Comparing types of lasers (Diode, CO2 & Fiber Optic).

What is the difference between a Diode, CO2 & Fiber Optic Laser?

In this article we are comparing and contrasting the major differences between hobbyist lasers (Diode, CO2 and Fiber Optic). Ultimately, to answer what is the difference, the answer is, it is in the way that the laser generates  the laser beam, via energy or chemical, and the process in which it focuses the beam.

If you have found yourself looking at lasers for a hobby or small craft business, consider yourself lucky that you found out that lasers are not all equal! This article aims to help you understand the differences between these hobbyist lasers so you can make an informed buying decision.

Laser cutting metal showing the differences in Fiber Optic Lasers from others. We ompare and contrast the types of lasers, Diode, CO2 and Fiber Optic.

Let's start with, what is the same between a Diode, CO2 & Fiber Optic Laser?

So the truth here, is that between the three their is not much similar. They are all lasers, they can all etch and they all present considerable risk to the naked eye. I will add that when you look at the Diode and CO2 their are several similarities and that is because the Fiber Optic Laser really is a different animal and should almost be in it’s own category. 

Next, this is an example of a Diode Laser.

Diode Laser

First, let’s talk about the Diode Laser. The diode laser uses an optoelectrical device to convert electricity into light energy, charging the atoms into a powerful beam. Generally, I don’t the this part of the conversation has much impact because when looking at which laser is right for you, it is really more about what you are looking to do with that laser. 

  • Diode Lasers are kind of cool, because the are usually small and movable. This means you can take it to the job as opposed to all other lasers having to have the material come to them.
  • They are relatively cheap! Diode lasers come in at the low end of the scale rangeing from $200 to $3000. Yes, I said low end!
  • A real nice thing, Diode Lasers are actually easiely upgraded, meaning their are several resources for sale to make your laser better. It can grow as your needs and budget grows.
  • Many Diode Lasers can actually be attached to a CNC machine. If you happen to have a CNC, you may want to look at this option! Onefinity recently came out with a great diode that just snaps on to their CNC, you run it almost exactly like the CNC machine you are already familiar with.
  • Most run off the program Lightburn. Lightburn is the bees knees when it comes to laser software. It is cheap as programs go and is just hands down unmatched. 
  • Generally cutting areas are the largest of these three lasers types.

Diode Drawbacks

  • The biggest thing without a doubt is that they are relatively weak. You have to look at what you want to do, and if it is cutting a lot of 3/8″ plus wood or just about anything else, the diode will leave you wanting.
  • To do the larger cuts, it takes considerably more time than the CO2 or Optic lasers.
  • 6-15 watts is normal. Their are Diode Lasers that sit outside these ranges. 
  • Diode Lasers require ventilation (really it’s for your health).
  • Most do not have an enclosure (keeps fingers safe and usually provides a level of eye safety through a laser “Safe” cover.
  • Because of the no enclosure and ventilation, Diode Lasers are BAD for schools.
  • Needs an Air-Assist Module, but most do not come with it.
  • Generally can only do 2D, so a tumbler glass or Yeti cup is not the norm to work on.
  • Can NOT etch or cut metal. It can etch the coating on metal, but not the actual metal.

Diode Recommendations

Image of a CO2 Laser head.

CO2 Laser

Next on to Carbon Dioxide Lasers (commonly referred to as CO2 Lasers). This is my personal preference, I use my CO2 laser about 80% more than my Fiber Optic and I do not have a Diode Laser because of it’s inherent flaws. Again, it is all about what you plan to do with the laser, but if you have any desire to run a business, CO2 is probably the sweet spot. A CO2 Laser works by electrically charging chemicals (mostly CO2) in a sealed tube to excite the atoms turning them into photons. In turn creating a beam of powerful light. Because the tube is usually rather large it uses mirrors to bounce the beam to the focal lens where it is focused and becomes a beam. 

