Written by Leo Wrobel
Intro and Overview
For the past week, I have had the opportunity to test and be a reviewer for Sainsmart’s new laser engraving/ cutting machine the LC-50 Plus. I have been a laser and CNC hobbyist for about 2 years now, and have used multiple machines in that time frame. I have repeatedly been pleasantly surprised in the well-thought-out design and features of this machine as well as the ability to get such good results with so little tuning. While my results in this review may not be perfect, it should be known that the photos of my work are of my first tries on each material and should be used as an out-of-the-box baseline.
So a little about the machine. It comes standard with a very powerful 10W fixed focus compressed spot laser, linear rails, air assist, easy height adjustment of the laser, simplified belt tensioners, as well as other bells and whistles I may be forgetting. The frame is all metal and very sturdy with the ability to raise the machine's height with screw-on leg extensions. Altogether this makes for a very well-made machine that includes a lot of features from higher-priced competitors.
The big question before diving into the weeds is would I recommend this laser? For someone that wants a machine that works out of the box for cutting and engraving, I would absolutely recommend the LC-50 Plus. Now, are there cases where cutting is most important and where it only makes sense to get something like a CO2 laser for high-output laser cutting? Sure, however, there are cases to be made for any specific type of laser. Once again Sainsmart has been able to provide another out-of-the-box ready laser.
Unboxing and Assembly
The machine arrived in a box smaller than I was expecting due to the size of the laser, but as shown below it was all packaged nicely and all of the parts were easily identifiable while following the instructions.
The assembly instructions came on physical paper copies as well as a soft copy on the provided USB thumb drive. All and all it took under an hour to assemble. I would like to include something I missed in the installation and bring a note that in the steps for adding fasteners to the belt tensioners, there is also one on the X-axis. Might just be me though. For the belt tension, this model is the easiest to adjust out of the multiple machines I own. To set tension you just loosen the button head fastener that sits in a slot toward the back of the machine, (there is one on both sides, but do this one at a time). Once the button head fastener is loose there is a small countersunk fastener on the back side connecting to the U that holds a wheel and the belt. Turning clockwise tightens the belt, counterclockwise loosens the belt. Once the desired belt tension is found the button head fastener gets tightened down to lock it in place. This is done on both sides of the Y-axis, and there is another one on the X-axis gantry on the right side.
Connecting the LC-50 to a computer was pretty straightforward. There is a driver that needs to be installed off the USB drive, and then the machine can be set up on your software of choice. I prefer Lightburn personally. Once your machine is set up type $$ into the console and make sure the $30 value matches the S Value max that the manual recommends. If different change either the $30 value in the console or the S Value max in the device settings.
To do a first burn I used a small bamboo cutting board to get an idea of my assembly and the power of the laser. I initially used 3000mm/min at 50% power. This resulted in a very deep engraving. Exceeded my expectation in the 10W’s power. Not what I was looking for, I dropped the power to 20% and got the result below.
Overall I was pretty happy with this initial result. I could tell that I should have set the DPI/ Line Interval appropriately, but the engraving came out dark and looked pretty good for the first burn. Next, I had to try out the claim that this laser can mark metal, so I took a saw blade, set the power to 80%, and speed to 300mm/min. My result is below.
As advertised. This was done without the aid of any marking chemicals like Cermark or Dry Molly Lube. Wasn’t sure this was going to work with a diode, but was pretty happy it did. Cutting was my next test. With my 5.5W lasers 3mm was slow and inconsistent, and since I had 6mm plywood on hand I figured it would be a good test. I did run 2 passes, although it would probably work with 1, because I do not like running a laser more than 80% to increase the overall life of the diode. The following result was 2 passes at 80% and 300mm/min with air assist on full.
The cut fell right out without the use of force, and I was happy with the cutting quality.
I also did 3mm with ease. 80%, 300mm/min, 1 pass air, assist on full.
