3D Printing vs Laser Cutting and Engraving

What is Laser Cutting and Engraving? 

Laser machines produce tiny but powerful laser beams to superheat acute areas of a material surface. The laser beam melts or dissolves layers off the material surface to etch a permanent mark onto the material. Think of the laser as a chisel, but instead of chipping off pieces to get the desired result, the material being removed is superheated and vaporizes into a gas. Laser engraving machines are highly precise as it only heats the areas touched by the acute laser beam.

Unlike 3D machines or 3D laser printing, laser engraving machines are very user-friendly and easy to use for a beginner. You are easily able to control the image you want to etch on computer software like Lightburn or RDWorks. The software gives laser engraver operators complete control of the image being produced without worrying about their own ability to keep their hands steady during the process. Whether you want to laser cut, engrave or mark, wood, acrylic, metal or plastic materials, simply upload the image to be produced, set the right parameters, and let the computer guide the laser to create exactly what you are looking for.

Types of Laser Cutter Engraving Machines: Co2 vs Fiber Marking and Cutting 

Co2 Laser Cutter Engraver

CO2 laser machines function by running an electrical current through glass laser tubes filled with carbon dioxide. As the light bounces back and forth within the laser tube, its intensity builds like an echo in a narrow cavern. A CO2 laser engraver is perfect for hobbyists and small business owners due to their affordability and ease of use. This machine is also the perfect choice for small-scale arts and crafts projects, it can also be an asset to small laser businesses such as print shops that sell customized crafts.  A few craft ideas include laser engraved keychains, custom craft beer pint glasses, or even bottle and tumblers engravings

Fiber Laser Marker Engraver

A fiber laser marker works on a similar principle as a CO2 laser engraver. However, a key difference is that the fiber laser concentrates light into a narrower point, resulting in a higher intensity beam that can transfer more energy into the desired material. Therefore, fiber laser markers are commonly used for more industrial surfaces such as stainless steel, aluminum and hard plastics. Fiber laser marking only affects the very surface layer of material without impacting the surrounding area. This is particularly important where the material might be easily damaged or needs to preserve its mechanical properties (e.g. computer chips and structural components). This device can etch custom images, serial numbers or messages onto silverware, knives, watches, and other metal objects making it desirable for serious hobbyists.


What Are 3D Printers? 

3D printing utilizes CAD softwares to generate 3D design files to manufacture objects layer by layer. 3D printing is not a new concept to grasp, but there are still many people who don’t quite understand how the process works. 3D machines essentially work the same as a regular inkjet printer, where your nozzle head moves back and forth to dispense a layer of ink, but in this case, the process repeats itself thousands of times until the layers are stacked up and a 3D object has formed. 

3D Printing Industry and Usages 

The 3D printing industry has grown tremendously in the past few years, and it is projected to reach a value of $84 billion by 2029. There are many useful applications with a 3D printer machine. For example, it has completely changed the world of prosthetics body part production. The biggest selling point of 3D printers is that they are highly detailed and precise with their designs down to micromillimeters. Prosthetic body parts need to be customized specifically for every individual based on their body configuration and needs. With the introduction of 3D printing, the prosthetics industry is now able to mass produce materials that are tailor made to fit the unique geometry of someone’s body part. In the future, it will be used extensively in the construction industry for manufacturing housing and buildings with large scale 3D printers. It will also eventually make its way into the healthcare industry when 3D printing medical equipment or even internal organs and body parts become a possibility. 


3D Laser Printing? Different Types of 3D Printing Techniques

FDM 3D Printer 

Fusion deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing, is the most commonly used 3D printing technique as it is cheap and easily accessible. The 3D machine works almost like a robot operating a hot glue gun, layering plastic or wax until a 3D object forms. Powdered down filament solid materials are inserted into the 3D machine, the materials then melts through a hot nozzle and gets deposited into thin layers, layered over and over until a 3D object is built. It is exactly like 2D printing, but the machine nozzle moves up slightly each time and it reprints layers over and over again. This 3D printing technique is popular for models and prototypes made out of plastic. 

SLA 3D Laser Printer

Stereolithography (SLA) Laser Printing uses ultraviolet laser lights to harden and mold objects after it is doused with photoreactive cure resin, it then solidifies and forms the objects we are creating. This method of 3D laser printing manufactures objects at extremely fine details, much finer than FDM printing. It produces a highly intricate and detailed geometry, high feature resolution and top quality surface finish. This 3D laser printing technique is ideal for detailed engineering prototypes, concept models, complex machine parts, or even cosmetic materials. 

