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Laser Engraver vs. Rotary Engraver, what is the difference?

A laser engraver etches or cuts the working piece using the heat of laser beam, while a rotary engraver uses different size tools. From the following comparison, you can find various profiles of laser engravers and rotary engravers.

CO2 Laser Engraver
Rotary Engraver
Working principle
  • Melts or vaporizes objects with a laser.
  • Cuts objects with rotary tools.
Control method
  • Controls power, speed, DPI, PPI, and printing modes.
  • Controls parameters such as router tools, rotary speed, feeding rate, cutting speed etc.
  • Different focal lenses are used according to different applications.
  • People use the standard lens mostly, except for special circumstances.
  • Many types of milling cutters and engraving tools are used.
Jigs and fixtures
  • No contact to the material is made during processing. Just place the working piece on the working area.
  • When mass production is needed, tools can be self-made.
  • Uses fixtures, jigs, and vacuums to fix the working piece.
  • Must plan the path of rotary tools ahead to avoid intervening with jigs.
Applicable materials
  • Suitable for non-metal materials.
  • Some metals can be engraved after being coated or anodized.
  • Suitable for most metal and non-metal materials.
  • Not suitable for soft or flexible materials, i.e., rubber, plastic, fabric, etc.
Working pieces
  • For its non-contact processing, the thickness of materials does not affect the working quality, but the focal length of the material does.
  • Within the range of effective focal length, the laser can engrave curved objects such as a mug.
  • If the material does not have a flat surface, it would be extremely difficult to engrave without a specially designed tool.
  • It is very difficult to engrave on curved objects.
  • When working with a laser, the heat created will cause smoke and debris. However, this can be greatly reduced by using an exhaust air ventilation system.
  • When working with rotary, a huge amount of dust and fragments will be produced (according to materials and working methods). Some materials may even produce odors due to the heat caused by the tool friction.
Processing characteristics cutting
  • After the laser focuses, the spot light equals to a 0.1mm router tool, therefore, it can accomplish delicate tasks.
  • Due to the characteristics of a laser, the cutting side will be tilted.
  • The cutting edge of some materials such as woods will be burnt, but if an acrylic is used, it will not need to be polished.
  • Due to its relative thickness, tools cannot accomplish delicate tasks.
  • Straight reamer can make a perfect cut when it is sharp.
  • The tools leave marks on the cutting path. If acrylic is used, it needs to be polished.
  • It needs a chamfer tool.
  • It can work with chamfer angle when a sharp tool is used.
engraving depth
  • Desired depth of engraving object is controlled by parameters adjustments of speed and power.
  • There will be no need to adjust any parameters as a desired depth is given.
Consumable items
  • Only lens and mirrors are consumable items.
  • With good care, those parts will maintain a long life.
  • Price of lens is higher than regular router tools, but cheaper than custom designed ones.
  • The main consumable items are knives. But some working tables are consumable as well because of the cutting job.
  • Huge consumption cost of tools because it would wear and tear during contact- processing.
  • The regular tools are not expensive, but custom designed tools are more expensive than the laser lenses.
Engraving characteristics
  • Laser engraver operates like a printer; it works with vector or raster images.
  • Working time is irrelevant to the file content, but dependent upon the working size.
  • The printer driver has a stamp module for easy stamp engraving.
  • It can engrave different grayscales in 2.5D mode, but the surface will not be as delicate as that of the router.
  • Adjusting the DPI can raise the output quality to highly delicate and detailed.
  • It works as vector engraving.
  • Working time is relevant to both the file content and the working size.
  • If the working precision of the machine is high enough, it can perform 2.5D engraving such as molding
Image engraving
  • Whether it is color or grayscale, importing graphics is fast and easy.
  • Engraving images is very difficult and time consuming. In addition, the engraving quality is not as delicate as what the laser can achieve.
  • Need to install printer driver.
  • It is compatible with popular software such as CorelDraw, AutoCAD, etc.
  • Only compatible with software that is expensive and not user-friendly.
User interface
  • It’s quite easy to operate once users have a basic knowledge of a drawing software.
  • Difficult to learn and special training is required.
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