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CO2 laser engravers for signage, for awards, for decoration, for photography Print E-mail

CO2 (carbon dioxide) laser engravers have been around many years. The reason I like CO2 laser engravers and the primarily reason that FLAAR evaluates this technology is because CO2 laser engravers can help museums and archaeologists render images from ancient civilizations. FLAAR Reports also cover 3D scanning and 3D printing (3D rapid prototyping) for similar reasons: these technologies are ideal for preserving cultural heritage. And all these technologies, especially including wide-format inkjet printing, are ideal for museum exhibits and educational posters.

But a more viable use of CO2 laser engravers is for signage and sign shops, so we evaluate all uses and applications of CO2 laser cutters and engravers.

How to decide, and distinguish among GCC, Trotec, Universal CO2 laser cutters and laser engravers?

FLAAR is offering personalized consulting at each trade show. You can walk-the-floor with the Senior Editor of FLAAR and get his comments on any and all printers, inks, RIP software, color management, substrates, applications, etc.

So if you wish to learn about the difference between combo, hybrid, and dedicated UV printers, how latex ink compares, about textile printers, etc. contact FLAAR to obtain consulting.

You can also get consulting before ISA or FESPA anywhere in the world: Dubai, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Korea, London and more.

Every month more people find out that they can “print” photographs and designs using a laser (CO/2) engraver. In the past laser engravers were used primarily in the trophy and awards world. Now architects are learning that they don't need to cut their finger tips off using X-acto knives to make their traditional models: you can do most of the model, far more accurately, with a laser cutter. You can also engrave details on your facades and interiors with the same machine.

At our university the department bought a Universal M-300, since this is what most universities tend to buy. Now that FLAAR has seen all the potential of a laser cutter for studies in architectural history, art history, and archaeology, we are also interested. Thus we are beginning to evaluate laser cutter/engravers the same way we have been evaluating inkjet printers, scanners, and digital cameras for many years.

Larger gantry CO2 laser cutting and engraving systems

Kern Electronics and Lasers and comparable companies make large flatbed laser systems. Although these would be nice to have, they are outside the budget of most universities or museums.

Should you go low-bid and select a CO2 laser engraver from Taiwan, Korea, or China?

At the Dubai sign trade center (in the Middle East), there were many Asian companies exhibiting their laser cutters. If you see how many laser engraver manufacturers exhibited at FESPA last year in Munich, at sign trade shows in Milan, Orlando, and Las Vegas, its clear that laser engravers from Singapore, Taiwan, Koran, and Mainland China are here to stay. GCC, LaserPro, LTT (Laser Tools & Technics Corp) look quite successful.

China has the most cheap laser engravers, such as Redsail, Han's Laser. Probably half the companies that make cheap solvent inkjet printers, such as JFH, also make laser cutters and laser engravers. ISA 2006 had many inkjet printer exhibitors also showing laser engraver machinery.

So the question that FLAAR intends to answer, the same way we compare Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese solvent inkjet printers with the more robust solvent printers made in the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Should you choose a European, Japanese-made or American Universal Laser Systems, Gravograph, Trotec, Epilog Laser, VyTec or a cheap Chinese copy?

If you ask around people would suggest that cheap Chinese equipment tends to be imprecise and falls apart quickly: not all brands, but most. And there is seldom realistic tech support in Europe, North America, or even Latin America for Chinese CO laser cutters.

With GCC is is different; these are designed in Taiwan and have tech support both in the US and in Europe. I have visited their world headquarters in Taipai and can attest to their engineering experience. I would estimate that Korean-made laser engravers were also good, though I am not familiar with Korean CO2 laser engravers.

What CO2 laser engraver does FLAAR at BGSU use?

Like most university architecture departments around the country, BGSU uses a Universal M-300 laser cutter. It is used 8 hours a day all week all year. 95% of the use is by students. In other words, this machine does not require its own trained operator on standby. The students get a few minutes of basic instruction, and then they figure out how to use it on their own.

When I asked the students about the laser cutter, the architecture students were very pleased. They said that having the Universal M-300 laser cutter made it so much easier to create their architectural models.

When I asked the students what they most desired in a new laser cutter, 100% said they needed a slightly larger one. A few indicated they would appreciate a bit more power, but it was primarily extra size that they clearly needed. Artists can use the engraving and cutting capabilities to create works of art. So a CO/2 laser engraver/cutter is a useful tool for artists.

Since FLAAR would like access to a laser engraver/cutter that can handle larger materials and can work on more diverse materials and cut deeper (to reproduce archaeological artifacts and 8 th century Mayan sculpture), we asked around for a new model that we could evaluate, and then write up a review and recommendations. Trotec kindly offered to provide a larger model with 50% more power than the model we have, so the Trotec will arrived. After working with the Trotec CO2 laser for several months we issued a review publication on this Trotec laser cutter: an evaluation, a list of innovative applications, and photographs of sample applications that have been produced by the art department, by the architects, and by the technology folks in our BGSU College of Technology.

