Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Laser Engravers: Why You Need Both
How a Fiber Laser Works With Your CO₂ Laser Engraving Machine
There are many differences between a fiber laser and CO₂ laser, and if you want to determine which laser engraving machine is better, you may be surprised to learn that both laser machines can work together to expand your laser engraving capabilities.
Fiber lasers, also called galvo laser engravers, are utilized for laser marking and engraving metals and hard plastics. CO₂ lasers engravers work best with softer materials like wood, acrylic, rubber, and much more. CO₂ laser engraver owners can instantly expand their laser engraving materials list by acquiring a galvo laser.
This fiber laser vs CO₂ laser engraver guide will detail the differences between the two lasers and teach CO₂ laser engravers why adding a fiber laser to their workshop can advance your laser engraving business.
My CO₂ to Fiber Laser Story
I got my 60W CO₂ laser (MF2028-60) in March 2021, and I quickly found myself loving the ability to engrave and cut a variety of materials. At one point early on, I got a large order for 150+ powder coated mugs. For this round surface engraving, I would need to use my laser rotary attachment all day long.
I had to put all my laser engraving projects off for two weeks, as it was taking me 14 minutes to laser engrave each mug. I did have some friendly people from the online laser communities who were kind enough to help test my files and were able to run speeds of 9-12 minutes. That was still a lot of time when you have dozens of mugs to do. It took me a good week to get my rotary axis dialed in, and then I spent 6 to 8 hours a day running mugs like there was no tomorrow.
OMTech 30W Fiber Laser is 5 times faster than 60W CO₂ Laser*
*when laser marking powder coated metal
Then, I saw a video from another creator on Instagram who mentioned he was laser engraving mugs in under a minute on his 20W fiber laser marker. I pushed this aside for a while, continuing with my work until another large order came around. At this point, I was so busy with my CO₂ work, I figured now that my CO₂ laser was all paid off, I’d invest in a fiber laser, or galvo laser engraver, with a rotary attachment to laser engrave mugs faster. I ended up purchasing my 30W fiber laser (model FM7979-30) in the fall of 2021 and started off with an order of 60 mugs. I was amazed that what was taking me 14 minutes on my CO₂ laser took about 2 minutes with my fiber laser. It was a night and day difference. My galvo laser engraver is now my dedicated mug machine.
My biggest challenge was learning how to use fiber laser software — EZCAD. I’m a Mac user and ended up using a Windows-based laptop my Dad had available that I could install the EZCAD software on. There are many new things to learn with fiber laser software, like frequency, loops, polygons, and all that fun stuff. I purchased a pre-existing library from a creator because I wanted to avoid the trial and error of finding the best laser settings.
If you’re familiar with Lightburn software for CO₂ laser engravers, you will be happy to know that LightBurn is planning to release a galvo laser software for fiber lasers in the near future.
Fiber Laser Engraving Tips: How to Switch from a CO₂ to Fiber Laser
Adding a fiber laser engraver to your laser engraving business can not only bring new product offerings, but can also enhance what you already have with your CO₂ laser engraver. For example, if you were in the same boat as me and don’t want your CO₂ being held up by lots of mug work, a fiber can take that over. Better yet, if you have a very large mug order, you can run both the CO₂ laser and the galvo laser at the same time (with separate laser rotary attachments for both machines).
From my personal experience, setting up the fiber laser engraver wasn’t hard. It was a simple matter of unboxing it, plugging it in, loading up the software, and I was ready to go. The biggest setup issue I had was the engraving being off-center from where the light was, but I quickly learned how to adjust the red light pointer in the configuration panel. Other than that, it was a matter of learning what focal height worked best for what material and so on.
I ended up laser marking some clear tape and color-coding it, putting it next to certain settings I liked. For example, when I engrave on the laser rotary attachment, the focal height is much higher than something flat.
Learning how to dial in my settings was a bit challenging, but there are a lot of helpful blogs and Youtube videos out there. I also purchased my library set from a galvo laser creator within the community. To me, it was best to support other makers and have something in my pocket to reference moving forward.
