If you ask any DIY hobbyist what’s at the top of their wish list, chances are pretty high they’ll say laser cutter or engraver. As you’d expect, these exotic pieces use powerful lasers to carve materials or decorate them with designs. Like a 3D printer they are computer controlled and work autonomously once they have a design.

Laser cutters are not a new technology and have not caught the attention of everyone like 3D printers. However, they are incredibly cool and look a lot like 3D printers. prices have dropped to the point where they are now affordable for DIY enthusiasts.

Which brings us to the really interesting question: what should you get? What can you do about it? And most importantly, what should you do to ensure that you use them as safely as possible?

How to choose the right laser cutter or engraver for you

Laser cutters and engravers come in many shapes and sizes, and at different prices. At the very top of the spectrum are powerful ones that are widely used in heavy industry. These are the cream of the crop and include some amazingly powerful lasers. Some are even used in diamond cutting. But what really makes these laser cutters so valuable is their ability to consistently cut even the thickest materials with the highest precision. Of course, it goes without saying that this is beyond the reach of even the most well-to-do producer. hacker space hacker space

In the middle of the market, things get a little more reasonable. There are laser cutters designed for small businesses, enthusiastic enthusiasts and creators. They range in price from $1,000 to $5,000. They differ from cheaper devices on the market in that they have more workspace and many can cut A3 materials. They also have a more powerful laser which means it can cut through thicker materials faster.

Laser Cutters

But what if you don’t have $1,000 for a laser cutter? Luckily, there are plenty of bargain-basement devices out there, most costing between $60 and $500. At the bottom of the scale, you will most likely get a device that can only engrave a small area and can only cut paper or cardboard.

Gearbest, a Chinese-made affordable electronics retailer, is selling a NEJE 300mW laser engraving machine for just $65. This includes shipping to the United States. While it’s undoubtedly a big deal, it can only engrave images smaller than 38mm by 38mm. This limits what you can produce significantly.


If you spend more, you will get more. GearBest also sells a $315 5500MW laser engraver kit. It’s faster and boasts a significantly more powerful laser. However, its Achilles heel is that it must be collected. If you are looking for a non-standard solution, this is not the case.


There are many interesting offers on Amazon. They sell a branded laser cutter for just $470. This packs a closed cutting surface and can cut up to 35 millimeters deep (that’s just over an inch). It also has a much wider cut area. But it’s worth remembering that while it costs about four times as much as a NEJE cutter, it’s still a relatively cheap kit, and like many cheap gadgets from factories in Shenzhen, it’s saddled with terrible software.

What can you do with a laser cutter or engraver?

As we said earlier, laser cutters and engravers are still niche items. Because they don’t have the same profile as 3D printers, there aren’t many tutorials, guides, and recipes online. If you’re looking for inspiration on what to do, read on.

Factory labels

Our DIY editor, James Bruce, recently purchased a cheap laser engraver from GearBest. Almost immediately, he put together some wooden signs and engraved them with the plants, flowers, and vegetables that occupy his allotment.

Stick to

It’s much better than sticking a piece of paper to a lollipop. First, they are less prone to strong winds as they are much heavier. Since the signs are not written in ink, they will not work when it rains, as they inevitably do in England.

Custom iPhone Cases

Many people want their iPhones to reflect their personality. To do this, they customize it with all kinds of unique occasions and backgrounds. But if you really want to personalize your iPhone, you can give it a case that has been engraved with your own design.

It is not recommended to directly engrave your phone; Glass and metal are hard to wipe clean with a consumer grade kit, plus your phone is expensive. You don’t want to take unnecessary risks that could break your device. However, you can buy blank iPhone cases online with not much test. If you want a beautiful, organic finish, you can buy a wooden one. Wood is one of the materials that engraves very well, but if you decide to go this route, make sure you choose a wood case that is neither oily nor resinous.

If money is not an item, you can also engrave leather. They tend to be much more expensive, with a genuine leather iPhone case easily priced at $40. We’ll talk about the specifics of using leather later, but for safety reasons, you should make sure it’s real leather and not a synthetic version (often referred to as «pleather»).

It’s worth noting that if you don’t have access to a laser cutter or don’t feel comfortable with one to create your own design, you can always just order your own iPhone case online from VistaPrint or Casetify.

Leather Engraving

As I mentioned earlier, you can use a laser engraver to customize leather or suede, as long as it’s a genuine article. Fake leather, although significantly cheaper, is also not engravable and can produce nasty by-products that are dangerous to both humans and machines.

There are tons of really cool ideas on Reddit and YouTube. One of my favorites is to take an old old wallet and customize it by permanently imprinting your name or initials on it with a laser engraver.

If you are especially stylish, you can also have your belt custom made. This video shows you how.

Safe use of the laser cutter

Before you start using a laser cutter, you must remember one simple fact: if used incorrectly, there is a real risk that they can cause you great harm or at least you could damage expensive hardware. However, if you take a few simple precautions, you can greatly reduce any risk.

The first thing to note is that whenever you use a laser cutter or engraver, there is a significant chance of fire. After all, you are essentially taking an extremely powerful beam of energy and applying it to flammable materials (most commonly wood, though Styrofoam is incredibly flammable). It is for this reason that you should always have a CO2 fire extinguisher on hand at all times.

You can find them at almost any brick shop (eg Home Depot or B&Q in the UK) and many supermarkets. Unsurprisingly, Amazon also sells them, albeit at skyrocketing prices.

As is the case with 3D printing you also have to be careful what materials you cut. If you cut PVC (or any other vinyl for that matter), you will unintentionally release chlorine gas. This will mix with moisture in the air, creating hydrochloric acid, which is harmful to both humans and machines. As a general rule, you should always use the laser cutter in a well ventilated area. If you have a window, you should always keep it open.

ATX Hackerspace has a large list of items that should never be laser cut. These include polypropylene, fiberglass, coated carbon fiber, ABS, HDPE, and polycarbonate.

Finally, it goes without saying, but you should never put bare flesh in the path of the cutter’s laser beam. Many people recommend using safety goggles too. You can get a decent pair of laser goggles for around $40.

Do you have a laser engraver? Have you created anything interesting or unusual? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

Photo Credits: DoES Liverpool (Laser Cutters)

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