Types of Laser Tubes: Diode vs Glass vs RF Tubes

The first thing to consider when buying a laser cutter is about the different types of laser tubes. Each has its own unique features and advantages, and in this article, we’re going to demystify this for you!

photo of a laser tube with the title battle of the lasers which is best? light to dark blue gradient background

Diode Laser: The Entry Level Option

Diode lasers are the most accessible and affordable laser option. They are “entry-level” laser cutters that use semiconductor diodes as the source of laser power, making them compact, energy-efficient, and designed for small-scale projects.

If you’re just trying out laser cutting for the first time, these machines are great for hobbyists. One benefit for the beginner laser nerd, is that you won’t need to deal with adding a cooling system. These machines cannot be used for batches, so they are not ideal for business use.

There are limitations to diode lasers: they are best suited for cutting and engraving thin materials like paper, cardboard, leather, and some types of plastics. Trying to cut thicker materials may lead to a slow and uneven process, or damage to your machine. The power output of diode lasers is generally lower than their CO2 counterparts, so they lack the cutting muscle required for heavy-duty applications.

Another issues is that these machines don’t typically include a exhaust or extracting and venting system meaning wood or other types of particulates created by the machine can coat the machine and gum up the components. Also, this lack of an exhaust system means you are inhaling particulates into lungs.

Pros of Diode Lasers:

  • Affordability
  • Compact and Energy-Efficient
  • User-Friendly
  • No Cooling System Required

Cons of Diode Lasers:

  • Limited Material Compatibility
  • Low Power Output
  • Lack of Exhaust System
  • Health Concerns

C02 RF Lasers

For a high production business, CO2 RF (Radio Frequency) lasers might be your weapon of choice. These lasers use a sealed gas tube filled with carbon dioxide as their power source, making them significantly more potent than diode lasers.

The key strength of CO2 RF lasers lies in their versatility and ability to do incredibly detailed work. C02RF tube lasers can cut and engrave a wide range of materials, from paper and leather to wood, acrylic, glass and stone. Some can even cut even metals. This makes them ideal for both small-scale artistic projects and large-scale industrial applications.

Another advantage of CO2 RF lasers is their precision. They offer fine control over power and speed, allowing you to achieve intricate and detailed designs with ease and super speed. Overall, the precision of a RF is superior to both a diode and glass C02 tube laser.

While CO2 RF lasers are more expensive upfront compared to diode lasers, they offer excellent value for money in the long run. They last much longer than a C02 glass tube with longer working hours. They are durable and reliable machines that can handle heavy workloads, making them ideal for businesses with high production.

Some applications that would highly benefit from RF tubes are jigsaw puzzles, photo engraving and any business that require the point size of the laser and kerf(width of cut) to be detailed, incredibly small, or projects that require parts to fit together perfectly.

One drawback of CO2 RF lasers is their size and power consumption. These machines are bulkier and require more electricity to operate than diode lasers. Additionally, they come with a higher learning curve, so beginners may need some time to get the hang of them. Regular maintenance is also essential to ensure their longevity.

Pros of CO2 RF Lasers:

  • Versatility
  • Precision
  • Speed
  • Durability
  • Long Lifespan
  • Value for Money

Cons of CO2 RF Lasers:

  • Size and Power Consumption
  • Learning Curve
  • Regular Maintenance
  • Typically more expensive than other types of lasers

Thunder Laser’s C02 RF laser machines: The Odin Series>>Thunder Laser’s C02 Desktop RF laser machine: The Thunder Bolt>>

The Thunder Bolt

  • 30 w desktop model
  • 20″ x 12″ bed size 
  • 4.3″ adjustable Z height
  • C02 RF Tube
  • Air-cooled (no chiller required)
  • Read more>>

Odin 22

  • 30w
  • 22″ x 15″ Bed Size  
  • 7.3″ Adjustable Z height
  • C02 RF Tube (No chiller)
  • Read more>>

Odin 32

  • 55w
  • 32″ x 20″ Bed Size  
  • 7.3″ Adjustable Z height
  • C02 RF Tube (No chiller)
  • Read more>>

C02 Glass Tube Lasers

For those who demand an all around reliable laser, glass CO2 lasers represent the pinnacle of laser cutting technology. These lasers are known for their exceptional performance, making them a go-to choice for demanding industries like aerospace and medical device manufacturing.

What sets glass CO2 lasers apart is their power and reliability. C02 glass tube machines deliver high-quality, consistent results across a wide range of materials, such as wood, plastics, foam, glass, ceramic, stone and more.

Glass CO2 lasers are also known for their longevity. This long-term reliability can be a significant cost-saving factor for businesses that rely heavily on laser cutting. Although their precision isn’t as high as the C02 RF lasers,  there is the ability to upgrade to a High Resolution lens which narrows the laser pints to a smaller point similar to an RF tube. For most applications, this difference won’t be noticeable.

Despite their remarkable performance, glass CO2 lasers may require custom electrical work to set up for the higher powered models. In addition to this, their ventilation and cooling systems can be seem a bit daunting at first.

Pros of C02 Glass Tubes:

    Exceptional performance and precision

    High power and reliability

    Unmatched cutting speed and accuracy.

    Longer lifespan

    Long-term cost savings

Cons of Glass CO2 Lasers:

    Complex power -requirements

    Cooling systems setup and maintenance.

Thunder Laser’s C02 glass tube laser machines: The Nova Series>>

Nova 24

  • 60 w 
  • 23.6″ x 15.7″ ” Bed Size  
  • 5.9″ Adjustable Z height
  • Glass C02 Tube
  • Water-cooled
  • Read more>>

Nova 35

  • 80 w or 100w
  • 35.4″ x 23.6″ Bed Size  
  • 9.1″ Adjustable Z height
  • Glass C02 Tube
  • Water-cooled
  • Read more>>

Nova 51

  • 100 w or 130w
  • 51.2″x35.4″ Bed Size  
  • 9.1″ Adjustable Z height
  • Glass C02 Tube
  • Water-cooled
  • Read more>>

Nova 63

  • 130w
  • 63″ x 39.4″ Bed Size  
  • 9.1″ Adjustable Z height
  • Water-cooled
  • Read more>>

In Conclusion

In the battle of laser cutters, diode,  glass CO2 and CO2 RF, and laser tubes each have their unique strengths and weaknesses. The choice ultimately depends on your specific needs and budget.

Diode Lasers: Opt for diode lasers if you’re a beginner or on a tight budget. They are simple, affordable, and great for basic engraving and cutting on thin materials. If you need something that looks and take more wear and tear, you might want a glass or RF tube.

CO2 RF Lasers: If you’re a professional looking for versatility and precision, CO2 RF lasers are your best bet. They can handle a wide range of materials and offer excellent value for the long term.

Glass CO2 Lasers: For top-tier performance and reliability, choose glass CO2 lasers. They are the premium choice for industries that demand the highest levels of precision and consistency.

Whichever laser cutter you choose, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for setup and operation. Laser cutting is a powerful technology that can bring your creative visions to life or revolutionize your production processes, so choose wisely and enjoy the endless possibilities that laser cutting has to offer!

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