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What's the difference between a laser plotter and a galvo laser?

There are two main types of laser machines: flatbed lasers (sometimes called a laser plotter) and galvo lasers. Trotec Laser offers both types of laser machines. One of the main differences between a flatbed laser and a galvo laser is how the laser beam is directed onto the workpiece. In a flatbed laser, the laser beam is directed by fixed-mounted mirrors that move over the working area via X and Y axes. In contrast, the laser beam in galvo lasers is directed by fast-moving mirrors. Below is a guide to help you determine when you should use either a flatbed or galvo laser.

The difference between a flatbed laser and galvo laser

The main difference between flatbed lasers and galvo lasers is how the laser beam is directed onto the workpiece. In a flatbed laser, the laser beam is directed along the X and Y axes by fixed mirrors which result in the laser beam focusing and pointing vertically onto the work piece. As the laser machine increases in size, as does the processing area.

While in a galvo laser system, the laser beam is directed onto two rotable, highly dynamic mirrors of low inertia which are moved by galvanometer drives (hence the name galvo laser). As hardly any masses are accelerated, the laser beam can this be directed over the workpiece at great speed with high precision and repeatability. The marking field size is defined by the deflection angle and the focal length of the optics. The below video highlights the difference in the two functions.

Advantages and disadvantages of laser plotters and galvo lasers

When deciding on whether to use a flatbed laser or a galvo laser, the application will primarily determine which system should be used. The following comparison shows you what you should consider when you are deciding which type to use.

Working area

Flatbed lasers

Flatbed lasers typically have larger working areas than galvo lasers. Trotec laser machines have working areas ranging from 457mm x 305mm right up to 2.2m x 3.2m. These working areas are designed for both large parts or many small parts which can be laser engraved or cut. The size of the machine determines the working area. The larger the machine, the larger the working area. For models with the pass-through option, it is also possible to insert parts that are larger than the processing area.

Galvo Laser

Trotec's galvo lasers have working areas up to 310 x 310 mm for fiber lasers and up to 500 x 500 mm for CO2 lasers. This size refers to the marking area alone. By mounting the galvo laser on an axle system (X, Y) of a laser workstation, working areas up to approx. 1100 x 600 mm can be utilised. Galvo lasers have the option to use housing or without. Even large and bulky parts can be marked on systems without housing or with housing using pass-through or detachable side parts.

Production environment and speed

Flatbed laser 

Flatbed lasers are typically operated as stand-alone machines. By this we mean, they work independently from other production machines. The process is usually this: materials are taken to the laser machine, processed, removed and depending on the product either processed further or sold. The processing time varies according to the application and laser machine used. Some jobs can take only seconds while other jobs will take longer. It is common for one operator to work and manage several machines. While one machine is processing the jobs, other machines are loaded ready for processing or parts are removed after processing.

Galvo Laser

Galvo laser systems are high-speed lasers which usually process individual jobs within a few seconds. To maximise production capacity and reduce downtime during loading and unloading, galvo lasers also are available as semi-automatic work stations with round tables. The compact nature of galvo lasers means they can easily be integrated into production lines which means very high numbers of parts are processed in a short timeframe in fully automated operations. Additionally, galvo laser systems can be largely automated through using conveyor belts or other handling systems.

Laser software

Flatbed lasers

Trotec's flatbed lasers come standard with easy-to-use laser software compatible with graphics programs. This means the user works with their usual programs (e.g. CorelDraw, Photoshop, Photopaint, AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Word, Excel, etc.) and sends the job to the laser machine via a printer driver, where the graphics are converted into a real object.

Details on the JobControl® laser software for flatbed lasers

Galvo Laser

Trotec's galvo lasers come standard with a highly flexible, powerful but nevertheless very user-friendly software. The software allows individual, intelligent and interactive program sequences to be created quickly. As the software is user friendly, everything is possible without special programming knowledge, including indexing serial numbers, time stamps, processing of lists, handling variables, and more.

Details about the SpeedMark software for galvo lasers

Laser cutting

Flatbed lasers

Due to the design of a flatbed laser ("flying optics"), the laser beam always hits the material perpendicularly ensuring a straight cut edge. This is particiularly important for for thick materials such as acrylic, MDF and wood.  Perfectly straight edges are a mark of high quality and precision, and may be a requirement in some cases, for example if parts must be put together correctly after laser cutting.

Galvo Laser

Speed is one of the main advantages of a galvo laser which is especially noticable when you're working with thinner materials, such as paper, cardboard, foils, or thinner laminates. A galvo laser can achieve greater speed, anywhere between 10 to approximately 65 times faster than a flatbed laser, depending on the application. Depending on the position within the marking field, however, the beam impacts onto the material at a greater or lesser angle of inclination. In the case of thicker materials, this slope of the cutting edge is clearly visible.


Flatbed lasers

To achieve the optimal results each application requires its own configuration. Lenses (different focal lengths) and processing tables, in particular, have a substantial impact on the result. Flatbed lasers offer an unbeatable advantage when working with a wide range of individual engraving or cutting tasks as they adapt very quickly and provide a level of flexibility for the application.

Galvo Laser

Galvo lasers are generally purchased for a specific application, for which they are optimised. Integration into ERP systems is just as possible as the marking of dynamic contents (e.g. counting up of serial numbers, time stamps, processing of lists, etc.). A high degree of automation facilitates the marking process and the throughput time.

Other facts

Flatbed lasers

  • Trotec lasers are available as a CO2, fiber or also available as Speedy flexx. This patented technology permits CO2 and fiber lasers to be activated alternately in just one laser machine at the click of a mouse. This provides ultimate flexibility in material selection.
  • Entry-level CO2 machines are available. The laser plotter is economically advantageous even for low quantities.
  • Compatible with all popular graphics programs (laser software works like a printer driver).

Galvo laser

  • High focus tolerance provides tremendous benefits when working with products that are not 100% plane. Examples: Tools, jewellery, watches, machine components, medical implants and instruments, advertising.
  • Deep engraving on metals is possible
  • Black discoloration of anodised aluminum possible
  • Capabilities to reproduce colours on steel are possible

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