Team Diode vs. Team CO2. Which Laser is the better choice?
Now there might not be any actual teams or jerseys or foam fingers or copious amounts of popcorn and beer here, we apologize. We are not talking about actual sports teams. We are talking about laser engravers, specifically the two main types of laser engraver technologies, diode and CO2. Much like teams however, everyone has their preference whether its sports or laser engravers. So if you've come here for more info on purpose, you're in the right place. In this article I am going to be highlighting the difference between the two and the pros and cons of each to help you better decide which one is the best choice for you.
First things first. You might be asking yourself "What the heck's the difference?" and for those who already know, put your hand down smarty pants. The difference is best understood when looking at the technology itself.
In the case of CO2 Lasers they operate via a laser tube. This laser tube AKA a gas discharge tube contains a cocktail of gases including carbon dioxide, helium, nitrogen, and xenon. An electrical current is introduced into the gas discharge tube, resulting in the emission of energy in the form of photons. Photons emitted from the discharge tube go through a series of internal reflectors "mirrors" usually made of gold or silver that accumulate enough photon energy to engrave/cut through most materials. I know it sounds like something out of Star Trek and just like the use of photon guns and torpedoes by the U.S.S Enterprise, CO2 engravers are very powerful, ranging from 25W all the way up to 400W. Allowing them to cut through a wider variety of materials like wood, acrylic, glass, and even some choice metals. The raw power and high output also makes CO2 lasers faster at engraving and cutting. These features highlight the attractiveness of CO2 lasers, as increasing productivity while supplying a quick turn over. Making it a great choice to consider for professionals and small to medium business owners.
The downside to CO2 lasers vs Diode Lasers is CO2 Lasers are often much higher priced ($1000-$5000) than diode lasers, they also have a larger workspace footprint due to their sheer size alone, often requiring the addition of cooling mechanisms as an added accessory taking up even more space. To top it off CO2 lasers are very fragile due to the intricately calibrated mirrors that can be easily misaligned by moving the laser unit around.
Now if you’re a professional or small business with plenty of space looking to grow even further and you want to expand your material range, speed up production time and add value while being cost effective through the life of your business CO2 lasers are a perfect fit.
In the case of Diode lasers they operate through a serious of semiconductors. This semi-conductor is comprised of a p-n junction diode with two types a p-type and n-type separated only by a gap between these two types. Electrical current is introduced through one side of the diode and released on the other side as excess energy in the form of photons. The gap between the two semiconductor acts as the "mirror" that magnifies the intensity of the photons, by bouncing them back and forth across the gap and colliding with each other which in turn produces more photons through resonance, before it is then released on the other side of the diode. It takes hundreds of these collisions to achieve the desired optic strength. Semi -conductors can be stacked together in the laser head to form an even stronger and more powerful beam. What makes diode lasers a great option is that they're fairly inexpensive ($300-$800), they're compact making it ideal for small workspace areas, and they can be regularly moved without any fear of damaging internal parts because the semiconductors do not need to be calibrated for perfect alignment.
The downside to Diode Lasers is that they're not very powerful going up to only 20W. This leads to slower engraving/cutting speed resulting in increased production time and slow turn over.
Diode lasers are a great option for the hobbyist, educator or start-up business who don’t necessarily need a post-production solution right off the bat and don’t intent to mostly cut through any hard, or thick material. If you have a small workspace, and a limited budget, looking into creating a business startup or you’re a hobbyist who likes personalizing your own products Diode lasers are a perfect fit.
When it comes to choosing the right type laser engraver/cutter, it all depends on what you're looking for and what you hope to achieve.
Flynt, Joseph. (September 3, 2021). Diode Lasers vs. CO2 Lasers [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://3dinsider.com/diode-lasers-vs-co2-lasers/