The Laser

FSL 40W Hobby Laser... ZAP

The laser I settled on is a 40W CO2 Hobby Laser (5th gen) by Full Spectrum Laser.

I ordered on February 1, 2013, order #100001667. It should ship... Ummm... 4-6 weeks... so no idea. An email asking for queue status received nothing (and so the shitty support begins!... more on this later).

Cost: $3,649.00 Shipping: $0, I'm going to drive to Vegas to pick it up. I'm going to source the exhaust fan and air compressor myself instead of their $250 and $150 add-on options. They provide a small water pump for laser tube cooling for free which you are supposed to put in a 5 gallon bucket of distilled water.


  • Work Area 20"x12"
  • Machine Dimensions 31.5"x20"x8.25"
  • Net Weight 70 lbs
  • Laser Type Sealed CO2 laser tube
  • focusing mechanism allows for fully removable Z floor (unlimited material size)
  • Laser Power 40W Peak (30-35W Average)
  • Power Supply AC 110V Native (220V Option Available)
  • microSD slot for storage of up to 32GB of job storage (run without a computer connected)
  • integrated beam combiner+red dot pointer comes standard ($300 value)
  • Free HoneyComb Table
  • up to 1000 dpi resolution and 0.001" repeatability
  • includes 2" lens for cutting and engraving
  • Gross Power Less than 1000W
  • Driving System Stepper
  • Cooling Mode Water-cooling and protection system
  • Operating Temperature 0 - 45°C
  • Z table Pat Pend Sliding Z + Removable Floor
  • Controlling Software: RetinaEngrave USB Direct Print Drivers (100% USA Software)
  • dual processor ARM+DSP RetinaEngrave 3D Ethernet+USB

Software and Manual can be downloaded here. The HEAVILY censored support forums are here (more on this later). The FSL Youtube channel is here with setup videos and demos. General laser cutter/engraver forums can be found at Sawmill Creek and CNC Zone.

Why FSL...

SO... this was a painful decision which I waffled on for nearly a month after doing tons of research. From what I gathered, when it comes to lasers, you basically have a few options for a low end power 40-60 Watt laser cutter/etcher:

  1. Buy from a super cheap Chinese laser off of eBay or directly from a Chinese manufacturer like G-Weike. This will save you tons of money up front, but cost you lots of time after. You can get twice the power for half (or more) the cost of an American made laser, but you get Chinglish manuals, a cheaply made machine that WILL need lots of fixing up after shipping, no direct support options, and poor software. So cheap up front, expensive in time and possibly $ upgrades later
  2. Buy an American or European made laser from someone like Epilog, Trotec, or Universal. There are other players but those are the big boys. These are high end, well made and well supported machines with solid software, and mystery pricing... which means they are expensive. They all offer low end machines but even those are 3, 4 or 5 times what you can spend on an equivalently powered Chinese laser. They use dealer networks and negotiable prices so finding out the cost of these can be a pain unless you want to deal with a bunch of salesman and make a lot of calls. Even used 40 Watt Epilogs go for over $12,000.  So you pay heavily for solid support and industrial grade machines. I considered this and looked locally and found a $9000 used Epilog, but since I don't have a serious business plan, I thought better of it. 
  3. Buy a Chinese laser that has been imported into the US, setup, and rebadged. These are mid range price-wise between the above two options. Rabbit Laser and Hurricane Lasers are a couple of examples, though there are others. They use Chinese tubes and usually fully Chinese built machines that they import, check, add features to, and sell with a small premium. Here you get better service but still usually twice what you'd pay if you imported yourself.
  4. Build Your Own. There are a few options here, but from my research the best option around for a DIY laser cutter in this range is the 2.x laser designed by Bart Dring. More details here. The whole setup is open source and Bill of Materials (BOM) are provided and allows you to use the software and controller of your choice. Some custom parts are available as kits if you don't have access to machines shops or whathaveyou to make them, but the problem is that Bart only makes these in limited quantities, rarely, and on a first come first served basis after posting a note on the forum and his twitter feed. So some parts can be hard to come by. Supposedly you can build this laser for under $2000. This is super appealing to me but after considering the time sink it would take to first get my head around it (the site is only semi-organized... it would take a lot of forum digging to find all the hitches etc), to get ahold of all the parts, build, and debug... the monetary savings seem insignificant.
  5. Buy Full Spectrum Laser. These guys had a successful Kickstarter campaign for their 5th Gen 40W hobby laser and have been backordered ever since trying to fill the demand. They apparently were in category 3 above for a while with their original 40W hobby laser (between $1850 and $2400) but with this new model they say they took all they knew from the Chinese lasers and build their own (apparently borrowing heavily from the laser mentioned above)... and that adds a premium as this one costs $3500. They still use cheapo $300 Chinese tubes but the rest of the machine is an in-house design with their own software and driver board. They claim all over the place about being made in the USA, and that has an appeal in that their office is 6 hours from where I sit, and if something breaks to the point where I need to see someone face to face, I could drive to Vegas and handle it. They claim great support and great reviews on Google Checkout, however a brief search of the general forums listed above will reveal quite a bit of vitriol aimed at FSL and their business practices. Here is a good example of one person's experience with them, and their method of buying good reviews and quieting bad ones. They censor their support forum under the guise of making it more useful and a resource for it's users, but there's obviously more to it than that once you start reading people's experiences with posts being deleted and accounts suspended. This would usually make me run the opposite direction, but being well aware of the power of the vocal minority on forums (for both good and bad)... I decided to take the risk. This is the price point and time sink level I'm willing to take on, and if it works, awesome. If not, I'll have the same frustrations I would have had going with a cheaper laser anyway... so it's a gamble. Hopefully by picking it up and checking the place out in person, I'll have a better idea of how to interact with them. It's clear emails aren't the way. But... I'm looking at this as a learning experience so if I have to work on the laser a bit so be it. I went through this type of random great/horrible service with my helicopter from DJI so I sort of know the ropes a bit anyway. This is hopefully just a stepping stone to a big boy... more on that later.


I haven't purchased anything yet, but as mentioned I'll need an exhaust fan and an air assist pump. I have a couple I'm looking at but am reconsidering lately as I think I'm going to put both this and my 3D Printer in my office, so I'll have to come up with an exhaust system that can sit outside of my window and pull from there to help alleviate noise a bit. I'll update this when I do.

What's Next


LASERSAUR.  Ultimately I want to build one of these, if the laser thing pans out at all. It's a huge 2' x 4' 100+ Watt open source hardware and software laser. It's beautiful and made with extruded aluminum framing. I think I want to build them more than use them. If this project was about 6 months more mature, I'd probably have dove in and started to build one. But, they don't have engraving sorted yet, and there's a lot of bugs still being worked out. But just check out their BOM and Manual. The level of organization and support make this one VERY appealing. It's very well documented. I'm keeping an eye on the Lasersaur Google Group and once they get the raster stuff sorted and work out the major bugs, I'll probably start building one and sell my FSL. One could actually make money off a workhorse laser like this instead of doing hobby grade trinkets.


I have a list of small projects I want to do with this. I'm not sure if any of them are sellable or could pay for the machine over time but we shall see. I'm hoping to use it to enable me to do a few artistic projects I've wanted to do for a while but haven't made the time for... I find sinking a ton of money into something makes for good motivation to use it and learn it quickly. Either way it's something new to learn and should be a good mix of tech and hands on art ... which is the balance I've been trying to find for years.

Posted on February 14, 2013 and filed under Laser.