Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Here at JD CNC, we are all still learning and bettering ourselves in this trade every day. We learn new tricks, techniques and create new products while furthering our knowledge of lasers. We say this because although we have been working with lasers for years and know a lot, we do not know everything. You should still do your own research before just jumping into something new! That being said, we would love to share how we got started and why it is a great way for beginners to get their feet wet!
Picture 1: Jackie Rearick, the owner, showing off a personalized Father's Day gift made with the 80W OmTech laser.
Why start laser engraving?
There are many reasons as to why you should start learning how to laser engrave. Some of which may include:
new skills (Looks great on a Resume!)
improves your designing techniques
In almost any way that you look at it, learning a new skill, like laser engraving, is beneficial. It's not only beneficial to learn a new skill, but it can be so rewarding and fun too!
Extra income is always great to have whether it be for paying bills, additional savings or even just to treat yourself! The possibilities are endless! Also, if you continue to keep improving yourself, your extra income can turn into a full-time salary... if you so desire!
When sitting down to be hired for a new job, we always found that adding Laser Engraving to your resume can be quite the eye catcher. Employers like to know that you have a life outside of your 9-5, so when they see that you took the initiative to learn a new skill, it spark's their interests and allows for an easy conversation to start.
When learning how to use a laser, you in turn, increase your design skills. You can purchase cut files from places such as Etsy, but in the long run, it can be way cheaper to design your own product, AND you can sell those designs to other makers for some extra passive income. If you are not in this for profit, you can also allow your files to be used by others for free. Whichever direction you choose, will be perfect!
Picture 2: Inside the 80W OmTech Laser at JD CNC.
In our opinion, although we may be slightly biased, laser engraving is suh a great hobby to have. It's a great way to impress your friends and families with custom gifts every year for the birthdays and holidays. It also makes things like weddings, baby showers and graduation parties easier to gift for. This hobby can make your life A LOT easier in MANY different areas.
Not only does this skill make for a great hobby, but since it is so up and coming, there are hundreds of groups online and in person that you can join with thousands of people available to bounce questions off of and get ideas from. So, no matter what, you are not going to be starting this off alone. It is always fun to join groups and forums, post what you have created and get feedback on how amazing your product is or what others think you could do to improve it! The great thing about the majority of this being online, is that you can take what everyone says with a grain of salt. You can take people's suggestions and try them out, or if your fan base likes how you are doing something better, you don't even have to worry about what people may be suggesting. The internet is an amazing thing!
Why learn from JD CNC?
You might be thinking, "What makes you qualified enough to tell us how we should be learning or what we should be doing?", and frankly, the answer is nothing. Nothing except a few years of experience. But to be fair, in the first few years of learning how to go about this business, we have spent so much time and money trying to figure out what works for us. Our goal is that sharing what we have learned, will get you on your feet without wasting too many resources!
When starting this journey into laser engraving, the owner of JD CNC, was still attending classes at Penn State University. She worked as many hours as she could while still in school full time and taking on side hustles, like 3D-Printing and Laser Engraving. So, we have been built on the foundation of trying to find the most efficient ways to do things because we didn't always have the money necessary for the most expensive equipment or even enough money for classes to train us on what we are doing.
If we can pass this knowledge along and help other kids, student, or adults get into this skilled trade we would be overjoyed. We would be more than pleased, knowing that we have helped someone out! That is one of the core goals of JD CNC! Yes, we want a successful and profitable business, but helping anyone that we can is what we strive to do!
What do you need to start laser engraving?
Now that we have given you enough information for you to trust what we are about to tell you, we are going to go down through a list of items that you will need in order to begin your journey as a laser enthusiast. These items are in no way the only way to go about getting started, but it is pretty budget friendly, and it allows you to see just about the bare minimum of what is involved before you just dive in.
The general list:
Laptop or Computer
Design Software (Free)
This is a general idea of what you will need to get started. We will now be going into specifics as to what we think are good options for all of these items. Including what we think will be the best and easiest material to get started with. Again, these are not the only options that will give you the best start based on our experience with the products or research.
LASER Since we are doing a blog about how to get started on a budget, we have a laser that we feel is a great C02 laser to get started with. It is called a K40. Just a heads up, this type of laser is a Chinese laser, therefore, it is cheap. However, it works extremely well and is a great machine for beginners to learn with! In fact, this is the machine that JD CNC got started with when they ventured into laser engraving. There are many different brands and colors that this laser comes in. We will have links posted at the end of this blog for you to follow and purchase any aforementioned products.
This laser does have a smaller workspace (meaning the 2D area this laser can engrave is relatively small), but it is better to practice and learn on the machines that are inexpensive, than to purchase a machine for over $5,000 and immediately start braking expensive pieces........trust me. This machine will not only allow you to learn the basics, but will fit in almost any room, so you do not need a giant garage or shop to get started!
Picture 3: K40 omtech Laser.