Offer More Products with a Fiber Laser vs CO₂
You can open up new markets and customers by adding a fiber laser marking machine to your arsenal. New product offerings can help grow and expand your business in new and fun ways. Not to mention, a lot of people seem oddly curious about metal marking. I've had people reach out simply because they wanted more durable metal keychains instead of wood or acrylic.
What can I do with a fiber laser engraver?
These are a few products you can customize with a fiber laser engraving machine:
- Custom engraved jewelry
- Charm bracelets, necklaces & rings
- Custom engraved metal keychains
- Calendar keychains for weddings, engagements, anniversaries, and more!
- Powder Coated products
- Marble coasters & cutting boards
- Photo-engraved tiles
- Aluminum metal business cards
What’s the Difference Between a Fiber Laser and a CO₂ laser engraver?
Using a fiber laser marker is drastically different than a CO₂ laser engraver. With a fiber laser, you don’t have to adjust any laser mirrors or level the bed. At the moment, the software is also limited to Windows (unless you run a virtual machine on Mac), however, that will be changing in the future once LightBurn releases their new laser software for fiber lasers. Below is a side-by-side comparison of the fiber laser vs CO₂ laser specs and uses.
Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Laser Machine Differences
CO₂ Laser Engravers
Which software can you use with CO₂ lasers?
RDWorks (Windows only)
LightBurn (Mac + Windows Compatible)
Setup and testing include:
- Chiller/ Bucket for Cooling system
- Tubing for exhaust
- Bed Leveling
- Mirror Alignment
- Ramp Test
What materials can a CO₂ laser engrave/cut?
Materials you can engrave/cut with a CO₂ laser:
- Laser safe Leatherette
- Veg Tanned Leather
- Paper & Cardstock
- Food (if you have a dedicated laser!)
Other concerns with CO₂ lasers:
- Larger workbed sizes available, depending on the model
- Laser is enclosed with a lid
- Venting the exhaust is needed and mandatory
Safety Equipment for co₂ lasers:
- Special rated glasses
- Fire extinguisher/ fire blanket
Optional Upgrades for CO₂ lasers:
- Inline Fan
- LightBurn Camera
- Rotary axis
- Air Assist
Fiber Laser Machines
Which software can you use with fiber lasers?
EZCAD (Only Windows Compatible at the moment)
LightBurn is scheduled to release fiber laser software in 2022
Setup and testing include:
- Plug it in
- Turn on the 3 switches
- Take off the lens cover
What materials can a fiber laser engrave?
Materials you can engrave with a fiber laser:
- Hard Plastics
- Granite/ Marble
- Stainless Steel
Other Concerns with Fiber lasers:
- Smaller workbeds
- Laser is wide open and has no kind of lid (unless you DIY your own)
- Exhaust is optional, but highly recommended especially if you work with powder coated products
- Only need special safety glasses (provided with an OMTech machine)
Optional Upgrades for Fiber Lasers:
- DIY Enclosure
- Exhaust (you can get a portable exhaust and/or DIY your own)
- Rotary axis
Setting up a new CO₂ laser requires more steps than setting up a fiber. Another interesting thing I would like to point out is the OMTech CO₂ laser engraving machines are flatbed lasers while the fibers are galvo lasers. Flatbed lasers shoot the beam through various mirrors aligned on the different axes within the laser while the galvo has a dynamic internal mirror that rotates with specific drives. That is why galvo laser engravers are so much faster than CO₂ laser engravers. While there are galvo CO₂’s out there, they are not nearly as common as their flatbed counterparts.
Another added bonus with fiber lasers is the light function — you can actually see an outline of where your engraving will take place with the design in all, unlike the CO₂ where you just have the pointer light.
Laser Software Differences Between CO₂ and Fiber Laser Engravers
While Lightburn laser software is the most popular program for CO₂ laser engravers, most fiber lasers use EzCad software. As I mentioned before, my biggest hurdle was understanding EzCad software and how it worked. It is a lot different than LightBurn, but once you familiarize yourself with its functions, it gets easier to use.
When I started, there wasn’t much for resources available that were in English (my native tongue). I ended up subscribing to various Youtube channels where I was able to grasp how some of the different functions worked. When it comes to learning how to laser engrave with a fiber laser vs CO₂ laser, there are more educational resources out there for CO₂ laser engravers.