Polyjet 3D Laser Machines

Polyjet 3D laser printers are almost like a combination between both the FDM and SLA styled 3D printing system. You’d take drops of photo reactive polymer resin to have your machines built on FDm surfaces, and the resin drops are able to immediately harden with the use of ultraviolet lights. This process is repeated thousands of times to build objects from scratch. This 3D printing method is fast and highly precise, however it can get very expensive, and is very much unattainable for small businesses. It can maintain a high production volume speed whilst also maintaining excellent precision. 


Laser Cutting Advantages

Speed: Laser machines can operate very quickly. Depending on the desired precision that you want, a regular Co2 laser machine can engrave and cut materials at up to 600mm/s. Hence, it has high mass production capacity and can produce far more products a day than 3D printing or 3D lasers.

Affordability: Due to its high productivity rate and low cost for material, metal fabrication and processing with laser cutter machines are very cheap compared to other methods. If you are merely a hobbyist or crafter you can also opt for desktop sized CO2 laser engraver machines at a very affordable price. 

Convenience and Portability: There are many table top desktop Co2 and Fiber marking machines available that can easily fit in your office space. They are compact and light enough to transport in your backseat so you can engrave from anywhere at any time. All-in-one desktop laser machines like the OMTech Polar laser machine come equipped with inline duct fans, internal cooling system, and even two rotary attachments for etching on irregularly shaped objects. 

High ROI: There is potential to make a ton of money when starting your own laser business. As you discover your niche whether it be laser engraving kitchen appliances, water bottles or jewelry, it is easy to become profitable and make your investment back as there are so many different things you can do with a cheap laser machine. 


3D Printing Advantages 

Complex Designs: Laser cutter and engraving machines can only etch simple 2-dimensional designs. With a 3D machine, you can produce complex 3-dimensional objects made out of any material you desire based on your filament choice. The sky's the limit with what you can create with a 3D printing machine. 

Material Choices: There is a huge variety of materials that a 3D printer could input in order to recreate an object. From Inconel and carbon fiber filaments to thermoplastic elastomers, 3D printing enables working access to certain materials not suited for laser cutters. The downside though is that the filament materials could get quite pricey for mass production projects or if you work with more advanced materials like titanium or stainless steel. 

High Precision: The sheer accuracy and flexibility of 3D laser printer machines are a useful tool for many different industries. They are used extensively for rapid prototyping, creating accurate architectural or medical models of products within hours, saving big businesses lots of money on their product R&D processes.

Similarities Between 3D Printers and Laser Cutter Engraver Machines 

  1. Much like Co2 and Fiber laser machines, 3D laser printing methods such as SLS, DMLS or SLM utilizes ultraviolet laser beams as their main power source to shape, weld and solidify their products. They both use laser beams, but the difference is that laser engraving machines cut through thin materials with them and vaporize layers, while 3D laser machines fuse metal powder together and create layers with lasers. 
  2. Both 3D printers and laser cutter engraving machines are able to work with endless different materials to produce a limitless portfolio of possible products. They are able to fabricate and create with a wide range of metals, with that note, both 3D and laser machines have the technology to produce a variety of real-world engineering applications. 
  3. Laser cutting engraving machines and 3D printers are going to be utilized a lot more in the future. Society has advanced to a point where owning a laser engraving machine in your homes is deemed acceptable. In the future, I see both applications being highly relevant in construction, automotive, PPE, food, aerospace, medical and so many more industries. 


After reading this article, we hope you’ve learned the key difference between a 3D printer and a laser cutting engraving machine. Laser cutters are typically used to cut out or engrave shapes on materials, whereas 3D printers are mainly used for creating an object from scratch. You really have to determine your production niche and decide which options are the best for your needs. The facts remain highly subjective, both machine types can be used at home or at an  industrial caliber, perhaps you can even use them side to side to compliment one another. 

Purchase a Laser Machine Today

If you are serious about getting started in the laser engraving business, contact us at OMTech Laser. Our knowledgeable staff can guide you through the process and find you the right laser engraving machine to meet both your needs and your budget.