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Laser cutter or 3D printer?

#1
I've finally reached that point in the hobby where a choice must be made. I would love a 3D printer to print various odds and ends, details etc but they (well ones that are under my 500 USD budget (Anet A6 is what I have my eye on) anyway) seem to be rather sketchy and problematic. Good high end ones (luzbot) are way too expensive.

On the other hand, I've always found a laser cutter quite necessary to cut control horns, firewalls and maybe even etch some PCBs (I don't plan on cutting many foam planes however but I will cut some). I have my eyes on a rather cheap chinese cutter frame (resolution is OK (0.1mm) and size is pretty big (100cmX100cm)) and a 10W laser diode. The price is fine (530 USD with shipping).

What should I do?
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#2
Personally? Spend $600 and buy a Prusa i3 3D printer. You can print LOTS of stuff with a 3D printer. I've done game board pieces, control horns, firewalls, servo extension locks, a new plate for my action camera (I broke the last one in a crash), antenna holders for my drone...My father even printed a Spitfire RC plane that we're going to be maidening this summer.

I recommend the Prusa i3 as it's a stable, solid printer, and the best budget printer out there. Yes, everyone says the A6 is a knockoff, but Josef Prusa has done WONDERFULLY at tuning and fixing this printer to be rock solid. In addition, there are a lot of people who have done upgrades to it that Prusa didn't initially think of (anti-vibration plates, roller arms and filament guides that can be printed right off of the printer) to help improve an already great platform.

I know it's $100 more than your $500 budget, but I can tell you from experience that it is a VERY solid printer, and well supported by numerous slicing and printing programs like Slic3r and Cura.

The laser cutter, while it's nice - I personally don't see it being as useful for this hobby. You might be able to use it to cut out foam patterns, but I'm not sure how well that would work. I've not known a lot of people who have laser cutters, and of those that do, I don't think any of them have a laser cutter big enough to cut patterns in a 20" x 30" piece of foamboard. (I'm sure there are machines that can do it; I believe that's what Flite Test uses to cut their foamboard. I personally don't know any people who have a laser cutter that can cut something that big, though)

With regards to doing the control horns and firewalls, sure - the laser cutter will cut through the plywood you supply and I'm sure it will do it nicely. But if you want different thicknesses, you've got to get different cuts of plywood for each thickness change. The 3D printer can do those different thicknesses without having to change out filament. And, if you want one solid piece of a firewall, like those for Versa Wings, rather than using the laser cutter to cut out 3 pieces and glue it together you can just print out the entire firewall in one solid piece.

Again, all of this is my OPINION, and my SUGGESTIONS for what I think is going to be more useful. If you decide that the laser cutter is better for you, more power to you. :) I don't know its full potential, and I'm just applying it to what I know from my side of the hobby, as well as my own interests. All I can hope for is that this helps you to make a decision. :)
 
#3
I agree with Sprzout. I have an old Robo3D printer and also have access to a laser cutter. I have used the printer TONS for RC stuff, but since I have the printer, I have yet to find a need to use the laser for RC stuff. I have used the laser a bunch as well, just not for RC items. The list of items that Flite Test has on Thingiverse.com has a few things that I think I need and will print this weekend. I have also printed several very useful tools for building such as a scoring tool and a bevel cutter. Amazing how much time they save and make perfect cuts to boot! I have found 3D printers to be much more useful in RC building and flying. You can find lots of items on sites like Thingiverse, however, I've also found that you will need to be proficient (if you aren't already) at some sort of 3D modeling software so you can design your firewall or camera mount or doo-hickey just like you need it!
 
#4
That is a tough one. I think I would actually go for the laser cutter. They each have their amazing values but with a laser, I could design and cut my own plane designs. And I'm thinking not just from foamboard. You could cut wood, plastics, cardboard. I could design mounts and structures like quad frames, camera mounts, and more. I could also cut and glue up cases for electronics, tools, racks, holders, prop balancers, sorters... even laser cut fabric. Then there are the etching options. You can make switch plates, markers, badges, templates for tracing out common plane parts.

Many of these could also be 3d printed but I think some could be cut faster from sheet plastic rather than built up from nothing.
All that said, can you get a really good laser cutter for that price...

That's just me.
 

