A Comprehensive Guide to Different Laser Cutting Types: Which One is Right for You

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Laser cutting, a revolutionary manufacturing process, has been an integral part of several industries worldwide, including aerospace, electronics, military, medical, agriculture, lighting, and automation. The application of laser cutting extends from intricate designs on tiny electronic components to large-scale construction equipment.

By focusing a high-power laser beam on a workpiece, laser cutting facilitates precise and efficient material cutting. As each project presents unique requirements and challenges, understanding different laser cutting types is crucial for achieving the best results.

In this blog post, we will guide you through the various types of laser cutting and how to choose the right one for your specific needs.

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What is Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is a non-contact, thermal-based fabrication process perfect for various materials, including metal, plastic, wood, and glass. By utilizing a high-power laser, it effectively slices through materials, providing a clean, precise cut. The cutting process involves directing the laser beam at the workpiece, which then melts, burns, or vaporizes the material, leaving a high-quality finish.

At Worthy Hardware, we prioritize implementing effective and efficient processes like laser cutting in our CNC machining services. This technology, coupled with our expertise, allows us to deliver exceptionally accurate parts that meet and exceed our clients’ expectations.

Types of Laser Cutters

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There are three primary types of laser cutters utilized in the manufacturing industry: CO2 Laser Cutters, Fiber Laser Cutters, and Crystal Laser Cutters. Each type has distinct characteristics that make them suitable for different applications.


1.CO2 Laser Cutters

CO2 laser cutters, also known as gas lasers, represent one of the most versatile and widely used types of lasers available today. They operate by electrically stimulating a gas mixture trapped in a sealed compartment, primarily containing carbon dioxide (CO2), along with nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium.


How CO2 Laser Cutting Works

The functioning of CO2 laser cutters is a marvel of modern engineering. These devices work by electrically stimulating the gas mixture inside a sealed tube, with CO2 being the primary active gas. When excited, the CO2 molecules emit photons, which are focused into a concentrated beam of light. This light beam is then directed towards the workpiece using mirrors.

When the high-powered laser beam contacts the material’s surface, it heats it to a high temperature, causing it to either melt or vaporize. The beam’s path is precisely controlled by computer numerical control (CNC) technology, enabling intricate shapes and patterns to be cut or engraved into the material with exceptional precision.

A key aspect of the CO2 laser cutting process is the assist gas. When the laser beam hits the workpiece, an assist gas—typically air, nitrogen, or oxygen—is used to blow away the molten or vaporized material, creating a clean cut. The type of assist gas used can influence the quality of the cut, the speed of the cutting process, and the maximum thickness of the material that can be cut.

It’s worth noting that CO2 lasers produce a light beam with a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers, which falls in the infrared part of the light spectrum. This wavelength is readily absorbed by non-metallic materials, making CO2 lasers a popular choice for cutting materials like wood, acrylic, and plastic.


Advantages of CO2 Laser cutter

CO2 laser cutters are renowned for their high power, continuous wave, and high efficiency, which is why they are frequently employed in applications demanding high cutting speeds and output power. They’re ideal for cutting, boring, and engraving non-metal materials, including wood, acrylic, glass, paper, and some types of plastic.

One of the critical advantages of CO2 laser cutters is the quality of the cut they produce. They can maintain high precision and produce a clean, smooth finish, reducing the need for post-processing in many applications. Furthermore, they provide excellent energy efficiency and have a relatively long operational life, which translates into lower operational costs over time.


Disadvantages of CO2 Laser cutter

However, CO2 laser cutters are not without their disadvantages. They typically require a larger initial investment than other laser types and may require more maintenance due to the complexity of their design. Additionally, while excellent for non-metal materials, CO2 lasers aren’t the best choice for cutting through thick metal materials.


2.Fiber Lasers

Fiber lasers represent a modern advancement in laser cutting technology. They offer numerous advantages over conventional laser types, including greater energy efficiency, lower maintenance costs, and excellent performance when cutting reflective metals.


How does Fiber Lasers work?

Fiber lasers belong to the solid-state laser group and they function differently from CO2 lasers. They generate their laser beam by using an optical fiber that is doped in rare-earth elements, usually erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, thulium, praseodymium, holmium, or dysprosium. The fiber optic cable aids in the creation of a very focused, high-intensity beam that is up to 100 times more concentrated than that of a CO2 laser.


Advantages of Fiber Lasers

One of the key strengths of fiber lasers is their superior beam quality, which translates into high precision and cutting speed, particularly when working with thin materials. Moreover, they are highly effective at cutting reflective metals, such as aluminum and copper, which can pose a challenge for other types of lasers.

Fiber lasers also stand out for their low operating costs. They boast superior electrical efficiency compared to other laser types, which means lower energy costs. Additionally, their design involves fewer components susceptible to wear and tear, reducing maintenance costs and downtime.


Disadvantages of Fiber Lasers

On the flip side, fiber lasers may not be the best choice for cutting thicker materials, as the edge quality may deteriorate. Their high upfront cost might also be prohibitive for some users.


