2020 Laser Engraver Recommendations: Materials and Machines

Hi All,
I want to test the waters of in-house plate production with a laser engraver. Right now, I’m using the negative film-photopolymer exposure-wash-out method. Reading older posts on this site, it sounds like some of you have made the transition and realizing new efficiencies and economic gains using the new method.
I don’t want to drop a huge amount of money into a laser engraving solution just yet. I’m seeing a steady stream of new laser engravers coming out. I’m interested in a new/used entry-level machine that has the power/features required for making letterpress plates.
I was looking at this one, the “K40” found on eBay: https://ebay.us/ADvqGs - anyone have experience with this machine? I like the ~$400-500 price range but maybe I’m better starting off with a Glowforge/Epilog type machine in the $2,500-5,000 price range?
There seems to be a number of existing/new-to-market materials to use for the printing plates. What are people using as plate materials and how does the Cost-Quality-Availability of Supply compare to unexposed photopolymer?
Thanks!

Log in to reply   4 replies so far

It will be interesting to see what the answers are and how this plays out. I have wonder the same myself. We buy all our plates from Crown Flexo. We had toyed with idea using negs, manual exposure and a wash out unit or even tray processing but while it saved time and a little cost the end result I was more concerned about quality. When you get a plate on press and find out the plate you made has a flaw or maybe was not quite right I felt it defeated the purpose. I did not feel confident there was any way I could make my own plate with the same degree of quality unless I threw money I don’t have at it first. Let us know how this works for you.

My experience with the K40 is that you need to do/buy another 400-800 worth of upgrades including add an air assist, upgrade ventilation, upgrade bed to adjustable honeycomb, and purchase cooling system. On top of that, the drivers are not great or in Chinese. If you are handy it is all doable. A friend and I were able to do all of those upgrades, but it was almost 6 months until it was operating optimally. Ultimately the good parts of the K40 are the tube, enclosure, and power supply. The steppers were fine.

This was all 5 years ago, so some things might have changed, but if you can find a decent one with all the stuff you need for 1.5-2k I would say that is a better option.

Good luck,
Steve Garst

Looks like I found a laser engraving machine that I can put through the ringer to ensure it produces beyond professional looking plates:
https://www.toolots.com/13-3-8-x-7-7-8-inches-40w-laser-engraver-and-cut...

Can anyone recommend a material and it’s source for the relief plate?

One possible material solution is craft plywood. We have had success engraving that and mounting it (with the same sticky back material we use with photopolymer plates) to a piece of MDF. The craft plywood is maybe 3/16” thick? The MDF “base” needed maybe one more layer of chipboard to be be type high? Anyway, we printed a whole little poster this way, so it does work!