Chuppster

Active member
#5
I love my 3d printer. The laser cutter would replace what I can do by hand with a drill and Dremel (for the most part). A 3d printer will print control horns, firewalls, and even entire airplanes.
 

kilroy07

Well-known member
#6
If the laser you are looking at is in the Diode class (Something like this; https://www.banggood.com/10W-Mini-D...-p-1266096.html?rmmds=search&cur_warehouse=CN) then you will be hard pressed to cut ANYTHING heavier than cardboard. (n)

For a decent laser you need to look for a CO2 system. There are actually some "OKAY" 40watt* lasers on Ebay that would cut up to 1/4" plywood without issue (maybe two passes...) in your price range.
The major problem with those systems is the software, if you like to tinker then, by all means jump in. There are a few groups online that'll help get you up to speed and turn them into okay machines. The working space is pretty limited (8"x12" or 200x300mm) with those however (it's where I started) I've since upgraded to a 500x700mm system (20x28") and it is... pretty awesome (but now we're talking around $2k.)
*take power specifications on the Chinese units with a grain of salt, they typically overdrive 30 watt tubes (iow, don't buy the cheapest one, check feedback/reviews of seller).

The $600 will get you a solid MK2S kit. There's still a pretty steep learning curve. NOT that you can't get there, it's just some days it seems to be more an art than a science! If you feel comfortable, I highly suggest you get a kit vs. a pre-built not for cost (but that helps) but because if you've built the machine it will be easier to troubleshoot.

The brand of filament you get is another big opinion talking point, I don't recommend the cheapest but not the most expensive either (between $18-25 per spool should be a good bracket.) EVERYONE will swear by a different brand, so just buy a couple different brands and just see what works best for you. Oh, and just use 1.75 PLA to start with. It'll be fine for 80% of what you will want to do in RC. After you build some experience you can try other types.

So, I would suggest the 3D printer... Unless you are comfortable with the smaller working space of the cheap 40w lasers. Then I say laser, if you go with a cheap i3 clone you MIGHT be able to get both... but that would up the "tinkering factor" exponentially (you've been warned...) ;)

Good Luck!!
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#7
I agree with Sprzout. I have an old Robo3D printer and also have access to a laser cutter. I have used the printer TONS for RC stuff, but since I have the printer, I have yet to find a need to use the laser for RC stuff. I have used the laser a bunch as well, just not for RC items. The list of items that Flite Test has on Thingiverse.com has a few things that I think I need and will print this weekend. I have also printed several very useful tools for building such as a scoring tool and a bevel cutter. Amazing how much time they save and make perfect cuts to boot! I have found 3D printers to be much more useful in RC building and flying. You can find lots of items on sites like Thingiverse, however, I've also found that you will need to be proficient (if you aren't already) at some sort of 3D modeling software so you can design your firewall or camera mount or doo-hickey just like you need it!
I've been using SketchUp, which is free from Google; there's also Fusion360, which my father likes because he's used to AutoCAD products, to design 3D printed parts. So far, things have been pretty good for design for me; I've managed to create my own control horns and firewalls in Sketchup, and I also designed a threaded shifter knob for my Mustang GT after the original decided to crack and split. If you know how to take good measurements, and can think in 3 dimensions/have good spatial relations, you can build a lot of this stuff really easily. My hardest part was trying to make the recessed lettering/numbering on the gearshift knob for the 5 speed manual shift pattern; after that, everything was easy. :)
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#8
If the laser you are looking at is in the Diode class (Something like this; https://www.banggood.com/10W-Mini-D...-p-1266096.html?rmmds=search&cur_warehouse=CN) then you will be hard pressed to cut ANYTHING heavier than cardboard. (n)

For a decent laser you need to look for a CO2 system. There are actually some "OKAY" 40watt* lasers on Ebay that would cut up to 1/4" plywood without issue (maybe two passes...) in your price range.
The major problem with those systems is the software, if you like to tinker then, by all means jump in. There are a few groups online that'll help get you up to speed and turn them into okay machines. The working space is pretty limited (8"x12" or 200x300mm) with those however (it's where I started) I've since upgraded to a 500x700mm system (20x28") and it is... pretty awesome (but now we're talking around $2k.)
*take power specifications on the Chinese units with a grain of salt, they typically overdrive 30 watt tubes (iow, don't buy the cheapest one, check feedback/reviews of seller).

The $600 will get you a solid MK2S kit. There's still a pretty steep learning curve. NOT that you can't get there, it's just some days it seems to be more an art than a science! If you feel comfortable, I highly suggest you get a kit vs. a pre-built not for cost (but that helps) but because if you've built the machine it will be easier to troubleshoot.

The brand of filament you get is another big opinion talking point, I don't recommend the cheapest but not the most expensive either (between $18-25 per spool should be a good bracket.) EVERYONE will swear by a different brand, so just buy a couple different brands and just see what works best for you. Oh, and just use 1.75 PLA to start with. It'll be fine for 80% of what you will want to do in RC. After you build some experience you can try other types.

