Comparison of Desktop Laser Cutters

Image courtesy of https://www.uncommongoods.com

If you like to make things – whether it’s designing your own products, customizing existing products, or engraving objects with artwork – having a laser cutter at your disposal could significantly increase the range of goods you’re capable of producing. Having a good one could even accelerate your project flow. But, knowing which one to purchase can be challenging.

3D Universe has been comparing and evaluating desktop laser cutters for quite a while now. This post summarizes our findings on the mid-range desktop laser cutter products. We found ourselves eventually selecting the Dremel Digilab LC40 as our recommended desktop laser cutter. Consequently, we have added it to our product offerings. We want to share with you the specific reasons as to why we are recommending this option.

We found that the market has a lot of higher-end machines which tend to be a lot more expensive and much more difficult to use. On the other hand, lower-end machines, while costing less, often lack many important safety and usability features. After experiencing its software, we found that the Dremel Digilab LC40 fills the large user experience gap. It is approachable for users who don’t have laser expertise, but also gives the user flexibility to customize settings as their skills grow over time. 

The following table summarizes the features offered by some of the laser cutters in the mid-level (price range from $4,000 to $8,000).

Of these options, we determined that the features of the Glowforge and the Dremel Digilab LC40 best match the needs of our customers, so these are the two we’ll focus on here.

Dremel partnered with Anna Warren and Sarah Kirkham of Tactile Craftworks to film a video of the unboxing of a Dremel Digilab LC40 laser cutter. They nicely summarize its features and demonstrate how to get things working as quickly as possible. We’ll link to specific portions of that video throughout this blog post to highlight some of these features, although you may find it useful to watch the entire video before proceeding.

Safety

  • Only the Dremel Digilab LC40 boasts a safety certification from UL (Underwriters Laboratories), which may be an insurance requirement for certain commercial and education institutions.
  • The Dremel Digilab LC40 includes a safe and high-performance power supply, ensuring a high lifetime for one of the most critical components.
  • The Dremel Digilab LC40 includes safety sensors monitoring four critical systems to reveal possible hazards and to help troubleshoot problems, making it an ideal choice for schools, makerspaces, or other public areas.
  • The Dremel Digilab LC40 includes a recirculating water-cooled protection system, perfectly sized and calibrated for the unit. The Glowforge community has reported some issues with jobs being paused for cooling (though more recent reports seem to indicate these issues have been significantly reduced).

User Replaceable Parts

The most common part needing replacement on any laser cutter is the laser tube itself. A high-quality laser tube, like the one in the Digilab LC40, will typically last for around 800 hours of use (which would be about two years for an average user). The Dremel Digilab LC40 is designed as a modular system, so the end-user can easily replace the tube by themself. We contrasted this with the Glowforge, which needs to be sent in for service for the tube to be replaced. Not only is that a hassle for someone to pack up the laser, ship it, and receive it, but that also means the user is without their laser cutter for weeks.

Ease of Use

Onboard software for the Dremel LC40 Laser Cutter

The Dremel Digilab LC40 offers a beautiful, large onboard touchscreen that will guide you through common tasks and troubleshooting, allowing for easy operation. Projects can be run and saved directly from the full-color touchscreen. This makes it easy to keep your projects moving and confidently handle any issues that may arise. This also allows you to pause and resume a job with ease when small adjustments need to be made to your workpiece. In comparison, the Glowforge does not offer any kind of control panel on the unit itself, so jobs can only be managed through the software interface.

Software Features

Web-based software for the Dremel LC40 Laser Cutter

The Dremel Digilab LC40 software, while accessed through a web browser, is run from the laser cutter itself, so no Internet connection is required. This feature ensures that your software will always be available and that the performance, i.e. responsiveness will be the best possible. The Glowforge software is cloud-based, so an Internet connection is required.

Another thing we found desirable is that the LC40’s software interface is natural and easy to use. It even comes preloaded with a library of various materials with suggested cutting/engraving settings so you can start producing items sooner. Of course, you can always add new material profiles too.

