I have been wanting a laser engraver for quite some time now. The only thing stopping me was the Health Canada rules. I wasn’t sure what they were and I didn’t want to spend the money just to have it turned away at the border. When it arrived I wasn’t even expecting it. I was very surprised and eager to try it out. However, I had the Tevo Tornado to build and review, so I put this laser engraving review on the back burner for a few days.
EleksMaker A3 Pro Laser Engraver Technical Specifications
The A3 Pro laser engraver is a Diode Laser, aka semiconductor laser. A diode laser is the most common laser manufactured. It is used in many devices such as laser printers, CD/DVD/Blu-ray players, barcode readers, etc. The other common laser is a gas laser which is used to cut hard materials. Diode lasers are used more for engraving which is why the A3 Pro uses a 2.5W laser. It has a nice engraving area of 37cm x 38cm (14.5 in x 14.9 in). It uses Extruded Aluminum and stepper motors similar to 3D printers and other CNC machines, which are also on my list to build and review. While fun and exciting, lasers are dangerous and can hurt you in a flash. They can also cause irreparable damage to your eyes. So, it is imperative to use caution with these.
Unboxing The EleksMaker A3 Pro Laser Engraver
The box comes packed in the standard packing foam to keep the parts from knocking around. It includes the extruded frame, acrylics, control board, the laser module, motors, power supply and a pair of laser safety glasses. The nuts and bolts come in a handy little sorting box. The little box the laser module comes in has the wattage and a warning printed on it.
Laser Engraver Assembly
Assembling this laser engraver machine was pretty straight forward—that was once I found the proper information. The EleksMaker website is incomplete as are many of these companies’ websites. The website is nice and flashy, but without the proper content what good is it? The store is okay and the forum is useful if you have time to wait for responses. The video list, however, has no videos. It appears that there is a video, but they are 0 seconds in length. It’s the same for every product.
So, the last place is the Wiki. The wiki has detailed instructions and is easy to follow, until you get to places like the feet. They seem to be different than mine, but easy enough to figure out.
I spent about an hour building this laser. It’s basically the same as a printer without the Z axis so I had plenty of experience. It’s easy to do and anyone should be able to build it with few problems. One thing I didn’t like was how the belts clamp down to the frame. It uses a small piece of acrylic with a screw in it to hold the belt down. From my experience acrylic breaks easily and I was afraid to put the necessary tension on it.
Using T-nuts is straight forward, just make sure that you don’t miss any or you will need to remove parts to get them on. For instance, I forgot to add the two that holds the control board before putting the corners together.
Laser Engraving Software
The Software they link to on their site is called EleksCAM and, like their site, it is pretty buggy. It will not run on my AMD 8 laptop which has no problem running all the big 3D CAD software like Fusion 360 and Sketchup. It does, however, run on my desktop computer but that has an Intel I7 with 9 Gigs of Ram and a 1GB video card. The software works but I get a lot of unhanded errors. It allows me to continue so I’m not sure what it is missing, if anything.
In the software you have 4 options. The first is Pic carve. This lets you open an image in BMP, JPG and SVG formats. This will burn a gray scale image into the object you are engraving. It is pretty time consuming but works very well. The second option is the TextCarve. TextCarve opens a text dialog box where you can enter the text you want to engrave onto the object. You select the font style and the size of the area to put the text in. You also select a mode, such as point text, which creates the text with tiny dots. Then there is Outline text which is when the laser engraver prints an outline of each letter. Single text is text with a single line. The last option is real text which types as you would see in a text editor. For example: Comic Sans MS.
The third toolbar option is to load a Gcode file. So, if you want to load a file created on a different machine or software you can. The final option doesn’t have a toolbar button, but it is used to open the built in clip art that Eleks provides in the software. You just select the clipart from the bottom tab on the side.
Doing some research, I found two other applications to use. One is called Benbox and the other LaserGRBL. I wasn’t able to get Benbox to connect to this laser so I won’t go into that one.
GRBL connects but it only loads raster image and gcode files. You can edit text into an image and load it that way. That being said, it is just easier to use the buggy EleksMaker.
This laser engraver uses a micro arduino on a control bar with two stepper driver boards. One for X and the other is for Y. The board also has a switch for power and a micro USB port to connect to the PC. The laser module has a soft beam switch that you use to focus the laser. If you leave the focus switch on when you start the engraving in the software then it will not burn. You also need to leave the power off when you plug the USB into the PC or open the software application. The reason is because the laser fires for 2-3 seconds. If you have good materiel under the laser then it will be ruined. In fact, it’s good practice to keep a piece of scrap wood or something there until you are ready to start. Always wear your safety glasses and keep it unplugged while not in use. Also, it’s important not to leave it unattended when in use.
MDF Wood Laser Engraving
After assembly and learning the software, I was excited to get started. I should have read up more though. I had a big piece of MDF wood sitting in my office beside my desk. As I said, the software wouldn’t work on my laptop so I connected it to the desktop and started burning. The first thing I tried was the TextCarve with the EleksCAM which is the default text in the software. It looked okay but the top of the E and part of the l are missing. Then I gave the clip art Iron Man a shot with a slower speed. It didn’t go so well. It burned pretty bad so I stopped it. I captured a small video of it.
I’m guessing they didn’t get permission to use these copyright images. I put the speed back to default and gave Pikachu a shot. It came out perfect. I started engraving a picture of our dog who passed before Christmas, and my daughter. It didn’t look like the image so I stopped it. But after looking more closely I noticed it was actually going okay—very smoky, but okay.