So, I would suggest the 3D printer... Unless you are comfortable with the smaller working space of the cheap 40w lasers. Then I say laser, if you go with a cheap i3 clone you MIGHT be able to get both... but that would up the "tinkering factor" exponentially (you've been warned...) ;)

Good Luck!!
Kilroy, I'm curious as to what you mean by a "steep learning curve" for the MK2S kit. I know that the initial setup, with dialing in the bed leveling, can be somewhat of a pain; but I found it pretty easy once I read the instructions. Maybe it's my brain and having a really solid understanding of it from the get go, perhaps...I'm just curious as to why people are down on the learning curve for so many 3D printers; I've not had much of a problem other than not having materials stick to the bed (which was due to the bed not being leveled properly, or the bed temp not being the proper temperature, so the PLA didn't stay warm enough to stick).

Maybe I've just been really lucky, or I'm missing something that others seem to have a learning issue on? I'm curious as to the problems others have...
 

kilroy07

Well-known member
#9
Kilroy, I'm curious as to what you mean by a "steep learning curve" for the MK2S kit.
I didn't mean to come off too hard. But (Not knowing the level of tech savvy) I would rather error on the side of caution.

Even with a solid kit like a true Prusa if you don't consider yourself a tad on the geeky side it is a lot to comprehend.
Maybe not at first and if you just want to take pre-sliced models and print, but pretty soon something (like bed adhesion) is going to come up and as you said, there can be a myriad of reasons why... Some days you get lucky and some times you are chasing gremlins for days/weeks (the troubles with the Mk3 extrusion is a prime example.) I would rather just be upfront and say it's not plug and play.

I'm sure you can agree that even after assembly there are many different slicers and settings and even filament choices that are going to come into play. While help is out there, some people tend to be pretty specific and opinionated and their solution might not work for everyone. Which is why I was vague about filament choices (I will NEVER buy another roll of Makers Geek for example and some people love it...) Insanity, if you want specific brands that have worked for me, I would be happy to get more specific (just ask.)

Just a couple months ago I gave up on Cura and now have Simplify3D. It works for me and while I "might" recommend it for a new user, it comes with a $150 price tag and insanity indicated he's on a budget (which BTW I totally get, my better half has me on a budget now for my "toys"... something about a $2k laser cutter... I don't know... :LOL:) So, one of the free options (Prusa comes with a tailored version of Cura, correct?) is going to work fine for them for now.

I started out with 3D printers... maybe 5 years ago... (Jeese, was it THAT long ago) I started with a pretty nice i3 clone (Lead screws not threaded rod) bought a used MendalMax 2 on Ebay, modded the heck out of that. Then have build (and modded) several Wilson 2s from scratch (my core XY is on the sidelines) and I am still learning something about the darn things almost everyday.

So, that's why I said what I did... I hope you understand now.

If you want to check out some of my designs you can find me on Thingiverse; https://www.thingiverse.com/kilroy07/designs

By tomorrow I'll have my SQ12/noodle bomb drop mount AND my $10 foam glider power pod (just had it's maiden today!) posted.
 
#10
if you go with a cheap i3 clone you MIGHT be able to get both...
That's quite an idea!

Here's what I have in mind currently. Going with all the info you guys gave me (thanks so much for all the info btw, you guys are absolutely amazing :D ) and since I will use a laser cutter primarily for PCB etching and other small stuff, I figured I would be better off with a small, low power laser cutter, such as this:
https://www.aliexpress.com/item/A5-...012627b&transAbTest=ae803_1&priceBeautifyAB=0
(good lord that link is massive)

I would also add in a creality cr-10 printer and maybe an E3D hotend (I don't mind fiddling about and modifying stuff, tends to yeild intresting results!). Is the creality a good choice or should I go for a MK2S?

Insanity, if you want specific brands that have worked for me, I would be happy to get more specific (just ask.)
It would be absolutely amazing if you could post a list up here! Thanks!

I hugely appreciate all you guys' contribution. You guys rock!
 

kilroy07

Well-known member
#11
I will use a laser cutter primarily for PCB etching
:cautious: By "Etching" do you mean stripping resist off to etch off the copper in a bath... or are you thinking the laser will strip off the copper from a blank board? 'cause it won't. (Even a CO2 laser won't affect metal. it will strip off anodizing, but NOT affect the underlying metal).

