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February 27 2018

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Which Gas Laser Tube to Select for that New Cutter

A carbon dioxide, or CO2 laser tube is required to operate laser cutting and engraving machines. There are other types of laser tubes, but CO2 gas tubes are the most widely used due to their energy-efficiency and steady streams of power. Which tube to choose depends on the size and primary use of the machine.

Two Types

Radio frequency (RF) tubes are made of metal and produce a pulsed laser beam that repeats rapidly. This is more likely to be selected for large commercial laser cutters. The reasons for this include the duration and the laser tube price. RF tubes last a long time which means high productivity. There is little down time associated with replacing worn tubes.

The tube is much higher in price than the DC type so it is cost prohibitive for small business owners and individuals that own a desk top model laser cutter. This option is slightly better for high precision graving, but the difference is negligible.

Direct Current (DC) Laser Tubes

Made of glass and filled with a mixture of gases, these tubes produce laser beams via electrical current. When electricity passes through the tube, the direct electrical discharge results in an invisible but powerful photonic laser beam. They need to be replaced frequently, but only cost a fraction of the price of RF tubes.

Due to the low initial cost, it is the ideal choice for small business owners, hobbyists, artists, independent jewelry makers, and crafty people. These machines get less use than commercial ones, so replacements costs are not excessive. Many people have used small laser cutters and engravers to create unique items faster and with more consistency. It is then possible to turn a hobby into a second or primary income.


Once the type of tube is decided, the wattage has to be selected next. Each machine will have a recommended wattage range based on the capabilities of the model. Low watts, anywhere from two to seven, generate less power and are better for engraving purposes. Thinner materials, such as fabric and paper, will not pull, tear, or fray under the force of the laser beam.

Higher watts, which top off at a 150 watt laser tube, excel at cutting materials due to the amount of power achieved. Large machines include active cooling systems to control heat. Use extra care when using higher watts because an electrical shock is dangerous and will create more damage than lower wattage tubes.

Safety Precautions

Whether using high or low wattage, protection for the eyes must be worn at all times when the machine is on. The laser is both powerful and invisible so safety glasses are essential. Getting the feel for the power and movement of the machine will take patience and practice. Do not rush this step. Maintain all recommended safety procedures and precautions to get the best, and safest, use of the machine.

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