3.Nd:YAG or Nd: YVO (Crystal Lasers)

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Nd:YAG (Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet) and Nd:YVO (Neodymium-doped Yttrium Orthovanadate) lasers, collectively referred to as crystal lasers, are yet another class of lasers used in the manufacturing industry. These lasers use a synthetic crystal as the gain medium, which is doped with neodymium ions.


How Crystal Lasers Work

Crystal lasers, like Nd:YAG or Nd:YVO, work by passing a high-intensity light, usually from a flash lamp, through a crystal. This crystal, doped with neodymium, absorbs the light energy and elevates the neodymium ions to an excited state.

When the ions return to their normal state, they emit a photon, creating a laser light. This light is then reflected off mirrors and focused onto the workpiece, cutting or engraving it with extreme precision.

Like CO2 lasers, crystal lasers use an assist gas to blow away the molten or vaporized material, creating a clean cut. The choice of assist gas – often air, nitrogen, or oxygen – can affect the quality of the cut, cutting speed, and maximum material thickness that can be cut


Advantages of Nd: YAG or Nd: YVO (Crystal Lasers)

Crystal lasers are known for their high peak power and their ability to be used in both continuous and pulsed operation modes. Like fiber lasers, crystal lasers are effective in processing metals and are frequently used in engraving, marking, and welding operations.

The beam quality of a crystal laser is high, which allows for very precise, clean cuts even on small parts and intricate designs. They can process materials such as metals, ceramics, and some plastics effectively.


Disadvantages of Nd: YAG or Nd: YVO (Crystal Lasers)

However, crystal lasers also have their share of disadvantages. The primary one is their limited operational life – crystal lasers have a considerably shorter life span compared to CO2 and fiber lasers. Additionally, they have a lower efficiency and require more maintenance, contributing to higher running costs over time.

Laser Cutting in Different Industries

Laser cutting has found widespread applications across a variety of industries, demonstrating its versatility and efficiency. By understanding its uses in different sectors, you can better grasp the full potential of laser cutting types for your unique requirements.

Aerospace: The aerospace industry requires parts that are lightweight, precise, and of high strength. Laser cutters are often used to create complex parts with minimum wastage. Both fiber lasers and Nd: YAG lasers are commonly used for their ability to cut and engrave a variety of metals, including titanium and aluminum.

Electronics: This industry demands extreme precision for small and intricate parts. Laser cutting provides the necessary accuracy for cutting circuit boards, semiconductors, and more. In particular, CO2 lasers are excellent for etching details onto plastic casings or cutting thin metals.

Military and Defense: This sector requires durable and robust parts. Laser cutting is used to manufacture everything from vehicle parts to weaponry components. Fiber lasers are commonly used in this sector due to their ability to cut through thick metal plates efficiently.

Medical: The medical field requires absolute precision for the production of surgical tools, medical devices, and prosthetics. Crystal lasers, with their high precision, are ideal for engraving minute details on these instruments.

Agriculture: Laser cutting assists in the production of various machinery and tools used in agriculture. The strength and durability of parts produced using laser cutting methods ensure long-lasting performance, crucial for the demanding nature of farming operations.

Lighting: Laser cutters are often used to create intricate designs on lampshades or cut precise shapes for light fixtures. CO2 lasers are excellent for working with non-metal materials, like acrylic and plastics, often used in the lighting industry.

Automation: Automation technology often requires custom parts in small quantities. With the use of CNC technology, laser cutting can produce these parts quickly and accurately, supporting rapid prototyping and production.

Laser Cutting for Different Materials

Different materials require different laser cutting types to achieve optimal results. Understanding how lasers interact with various materials can help you make an informed decision about the right laser cutting machine for your needs.

Metals: Metals, including steel, aluminum, brass, and copper, can be cut efficiently with both fiber and crystal lasers due to their capacity to focus high energy on the material surface.

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Plastics: CO2 lasers are commonly used for cutting plastics, including acrylic, POM, ABS, Nylon, and PVC. This is because CO2 lasers can produce a clean, sealed edge on these materials. It’s essential, however, to ensure that the plastic does not contain chlorine, as it can produce harmful gases when laser cut. We also offer CNC machining for various plastics such as POM Delrin Acetal, ABS, and Nylon, to name a few.

Wood: Wood can be effectively cut and engraved with CO2 lasers, creating intricate designs for items like signage, furniture, or decorative pieces. Here at Worthy Hardware, we have an entire segment dedicated to CNC machining for woods.

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Acrylic: Acrylic cuts beautifully with a polished edge when a CO2 laser is used. Both transparent and colored acrylic can be cut, making it a versatile material for laser cutting.

Glass: CO2 lasers can be used to engrave glass, but cutting is not typically recommended as the thermal process can cause the glass to crack.

Remember that not all materials are safe or suitable to be cut with a laser. It’s always crucial to check the material compatibility with the specific type of laser cutter being used. At Worthy Hardware, we take safety and quality seriously, ensuring the correct laser cutting type is used for each specific material.

Laser Cutting Vs. CNC Machining

Here, we compare laser cutting and CNC machining in terms of precision, speed, versatility, and material compatibility.