For that, I would use a CNC;
Such as a cheap desktop model (look, it even includes a diode laser! https://www.aliexpress.com/item/CNC...6af1fa0&transAbTest=ae803_1&priceBeautifyAB=0

Or, build your own (AFTER you buy the 3D printer!) :ROFLMAO:
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:724999
It is a very capable design, I have cut 3mm aluminum plate for my upgraded CNC, an OpenBuilds OX design;
https://openbuilds.com/builds/openbuilds-ox-cnc-machine.341/
(I cut the modified higher clearance parts with the reinforced gantry.)

But we are getting off topic (see what you've started!) ;)

Here's what I currently stock for printing most of my stuff;
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073LKLDV7/?tag=lstir-20
Next order (when I get my allowance) will be trying a roll or two of this;
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XW576DZ/?tag=lstir-20
Just to try out.

A lot of people like hatchbox, I thought it was okay, but nothing to shout about. Buying bargain filament can be a crap shoot. Sometime you roll the hard eight, but most times it's craps. Just plan on buying 4-5 rolls from different places before finding something that really works for you.

I have had some really (REALLY) bad experiences with Makers Geek... I will GIVE you a couple rolls just to get rid of the garbage... But, as I said, some people swear by it (different strokes for different folks, am I showing my age again?...)

I've heard some really good things about the creality cr-10 BUT ONLY after some updates (and I don't recall them all, but there was something serious about the power...) The MK2S is a SOLID machine with a LOT going for it (already hasa E3d hotend I believe) really the only two things the cr-10 has over it would be cost and build size (my current build cube with my Wilson 2K is (225X, 320Y and 310Z) the extra volume has come in handy for me several times. If you want a solid well built machine, get the MK2S, if you want to tinker a bit and you don't shy from getting your hands dirty (which I suspect if you are doing your own PCBs) then the CR-10 MIGHT be a better choice for the cost savings (make sure to factor back in that E3d hotend!) and build area. But as I said I think either are a good choice.

Speaking of that, I REALLY like that you are looking at a quality hotend! (Kudos for that.) That will go a LONG way to provide a solid core to your machine. Is the cr-10 24 volt? I have to say, it's been my experience that that single upgrade alone makes a HUGE difference in how smooth your machine runs.
 
#12
For that, I would use a CNC;
OMG yeah! That completely escaped my mind there. Great idea! I originally planned on stripping the resist but CNC saves sooo much work!

I REALLY like that you are looking at a quality hotend! (Kudos for that.)
Thanks! Yes, it is the 24v cr-10. I even plan on an automatic bed leveling kit. The cost of all that is around 600$ which is good enough for me.

I will GIVE you a couple rolls just to get rid of the garbage
Wow, you really hate the stuff. Thanks however for pointing that out. I will sample a few different brands and see.

So, I think in conclusion, a CNC router and modified creality it is. I would prefer the cr-10 over the MK2S because of the pricing and build area and I anyway dont mind "getting my hands dirty" :D so I can run wild on mods.

Thanks for helping soo much for me to make this decision.
 

kilroy07

Well-known member
#13
Happy to help (FINALLY something on the forums that I have some knowledge about!) ;)
Usually I'm the one asking questions.

As I mentioned, those were my opinions, but (if you promise to looking into the CR-10 mods to make it safe) I think you will be happy with that setup.

My first suggested upgrade (AFTER safety stuff and E3D hotend) is either a PEI build plate (Caution though just print PLA on it for starters, PETG can "bond" to it... ) OR Geckotec (EZ Stick) which IS PETG safe and works nice as well. There are other build mats out there, those are just two I have experience with. You can get by with glue sticks and/or blue tape but it just gets old after awhile.

And yes, I really hate the stuff! It "may" be due to my bowden setup however... I'm thinking I'm going back to direct drive on my current build (which I SHOULD be doing rather than lurking in the forums! I think my better half has finally given up on me going to bed at a decent hour! LOL)
See, once you start down the dark path...
 
#14
I think my better half has finally given up on me going to bed at a decent hour! LOL)
See, once you start down the dark path...
I'm not a stranger to that myself ;D !

I wonder... should I go for a bowden or direct extruder? I am looking to print a little bit with flexible filament but not much. I've heard that bowdens aren't that good with those filaments.
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#15
I didn't mean to come off too hard. But (Not knowing the level of tech savvy) I would rather error on the side of caution.

Even with a solid kit like a true Prusa if you don't consider yourself a tad on the geeky side it is a lot to comprehend.
Maybe not at first and if you just want to take pre-sliced models and print, but pretty soon something (like bed adhesion) is going to come up and as you said, there can be a myriad of reasons why... Some days you get lucky and some times you are chasing gremlins for days/weeks (the troubles with the Mk3 extrusion is a prime example.) I would rather just be upfront and say it's not plug and play.