I also use my laser software secondary to my design software. I usually draw in Procreate, bring it into Adobe Illustrator and convert it to a vector there.
Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Laser Power: Watt Ratings Comparison
Are Fiber lasers more powerful than co₂ lasers?
Fiber lasers are not necessarily any more powerful than co₂ lasers. Fiber lasers are simply better absorbed by harder materials because they have a low wavelength of 1,060 nm that is more easily absorbed by metals and other hard materials. Because CO₂ lasers have a relatively high wavelength in the 10,600 nm range, the laser beam will actually bounce off most metals.
However, you can use laser marking agents to mark metals with co₂ lasers.
Can fiber lasers cut metal?
OMTech fiber lasers do not cut metal. For laser cutting metal, you would need an industrial fiber (around 2000W or higher) and/or a plasma cutter or water jet. Galvo lasers can, however, achieve some engraving depth of roughly 1mm on softer metals.
What types of galvo lasers are there?
OMTech offers two basic styles of galvo laser machines: split fiber and non-split. Both laser machines have most of the same specifications internally. The only difference is with the non-split, it’s a rolling and portable version that allows you to set a computer and monitor up if you choose. I ended up going with the non-split version simply because it was portable and I could use the inside as storage for all my fiber-specific materials.
Fiber Laser Engravers: How many watts do I need?
Which wattage fiber laser is best for me?
The OMTech CO₂ lasers range from 40W all the way up to 150W, whereas the fiber laser marking machines range from 20W to 50W. As with the same rule, the bonus of the higher wattage means faster speeds and more engrave depth. For the average user who wants to engrave simple metals and jewelry, a 20W or 30W fiber laser will provide sufficient power.
If you need deep engravings — or if you plan on doing anything with firearms — a 50W fiber laser will be the best option for you.
Fiber Laser Field Lenses: Which F-theta lens size do I need?
Most galvo fiber laser engravers come with special F-Theta lenses, sometimes called galvo lenses (short for galvanometric scanning). Galvo, or galvo head, actually refers to the galvo scanning head, which is a set of two mirrors on motorized mounts that bounce the fiber laser beam through the laser lens in coded movements that create your laser engraving artwork. Through the galvo scanning motors and with the help of EzCad laser software, you can manipulate the laser beam to mark and engrave incredible images, logos, text, and just about anything you can imagine.
However, there are additional F-theta lens options you can purchase, which may be worth it depending on the use you have in mind.
Which fiber laser F-theta lens size is best for me?
The size of the field lens corresponds to the laser marking area. Smaller lenses concentrate the laser beam in a smaller area, making them more powerful than larger lenses (of the same wattage laser). Larger lens sizes distribute the laser beam over a larger area, so they lose some power at the same wattage. For example, if you wanted to maximize your laser power, you could potentially put the smallest lens on the strongest fiber laser.
If you care more about laser engraving large metal designs, you could potentially maximize your marking area by placing the largest lens on a less powerful galvo laser engraver.
OMTech Fiber Laser Markers come with the following lens sizes:
- 20W fiber lasers — 110mm f-theta field lens with 4.3” x 4.3” (110 x 110mm) marking area
- 30W split fiber lasers — 175mm f-theta field lens with 6.9” x 6.9” (175 x 175mm) marking area
- 30W non-split cabinet fiber lasers — 200mm lens with 7.9” x 7.9” (200 x 200mm) marking area
- 50W split fiber lasers — 200mm lens with 7.9” x 7.9” (200 x 200mm) marking area
- 300mm fiber laser field lenses are also available with a larger marking area of 11.9” x 11.9” (300 mm x 300 mm. This lens is great if you have a curved surface — you don’t have to use a laser rotary attachment. I've seen people say it can get around the corners more than a standard f-theta lens can.
Optional Upgrades for Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Lasers
Fiber Laser Rotary Attachments
As mentioned above with the in-depth comparison, the main fiber upgrade you will want to look into is the laser rotary attachment. The fiber allows for a chuck rotary attachment, while the CO₂ offers a chuck style and 4 wheel rotary axis. One of the advantages of the fiber’s chuck rotary is it will allow you to engrave on extremely tiny things, such as rings.