To start laser engraving, you do not need the most expensive computer out there to do your work. We, at JD CNC, utilize gaming laptops with a lot more capabilities, but that is because we not only do laser engraving, but 3D-Modeling and lots of design work as well.
A simple computer with USB's, the ability and storage capabilities for the software that is going to be discussed in the next couple sections and a good battery. (Not necessary, but allows for projects to work more smoothly)
There are so many different options out there that you can use to run your machine, it would be impossible to list them all or pick one that is, by far, more superior than any other one. So, at the end of this post, we will suggest a few of the more inexpensive options, but again, if you plan to do anything more with this laptop other than to just run your laser, the laptops listed may not be for you.
Picture 4: Lenovo IdeaPad i3
The design software we suggest starting off with is Inkscape. We will be suggesting this software for many reasons, including:
The link to download Inkscape, as well as all other links, will be found at the end of this blog as to not clutter up the body of the post. Inkscape is a free design software, used to create cut files not only for beginners, but for any laser enthusiast who has no need to pay for a software like Lightburn. With Inkscape, you have all of the capabilities to create SVG (vector) files. SVG (vector) files go along with the design process as this is what your laser will read to know where to cut/engrave. SVG files can be complicated for beginners to understand, because of this we plan to do a blog going deeper into SVG files for beginners to get a better grasp on the concept! Even if you are well versed in the art of laser engraving, be sure to check it out, as there might be something in there for you as well!
Inkscape is very easy to learn and there is a plethora of resources out there to help you learn as well as a great online community, that would be more than happy to help you along your journey. Here at JD CNC, we are also going to be creating online classes for things like learning the basics of Inkscape, Lightburn, Fusion360 and so much more. So, definitely keep an eye out for those!
All C02 lasers, well......all that we are aware of, are water cooled. This means that there is a constant flow of cool water circulating through the C02 tube in the back of the laser. This cool water flow allows the laser to stay cool as it is running.
If you overheat your laser, you will begin to see a decline in cutting performance. Not only does this effect the quality of your projects, overheating your machine can greatly damage the laser tube. Running your laser "hot" for even a short period of time may permanently damage the laser, causing it to have to be replaced. This is a good example of why we recommend starting out on a less expensive laser to start with, the more you work with your laser the more you see how it should be running and recognize when somethings wrong.
A water chiller is what keeps the water, that flows through your laser, cool. There are different levels of water chillers for different power lasers, for instance, the chiller that we are recommending getting is great for smaller, low powered lasers, and can even work for 80W lasers, to some extent. However, if you progress in your lasering career down the road and end up acquiring a larger power laser, you will need to upgrade the chiller to accommodate the extra heat.
Picture 5: CW-3000 Water Chiller
Another thing that you will need in order for this to work properly is a ventilated area. You do not want to be blowing smoke from the laser directly into the room that you are working in because ultimately if you have no air flow and you are filling up the room with smoke, you can greatly injure yourself.
The best way to set up is in an air-conditioned room with a window that allows you to vent the smoke outside. If you are going to be engraving anything other than slate, wood, etc. such as certain plastic materials, you may want to look into getting a filter for the smoke to go through before blowing outside.
So, you have your laser set up and ready to run your first project, but what do you run it on? We have a few great suggestions that will allow you to learn your lasers capabilities and help you not get discouraged as these items, after getting your settings dialed in, tend to turn out very well.
We would suggest little 3mm wooden sheets that you can buy off of amazon. You can get a nice size value pack for under $25! These are great for earrings/jewelry and other little projects. Another really popular item that we suggest working with are slate coasters. You can purchase these online, in bulk, at Michaels or your local craft store. These slate coasters turn out AMAZING when you engrave them, and people love the looks of them. Another item that you can try is anodized aluminum. You can purchase dog tags or other little plaques and engrave personalized information into them.
Ready to start?
We have just given you the basics needed to start laser engraving. While we didn't give any specifics on how to use the laser or the software, as that was not the point of this post, through research and a little bit of reading or watching videos you will be up to par in no time!
We hope that this post has helped you understand a little bit more of what is needed to get started laser engraving and pointed you in the right direction. All of the links for the products mentioned are listed below and you can take a look at all of the options!
Thank you so much for reading our blog! Stay tuned for more blogs, classes and new products on the website!
Blue 40W Laser - https://amzn.to/3CnfoQV
Red 40W Laser - https://amzn.to/3QJhmj1
Asus - https://amzn.to/3AJ6R9u
Lenovo IdeaPad - https://amzn.to/3wobnHW
Inkscape - Download Inkscape 1.2.1 | Inkscape
Homend 110V Water Chiller - https://amzn.to/3TbToOP
Wood Squares - https://amzn.to/3TbToOP
Slate Coasters - https://amzn.to/3PJ7Gnk
Slate Coasters Bulk - 12 Packs: 4 ct. (48 total) Slate Coasters by ArtMinds® | Michaels
Please explore our website to find all other information, social media links and products!
Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission.