Exploring The Differences In Laser Cutting: Fiber Laser Vs. CO2 Laser

Most cutting lasers can be categorized as CO2 or fiber lasers. Each type has strengths and weaknesses that should be considered when choosing equipment for a specific task. Fiber lasers can cut almost all materials 3 to 5 times faster than other lasers. However, they work best on sheet materials that are 5 mm or thinner. As the thickness of the material increases from 5 to 20 mm, the advantages of fiber lasers become less significant, and CO2 lasers may be more beneficial. Above 20 mm, fiber lasers start to lose their effectiveness. For materials like steel with thicknesses of up to 100 mm, oxygen-assisted CO2 lasers are typically required. This article explains the differences between CO2 and fiber lasers, which are crucial when specifying services or purchasing equipment.

Exploring The Differences In Laser Cutting: Fiber Laser Vs. CO2 Laser

What is a Fiber Laser?

Fiber lasers are solid-state lasers that utilize optical fibers as their active gain medium. In these lasers, a silicate or phosphate glass fiber absorbs light from the pump laser diodes and converts it into a laser beam with a specific wavelength. The optical fiber is doped to achieve this, meaning that a rare-earth element is mixed into the fiber. Using different doping elements, laser beams can be created with a wide range of wavelengths.

Some common doping elements and their corresponding emitted wavelengths are neodymium (780-1100nm), ytterbium (1000-1100nm), praseodymium (1300nm), erbium (1460-1640nm), thulium (1900-2500nm), holmium (2025-2200nm), and dysprosium (2600-3400nm).

Due to the wide range of wavelengths produced, fiber lasers are suitable for various applications such as laser cutting, texturing, cleaning, engraving, drilling, marking, and welding. This versatility enables fiber lasers to be used in different sectors, including medicine, defense, telecommunications, automotive, spectroscopy, electronics, manufacturing, and transportation.


Fiber cutting uses diodes to create a beam focused through a fiber-optic cable, while CO2 cutting uses a focused light beam. Fiber cutting is faster and yields precise cuts. A fiber laser setup is less expensive, ranging from Euro 180,000 to Euro 550,000, and due to its solid-state setup, it has lower operational costs at around Euro 3.6 per hour.


Fiber laser cutting may slow down for intricate jobs and is less flexible than CO2 laser cutting, limiting its use for non-metallic materials. Specific safety measures are needed to prevent eye damage.

What is a CO2 Laser?

CO2 lasers are high-power continuous-wave lasers used in medical and industrial applications. They operate by exciting CO2 molecules to produce a coherent light beam at a specific frequency. Invented in 1964, CO2 lasers are predominantly used for skin treatment, industrial cutting, and welding.


CO2 cutting is excellent for creating fine features and angles. It’s fast and works well on various thicknesses. Due to their long-standing reliability, CO2 lasers deliver quality cuts and provide predictable results.


A CO2 laser-cutting machine can initially cost between Euro 380,000 and Euro 1.1 million, with operational costs of around Euro 22 per hour. The beam path delivery system requires significant power and regular maintenance, which can disrupt manufacturing processes.

What is a Fiber Laser?What is a CO2 Laser?

Differences Between a Fiber Laser and a CO2

Energy Efficiency

There is a big difference in energy efficiency between CO2 and fiber laser cutting technologies. CO2 lasers require more power to operate, resulting in higher energy costs. On the other hand, fiber lasers are highly energy efficient, using less power to achieve comparable, if not superior, cutting performance. This efficiency can result in significant cost savings over time.

Thickness and Type Of Materials

When considering which type of machine to use, the most crucial difference is the thickness and type of materials each technology can handle. If you need to cut or mark metals and non-metals regularly, CO2 lasers are a good choice due to their ability to perform well on both materials. They also effectively cut metals over five millimeters thick, resulting in straight cuts with smooth edges.

On the other hand, fiber lasers specialize in cutting metals and can easily slice through thin metals with precision and speed. They are excellent for etching and marking metals.

Operating and Maintenance Costs

The two technologies also differ in operating and maintenance costs. Due to their complex design, CO2 lasers often require more maintenance. Regular maintenance, including gas refills and mirror cleaning, is essential for optimal CO2 laser function.

On the other hand, fiber lasers are recognized for their durability and reduced maintenance requirements. The solid-state design eliminates the need for gas refills and generally requires less cleaning and upkeep.As a result, they can lead to lower operating costs and less downtime.

Edges, Speed, And Straight Line Cuts

When deciding between a 2D laser cutting machine and a CO2 laser cutter, it’s essential to compare their cutting speed, edge quality, and ability to make straight-line cuts. Fiber lasers are known for their fast cutting speeds and excellent edge quality. They can produce precise straight-line cuts quickly, making them ideal for intricate designs. CO2 lasers, although slower than fiber lasers, still deliver high-quality cuts and good edge quality, especially on thicker materials that can be challenging for fiber lasers. However, when cutting or marking thin metals with speed and precision, fiber lasers generally outperform CO2 lasers. CO2 and fiber laser cutting technologies are advantageous and suitable for different applications. When choosing a laser cutting machine for your sheet metal fabrication business, consider material type and thickness, energy efficiency, maintenance, and operating costs, and cut quality and speed.


Which type of laser is more expensive: the CO2 laser or the fiber laser?

Fiber lasers cost more upfront but last up to 10 times longer than CO2 devices. CO2 lasers are about 5 to 10% efficient, while fiber lasers offer over 90% efficiency.

In what industry are fiber lasers and CO2 lasers commonly used?

Fiber lasers are prevalent in high-precision market sectors and are well-suited for cutting difficult-to-process metals like titanium, brass, and aluminum.

CO2 lasers are widely used in various industries to cut materials, particularly significantly thicker metal plates. Operators often use oxygen assist to speed up the process.

Is It Safe to Use a Fiber Laser and CO2?

Fiber and CO2 lasers are safe when appropriate safety measures are taken. However, it’s important to note that no laser is entirely secure. Stray laser light has the potential to cause instant blindness and should be considered a serious workplace hazard.

For this reason, it’s crucial to implement detailed safety precautions when working with any laser equipment. Some standard precautions include using light barrier guards, maintaining a safe distance, and wearing safety eyewear. Most laser-cutting machines direct light through a small air gap, directing it downwards toward the cutting surface. As a result, any ‘stray’ light that exits sideways will not be coherent, meaning it will not emerge as a laser but as diverging beams. While the risk is relatively low when cutting non-reflective materials significantly, safety eyewear remains important, especially when working with polished and reflective materials.


This article introduces CO2 and fiber laser cutters, explains their features, and specifies the materials they can be used on. For more information about laser cutters, please contact an Enze representative.