Laser vs. Water Jet Cutters: What’s the Difference?

Manufacturers use two different processes to cut materials: laser and water jet cutting. Depending on the materials used and the desired result, either method can be suitable for an application. To determine which method should be used, it helps to learn the differences between the processes.

Laser Cutting

Today’s laser cutters rely on energy sources such as a CO2 or other gas laser. The gas is transmitted through a mirror-guided beam that is directed at the materials to be cut. With a CO2 laser, the source is in the machine, and beams can output between 1500-2600 watts. Applications and materials, as well as safety and precision, are vital factors to consider when using a laser cutter.

Materials and Uses

Laser cutters are suited to a range of materials including wood, glass, plastic, and metals (except for the reflective variety). If a combination of materials with differing melting points are used, they can be hard to cut. Layered structures with air pockets cannot be cut with a laser cutter, and limited-access materials are problematic as well.

Safety and Precision

With laser cutting, precision is not an issue, as the cutting slit’s minimum size can reach just .006” depending on the laser’s speed. A thinner workpiece’s quality may be affected if proper distance can’t be kept and burring occurs. Structural damage can occur due to thermal stress, and cut materials may appear striated. Although it is not always necessary to wear goggles, the process produces dust and smoke, so proper ventilation is essential. The risks of laser cutter use are low, as is the amount of waste created.

Water Jet Cutters

Unlike a laser cutter, a water jet cutter uses a stream of pressurized water to cut materials. For increased cutting ability, abrasives are typically added. Unlike the laser cutter, where the source is in the machine, the pump and work area are typically separate. Water jet cutters can work on almost any material between 0.4 and 2.0” thick. However, it is less precise than laser cutting, and users must wear protective goggles. Because of the combination of abrasive and water, waste is more significant. Users can visit Boss Lasers on Twitter for more details.