Metal laser cutting machines have become easier to use, safer, more flexible, and more affordable. Read on to learn how to make the best laser cutter purchase for your shop.

Metal laser cutters are a staple of machine shops and manufacturing worldwide, but newer, more compact, laser cutters are also found in smaller metalworking businesses, architecture firms, and even hobbyist garages for anyone who might need to cut multiple metal sheets, pipes, and rods, in materials from stainless steel to aluminum.

To pick the best metal laser cutter for your job, you’ll need to know a bit about the types of laser these machines feature and which metals they cut. Here, we’ll also give you tips and best practices for laser cutting metal along with the best machines on the market today at a range of price points.

Purists may say you must have a fiber laser to cut metal, but that’s not strictly true.

Yes, fiber lasers cut metal faster, the beam is smaller so it’s more precise, and it uses less electricity. Fiber lasers are also easier to work with and cheaper to maintain in the long run. However, fiber lasers are typically twice the price of CO2 lasers, and they can’t cut as wide a variety of materials.

Let’s look at the differences a little closer.

A CO₂ laser is generated by sending an electrical current through a glass tube filled with CO₂ and other gases. At the end of this airtight glass tube are two mirrors, and the electricity flowing through the tube aggravates the gases, causing them to produce light. The light bounces around some cleverly placed mirrors within the laser cutter before being focused by a lens and exiting the device, hitting the surface of the material you’re working with.

CO2 lasers might be cheaper, but they will always require using oxygen or nitrogen as a gas assist and will be limited to cutting less-reflective metals. CO₂ lasers are also sensitive machines. With their combination of mirrors and glass tubing, they are quite fragile and need aligning perfectly to function at their best. This results in more expensive upkeep and servicing costs in terms of both time and money. Still, this is balanced by their affordability to begin with.

Read more: Metal Laser Cutters: All You Need to Know