Makeblock recently released a brand new diode laser engraver. It's got the nicest build quality and highest-powered laser module of any machine I've tested. But, unfortunately, the premium hardware side comes with a cost, and it's not just the money.
Note: Makeblock supplied this unit free for review. They have not directed anything I say; all opinions are my own. I do get a commission if you use my link to purchase.
The D1 comes packaged very nicely in a compact box. The assembly process takes around 30 minutes, which is a big step up over other machines where you've got to put together nearly everything.
It comes packaged in four major sections with a few screws attaching them.
Overall I was struck by the build quality. Instead of the typical black aluminum extrusion frame, the D1 is all steel. As a result, it feels rigid and robust and is the nicest of any that I've tested.
The frame gives you a work area of 432x406 mm (17x16 inch) with a max workpiece height of 50 mm.
Another improvement over a typical diode machine is the steel wheels and rods. V wheels are super standard in not only lasers but also 3D printers and CNC routers. This is the first machine I've seen where they are all steel.
Given the amount of use you'll get on both the rods and wheels, this upgrade will help increase the machine's overall life. Plus, they allow you to run the machine at the max speed of 10,000 mm/min with high accuracy.
The entire frame sits on four feet. This gives the ability to slide material underneath the frame and extend beyond the carvable area.
Makeblock also sells additional feet, which allow for thicker materials. So even though it has a 50mm range on the adjustable laser module, you can work with thicker materials by stacking additional feet.
I like how they designed the tensioning of the belts. This is usually a pain to get tight, but the D1 includes a simple screw on the outside that pulls the belts tight as it's screwed down.
Every laser has a sweet spot where the beam is focused on the material. I've seen everything from rulers to little jigs to help adjust the laser module to get the correct focus distance. The D1 improves on this by adding a focus lever directly to the laser module. This is hinged and held by magnets. To get focus, you flip it down and drop the laser module to your workpiece. Then it just flips back up and is held into place.
This was one of my favorite features of the entire machine because it highlights how much attention was put into this machine's hardware components.
The machine runs off a custom motherboard that is pretty comparable to other diode machines. However, it does include a TF memory card which gives the ability to run the device offline. Once the GCode loads onto the machine from your computer, everything could be disconnected, and the D1 will run straight from the memory card.
I found this very useful, especially when repeating the same design repeatedly in a production setting. For example, I could turn the machine on and hit the button on the bottom right to start it.
The D1 comes with the option of a 5W and 10W laser module which pulls 25W and 40W, respectively. I wanted to include the amount of power going into the laser modules because that is the #1 source of confusion I've seen around the marketing of these machines.
Other companies won't advertise the actual power of the laser; instead, it's the amount that powers the laser which gives the appearance of a much, MUCH more powerful machine. You typically won't see anything over 10W on a diode machine. After that, you'll be getting into the lower end of lasers with a CO2 glass tube.
Both laser modules include a tinted plastic cover that helps protect your eyes from direct exposure to the beam. However, unlike CO2 machines, which have an invisible beam, diodes are purple and can leave lasting damage to your eyes. The device also comes with tinted acrylic glasses for additional protection.
Both lasers modules achieve a laser spot of 0.08 mm x 0.08 mm, which is the smallest of any machine I've tested. What is impressive is that this is performed on both the 5W and the 10W versions.
The 10W laser module houses two laser diodes that are focused together into a single spot. Overall the laser is designed with a Fast-Axis Collimating Lens focused with a standard convex lens and the end of the laser path. You might see these lasers listed as:
5W: Single Beam+FAC+C-lens
10W: Double Beam+FAC+C-lens
The D1 includes both USB and wifi connections for both Mac and PC. But their included software, Laserbox Basic, doesn't require an internet connection. Instead, the wifi connection is just for your local network, giving you the ability to run the machine from a computer wirelessly.
Makeblock advertises that you can also run the machine with the Laserbox app for both iOS and Android. Unfortunately, this hadn't been released at the time of my review, so I didn't get the chance to check it out. I did test out their computer software, Makeblock Basic. This is a stripped-down version of what they offer for their higher-end CO2 machine.
Overall the software gets the job done. It's got basic graphic creation abilities and all the settings you need for both cutting and engraving. But it is pretty barebones and what I found as the biggest drawback to the machine. I've read they are in the works of supporting 3rd party software like my favorite Lightburn, as well as free options like LaserGRBL. But, unfortunately, these haven't been officially supported yet.
Outside of software, my only other con comes on the safety side. However, it does have an emergency stop button and a motion sensor in the chip that will turn off the beam if the machine is moved. It would be nice if they could add a flame detection sensor in the future. This is a newish feature on the Ortur Laser Master Engraver 2 Pro S2, which can be a literal lifesaver when running any laser.
With safety, you'll need to account for the smoke and fumes that this laser will generate as well as the open-air environment that it operates in. But, again, this isn't a drawback to the D1 but something common across the board.
CO2 machines are fully enclosed and include vents for fume extraction. You will need to build something similar or run this machine in an environment that is easily vented. Also, since it's open-air, you don't get the nice safety feature of the laser stopping once the lid to the machine is open. This is a pretty standard feature on CO2 machines. As a result, you wouldn't want to run this machine around small kids or anyone who might get the wise idea to stick their finger close to the beam.
A nice feature of the software is the prebuilt settings for several different materials. They also list engraving and cutting settings for both the 5W and 10W machines on their website. I was able to test engraving on basswood, cardboard, plywood, and stainless steel. All gave me great results, and the sharpness of the image speaks to the small laser dot on both the 5 and 10W laser modules.
I was very impressed by the performance of the 10W when cutting. I usually don't recommend using diode machines for much cutting because the wattage is so limited, and you'll need lots of passes to get through most materials. However, the D1 did a great job getting through 5mm basswood in a single pass with pretty limited charring.
This is at the higher end of diode machines which offer $100 options at the low end. You'll be spending almost 5 times that amount on getting the 5W version and even more to step up to the 10W. You'll need to decide if the higher build quality, working area, and increased speeds are worth the extra money.
The D1 is positioned nicely against the Ortur Laser Master Engraver 2 Pro. Both 5W versions of those machines are priced pretty close to each other. They both have roughly the same work area, with the D1 getting a slight edge. They both come stock with a 5W laser, with the D1 having the option of higher wattages.
The most significant difference between the two is the build quality, which the D1 has the advantage. You'll still be able to get the same result with both machines, but the D1 will be more repeatable and last longer.
Ortur has the advantage on the software side since it supports most laser control software packages, vs. D1, which is currently constrained to just Laserbox Basic.