The software provides grids, rulers, and snaps to make placement of your design easy and accurate. The built-in layering system is intuitive and provides an added dimension for creativity. The software is tightly integrated with the machine sensors and helps to detect and troubleshoot hazardous condition. There are also built in short cuts for additional efficiency.  

Another handy feature is the Auto-Array function, which will automatically duplicate your design as many times as it will fit. If you’re making multiple quantities of the same items, this will be a big time-saver!

As an added convenience, the DigiLab Laser Cutter stores your last 30 jobs onboard, so those jobs can easily be re-run right from the touchscreen. You can also save your workspace to your computer to be able to duplicate the project over and over, even if you haven’t run it recently.

Camera Capture

Both the Dremel Digilab LC40 and the Glowforge come equipped with built-in camera capture. This feature gives you a preview of the media you insert into the laser cutter, so you can easily position your artwork or design by overlaying it onto an image of your media. It’s an important function and a great feature, but it works differently in these two laser cutters.

The Glowforge uses a wide-angle camera mounted on the lid. As a result, the image could be skewed, resulting in an accuracy of +/- 6mm. On the other hand, the Dremel Digilab LC40 has the camera mounted on the movable print head. It moves around, taking a series of nine images and then stitches those images together. The result is a much more accurate representation of the media (accurate to within 0.2mm). resulting in fewer failed attempts and less wasted media.

In the photos below, you can see the results of using the camera capture feature to position a design on objects spread across the work area.

Glowforge Camera Capture

Glowforge Basic Camera Capture (full view)
Glowforge Basic Camera Capture (close-up #1)
Glowforge Basic Camera Capture (close-up #2)
Glowforge Basic Camera Capture (close-up #3)

Dremel Digilab LC40 Camera Capture

Dremel Digilab LC40 Camera Capture (full view)
Dremel Digilab LC40 Camera Capture (close-up #1)
Dremel Digilab LC40 Camera Capture (close-up #2)

As you can see from the above, the positioning accuracy that results from using the camera capture feature varies significantly between the Dremel Digilab LC40 and the Glowforge.

Materials Library

One of the more challenging aspects of working with a laser cutter is determining the optimal settings for the laser based on the specific material being used. The intensity level needs to be set just right to ensure a good, clean engraving or a clean cut. As I mentioned earlier, the DigiLab Laser Cutter software includes a large and growing library of pre-built and pre-tested material profiles. These profiles contain all of the optimal settings for a wide range of material types. In addition you can easily create your own material profiles and add them to the list. So once you find the right settings for that custom material you’re working with, you can store them for easy retrieval.

The following is a summary of the kinds of materials you can use with the Dremel Digilab LC40 Laser Cutter:

Speed

Another difference we found between the Dremel Digilab LC40 and the Glowforge is speed. The Dremel outperformed the Glowforge by about 40% on average. We used a Glowforge Basic for our testing, and the Glowforge Plus and Pro models claim a 20% speed improvement, so it stands to reason that the Dremel LC40 is still about 20% faster than the Glowforge Plus and Pro models, though we did not test that directly.

Brand

And finally, we come to the question of the brand itself. Glowforge originated from a crowdfunding campaign in October, 2015. Dremel, on the other hand, has 85 years of history, with a strong reputation for making high-quality tools. We’re not at all opposed to products that come from startups. However, we found a certain amount of assurance in Dremel’s reputation when tinkering with a piece of equipment containing a 40-watt laser. Dremel has a well-evolved methodology for developing new products, and this includes extensive quality controls throughout the process. A nice by-product of these rigorous standards is that the LC-40 is UL-certified, offering peace of mind not found with some of the other desktop laser cutters available.

Summary

For the reasons outlined above, we are comfortable recommending the Dremel Digilab LC40 laser cutter for anyone looking for an affordable desktop laser cutter with excellent usability and safety features. We feel the LC40 will be a great solution for schools, libraries, and makerspaces that want to offer flexible options for cutting, etching, and engraving while maintaining a safe environment.

For more information, or to purchase a Dremel Digilab LC40 Laser Cutter, please visit our store.