I'm sure you can agree that even after assembly there are many different slicers and settings and even filament choices that are going to come into play. While help is out there, some people tend to be pretty specific and opinionated and their solution might not work for everyone. Which is why I was vague about filament choices (I will NEVER buy another roll of Makers Geek for example and some people love it...) Insanity, if you want specific brands that have worked for me, I would be happy to get more specific (just ask.)

Just a couple months ago I gave up on Cura and now have Simplify3D. It works for me and while I "might" recommend it for a new user, it comes with a $150 price tag and insanity indicated he's on a budget (which BTW I totally get, my better half has me on a budget now for my "toys"... something about a $2k laser cutter... I don't know... :LOL:) So, one of the free options (Prusa comes with a tailored version of Cura, correct?) is going to work fine for them for now.

I started out with 3D printers... maybe 5 years ago... (Jeese, was it THAT long ago) I started with a pretty nice i3 clone (Lead screws not threaded rod) bought a used MendalMax 2 on Ebay, modded the heck out of that. Then have build (and modded) several Wilson 2s from scratch (my core XY is on the sidelines) and I am still learning something about the darn things almost everyday.

So, that's why I said what I did... I hope you understand now.

If you want to check out some of my designs you can find me on Thingiverse; https://www.thingiverse.com/kilroy07/designs

By tomorrow I'll have my SQ12/noodle bomb drop mount AND my $10 foam glider power pod (just had it's maiden today!) posted.
Kilroy - first off, I apologize if *I* came off as harsh; that wasn’t my intention. I just hear so many people talking about how there’s a steep learning curve, and I wonder why they say it; for me, it’s been fairly easy. Most of my problems have been trying to fit something into the small print bed size that I have (120x120x120mm).

I honestly feel like most of the learning curve issues you described will happen with just about any 3D printer, though; the slicing programs are what turns your 3D model into the gcode for a 3D printed to print out, whether it’s a Cr10 or a Monoprice Select Mini or a Dremel 3D printer or any other 3D printer. In that respect, it’s more about knowing what you’re buying, what its settings in a slicing program would be (which, if you use a program like Cura or slic3r, it has standard boilerplate settings for the printer).

I guess maybe I wasn’t the typical first time 3D printer owner, since I had read up on it, heard a lot of buzzwords/terms like “PETG” and “heated bed” and “E3D”, and tried to figure it out on my own.

And that reminds me - a GREAT resource in fairly basic terms, is this book, by the creators of Make magazine:

Make: 3D Printing: The Essential Guide to 3D Printers https://www.amazon.com/dp/1457182939/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_v8JfBb29VK6GH

This guide is fairly printer agnostic, and gives a great overview of the basics. This is where I started from. 😁
 

Forster

Slow, low and dirty.
#16
Laser cutter. I can make control horns and firewalls with my drill and bandsaw. Plus, they haven't used a 3d printer in a James Bond movie yet. :)
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#17
Laser cutter. I can make control horns and firewalls with my drill and bandsaw. Plus, they haven't used a 3d printer in a James Bond movie yet. :)
Don't hold your breath; Q is pretty old school in the latest iterations:

"What did you expect, an exploding pen?"

That said, 3D printers have been used in lots of movies lately - I saw a 3D printer being used to build armor for Baymax in the movie Big Hero 6. which was supposed to be set in an alternate future San Fransokyo, a mashup of Tokyo and San Francisco. :)
 
#18
That said, 3D printers have been used in lots of movies lately - I saw a 3D printer being used to build armor for Baymax in the movie Big Hero 6. which was supposed to be set in an alternate future San Fransokyo, a mashup of Tokyo and San Francisco. :)
I just started watching Netflix Lost In Space reboot and there's a 3d printer and the Cloverfield Paradox film featured one both for printing food and for printing parts and tools.
 
#19
Yep, looks like you're making the right decision with the 3d printer and maybe eventually a CNC.

The 3d printer has been one of the most versatile tools in my shop, followed very shortly by my CNC (Shapeoko 3).

I'll actually be be using them both to help me build a 60W laser cutter later this year.
 

sprzout

Knower of useless information
Mentor
#20
I just started watching Netflix Lost In Space reboot and there's a 3d printer and the Cloverfield Paradox film featured one both for printing food and for printing parts and tools.
Good points! I forgot about those...Everyone thinks it's really futuristic and far off, but the truth of the matter is that the tools are here. I've even seen a couple of food ones, but they do either pancakes or they print 3D sculptures in chocolate (which, from what I understand, is difficult, because it has to keep the chocolate at the right temp to form up and solidify, but still, interesting nonetheless).

Sorry, topic derailment. :) We think you should go the route of a 3D printer. :)