a cool thing you should know about 3D printers. They are upgradeable most of the time, and you can turn the printer into a laser cutter. Sounds intriguing, right? I will tell you how you can do that as well. So, let’s get going.

  • To turn your 3D printer into a laser cutter, you will have to use some modules for your 3D printer. This particular module is called the endurance laser module. Now, before you get into this, make use of your 3D printer has laser feature.
  • All you have to do here is mount the laser to your printer. For that, you will get an adapter with the module that attached the laser to the printer head. Then you have to reduce the power of the control box to make sure the laser runs properly. Also, reduce power to the fan output of your laser and your printer as well.
  • Finally, use the proper g-code for your laser module and your printer to work. Make sure to hook up the laser module properly and see if the print carriage is mounted or not. Once everything is done, you can control your laser associated with the printer.

The process isn’t very difficult, but it may not be the thing for a beginner. So, I wouldn’t suggest any beginners trying this out. Also, this isn’t compatible with all the 3D printers out there; you can get this on some of them. Make sure your 3D printer is compatible with the module before doing anything to it.

Wrap up

In short, there is no clear winner when you think about laser cutter vs. 3D printer. A laser cutter is a better choice when you are working with large projects. Also, it’s great for heavy projects, as it can save up a lot of time for those projects with the power it comes with.

On the other hand, a 3D printer is a great option if you want to make some quick models and prototypes. Making huge structures with 3D printing can take up a lot of time. Also, it can get costly with a 3D printer.

However, the decision gets much easier when you consider what you are making. If you have to make something on a flat surface, a laser cutter will do just fine. But if it’s not something flat, then you have to go for a 3D printer. Because assembling the laser-cut parts can be troublesome.


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