  • CO2 Lasers are POWERFUL and fast. 
  • The lasers range from 30  to 130 watts. I think the sweet spot is 80 watts.
  • They are enclosed, with some type of filtration system and an Air Assist.
  • Many have a “pass through” allowing for huge cutting areas that are much bigger than their organic cutting surface.
  • Most CO2 lasers range in cost from $2,000 to $15,000. I know, you are saying how is that a positive? It is compared to the Fiber Optic!
  • Carbon Dioxide Lasers are able to cut much thicker material, much faster than the diode.
  • Able to use Rotary Tools (it’s a rotational device that turns your cup or glass to allow for 360 etching)!
  • Many have or can add on cameras.
  • They have a preview feature, so you can see exactly where you will etch/cut.  

CO2 Drawbacks

  • CO2 Lasers generate a lot of heat so in addition to the laser you must have a cooling source. Most lasers come with a bucket, pump and hose to pump cool water through your laser tube. Not a huge deal, but it is one more concern.
  • The CO2 Laser tubes have a lifespan. Much like a light bulb, the tube must be replaced once it goes bad. Generally think 2,000 hours, which would be running it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for a year. So not too bad unless you are really getting after it. 
  • They are LARGE. These machines are generally very big. Their are desktop models, but most are like 3 foot by 4 foot and 3 feet tall.
  • They have the same issue etching or cutting metal as the diode. It can etch the coating of a metal cup, but not the metal itself. 
  • Probably the best (safest) choice for in a school.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Laser Recommendations

An example for comparison of a PLH3D-XT Optical Laser head. Last, we ompare and contrast the types of lasers, Diode, CO2 and Fiber Optic.

Fiber Optic Laser

Finally, we move to our last category, Fiber Optic Lasers. The Fiber Optic Laser is a laser that utilizes fiber optics “doped” in rare earth materials and then are amplified to make the beam. I personally love Fiber lasers, but I do find that they are just a little to specialized for my tastes and usage.

  • YES! They can engrave metal! They are really cool in the fact that you can make coins and all kinds of other things with it that are out of reach of the other two lasers. 
  • Don’t require a cooler, air assist and don’t have a consummable.
  • Provides you with a preview of your cutting area like the CO2 Laser. 
  • Power ranges are 20 to 70 watts.

Fiber Optic Laser Drawbacks

  • Usually it has a VERY small cutting area. Think less than a foot squared, more often less than 6 inches squared.
  • $3,000 to $20,000…
  • No enclosure for safety. Great device for frying fingers and eyeballs. 
Common equipment and safety devices for lasers. We ompare and contrast the types of lasers, Diode, CO2 and Fiber Optic.

Final thoughts from a guy that knows!

Truth in lending, I started the laser process totally going in to buy a diode laser. Upon much research I discovered all the advantages of the CO2. To begin with, I knew the Fiber Optic Laser existed and was “more powerful” in that it could engrave metal. I chose the CO2 and have been really happy with it. For my first laser I started with the Omtech MF2028 and it has worked great. After building a business base, I added more and ventured out to the Fiber. Fiber is really cool, but it is not what I generally make my money off of and for the price, not quiet worth it. 

Make sure to check out the rest of my website and blog! My store has many of the common items I personally use and the WHY behind it.

Have a great one!


Hill Country CNC & Woodwork

*I am not currently an affiliate marketer for Omtech. I just really like the brand and service department. Same for Onefinity, I own their CNC machine and am not an affiliate marketer.

3 thoughts on “Comparing types of lasers (Diode, CO2 & Fiber Optic).”

    1. GP, for me this is a really tough question. I enjoy each of my “arts” of Woodworking, CNC and Laser differently and separately. I really like making perfect mortise and tenon with a chisel and some saws, and I guess the bigger scale satisfaction lies with traditional woodworking when you make an amazing table or something. But the challenges and abilities that CNC and Laser provide me are actually quiet satisfying too. Think of it as a traditional made table being one big accomplishment, 20 lasered objects also add up and equate to a big accomplishment. Hope this helps! I love all three, they challenge my brain in different ways and that is really why I do this.

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