Fortunately their master distributor for the US is only a few miles from the university. Unfortunately the Trotec CO2 laser engraver that arrived was not a new unit straight from the factory. It was a used demo unit and was out of kilter long before it arrivived. It was not really successfully fixed either. Overall the experience was disappointing. I would have expected better from a unit made in Europe. But probably the main problem was that the manufacturer sent a used model, not a brand new one.

We had a comparable issue with a high-end 4x5 camera: the Sinar. Sinar sent a used model. Even though this is rated as the best 4x5 professional camera in the world (because it is made in Switzerland), it was already worn out before it arrived. Early during the review we noticed that all its gears and functions were simply worn out because previous reviewers had not taken care of it.

Then Cambo (camera company) sent us a brand new 4x5 camera and it is still working fine today (many years after we received it). We returned the Sinar camera because it was not worth keeping (too worn out).

If a larger more powerful Universal cutter becomes available, such as their X2-660, we would be very interested in reviewing this as well. One thing we learned, you absolutely need an exhaust purification system. This was the only feature of the Trotec that worked well. Without an exhaust laser engraving produces stink from the burning plastic (when you engrave plastic it is naturally under extremely high heat from the laser beam).

CO2 laser engravers can achieve many uses and applications

FLAAR specializes in publicizing unique applications. FLAAR itself has a background in art, primarily thousand-year old pre-Columbian Maya art of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.

We look forward to utilizing a new, larger, more powerful laser cutter to reproduce models of ancient art. Many museums and universities read the FLAAR Reports, so here is a manner that we can reach them. As soon as the new laser engraver arrives, we will begin our publication program on CO/2 laser cutting technology.

In addition to the traditional use of a laser engraver for awards plaques, here is a list of just a few of the capabilities of a CO2 laser engraver:

  • Photo engraving (engraving photographs on diverse materials)
  • Decorate frames for photographs
  • Woodworking
  • Engraving onto round objects such as to customize wine glasses or beer mugs

A CO2 laser system can cut, can engrave, scour and can mark. If you have questions you can ask a leading CO2 laser engraver company directly at toll-free 1 800 859-7033 (Universal Laser Systems).

CO2 laser engravers for architects and architectural students

During the seven years that FLAAR shared facilities at a large state university (circa 2001-2008) the primary use of the CO2 laser engraver was by the architecture students to cut out the sections of their building models. Previously they did this manually with an X-acto knife.

Since most members of the Hellmuth family for three generations have been architects (such as the Hellmuth who founded HOK Architects), it is logical that the Hellmuth who is director of evaluations at FLAAR also is aware of the usefulness of a CO2 laser for architectural models, both for students and for architectural firms.

Since many architects and universities do not have experience with CO2 laser engravers, the FLAAR Reports provide guidance.

CO2 laser engravers come in several sizes and power levels

  • VersaLASER series is entry level, in several models, up to 60 watts.
  • Professional series is available in at least four models up to 150 watts.
  • Industrial Series is also up to 150 watts. This series has an open door so you can slide large objects into the system (that would not fit into a smaller system since they are top-loaded only).

For several years FLAAR had a Universal M-300 laser cutter available at the university. This was great for the students but they kept asking for a larger unit and for a bit more power. But size was more important to the architecture students than the wattage. The art students would have also preferred higher wattage since they wanted to cut and engrave more diverse substances than the architecture students.

Since FLAAR comes from the world of architecture, fine art, and archaeology, and is now moved into and entrenched in the world of flatbed UV-cured inkjet printers, naturally we prefer a size for “signage” applications.

CO2 laser engravers, Universal M-300 laser cutter, Universal Laser Systems
Here is part of FLAAR staff with the Universal M-300 laser cutter at ISA trade show 2008.

FLAAR product evaluations and sign franchise companies

During 2008 it was possible to visit the world headquarters of FastSigns in Dallas, Texas, and meet with the executives and top managers. Following this FLAAR provided four lectures to FastSigns printshop owners at their annual convention and trade show in Orlando.

The FLAAR evaluations on wide-format inkjet printers are read by hundreds of owners, managers and printer operators of the leading sign franchises. Plus FLAAR has undertaken site-visit case studies at several FastSigns franchises (in St Louis, and outside Philadelphia). But we are open to relationship with the other sign franchise companies as well. People from AlphaGraphics, FastSigns, Kinkos, Kwik Kopy Printing, PIP Printing, Signs Now, and Sir Speedy have all written FLAAR to ask our assistance in selecting wide format inkjet printers. So has Office Depot so their in-house print service can be included.

 

 

Most recently updated March 9, 2009.

First written May 1, 2006.

 
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