Fiber Laser Fume Extractors
Exhaust is another upgrade you can do for your fiber laser and is a good call to do if you plan on doing any powder coated engraves, especially mugs. OMTech makes goose-neck fume extractors that you can use which will vacuum up the fumes, just position it behind your work area. I've also seen some great DIY enclosures that involve a plexiglass or acrylic box around the main work area which offers a cut-out hole that hooks up to a tube and inline fan, venting outside.
DIY Laser Engraver Enclosures
I have a plan to eventually make my own DIY laser engraver enclosure in the future because I’d prefer my machine to have some DIY laser shielding for better laser safety. My goal is to have a split connector sharing my current CO₂ laser inline fan and have it also hook up to my galvo laser engraver. At the moment when I run a powder-coated job and/or any job that produces a lot of fumes, I open up the doors (5 feet from my fiber laser), run a fan on high to blow fumes towards the doors, and wear a respirator with dual filters in the meantime.
Laser Safety: Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Lasers
Fiber Laser Light Protection: Certified Laser Safety Glasses
Laser safety with a fiber laser vs CO₂ laser is similar, although fiber lasers require additional safety measures. Because OMTech fiber laser engravers have open workbeds with no protective enclosure, you MUST ALWAYS wear specialized laser eyewear anytime you fire up your fiber laser. OMTech provides a pair of these special glasses with their fiber lasers, so you can start laser engraving right away.
CO₂ laser engravers from OMTech have fully enclosed workbeds with a transparent window cover coated in a protective sepia tint. The enclosure and tinted acrylic window provide sufficient eye protection from laser light, as well as a convenient hookup for exhaust ventilation.
Fiber Laser vs CO₂ Laser Engraving Exhaust Systems
Since fiber lasers have open workbeds, it’s important to have adequate ventilation — like a laser fume extractor or DIY laser exhaust system — especially if you are running any powder coated jobs. When powder coatings are heated and vaporized, they burn off harsh chemical coatings that you really don’t want to inhale.
One exhaust method is to run your fiber laser in a plein-air garage setting with a powerful household fan blowing across the laser work area and out the open garage door. While this setup is popular and can be successful, it is not recommended for galvo laser engraving.
I use a full-face Honeywell respirator (they have three sizes) and the dedicated cartridge filters. This was the PPE recommended to me a couple of years back when I joined the resin community because of the multi-use cartridges and full protection of a fill face. With the cartridges as well, they serve a dual purpose for fumes and for debris like sanding, so I use this respirator for other uses as well (painting, staining, resin work, powder coated laser jobs, etc). If you do plan on purchasing a respirator, make sure you perform a FIT test prior to any use and make sure you purchase the correct filters for whatever the use is that you have planned for them.
One of the tests that I was advised to try, is when you have your respirator on with your filters in place, open up a bottle of rubbing alcohol and/or something very strong smelling. If you can smell it through the mask, the respirator is either not fitted correctly (try to tighten it more), and/or the filters are bad. If you just opened the filters and they are new and you have adjusted your mask, chances are you will need a different size.
You must have a snug fit — you don’t want any air getting into that mask. It can almost feel suffocating at first, but you do get used to it. I also don’t advise wearing it for long periods of time as you can overheat. I only wear mine when I run certain jobs and try to not have it on for more than a half-hour. When filters are not in use, make sure to store them in an air-tight ziplock with the air removed as best as you can. Most filters are good for roughly 40 hours of use.
Pro Tip: If you are doing a long or deep engraving job on metal with your fiber laser, the metal can heat up and burn you if you pick it up too soon after a job has been completed.
Buying a fiber laser vs CO₂ laser engraver can help expand your business, offer new products, and open up a whole new world of project possibilities. Fiber lasers can work hand in hand with their CO₂ laser counterparts and can add huge value to your laser engraving business. Not to mention, the ability to engrave more materials and surfaces with a galvo laser engraver at faster speeds can expand your product offering while also speeding up your production time. The CO₂ vs fiber laser engraver debate is not a winner/loser comparison — the two laser machines have their own specialties that make them both indispensable to any serious DIY laser engraver.