The 3mm plywood cut like butter, and there was no sanding done on the result shown. It was extremely clean and also either fell through the material when cut or came out with little to no effort. For reference this job took only about 20min. If during the tests you find that the dimension are off, or some cuts look wonky I suggest trying to engrave a circle onto a piece of scrap. If it isn’t a perfect circle there is most likely an issue with your belt tension. Thankfully it is easy to adjust and should be able to get it remedied pretty quick.
So it marks metal, it cuts, but how about detail? Typically the higher wattage a laser is, the larger the beam dot, which means what you gain in power you loose in detail. On my 5.5W lasers I struggle to get true 318 DPI, and max out around 282 DPI. I ran some engraving power tests and found for ceramic tile done in the way of a Norton White Tile the power and speed I liked the most landed at 22% power at 1200 mm/min. I used 2 coats of Smokey beige paint, 318 DPI, 90 Deg ScanAngle, Stucki Dither, and 5% overscan, air assist off. The result of my first test is below.
Norton White Tiles are really good to tell how well your machine is tuned in, and is one of the most difficult materials to perfect. This being said, I was very happy with this first go around. I have never had a perfect tile first go around but this one might be the best first try.
I then tried detail on wood. For this test I used a piece of Maple that I use for tests. It was treated with a 1 part borax to 10 parts water and allowed to dry. The borax is used as an accelerant to get darker blacks without actually engraving into the material. Borax can be swapped out with baking soda if borax is not available in your country, although it does add a bit more of a golden hue. This photo was done at 17% at 3000mm/min, 90deg scan, 318 DPI, air assist off.
Again I was very happy with the detail that came through. I will note that certain wood is better for engraving than others. Plywoods and Pine are probably the worst for repeatable results. Alder, Maple, and Cherry are probably the best. My go-to is Maple due to the easy availability in my area. With enough tests you can get something to work good enough though.
I also tested on a black coated aluminum business card I ran 318 DPI, 8% power, 3000mm/min, 90 deg scan, air assist off, and image inverted.
The detail was excellent. By this point I think I have got my tuning and focus set pretty well, and did not feel like it was much of an effort as other machines I have used. For such a small photo and a 10W laser to achieve fine detail it left me pretty impressed.
Last material I tested was slate. For this burn I ran at 40% power, 6000 mm/min, applied spray clear coat as a pretreatment, 90 deg scan, air assist off.
|Material||Plywood||Cutting Plywood 3mm||Cutting Plywood 6mm||Slate||Tile||Canvas||Coated Aluminum||Maple||Cork||Acrylic||Bamboo||Steel||Scratch Paper|
|Speed||3000mm/m||300 mm/min||300 mm/min||6000mm/min||1200mm/min||5000mm/min||3000mm/min||3000mm/min||4000mm/min||2500mm/min||3000mm/min||900mm/min||3000mm/min|
|Preparation/ Comments||Two Passes||Spray one Light Coat of Clear Coat Prior to engraving.||Spray two coats of paint containing high percent TiO2 (e.g.
Rust-oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Smokey Beige)
|Two coats of flat white paint followed by a coat of flat black.
Invert image prior to engraving.
|Treat wood with 1:10 ratio Borax to water prior to engraving for darker blacks. (Can use baking soda as a substitute)||Spray one coat flat black. Engrave painted side with inverted and flipped image.|
|Air Assist||Off||On Full||On Full||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off||Off|
So a week of testing left me mostly wanting to use this machine some more. I really like how easy it cuts and how quick I was able to get everything in working order over the course of just a few jobs on it. I think Sainsmart did a really good job on this one, and it doesn’t seem to have a lot of the issues I have seen across the internet forums with different models that have a lot of the same features. No I was not asked to say that or any other of my opinions on this machine for that matter, just a review. So that being said do I see areas of improvement or cons to the LC-50 Plus? I have thought pretty hard about it and really the only thing I can come up with is they could include some lithium grease for the linear rails. They didn’t appear to have any when shipped. It still worked as advertised, but I have since added some to avoid any sticking in the future. I do like this machine though, and it will be a welcome addition to my shop.
Thank you Sainsmart, you guys once again made an excellent product.