Nov 27, 2016 | By Andre

As you may already know, the ability to manufacture complex physical goods using affordable digital fabrication tools has spawned an entirely new category of maker not possible a few years ago. 3D printing is of course in the forefront in terms of media coverage and ultimately global investment when considering these tools but others are slowly making inroads. Unfortunately, just like 3D printing was only a few years ago, most of these precision tools (such as CNC mills and laser cutters) are expensive and out of reach for most.

Thankfully, a new instructables has been released that demonstrates how you can convert a standard open-source consumer grade 3D printer into a working laser cutter for $40. That is correct, $40.

Of course, for this all to work you will already need a 3D printer that you are willing to remove the hot-end from (which would, temporarily at least, eliminate your ability to 3D print). You’ll also need to spend some time sourcing all the necessary parts from a confusing mix of international online retail outlets. Just joking, a 500mW 505NM laser (found here) is the only additional piece of hardware you’ll need to get started.

As the below video suggests, it really is merely a matter of swapping out the 3D printer extruder and fastening the laser onto the machine. In this case, instructable user Jakes Workshop simply removed the extruder fan, cut some zip ties that were fastening it in place and eventually plopped the laser in place using a few small screws.

Most of the work from that point had to do with wiring the laser electronics into the 3D printer’s motherboard, the download of your preferred laser driver software (in this case, Inkscape and its laser tool plug-in), define the x/y limits, focus the laser on the z-axis the best you can then generate and run your desired g-code for cutting.

The more I think about it, this conversion is painstakingly obvious in many ways. A 3D printer has all the necessary axis control mechanisms already in place after all. And since Inkspace’s laser cutter laser tool plug-in eliminates the need for custom programming, it really is just a matter of getting a laser, swapping it into your 3D printer an hoping for the best.

I should note, the 500mW laser being used isn’t going to cut through heavy duty plastics and cutting through metal is out of the question completely; but it is good enough for simple engraving and easy to cut materials like paper. A quick warning, the demonstration video shows a logo being marked on a notepad. As someone that has worked with laser cutters on a professional basis, I stress that it is really important to know the material properties of what you are cutting into. There’s no point passing out from toxic fumes just so you can etch a logo onto a notebook.

All said, if you are in the search of an incredibly low-cost laser cutter option and have a 3D printer that you are comfortable tinkering with, this might be the Instructable for you. Lastly, if you do need a little bit more power and some more money to invest, Endurance has a 2.1 Watt laser module available for $195.

In the end, if you are a maker that has put your time in with 3D printing and want to get a crash course on laser cutting, this Instructable might be right for you. However, please do be careful with whatever you may choose to do. Lasers after all.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Obvious wrote at 1/5/2017 6:24:28 PM:

Is that all you guys got out of this was to tell him the difference between MW and mW? Not much of a help when leaving comments. Anyway, Great article.

Anja wrote at 11/28/2016 4:53:15 AM:

@All: Thanks, fixed.

Laser wrote at 11/27/2016 11:39:58 PM:

Should be 500 mW, not 500 MW.

Harald wrote at 11/27/2016 9:50:47 PM:

Great project. Please note the difference between your title's MW, which means megawatt, and the real mW, meaning milliwatt. You might be able to reach 500 MW with a pulsed laser, but with a continuous laser diodes you are a factor one billion lower.

PacManFan wrote at 11/27/2016 9:00:00 PM:

milliwatt, not MegaWatt (mW not MW)

Dutch wrote at 11/27/2016 7:55:53 PM:

Thats mW, not MW.

HFlemng wrote at 11/27/2016 7:10:14 PM:

Ohhh, 500 milliwatt (500mW), which I have, but your headline read 500MW (500 Megawatts), which I wld love, lol

Mike wrote at 11/27/2016 6:56:48 PM:

The laser does not ship to the united states.. bummer.

TabTwo wrote at 11/27/2016 6:11:03 PM:

500 MegaWatts? Holy *peep*

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