Start a Laser Engraving Business on a Budget: The Ultimate Guide

Most of you have been around me for long enough to know that I stand ten toes down and always say laser engravers are money printers. I've written several posts about laser cutting before, but this one's a little different: we're doing it on a budget this time.

TL;DR: My new favorite laser is the xTool F1, and I have a mile-long to do list of things I want to laser both as gifts and to sell. This post serves as a “how to” if you're new to the idea of launching your own laser engraving and laser cutting business.

Let's start with the basics:

Make a plan

When I say “make a plan,” I don't mean that you have to have a whole ass business plan written out, put in a leather portfolio, and presented to the bank. What I mean is:

  • know what you want to make
  • know who you want to serve
  • create a timeline for milestones (first $1,000 month, for example)

I keep things really, really simple when it comes to starting new businesses. This laser business isn't any different. Focus on taking action rather than overthinking and over planning.

Niche selection

With blog niche selection, I have a specific process. With laser business niche selection, it's slightly different.

First, I think about the cost of the laser. Do I really need a $5,000 laser to get started? Absolutely not. So, which budget laser is going to be the best? I've gotta figure out the materials I want to use, and go from there.

So, I think about the cost of materials. If I choose to work with leather, for example, my material costs (therefore the price I have to sell at) is going to be higher than if I choose stainless steel.

Next, and on that same note, I think about the pricing. Just like with my low-ticket memberships, I want my laser products to be financially accessible to as many folks as possible. But what about you? Do you want a high-end boutique feel for your business? Go for it! There's a market for literally everything and everyone. What feels best to you?

Do you want to offer custom engraved items for weddings and special events? Do you want to set up at a souvenir shop? Do you want to serve National Park stores (I know someone that does this!)? Maybe you want to engrave recipes onto cutting boards (learn how to convert the recipes in Procreate). What is it that YOU want to do with your laser business? Envision it, write it out, make it happen.

Last but not least, think about your potential audience. You've gotta factor in the materials and pricing while thinking about your audience. If your audience is going to be lower income folks, you aren't going to try and sell them high-end leather wallets, right? So think about it: who is it you want to serve? What do they want? What will they buy?

The research phase can last just a few days (hello, ADHD) to a few weeks or months (hello, overthinking). The important thing is that you think about what you want to make, and who you want to serve. The rest will fall in place as you get going.

Now, the most important decision: choosing a laser.

Choose a laser

A laser is a big investment, even if you choose a budget laser, so don't just jump into picking one. On the other hand, you don't want to spend months in indecision-mode, so I'm going to give you my best advice and hopefully it'll help you walk through this process with ease.

I've spent a LOT of time reading about lasers, interacting with laser owners in Facebook groups and on YouTube, and using my own lasers for business and personal use.

xTool sent me a laser to review, and also gave me an affiliate link for an $80 off coupon to share with you.

Best laser engraver for small businesses

To decide which laser engraver is the best for your small business, you'll have to think about a few things:

  • what type of laser do you want?
  • are you engraving or cutting?
  • which materials are you using?
  • what's your budget?
  • how's the software?
  • do you need the laser to be portable?
  • how much working space do you have?
  • how big of a laser/cutting space do you want?

Everyone will say their laser is the best, and honestly, you can't go wrong with most of the big names. Rather than relying on paid reviews like this one or any others, join a group (or a few) for the lasers you're looking into, and see what real customers are saying.

While I'm honest in the pros and cons of every product I write about, not everyone has that level of integrity so it's important to do your own research in the Facebook groups and talk to real customers before hitting that buy button.

Best budget laser engraver

The first time I bought a laser engraver (cutter) for my business, I spent nearly $10,000 on the machine and supplies to get started. While it was totally worth it at the time and I made my money back quickly, if I knew then what I know now, I probably would've made a different decision.

However, I'm back to laser shopping nearly 4 years later, and I definitely have some new wisdom to share. When I first started shopping for laser engravers, I didn't realize there were different types of lasers – or that the speed really mattered. But when I actually worked with my laser machine, I realized quality at speed is especially important for large volumes of orders.

image of dual laser in xTool F1

When shopping for a laser this time around, I went with the xTool F1. The F1 is a portable laser engraver with an IR (infrared) and diode laser.

I did order the Deluxe Bundle, which came with some extras (and I'm glad I did!). We got the support slide extension for a 115*400mm working area, air purifier for efficient residual smell extraction, and RA2 pro for 90% cylinder engraving

The Deluxe Bundle is nice but not 100% necessary. If you're truly on a bare bones budget, grab the xTool F1 and you will find it's sufficient for your first year in business (or until you get so many orders you need a higher volume laser).

Best portable laser engraver

Based on my personal experience with the xTool F1, I think it's the best portable laser engraver. I've seen other options out there but none seemed as stable as the F1. I wanted a tool I could bring to craft shows or travel around with, so I could laser whatever, whenever. 🙂

xTool F1 portable laser engraving on a helmet

I had narrowed my choices down to the xTool F1 and xTool S1. The ultimate decision-maker was that the F1 is portable. The freedom that comes with having a portable laser takes your business to the next level immediately.

