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Differences Between CO2 and Fiber Lasers

Business owners, artists, and hobbyists who want to get into laser cutting, etching, or marking have two options at their disposal. They can purchase either CO2 lasers or fiber lasers. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so buyers should do their research before purchasing a new machine. Read on to find out about the key differences between these two popular types of lasers.

Absorption Rates

Laser wavelength and angles of incidence both influence absorption rate. Fiber lasers have wavelengths of just one micron, versus 10 microns for CO2 lasers. The angle of incidence varies based on the thickness of the material and the distance between the beam and the material, so this variable is easier to adjust.

As a general rule, fiber lasers are faster than CO2 lasers when the angle of incidence is low. CO2 lasers provide better results with higher angles of incidence. While fiber laser cutters can cut through thicker sheets, CO2 lasers leave a smoother surface finish.

Typical Applications

Fiber lasers are often used for metalworking. Their highly concentrated power is perfect for cutting even reflective metal without damaging the machines. However, that same power can create complications when people want to cut, mark, or engrave other materials.

CO2 lasers can’t cut reflective metals, though they work fine with non-reflective ones. They’re perfect for more versatile applications, though. Their wavelengths provide less concentrated power that can manipulate materials ranging from wood and glass to plastic, fabrics, and even films.

Speed and Precision

Fiber lasers take the day when it comes to making quick, precision cuts in thin metals, but they don’t perform as well with thicker materials. CO2 lasers cut straight lines through thick materials faster than fiber lasers and produce more consistent and precise results. They’re not as good at cutting more intricate shapes.

Efficiency and Operating Costs

Fiber lasers don’t require warm-up times and tend to be more energy-efficient while in use. The average fiber laser cutter uses just a third as much power as its closest CO2 analog and requires far less frequent maintenance. Over time, that can help to make up for their much higher price tags.

Unfortunately, most hobbyists and small business owners don’t have it in their budgets to buy fiber lasers. They may be better off purchasing a CO2 laser instead, provided they don’t intend on cutting reflective metals.

Safety Concerns

Working with any laser machine can pose a safety hazard for those who don’t know what they’re doing, but the risks are greater with fiber lasers. They create blinding light that can cause permanent retinal damage if proper safety precautions aren’t followed. CO2 lasers emit a different wavelength of light that will not pose a danger to operators’ sight.

How to Make the Right Choice

Choosing the right type of laser cutter requires careful attention to its users’ intended purposes. Hobbyists and small business owners are usually better off buying CO2 lasers from Boss Laser, while industrial parts manufacturers and specialized metalworking shops often purchase fiber lasers. For those who have it in the budget, consider buying both a fiber and a CO2 laser for maximum versatility and productivity.