When I started my journey with “lasers” for cutting and etching things like ornaments, I truly didn’t know a thing. Great marketing led me to the Glowforge CO2 laser, but the reality in my humble opinion after much experience and rail and error is the Omtech Polar 50 watt Laser.
When choosing the best desktop CO2 laser, I think it is important to weight several factors. This blog will describe to you the differences between buying a Glowforge Pro or an Omtech Polar. I think by the time I am done you will see a clear winner and why the v just wins hands down.
I think, and this is just a little speculation, that the Glowforge has such a reputation and costs more purely on their marketing, but lets dive in!
Omtech Polar 350
So on this information you can see that they are basically the same. Small diffences in size and weight, which to me is really not a factor. You are going to want to set up your laser in a dedicated place, and then NOT move it. A laser is sensitive, moving means recalibration.
What you should know, and again, small difference, is that the wattage of the bulb (45 or 50) generally implies two things.
Omtech Polar 350
That is a huge (double) difference. Almost like buying a top end sports car and getting an average beater.
Truth explained, with the Glowforge you do get their internet based software that is pretty amazing. Tons of free clip art, tons of capabilities. If that is worth $2,895, go for it! You obviously already made up your mind. Lightburn, which you would buy with your Omtech, is a downloadable sofware that has free updates. It is a truely capable software, so much so, that it really is the hobbyist laser industries standard. And OBTW, most of those free clipart and files are free on places like Thingiverse.
Omtech Polar 350
OK, I am kind of going to give this round to the Glowforge. When you are choosing the best desktop CO2 laser, their is one thing that is immediately implied. You are new to lasers. Why do I say that? Because you probably wouldn’t be buying a desktop laser if you had experience! I will get into that below.
The Glowforge is an automated breeze. It’s the easy button. I will say that knowing how to do a speed/calibration test is a imperative function of being a laser operation, so you really are just having to set the focal height.
I also want to point out that both have to be vented, but the Polar comes with a HIGHLY upgraded vent fan.
What is this venting I am talking about? When you cut or etch on material, it emits gas and fumes. You must vent your machine out a window or other suitable location. Both come with the basic tubes to do so.
Omtech Polar 50w
What does the guru say here… Well, honestly for these two CO2 Lasers, they are fairly tied. The Omtech has the bigger cutting dimensions (the size object you can fit in your machine and cut). But the Glowforge has the automatic pass through. I would still go with the bigger overall cutting area as that is what you will undoubtedly use the most.
That whole Practical Cutting Thickness Tolerance is literally, how thick of material you can cut through. And I am going to call BS on Glowforge on this one. Most lasers of this power cut 1/8″ (.125″) ply as a norm, very good material and a well setup machine can do 1/4″ (.25″), but no, you are not cutting any normal material on that machine at a 1/2″ (.50) thick without charring (burning your material). Honestly 3/8″ (.375″) is really the most I would expect to see for a 50w laser, let alone a 45w.
I already hit on this a little, but it is important so lets look at it again.
Omtech Polar 50w
Personally, if I were to pick a desktop laser again, I would base that decision off the software. And although you might be thinking I mean the Glowforge, nope. Internet software is garbage unless you have PERFECT connection. If your signal is interrupted for one second, you will probably ruin your project. Think about that. One second, how many times a day does the average internet have a hiccup. Also, where are you putting your machine? Does that area have LAN? or WiFi? I have a garage setup and not many garages do well with WiFi.
LightBurn is a seriously capable program that is the industry standard for almost all hobby/small business style woodworking laser machines. I can fully attest, that it can do just about anything you can think of on a 2D plane. The 2D being an obvious limitation of a laser (unless you have a rotary tool). And guess what, LightBurn will do rotarys as well, so in a way it will do 3D.
Omtech Polar 50w
Ok, so Glowforge definitely wins the Auto Focus arena when choosing one of these two CO2 lasers. It is very good, what else can I say. I really wish that other lasers would take that one small note from them and add a better auto foucus. But what does that catually do? Well for me, it saves me about 20 seconds per set up. I generally use the same material, so I am saving maybe 2 minutes a week.
Air Assist is SUPER important! Have you ever seen the wispy “smoke” burn marks on an ornament or project on Pinterest? That is caused by poor Air Assist. Bottom line, the air blast smicro particles out of the way. If you don’t have a good enough Air Assist you will end up with that smokey look. Not good.
Rotary Tool- this is an attachment that you can use to engrave things like tumblers or glasses. If you figure this attachment out, beware, you will make $$$ money $$$. Obviously, the Omtech Polar, comes with 2 types, Glowforge zero. To me this is another HUGE selection difference.
Image Trace- This is a really cool tool that both machines have added and I will kind of give the win to Glowforge on this one again. Their camera system (same used for the Auto Focus) is the bees knees. Best in operation. Flipside is that LightBurn will do the exact same thing, it just takes a couple more steps.
Fan- they are about the same.
Last but not least, Freebies! Who doesn’t love Freebies when you just paid 7 thousand dollars! Ok, joking aside. The Glowforge comes with a pack of cutting materials to get you started. Decent amount and (a cool feature) most of their stuff has a QR code on it so the machine immediately recognizes it. The OmTech Polar comes with all kinds of stuff. Wood, key chains, leather, just all kinds of stuff so you can get an idea what your machine can do.
Obviously, I have some bias here. I am I guess , a smart and dilligent person, willing to learn how to use my machines. With that said, if that criteria remotely fits you (because the learning curve difference between the two is not huge) then buy the Omtech Polar. It is such a better deal, great product, more functionality, better venting, bigger cutting size. It’s just almost everything better. If your really love Glowforges online software (some people do), then that is really the only reason I would go for the Glowforge.
Now, to confuse the situation a little more, I say to you, why are you buying a desktop machine? If you are trying to make a small business out of lasering, you should know for the same-ish price as the Glowforge you could get an Omtech AF3555-130 – 130W CO2 Laser Engraver Cutting Machine with 35” x 55” Working Area (with Auto Focus). A simply MASSIVE machine with ridiculous capabilities. I also have the MF2028-60 – 60W CO2 Laser Engraver Cutting Machine with 20″ X 28″ Working Area. This one is my daily driver, simple to use and a really solid machine.
I hope you took something from my blog! Please like, share and leave a comment of question if you have one.
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Have a great one!
Hill Country CNC & Woodwork