The F1 weighs 8.8lbs/4kg, and can engrave on nearly all materials at 4000mm/s with high quality. It is the fastest IR & diode portable laser engraver on the market. The level of detail is extraordinary.

xTool F1 vs other lasers - showing the engraving detail at speed

We've tried out metal business cards, jewelry, cups, glassware, wood, jewelry boxes, and I'm sure a few other things I'm forgetting LOL. You can engrave on literally 300+ materials, which is INSANE to me! Lasers have come a long way since I first started using them, that's for sure.

You can use the xTool F1 from your phone, iPad, or laptop/desktop. This makes it ideal for using it on the go, at craft and vendor shows, etc. Or, if you have a small space to work in, it makes it easy to put it up in the closet when not in use.

Other lasers that are bigger aren't as easy to put away and pull back out. Honestly, it's even more convenient to get out and use than my vinyl cutting machines. I wasn't expecting that.

Desktop laser engraver

If you're looking for a desktop laser engraver, you've got several options. I recommend (and almost bought) the xTool S1 Enclosed Diode Laser Cutter.

Depending on how large of a cutting and engraving area you want and which types of materials you're going to be engraving on, the xTool S1 should be everything you need to run your new laser cutting business.

The S1 is enclosed, has dual-light filtering, and the working area is 19.61x13inches, expandable to 18.5×118.11inches with an automatic conveyor feeder. It also has auto focus mode, which I love. Oh, and it can cut 8mm wood and 8mm acrylic in one pass! My previous laser struggled past 5mm thick wood.

Best Materials for Laser Cutting

Look at your laser cutter's specs before choosing the materials you're going to use. What's easy/convenient for you to buy? What's affordable? What is enjoyable for you to work with? For example, I don't enjoy working with wood or acrylic but I love stainless steel, slate, and ceramic. My husband, on the other hand, loves engraving wood!

image of xTool fast engrave materials

Each laser is a little different. With the xTool F1, you can engrave over 300 materials, including:

  • wood
  • acrylic
  • leather
  • glass
  • rubber
  • brass
  • ceramic
  • slate
  • stainless steel
  • aluminum
  • copper
  • plastic
  • and more

Remember, we are keeping it simple: choose one or two materials and get reallllly freakin' good at lasering on them before moving onto anything else.

custom engraved lipstick case with xTool F1
custom fingerprint engrave on a necklace with xTool F1

I've lasered a few things but there's so much more out there to try. I haven't created any rubber stamps yet but it's on my to do list. Oh, and cookie cutters! Key chains! Custom pens, hats, or wallets! Ahhhh, all the ideas are WILD.

Focus, Sadie. Focus.

See how easy it would be to make a whole business around literally one material? Sheesh!

To find blanks, simply search on Amazon or another marketplace for keywords like:

  • jewelry blanks
  • dog tag blanks
  • wood blanks
  • cup blanks
  • rubber watch band blanks
  • leather wallet blanks
  • hat blanks

Do you need a rotary attachment? Only if you're doing cups, rings, or other round items. We have a rotary attachment for our xtool and are glad we got it, though we haven't used it very much yet.

What else do I need to start a laser business?

Oh wow, I'm so glad you asked this question. 😉 You don't need a whole lot to start your laser business and can buy more (from your profits) as you grow. While this blog post is a simplified version of what you need to run a business, it truly is all you need to get started. Don't overthink it.

You need:

  • a niche and audience idea
  • a laser (I chose the xTool F1)
  • lasering materials (big pieces of wood that we cut at home, plus dog tag blanks, etc)
  • packing materials (jewelry boxes, bubble envelopes for shipping, etc)

You may need more supplies based on what you decide to make, but this is the bare bones minimum and that's how I wanted to get started this time around. Plus, importing things into Mexico is expensive and time consuming, so I vowed to keep it simple.

Your next steps

Once you get your laser and materials, it's time to start practicing. Do a few practice cuts and engraves. Then, improve your skill by watching YouTube tutorials, asking questions in Facebook groups, and continuing to practice.

After you've practiced and improved even marginally from your first project, you can start to sell your items. You can start on Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, through friends and family (word of mouth), at local craft/vendor shows, or even through your own website.

I recommend starting by asking friends and family to order at a discount – but make sure that discount still gives you a PROFIT. Price your goods high enough that friends and family feel great getting it at a slightly lower price, but don't cut into your profits for anyone.

As you grow by word of mouth and via your local Facebook group, nextdoor app, or wherever you're advertising, you can add more materials and products, raise your prices, and start doing vendor fairs. At this point you'll also want to have at least a landing page website that you add to as your business grows.

Remember: you are your own boss, and this is your business. You're in charge of branding, promotion, customer service, the whole 9 yards. It's important to start small and add each thing on as you go.

In my experience, laser businesses grow VERY FAST, so make sure you're ready to handle it by setting up a solid foundation (landing page, payment processors, branding, etc) before you dive in to advertising beyond friends and family.

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