Burning pictures was too smoky so I put that on the backburner until I came up with a solution. My problem is that it’s winter here and using the laser engraver outside at minus 18 degrees Celsius isn’t an option. So, I kept the wood engraving to shorter burns. Being a massive Superman fan boy, I had to try his crest. The first try was light and missing at spots. The next try was too dark and as it burned I was seeing flames coming from the wood. Since it was only a scrap piece of wood I stopped it at about 80% through.
Plywood Laser Engraving
I have a huge pile of wood from my woodshop, so I grabbed some scrap plywood and pine. The pine I put back because it had a varnish finish and I didn’t know if burning the varnish would be toxic.
I started with the TextCarve and engraved “NORM RULES!!!” You know, because I do! This time I slowed it down and chose the Real Text mode. It came out dark but I’m okay with it. A light sanding will clean the burnt edges.
With the clip art option, I engraved a wolf and the Incredible Hulk. I’m a comic fan so I love the big names in DC and Marvel Comics. Superman above all. They both came out perfectly so I then imported a picture of my bike, 2013 Ninja 650, and it looked good. I’m a person with many interests such as Riding, RC, Comics and even wood work. I’m disabled, so I can only do so much at a time. In the winter it is indoor things like 3D printing and reading that I enjoy.
This laser engraving machine comes with a couple pieces of plywood and some cardboard tags, but you can get small art supply pieces at any dollar store. I engraved an outline image of a “My Little Pony” from a Google image search. To get images that will work well you can use the key word “clipart” or “outline” in your search. My daughter loves “My Little Pony” so that was for her.
This time I wanted to test cutting through the plywood. So, I created a star in Microsoft Paint to fit on the little square piece that came with the laser. I ran the laser around the image 2 times and it almost cut through. So, I did the same with a comic bubble for the rectangular piece that came with it also. This piece was a bit thicker than the square one so I ran it 5 times. This one didn’t make it through at all. I don’t know why, but I’m thinking it may be due to harder wood and there not being a Z axis to lower the lasers focal point each pass. Being big into 3D printing I have all the things I need to add a Z axis which will involve replacing the board with a 3D printer board and adding a fourth motor and linear guide for the axis.
Glass Laser Engraving
Glass seems complicated and I’m hoping that adding the Z axis will help. My problem is getting the focal point on the top of the glass. The first one I tried was on a flat piece of MDF. It burned the glass as well as the wood. I believe the focal point was still at the wood level. Enlarge the image and you can see the path of the laser. It looks like the layer path of a 3D printed object.
Next, I tried engraving my daughter’s name and an image of Superman. They both burned into the wood but not the glass. Although this time it left a sticky film on top of the glass. Looks like a smoke stain from a tobacco cigarette. It rubbed off with paper towel. The name and Superman did not etch onto the glass at all.
Cardboard Laser Engraving
Being cardboard, you would think it would not only engrave well but also cut through very easily. This was not the case. I used a simple comic strip bubble because they were the same shape and easy to do. One pass worked great but didn’t go through. I mean, it’s paper. So, I tried again with 2 passes. Same thing. The final time I tried 3 passes and it still didn’t cut through. Two passes went through the small plywood. Again, I think it comes down to the Z axis. The tip is hard to focus so it was likely that the focal point on the plywood was lower than the top of the wood. I’m going to get this working because I want to cut thin plywood for electronic projects like a raspberry pie case or ribs for remote control airplane wings and drone body parts.
Another awesome use for a laser engraver is to put pictures into mirrors. I have seen them done by hand and I don’t like the look. Laser engraved on the other hand is very cool. Look at the Charizard Pokémon I put into the back of this mirror. The laser starts at the center of the image so I marked the center of the mirror with a marker to know where to put the beam.
I was so impressed with the result that I set out to put my daughter’s face on a locker mirror for school. Going from an image is a bit more difficult. I used paint to save it to black and white but that didn’t work.
So, I opened the black and white image in Photoshop and applied a colored pencil filter. This gave me a nice image to burn and makes it look like a person. And most of all Emily loves it and that is what is important.
Laser Engraver Upgrades and Modifications
The company sells a pen holder adapter that uses a servo to raise and lower the pen. I think the $15 price is great but I can make one with my printer.
You should buy better safety glasses. The glasses that came with the engraver are the lowest level of protection. You can buy them for next to nothing.
One other mod you should do is connect a tube to suck up the smoke or blow it away from the laser. The reason is because the smoke can damage the lens. I don’t have a link because I just got an air mattress pump from the dollar store.
And the last mod may not be needed depending on where you plan to use it. Being indoors I built an enclosure for mine. I also created a filter from fish tank filter parts that I mounted to the outside of the box. I used a 12-volt PC fan to blow the smoke through the filter. I sealed it with calking from the hardware store. With a glass top and a set of LED lights it works great! Here are some images. I clamped it to the box with 3D printed clamps I made but you can use anything from the hardware store.
Pros and Cons
- Lasers engravers are awesome!
- Diode laser is cheap and affordable
- Parts are well made
- Easy to learn
- Converts to Drawing plotter with a single Servo
- No enclosure
- Protection is minimal
- Diode power is 2.5 Watts and you won’t be cutting to much with it
Laser Engraver Evaluation
So, what do I think of this laser engraving machine? I Love it! My office smells like a camp fire but I don’t mind. I have to say this is NOT A TOY! It only takes a millisecond to burn your eye for good. Never leave it unsupervised. And most of all, have fun. I had lots of fun with this and plan to use it quite often. I’m going to add the Z axis so that I can lower the laser each pass to see if I can cut thicker materials. Speaking of materials, be careful. I burned many images into the MDF before I found out you’re not supposed to use MDF because it’s not good for your health. I’m also going to find something metal and Plexiglas to engrave. Hope my wife doesn’t mind me personalizing stuff around the house—haha.