Both laser cutting and CNC machining are known for their high precision. However, the precision level of laser cutting can surpass that of CNC machining when it comes to intricate designs and small, delicate parts.



Laser cutting generally performs faster when dealing with thin materials due to its non-contact nature. On the other hand, CNC machining can be faster for thicker materials and larger production runs.



CNC machining can work with a larger variety of materials, including harder metals that lasers might struggle to cut. However, laser cutting is often the method of choice for applications requiring intricate cuts or engravings on materials like wood, plastic, or thin metal sheets.

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Material Compatibility

While CNC machines can handle almost any material, laser cutters are more limited. Certain materials, such as polycarbonate, can discolor or damage with laser cutting, while some materials like PVC can release toxic gases.

Understanding Class 3 and Class 4 Lasers

Lasers are categorized into classes depending on their power output and the potential harm they can cause to the eyes and skin. When dealing with laser cutting types, it’s important to understand the distinctions between Class 3 and Class 4 lasers as they each have their own uses and safety requirements.


Class 3 Lasers

These lasers are divided into Class 3A and Class 3B. Class 3A lasers, while potentially hazardous if the beam is viewed directly, are safe when handled correctly. They are often used in laser pointers and barcode scanners. Class 3B lasers are more dangerous and can cause eye injuries even from diffuse reflections. They are commonly used in therapeutic, industrial, and research applications.


Class 4 Lasers

These are the most powerful and hazardous lasers. They can burn skin, cause serious eye injuries, and even ignite combustible materials. As such, Class 4 lasers are typically used in industrial applications, including laser cutting and surgery. When using Class 4 lasers, strict safety measures must be in place, including protective eyewear and restricted access to the laser area.

Choosing the Best Laser Cutter for Your Needs

Choosing the best type of laser cutter for your needs depends on several factors. These include the type and thickness of the material you’re working with, the intricacy of the design, production volume, and your budget. Here, we offer some considerations for choosing the best type of laser cutter for your project.

Material Type and Thickness: Different lasers cut through different materials with varying levels of efficiency. For instance, CO2 lasers are great for cutting, engraving, or marking non-metallic materials and metals, while fiber lasers are better for cutting reflective metals. Nd: YAG lasers, or their more improved version, Nd: YVO, can cut thicker metal sheets.

Intricacy of Design: If your design requires high precision and fine detailing, CO2 lasers can be a better choice. They are excellent for cutting intricate patterns on materials like acrylic, wood, and paper.

Production Volume: Fiber lasers, known for their speed, are often the go-to for high-volume projects. In addition, their low maintenance needs and long lifespan make them a cost-effective option for large production runs.

Budget: CO2 lasers tend to be less expensive than fiber lasers, making them a popular choice for smaller businesses or hobbyists. However, the total cost of ownership should be considered as well. Fiber lasers, for instance, often have lower operating costs over the long term.

Laser Cutter’s Lifespan: The lifespan of a laser cutter can have a significant impact on its overall cost. Some types of lasers, such as fiber lasers, are known for their longevity.

Vendor Reputation: Finally, consider the reputation of the vendor or manufacturer. A reliable vendor will provide high-quality machines, offer excellent customer service, and provide after-sales support, including maintenance and availability of parts.


Laser cutting technology, with its precision, efficiency, and versatility, has revolutionized the manufacturing industry, making it a top choice for businesses across numerous sectors, including aerospace, medical, military, electronics, and more.

While laser cutting is a powerful tool, it’s just one of the many services we offer. From CNC machining to precision stamping, we provide a comprehensive range of manufacturing services to ensure our clients receive the best solutions for their projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 main types of laser cutters?

The three main types of laser cutters are CO2 lasers, fiber lasers, and Nd:YAG or Nd:YVO (crystal lasers).


What is a common type of laser cutter?

One of the most common types of laser cutters is the CO2 laser cutter. This is because it’s versatile, capable of cutting, engraving, and marking a wide variety of materials, including acrylic, wood, and certain types of metals.


What are the different types of laser cutting acrylic?

Vector cutting: This method is used for cutting out the outline of the design.
Raster engraving: This method is used for engraving an image or text onto the surface.
Vector engraving: This method is used for creating detailed line art designs.

Both CO2 lasers and crystal lasers (Nd:YAG or Nd:YVO) can cut acrylic effectively, but CO2 lasers are typically preferred for this material.


What are 5 materials that can be laser cut?

Many materials can be laser cut, including acrylic, wood, metal, leather, and plastics. Different laser cutting types are better suited to different materials.


What are the disadvantages of laser cutting?

High energy consumption, potential for material deformation due to heat, difficulty cutting reflective materials, and a relatively high initial investment are among the potential downsides.


What type of laser will cut metal?

Both fiber lasers and Nd: YAG lasers are suitable for cutting metal, offering high precision and fast cutting times.


Is all acrylic OK to laser cut?

Yes, acrylic is one of the best materials for laser cutting, offering a clean, glossy finish without the need for post-processing.


Can you cut plexiglass with a laser?

Yes, plexiglass, which is a type of acrylic, is an excellent material for laser cutting. It cuts cleanly and efficiently, resulting in high-quality finishes.