CNC Routers and CO2 Lasers: The Ultimate Duo

What Is the Difference Between a CNC and CO2 Laser Cutter?

The war between CNCs and CO2 lasers has been long and ongoing. Creators using these machines sometimes fail to see how much potential there is when using the two types as allies in the creation process, rather than as opponents. 

CNC and CO2 lasers often get compared, and there are many different opinions on which machine is the better option for hobbyists and businesses alike. 

Often, comparisons are directly made between the two types of machines and, depending on who you are talking to or the writer of the article you happen to be reading, one type will see a drastic advantage over the other for a myriad of reasons. The reality is, however, there are advantages to be found in both. Almost like puzzle pieces, their differing specs allow them to potentially compliment one another during a wide array of projects. When used in tandem, they become an incredibly valuable duo for any creator. 

Each tool has its pros and cons, which we will of course cover in this blog, but their potential synergy could be just what you’ve been looking for.

cnc router engraving machine cnc laser cutting

Different bits can also be used in the spindle to add more flexibility and create a greater range of carvings. It can cut a wide array of materials, including wood, metal, and acrylic. It can even cut substances like plastic and foam that a laser just can’t. These materials can release toxic fumes into the air when cut with a laser. When cutting with a CNC router, however, you only need to add a dust collector to do the job safely. 

While a CNC laser cutting machine is a powerful and useful machine, when it comes to accuracy in fine detail, a CO2 laser engraver is unparalleled. Using this in combination with the CNC machine can elevate overall craftmanship and make the final product a whole lot better.  

What Is a CO2 Laser Engraver?

A CO2 laser is a machine that uses amplified light rays with the help of mirrors and lenses to produce a strong beam of light that, combined with high heat, forms the laser. CO2 lasers excel at producing beautiful, finely detailed engravings and excel when used to create one-of-a-kind products and pieces of art. 

How Does a CO2 Laser Engraver Work?

The function of a CO2 laser is similar to that of a CNC router, in the sense that both use computers to pre-set a path that the cutter will follow. You create your design on the computer, then follows this path to engrave your design. With laser engraving, there is no direct contact with the material; instead, everything is cut using high heat, quickly engraving precise and detailed work. 

What Can I Do With a CO2 Laser?

With a CO2 laser, you can create really special pieces. What you can do is only limited to your imagination. From jewelry and home décor to everything in between, it works on a large number of materials. 

Some materials that can be used: 

  • Wood for things like keychains 
  • Laser-safe leather for things like custom patches for hats
  • Cardstock for custom packages 
  • Glass for example glasses with rotary attachments

You can laser engrave cylindrical objects like tumblers and wine glasses to make them one-of-a-kind and honor a person, organization, or event. Imagine creating a wedding decoration where each person has their own name engraved in their champagne glass, or making a piece of jewelry with your family crest. Any design you can imagine on an object, the laser engraver can help you make it into reality. The sky’s the limit!

Where Are They Commonly Used Today?

Many businesses use laser engravers as part of marketing creating merchandise engraved with their logos, while other businesses are completely built around their laser engravers’ ability to create specialized products engraved with unique and stunning designs.

Artists and other craftspeople can use these engravers to make their pieces special too, and many other industries have also started to see the benefits of using a laser engraver. 

CO2 lasers can do a lot, but they have their limitations. That's when the CNC router comes in. Its complementary skill set allows it to fill those voids left by a CO2 laser machine.

cnc cut metal parts

Can a CNC Router and CO2 Laser Work Together?

The CO2 laser can work in places where the CNC can’t be used, and the converse is also true. There are significant benefits to owning both machines. Where one falls short, the other can step in to compensate and get the job done to the highest standard possible. 

A CNC machine might be slightly less expensive when compared to a laser. But if you make sure to buy at the right place, you can get a lot more for your money and will no longer be limited by the types of materials you can use to cut or engrave. 

How Can the Laser Be Used on My CNC Projects?

When cutting certain materials, you might be left with detailing that the CNC can’t do as precisely as the CO2 machine could. You can cut out your 3D artwork, for example, and then use the laser engraver to do small custom work and detailing that will finish off the project the way you imagined it.

cnc laser cutting engraving machine for wood metal

When Should I Use a CO2 Laser Instead of a CNC Router?

We have already looked at times when the CNC machine works better than the CO2 laser. There are also times when the CO2 laser will work better than a CNC machine. This includes when creating detailed and precise cuts, when work needs to be done quickly and efficiently, and when you want to make a subtle engraving in pieces. 

The CNC router can cut any material, in theory, but there are some materials — for example, rubber and leather — that can be cut more efficiently and accurately using a laser. Acrylic will also be left with a flame-polished finish as opposed to frosted edges. 

Besides the types of materials that can be cut, a router can cut deeper and faster because the drill bit is normally stronger than a CO2 laser beam. But a laser will also allow you to create small detailed engravings on your CNC pieces that would have been otherwise impossible.

A Winning CNC-Laser Cutter Combo 

There is a place for both machines in the industry and the long-standing war between CNC routers and CO2 lasers should be truly over. Hobbyists, artists, and other businesses will greatly benefit from having both of these machines at their disposal once peace has been declared!

They have always been compared to each other, and people will always enjoy a lively debate about which machine is better. But in reality, they are the perfect duo when it comes to creating unique pieces that are finished to the highest possible standard.

cnc laser cut wood signs

Getting both of these machines can be expensive and confusing. But the experts at OMTech Laser are ready to help you choose the perfect laser cutting machine to fit all of your needs. OMTech gives you incredible value for your money — there are nationwide demo rooms where you can connect with other laser-cutting users and see demonstrations of our industry leading machines and discover the price point right for you!

Contact us today to find out more about the purchasing options we can offer and get your perfect cutting combo going.