CNC Router Machine vs. Laser Engraver Machine: Which is Best for You?

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CNC Router Machine vs. Laser Engraver Machine: Which is Best for You?

While CNC engraving and laser engraving machines have different characteristics, they are both based on computer engraving. The CNC engraving machine refers to a CNC routing machine, CNC engraver, or CNC carving machine, while the laser engraving machine refers to a laser engraver.

Both CNC router machines and laser engravers use numerical control systems but have different operational approaches and mechanical structures. However, the CNC engraver has a relatively simple construction. It automatically selects the ideal bit and tool and engraves it along the machine tool's X, Y, and Z axes using the Computer Numerical Control system.

CNC Router Machine vs. Laser Engraver

Overview and Definition

  • Laser Engraver Machine

A laser engraver is based on numerical control technology and uses a laser as the machining medium. The laser gets emitted from the laser head that gets controlled via the numerical control system besides the motor to perform engraving and move the mirror, lens, etc. 

The numerical control system performs movement to vary the beam's focus on the machine tool's  X, Y, and Z axes. The processed material then gets instantly illuminated due to the laser. The physical modification of melting and gasification helps accomplish machining.

The material's surface is not brought in contact during laser engraving and does not get impacted by mechanical movement. Therefore, the surface does not deform and thus, does not require fixing. This process is ideal for soft materials since it is unaffected by the material's elasticity and flexibility. 

  • CNC Engraver Machine

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. It is an automated machine tool based on a program control system that logically processes programs that comprise symbolic instructions or control codes, decodes them, and aids in the movement of the machine tool to process parts. 

A CNC router mounts a hand-held router as a spindle to cut different materials like composites, wood, steel, plastics, aluminum, glass, and foams.

The Difference

The fundamental difference between the two is that laser cutting delivers clean vertical lines with some discoloration and is limited to thin materials. In contrast, CNC cutting can cut through thick materials and carve specific depths to create three-dimensional designs.

Principle of Operation

  • Laser Engraver

A laser engraving machine emits laser light and concentrates it into a high-power density laser beam through the optical path system. This beam then irradiates the workpiece's surface until it reaches its melting point or boiling point.

While this operation happens, high-pressure gas coaxial with the beam helps blow away the vaporized or molten metal. Upon movement in the relative position of the beam and the workpiece, the workpiece's material forms a cut mark which achieves the task of engraving.

  • CNC Engraver

A CNC engraving machine employs a high-speed rotating engraving head operated by the motor spindle. The cutting tool is configurable as per the processing material fixed on the worktable to get cut. This approach lets you realize different 2D or 3D designs created in the computer with embossed graphics or text, owing to the automatic engraving operation.

The Difference

The difference in terms of the principle of operation between these two techniques is that the tools of the laser engraver machine feature an entire set of optical items, while that of the CNC router machine comprises bits of different components.

The laser etching machine leverages the immense energy of the laser to perform the task of cutting or engraving, while the CNC carving machine employs a high-speed rotating cutter head to work on the part.

Delivery Speed  

Both machines work at comparable speeds when engraving on a workpiece. The work speed depends on various factors like the workpiece material, design, and more. 

  • Laser Engraver

Laser machines yield better precision since the process does not involve direct contact with the material, unlike a CNC router. Laser cutters move rapidly but require many more passes in their tool path than a CNC machine. 

  • CNC Engraver

However, if you wish to get the job done quicker and do not require high precision levels, go for CNC routers since they can take bigger passes when engraving on materials like wood. A CNC can use different tool diameters and thus perform engraving faster than a laser engraver.

Operation Method

  • Laser Engraver

The high-power laser used in a laser engraver etches the workpiece by applying high temperatures. Under such temperatures, different materials with varying melting points exhibit unique combustion chemical reactions. The cutting effect also leads to the emission of oily smoke and foul odor in the industrial process.

  • CNC Engraver

A CNC router uses the spindle and automated numerical controls to operate. CNC engraving produces excessive dust when working on the piece but does not emit smoke and odor.

If you run a small-scale business, go for a Desktop CNC Machine as it delivers decent precision and versatility without burning a hole in your pocket.


Now that you have had a fair understanding of both worlds, here are their distinct applications -

  • Laser Engraver 

A laser engraver can only perform cutting and shallow carving on the object's surface and marble tombstone portrait carving. Laser engravers are commonly used in the manufacturing process of awards and trophies, barcode creation, medical and electronic components, decorative or commemorative annotations, signage, etc.

Besides, laser engravers can be used with various materials, including glass, wood, paper, cloth, leather, acrylic, plastic, wool, rubber, marble, ceramic tiles, crystal, and some other non-metallic materials.

  • CNC Engraver

The CNC engraving machine is ideal for cutting and engraving various materials except those with low melting points. It can cut or make reliefs, like the relief carving of furniture.

CNC engravers are ideal for engraving musical instruments, decoration, molds, signs, handicrafts, souvenirs, and processable materials such as foam, wood, acrylic, PVC, plastic, ABS, stone, marble, aluminum, and other soft metal materials.

Final Words

A laser engraver employs the technique of laser melting to engrave, while the CNC router uses computer-based technology to move the laser and the ultrasonic head and perform engraving.

A laser engraver can act as a CNC carving machine, while the CNC engraving machine can get equipped with a laser head to perform engraving. While the two differ on several grounds, they exist in an intersecting bond.


About the Author:

Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general.

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