Creality’s Ender 3 series of 3D printers has been a popular choice for people who want to start 3D printing at home. Their beginner-friendly ease of use and readiness right out of the box are complemented by their super affordable price tags.
More than this, the Ender 3 is known for its open-source hardware. It’s easily customizable and highly upgradable, with a community that is constantly looking for home-made and home-installed improvements. The most impressive of these is undoubtedly the Ender 3’s laser engraver upgrade.
What is a laser engraver?
A laser engraver is a device that uses a concentrated laser to engrave various surfaces. Depending on the wattage, laser engravers can be used to carve designs into anything like paper, wood, and metal.
With a high enough power concentration, laser engravers can be used to cut as well, similar to a CNC router. Both laser engraving and laser cutting have a wide variety of uses, from making elaborate signs to customized furniture, and even making wedding invitations.
For buying a laser cutter / engraver: our recommendations
Why Should I Get a Laser Engraver?
Laser engravers are a great way to customize and personalize things. With engraving, you can make anything from keychains to bookmarks and even tables and chairs.
Laser engraving adds a personal touch to any home, can make great gifts, or even custom engraved objects that sell well online.
The Creality Ender 3
We’re assuming you already have a Creality Ender 3 3D printer if you’re reading this. If not, here’s where you can buy it:
Ender 3 Laser Engravers
You have two main options for turning your Ender 3 into a laser engraver:
Creality’s Laser Engraver Upgrade Kit
Third-party Add-ons, such as one by Endurance Lasers
The highly modifiable Ender 3 already has a lot of community-designed upgrades. From simple part protectors to Raspberry Pi integration, there are dozens of modifications both homemade and purchased to get the most out of your 3D printer.
One of the more impressive of these upgrades is the laser engraver. Upgrading your Ender 3 for laser engraving can be done in a few ways, the best and most reliable of which we’re going to look at here. Choosing the right one will depend on your needs, your equipment, and your price range.
Before installing either of these laser engravers, be sure to turn your printer off and unplug it from the wall. If recently used, you’ll want to make sure that your printer has completely cooled and is free of any leftover materials or debris before installing new parts.
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1. The Creality Laser Engraver
While there are some DIY laser engraver add-ons for your Ender 3, Creality’s official version is perhaps the safest and most reliable for those who aren’t confident in their engineering skills.
Purchasable straight from Creality’s website, their official Ender 3 laser engraver is compatible with all Ender 3 modules, including the V2 and Ender 3 Pro. This engraver, called the Laser Kit, is a simple-install device that connects directly to your Ender 3.
The kit comes with two wooden planks on which you can test and practice, though the laser kit can also cut plastic, acrylic, and paper, all depending on the voltage settings. These are connected to the fan speed, which can be altered to suit whichever material you’re engraving.
If you’re wanting to use an Ender 3 V2 for laser engraving, you’ll need a separate mount. Fortunately, you can print one using the free files here. However, this laser kit is not compatible with models like the Ender 5.
It’s also worth noting that the wattage limits of this laser engraver mean that it cannot be used as a standard laser cutter.
You’ll only need a screwdriver and protective eyewear when installing your laser cutter. Simply unscrew the mainboard cover and connect the laser engraver to the fan port.
Once connected, the magnetized laser module can be attached to your printer or set into an externally printed mount, depending on your preference.
Using a dial on the side, ensure the laser is set to 0 before turning anything on. Once you’re confident everything has been set up correctly, you can start laser engraving!
After downloading and installing Creality Workshop software, you can import image files much like you would CAD files for 3D printing. Simply change the settings to ‘laser’ and ensure the wattage is set correctly for the material you’re using.
Some complaints have been raised over needing to switch out the wires when alternating between 3D printing and laser engraving with the Ender 3. While awkward, this is acts as a safety benefit, ensuring the two can never be accidentally used in tandem, which would be exceedingly dangerous.
2. Endurance Laser Module
The Endurance laser module is designed to work with just about any 3D printer. However, given Creality’s reputation for open-source and easily modifiable machines, turning your Ender 3 into a laser engraver is much easier than most.
The Endurance prides itself as a 10-watt machine, making it seem fairly powerful. However, this number refers to its maximum potential output, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a continuous beam of that power.
Despite this, the Endurance laser module is an impressive add-on, capable of engraving metals and ceramics with speeds of up to 100mm/s when engraving standard metals like copper and steel. For softer metals like aluminum, it can engrave up to 400mm/s.
This is all very good news for turning your Ender 3 into a laser engraver for metal engraving, but those who are looking to only use their laser engraver sparingly or focus on wood may be turned away by the rather steep price of $595+.
Installing the Endurance laser engraver to an Ender 3 3D printer is a little more awkward as it’s not an official add-on for the device. Fortunately, it’s still easier to install on an Ender 3 as it’s designed to handle modifications.
Where many other 3D printers would require drilling to secure the module and its components, turning an Ender 3 into a laser engraver with Endurance requires little more than ensuring the wires don’t cross and the laser module itself is held in an appropriately sized mount.
Before You Start
Laser engravers use high-intensity lasers to carve imagery into objects. Because of this, they can be extremely dangerous if improperly used. Safety precautions must be taken into consideration before installing or using any equipment like this, including the Ender 3 laser engraver.
Engraving of any kind can release airborne particles. While wearing a mask is a good counter to this, it’s still important to ensure proper ventilation and filtration systems are used when engraving, especially when working with plastics and metals.
Hazards to Vision
Cool as laser engraving may look, it’s important to remember never to look directly into the laser as it’s working. Keeping an eye on any actively working machine is always a good idea, but protective eyewear is a must as well as avoiding staring directly at the laser for long periods of time.
Never Leave Alone
A laser cutter or laser engraver should never be left unattended. Fire hazards and electrical faults are a constant danger with any high-voltage machinery, so, despite the engraving process being automated, at least one person should be present throughout.
This is to ensure any problems can be detected and dealt with immediately, reducing the risk of fires and other dangers like electrical burning or poor ventilation.
These risks can be further reduced by keeping the workstation as free from dust and debris as possible.
Installing and setting up a laser engraver is all well and good, but you’ll need to know what settings to use and precautions to take to make sure you get the best possible results every time while minimizing potential risks.
Always Double-Check Wattage
Double-checking the power output settings is important to getting good results from your Ender 3 laser engraver. Materials of various thicknesses and strengths will require different wattage levels, so make sure you know which options you should use and double-check them before beginning.
Don’t Overestimate Your Hardware
Laser engravers cannot necessarily act as laser cutters. Attempting to use a higher wattage to repurpose your engraver as a cutter can ruin projects and even cause fires if the settings aren’t applicable to the materials and purpose.
It’s also important to check the limitations of your engraver. The official Creality laser engraver, for example, is not the most powerful machine available, and so shouldn’t be used on stronger metals like titanium or steel.
Before engraving a piece of furniture or signing your name onto your favorite bookmark, run a few tests using your new equipment to ensure the image sizes and orientations are engraved exactly the way you want.
Make sure you have a good feel for your laser engraver and are confident in what it can do and how before turning your attention to important or fragile projects.
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