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

Laser machines for engraving and marking are available in two designs: flatbed lasers (also referred to as laser plotters), and as galvo lasers. Below is a guide to help you determine when each laser type should be used.

Flatbed

Laser plotters use a gantry system, like the one found in traditional printers. The laser head is mounted on a set of movable arms that move in two directions (X and Y axes) across the material being engraved. At the end, the beam is focused by a lens and thus applied vertically onto the material. The plotter system is installed in a housing. The larger the machine, the larger the processing area.

Galvos

Galvo lasers use galvanometer scanners (what gives the Galvo laser its name) to direct the laser beam quickly and precisely across the material. Instead of moving the entire laser head, small mirrors (galvanometers) rapidly adjust the direction of the laser beam. The marking field size is defined by the deflection angle and the focal length of the optics.

The video shows you the principles of the two architectures:

Engraving and marking applications

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Flatbed laser:

Laser plotters are well-suited for applications where high precision is required, such as detailed artwork or large-format engraving on flat surfaces.

Also, laser plotters are mostly purchased for versatile applications because they offer a great versatility in terms of application, materials and object sizes.

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Galvo laser: 

Galvo lasers are commonly used for applications that require high-speed marking, such as marking codes, serial numbers, or intricate designs on smaller items like jewelry or electronic components.

Galvo lasers are often purchased for a specific application, for which they are optimized.

Remark: The high focus tolerance of galvo lasers provides tremendous benefits when working with products that are not 100% plane. Examples: Tools, jewelry, watches, machine components, medical implants and instruments, promotional articles. Marking/Engraving on 3D objects (even without Rotary) or even inside marking. A galvo laser can therefore be an ideal addition to a laser plotter.

Cutting applications

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Flatbed laser: 

Due to the design of the laser plotter ("flying optics"), the laser beam always hits the material perpendicularly. This ensures a straight cut edge, especially for thick materials (e.g. acrylic, MDF, 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.

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Galvo laser: 

When it comes to cutting speed is a main advantage of the galvo laser, and the advantage is especially noticeable when you're working with thinner materials, such as paper, cardboard, foils, or thinner laminates. Depending on the application, 10 to approx. 65 times the speeds of a flatbed system can be achieved. 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.

In summary, the key differences lie in the mechanical setup and the speed of operation. Laser plotters are slower but offer precision over a larger engraving area, making them suitable for certain applications. Galvo lasers, on the other hand, excel in high-speed engraving of smaller areas where precision and speed are crucial. The choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of the engraving job. But there is more to consider, as you can see below:

Working area

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Flatbed laser:

Flatbed lasers typically have larger processing surfaces than galvo lasers. Trotec laser machines have processing areas as large as 87 x 126 inches. You can insert either a large part or many small parts into the machining area and then have the laser engrave or cut them. The size of the machine limits the processing area. The larger the machine, the larger the processing area. For models with pass-throughs, it is also possible to insert parts that are larger than the processing area.

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Galvo laser: 

Trotec's galvo lasers have marking fields of up to 310x310 mm for fiber lasers and up to 535 x 535 mm for CO2 lasers. This refers to the marking area of the laser head alone. By mounting the galvo laser on an axle system (X, Y) of a laser workstation, processing areas up to approx. 1300x450 mm can be realized. Galvo lasers are used with or without housing. With housings with pass-throughs or detachable side parts or without housing, even very large and bulky parts can be marked.

Production environment and speed

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Flatbed laser:

Flatbed lasers (or laser plotters) are typically operated as stand-alone machines. This means they always work independently from other production machines. The materials are taken to the laser machine, processed there, removed, and processed further or sold directly depending on the product. Processing times also vary according to application. Some jobs take only a few seconds, while other take several hours. It is common for one operator to work several machines. While one machine is processing the jobs, other machines are being loaded, or parts are being removed.

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Galvo laser:

Galvo lasers offer high processing speeds, completing individual tasks in seconds. They are versatile, adaptable to stand-alone, semi-automated, or fully integrated setups. Different variants cater to diverse production needs: manual loading for quick marking, semi-automated for enhanced workflow integration, and fully integrated systems for maximum cycle time reduction and automation. Ensuring a steady supply of new parts is the primary requirement, which can be automated using conveyor belts or handling systems, optimizing production flow, and minimizing downtime.

Configurability

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Flatbed laser: 

Each application requires its own configuration for optimal results. Lenses (different focal lengths) and processing tables have a substantial impact on the result. Flatbed lasers can be quickly and flexibly adapted to the application. This is an unbeatable advantage when you are working with a wide range of individual engraving or cutting tasks.

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Galvo laser:

Galvo lasers are tailored for specific applications, from individual marking to fully automated production lines. Integration with ERP systems and dynamic content marking (e.g., variable data, serial numbers, time stamps) is seamless. They enhance productivity, from manual operation to high automation, streamlining the marking process and reducing throughput time.

You need more information about laser plotters or galvo lasers?

Our laser experts are happy to answer your questions about the differences of laser machines. They will help you to figure out which laser type suits best for your applications.

Contact us

You need more information about laser plotters or galvo lasers?
Our laser experts are happy to answer your questions about the differences of laser machines.

Contact us
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