fiber lasers cut metal faster, the beam is smaller so it’s more precise, and it uses less electricity. Fiber lasers are also easier to work with and cheaper to maintain in the long run. However, fiber lasers are typical twice the price of CO2 lasers, and they can’t cut as wide a variety of materials.

A CO₂ laser is generated by sending an electrical current through a glass tube filled with CO₂ and other gases. At the end of this airtight glass tube are two mirrors, and the electricity flowing through the tube aggravates the gases, causing them to produce light. The light bounces around some cleverly placed mirrors within the laser cutter before being focused by a lens and exiting the device, hitting the surface of the material you’re working with.

CO2 lasers might be cheaper, but they will always require using oxygen or nitrogen as a gas assist and will be limited to cutting less-reflective metals. CO₂ lasers are also sensitive machines. With their combination of mirrors and glass tubing, they are quite fragile and need aligning perfectly to function at their best. This results in more expensive upkeep and servicing costs in terms of both time and money. Still, this is balanced by their affordability, to begin with.

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