October 25, 2022 4 min read

In recent years, laser cutters have become quite popular. Thanks to this, we see people pitting CNC vs. laser cutter to try and find the better machine.

We believe that there’s a place for both machines in the industry since each of them has unique capabilities. In this article, we’ll take a closer at the difference between these machines, including:

  • Versatility
  • Cost differences
  • Materials worked with
  • Cutting widths and depths
  • Differences in speed and accuracy

We’ll also look at the main difference between these two machines, and how they’re fundamentally different. Let’s get into it.

What’s the Main Difference Between a CNC Machine and a Laser Cutter?

The cutting style is the fundamental difference when comparing a CNC machine vs. a laser cutter.

Laser cutters use an extremely focused beam of light with high temperatures to cut surfaces.

Laser cutters rely on a beam of light that produces extremely high temperatures to make cuts. CNC machines have a rotating spindle that spins a cutting tool or bit at high speeds to make cuts.

With that exception, the designs and shapes of these two machines are remarkably similar. They both move a cutting tool (of sorts) over the workpiece to perform pre-programmed tasks.

However, due to the nature of the cutting tool involved, their abilities are fairly differentiated. The following sections will study various aspects of CNC routing vs. laser cutting in detail.

CNC Vs. Laser Cutter - Cutting Width and Depth

Due to the different cutting tools employed by a CNC vs. a laser, there are significant differences between their cutting widths and depths.

CNC machines generally make wider cuts than laser cutters do.

The widths, especially, are affected by the differences in cutting style. Since the CNC machines use a physical blade they create wider cuts by necessity. Accordingly, to cut a certain line you also sacrifice some of the material along the edges of that line.

Lasers, on the other hand, have an extremely narrow focus. This allows them to make precise cuts, with less wastage. So, when comparing the CNC vs. the laser cutter, it’s worth noting that lasers make narrower, more precise cuts than CNC machines.

Both machines have limitations when it comes to cutting depths.

A CNC can make a clean cut to a depth of around one-half of the cutting tool’s diameter. So, a CNC machine’s cutting depth is effectively limited by the size of the spindle (which holds the cutting tool or bit).

A laser cutter can sometimes make cuts to a depth of one inch, depending on the material and the laser. However, a more common cutting depth would be between ¼ and ½-inch.

CNC Vs. Laser Cutter - Materials

If you pit CNC routing vs. laser cutting, then the materials matter. CNC machines generally have a far more versatile approach, while laser cutters sometimes offer cleaner cuts.

You can cut the following materials with a laser cutter:

  • Wood
  • Most metals
  • Certain plastics
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Glass (under certain conditions)

However, there are many things you can’t cut with a laser, such as:

  • PVC
  • ABS
  • HDPE
  • Fiberglass
  • Polystyrene
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polypropylene

CNC routers can cut many different materials, including:

  • MDF
  • Wood
  • Foam
  • Plastics
  • Non-ferrous metals

CNC vs. Laser Cutter - Cost

When comparing a CNC machine vs. a laser cutter, the price is a significant factor. Laser cutters are more accurate, and have some additional features, but it reflects in the price.

CNC routers have a more entry-level price, making them more accessible to different businesses and individuals.

Entry-level to mid-level CNC machines have an average cost of between $5,000 and $25,000. Laser cutters in the same range have an average cost of between $8,000 and $50,000.

CNC Vs. Laser Cutter - Speed and Accuracy

There are significant differences between the speed and accuracy of CNC routing vs. laser cutting.

Due to their narrow focus, laser cutters are extremely accurate.

Due to their pinpoint focus and narrow cutting abilities, laser cutters generally have much greater accuracy than CNC machines do. In part, this is because there’s very little mechanical friction involved in laser cutting.

The laser cutter moves above the workpiece and, since a laser is a beam of light, no solid material comes into contact with the workpiece. As a result, very little wobbling, jostling, and friction occurs.

CNC routers have medium-high levels of accuracy. Unlike laser cutters, their entire process relies on mechanical contact. A physical blade comes into contact with the workpiece, leading to plenty of friction and jostling.

Comparing the speed of a laser cutter vs. a CNC, laser cutters are usually two to three times faster than CNCs.

CNC Vs. Laser Cutter - Versatility

Versatility is the final aspect to consider when comparing CNC routing vs. laser cutting.

Laser cutters have a fairly limited scope, mainly restricted to cutting and etching. As shown in the section about materials, they also have limited abilities due to the high heat involved.

CNC machines can route, etch, engrave, carve, cut, and perform several other functions. They can also cut more materials, thanks to the lower heat. Since you can adjust the rotational speed, you can keep friction to a minimum.

In short, CNCs are far more versatile than laser cutters.

Final Thoughts

In short, the main difference between a CNC machine vs. a laser cutter is that CNC routers are more versatile, while laser cutters are more precise.

The laser focus of the latter machine allows it to make finer, more detailed cuts with less wastage. However, CNC machines can cut more types of materials.

We hope that our comparison of CNC vs laser cutter has helped you to understand how these devices differ.

If you’re interested in learning more about 3-axis CNC machines, we’d love to help you out. Feel free to contact us, and one of our professional staff will help you.

From the machine itself to training and accessories, our team can help you put together a package that meets your specific needs.

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