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3D Printer/CNC/Laser Cutting Machines – The Ultimate Comparison Guide

3D Printer/CNC/Laser Cutting Machines
Above: A Laser Cutting Machine in action/Image Source: OMTech

If you’re passionate about creating unique designs and growing as a creator, then you must have stumbled upon at least one of the following machines: 3D Printer/CNC/Laser Cutting Machine. All of these machines are used to create, but their approaches to creation are distinct. The 3D printer is the newest technology, used to “3D print” new designs of 3D objects by extruding molten plastics through a narrow nozzle controlled by specialized software. The CNC and laser cutting machines work through a subtractive approach.

Now, here’s the breakdown; the 3D printer works by adding numerous layers in steps until the intended design is complete. While the CNC/laser cutting machines work like a chisel, removing excess material from an existing body to create a whole new object.

But that’s not all, there are key differences between CNC/laser cutting machines. The CNC cutting machine uses a router to cut and must have physical contact with the target material. A laser cutter does not need to physically touch the target material; instead, it fires a thin stream of laser light to engrave and cut. Just as the CNC has a router for cutting, a laser cutter cuts with its laser head. Now that we can differentiate the three machines, let’s run through each of their distinct features and advantages.

3D Printer/CNC/Laser Cutting Machines?

3D Printer

This machine is likely the most sophisticated among the three machines, plus the innovative technology behind it is relatively recent. To sum up, the working principle of a 3D printer is to simply call it the ultimate additive manufacturing machine. It builds products through a series of processes that involves a 3D model from your computer and the appropriate filament from scratch.

The process of creating parts starts with completing your preferred design on your CAD software. Then, you feed the printer with a roll of your preferred filament. Filament to use could be ABS, PLA, Nylon, PETG, and other plastics as well as metallic and ceramic blends. With your chosen filament fed into the printer, it begins to heat up to a semi-molten form which now gets dispensed through an output nozzle and this builds the part in fine layers until completion.

If you prefer, the finished prototype may be put through some post-processing stages like filing or polishing to smoothen out the point where layers slightly overlap to give an appealing appearance.

Upsides to 3D Printers

  • It is ideal for the rapid prototyping of products
  • It’s very good for creating complex designs that would take ages if done manually
  • Users of the 3D printers have attested to how it has increased their production capacity while reducing production cost
  • It requires just a little initial cost of investment of roughly $200-$300 (USD)

CNC Router

This particular machine also creates great designs but works entirely differently from the 3D printer. It’s used for subtractive manufacturing and some even call it a “3D remover” because it’s the exact reverse of the 3D printer. This is an advanced computer-driven machine that works by carrying out repetitive cutting to carve your desired object based on your input cutting instruction and design. The advent of the CNC router welcomed the possibility of cutting in the X, Y, and Z directions simultaneously.

Upsides to CNC Routers

  • Some CNC routers can cut up to 30 different materials (sourced from Omni-CNC) conveniently from wood, steel, plastic, glass, metal, and so on
  • It is flexible and adaptable to different cutting needs that may arise
  • It usually comes with a large work area and can easily work on sizable material

CO2 Laser Cutting Machine

This machine also works on the principle of subtractive manufacturing but it majorly differs from the CNC machine by its cutting medium. Instead of a router, a laser cutting machine cuts with a single powerful laser beam that burns and evaporates a material to create the desired design. The key point to note here is that heat is the main source of the CO2 laser cutting machine’s ability. A CO2 laser engraver can cut, engrave, and mark on a wide range of materials such as glass, wood, natural leather, acrylic, stone, and much more.

Upsides to Laser Cutting Machines

  • It is fully automated and has the highest level of precision and accuracy in cutting.
  • It requires little or no time to set up and to top it all, you don’t need to stay close by to monitor its operation
  • Due to its very narrow laser beam, it can manoeuvre around very thin materials and tiny edges to complete an intricate cut
  • It consumes very little power, even as low as 30W
  • It is by far the most versatile of all cutting machines
  • Unlike the CNC machine, a CO2 laser machine is contactless and would cause no wear to the workpiece being cut

Final Thoughts

The 3D Printer/CNC/Laser Cutting Machines all have their respective specialties and they differ in their mode of operation. As an end-user, you are in the best position to determine which of these three fits your intended applications. Try not to get carried away or discouraged by price, rather lookout closely for the functions you desire. Remember that the goal is for your machine to remain functional and reliable while producing amazing results anytime. So it’s totally in your best interest to stay objective and keep your eye on your checklist throughout your search process. If you opt for a CO2 laser cutter, then take a sneak peek at OMTech and its diverse product line of laser engravers and fibre laser markers.


About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.