Glass vs. Metal CO2 Laser Tubes

When you’re looking to purchase a CO2 laser machine, there are a number of points to consider. One of the primary attributes that differentiates systems on the market is the type of laser tube the machine uses as its laser source. The two main options you’ll come across are water-cooled glass tubes and air-cooled metal tubes. Cloudray Laser machines come equipped with metal tubes. Our tubes are also built with quality ceramic components. Let’s take a look at both glass and metal laser tubes, and why we believe metal tubes are the better option.

Glass Laser Tubes

Water-cooled glass tubes are often an enticing option, primarily because of their lower cost. Glass tubes themselves cost less, plus their laser is produced by exciting gas with direct current (DC), which is a relatively inexpensive process. Glass tubes also produce good-quality beams that work well for laser cutting. However, glass laser tubes come with a number of drawbacks.

Nearly all glass tubes need to be water-cooled. Glass is a poor thermal conductor, which means circulating water is needed to assist in the removal of heat. Without a water cooling system, a glass laser tube would overheat and become inoperable. Such a cooling system will increase your cost and your footprint, and also introduces more points of failure that need to be maintained.

The need for a water cooling system also presents some significant safety concerns. The DC power supplies that excite the CO2 gas in a glass laser tube need to operate at very high voltages. When you combine such levels of voltage with a water cooling system, the results can be lethal should something go wrong.

The DC-excitation process inherently limits the rate at which the laser tube can pulse. When a laser engraves it doesn’t fire in one continuous burst. Rather, it “pulses” as it moves across the material, firing many times per second. DC-excited laser tubes pulse less frequently, which significantly reduces engraving speeds and lowers engraving quality.

There are also concerns regarding the lifetime of DC-excited glass tubes. Glass is naturally more fragile than metal, and the risk of damage during shipment and installation is greater. The largest failure concern with glass tubes is that the DC-excitation process bombards a tube’s optics and electrodes with ions, which increases the chance of deterioration over time. Most glass tubes are only backed by 6-month warranties, and when a glass laser tube fails outside that time period, you usually need to purchase a brand new laser tube, increasing costs and waste.

Metal Laser Tubes

The only drawback of metal laser tubes is their higher cost. That cost, though, gets you peace of mind with regard to performance, durability, safety, and size.

Cloudray metal and ceramic CO2 laser tubes are air-cooled and their gas is excited by radio frequency alternating current (RF). Properly regulating temperature only requires fans, which are built directly into our machines. This not only reduces your spatial footprint, it also removes the need for (and cost of) additional equipment, and it limits the number of items that need maintenance. Plus, it avoids the safety concerns presented by water cooling around high voltages.

The RF-excitement process allows for more rapid laser pulsing, which delivers higher engraving speeds and finer detail in the resulting engravings. Metal tubes are also more durable and last much longer than the glass alternatives.

At Cloudray Laser, we choose to build our machines with air-cooled metal and ceramic CO2 laser tubes to ensure our customers receive the best-performing systems possible. All of our tubes are backed by two-year warranties, ensuring minimal hassle in the rare event something does inconvenience you. And in those rare instances, our metal laser tubes can often be serviced rather than needing replaced.

With glass laser tubes, you can achieve good-quality laser cutting at a low price point. With metal laser tubes, you get both laser cutting and laser engraving of the highest quality, along with the confidence that the laser will last much longer, will engrave faster, and will be much safer.

Every situation and budget is unique, and it’s important to research which laser machine, and which laser tube, is the best option for you and your business. We believe investing in an air-cooled metal laser tube sets you up for long-term success.