In all its forms, welding is one of the best ways to join laser cut parts and bring your designs to life. While MIG welding and TIG welding are both methods of joining metal parts with inert gas, they have some key differences and benefits which can affect your project depending on its needs. When it comes to MIG vs TIG welding, it’s important to look at all sides and compare the ease of assembly, materials needed, and how each method reacts to the metals you use before making a decision on which one to use for your project.
7 Differences Between MIG and TIG Welding Techniques
“MIG” stands for “metal inert gas” and “TIG” stands for “tungsten inert gas.” With MIG welding, a powerful electrical current is generated through the torch and arcs through the consumable electrode, joining the metal together and reinforcing the joint with added material. The TIG welding process is similar, except the electrode in the torch is made of tungsten and not consumable. A secondary filler rod of consumable material is used to reinforce the weld.
There are 7 key differences between MIG and TIG welding to keep in mind for your project:
1. Power source
MIG Welding Power Source
MIG welding uses a DC (direct current) power source because it’s reliable and provides for less weld splatter or mistakes in the weld. DC is better for thinner materials and gives the welder more control over the welds.
TIG Welding Power Source
TIG welding can use both DC and AC (alternating current) power sources. This versatility is important for more experienced welders as it allows welders to select a power source suited for the specific material being welded.
2. Metal selection
Most metals can be welded using both the MIG and TIG methods, but some metals are better welded using one method over the other.
Metals for MIG Welding
MIG is best suited for welding laser cut mild steel and cast iron. MIG welding does not produce the most aesthetic welds, but these metals are easy to work with and can handle further processing to make the welded joints look smooth and clean.
Metals for TIG Welding
TIG is best suited for welding laser cut aluminum and stainless steel. TIG welding is far more precise than MIG welding, so is perfectly suited to these metals that need to be handled and joined with care to avoid warping.
MIG Welding Electrode
As mentioned above, the electrode used in MIG welding is consumable. It is placed inside the torch and melts the metal to be joined with an electrical current. The electrode then bonds to the welded metal and reinforces the welds.
TIG Welding Electrode
The electrode used in TIG welding is made of tungsten and is not consumable. The tungsten rod merely delivers the electrical charge and a separate rod of filler material is held and melted to the welds.
4. Shield gas
MIG Welding Shield Gas
The most common blend of shield gas in MIG welding is argon and carbon dioxide. This blend is suited for thicker metals, although the gasses used are sometimes too light and susceptible to being carried off by a breeze or minimal movement, causing the welds to be left unprotected. Flux-core welding is a type of MIG welding which does not require a shield gas supply.
TIG Welding Shield Gas
The most common blend of shield gas in TIG welding is argon and nitrogen or helium, or just pure argon. The shield gas used in TIG welding prevents the electrode from overheating, and is heavier than oxygen so is more capable of protecting the welds from air bubbles and splatter.
5. Welding quality
MIG Welding Quality
MIG welds are strong and durable and best suited for high stress, heavy duty applications. It is difficult to create precise, aesthetic welds using MIG welding, but the durability in thick materials is unmatched.
TIG Welding Quality
It is easier to create small beads and precise, aesthetically pleasing welds with the TIG welding method. TIG welding is also stronger and better suited for thin metals with more delicate applications.
MIG Welding Speed
Since the welding torch feeds the filler rod automatically, MIG welding is typically much faster than TIG welding. MIG welding is the first choice for high production applications due to its speed.
TIG Welding Speed
Because the welder has to supply filler rod manually, TIG welding is simply not as fast as MIG welding. The tungsten electrode in TIG welders also overheats faster when air cooled so need to rest more often.
MIG Welding Cost
MIG welding units are lower cost than TIG welding units. There is significantly less prep work needed for MIG welding, and because it’s faster than TIG welding, overall it’s the more affordable option.
TIG Welding Cost
The precision found in TIG welding does come at a cost. TIG welding units are more expensive and the slower speed TIG welding requires makes it cost more overall to TIG weld rather than MIG weld.
How Welding Techniques Can Complement Laser Cutting
Welding is the perfect joining method to complement laser cutting and laser cut metal parts for a variety of reasons, whichever method you choose.
The biggest benefit found in welding laser cut metal is the increase in strength. Depending on the weld method, quality welded joints can be higher strength than even the parent metal. It’s a durable, permanent fixturing method that will outlast standard hardware or semi-permanent joining options.
Welding is also diverse when it comes to material options. Many metals that can be laser cut can also be welded, with some practice. This diversity perfectly complements the variety of applications for laser cutting and laser cut metals. Together, there is almost no end to what you can do with welded laser cut parts.
How to Combine Your Laser Cut Parts With Welding
Although TIG welding and MIG welding vary by the equipment used and the application requirement, the initial steps to begin welding are similar.
Step 1: Purchase a welder
MIG welders tend to be more affordable, with some cheaper options sitting at $140 and going up to $1000. TIG welders are the more expensive option, starting around $200 and reaching $2500 for standard models. Which one you purchase depends on what you need your welds to accomplish, although MIG welding is the more beginner friendly option. (Depending on the method you choose, you will also need to purchase shield gas and filler rod.)
Step 2: Prep your work area
Ideally, you are welding inside and in a well-ventilated area. Your workspace should be cleaned to prevent debris from getting into the weld, and you should have a metal surface nearby to set a grounding clamp.
Step 3: Clean your metal
The surface needs to be clear of debris, scaling, oil, or any grime build up. For some steels, this means lightly grinding the surface and cleaning with acetone. For metals like aluminum, this means just wiping it off with isopropyl alcohol.
Step 4: Begin welding
There are several techniques to try depending on your welding method and final application, but initially you will need to tack the base metals before actually welding them. In this process, clamp the two parts together and alternate weld beads to prevent warping. Once the tacking is complete, you’re ready to weld the parts completely.
Step 5: Grind out the welds
You won’t always need or want to grind your welds down, but with MIG welding especially, it can help create a smoother and more aesthetic surface. An angle grinder can achieve this surface easily.
The techniques you need to learn to create successful welds will take practice, and we highly recommend working with an experienced welder for your initial attempts. Starting with a material like laser cut stainless steel would be best because it’s one of the more simple metals to weld, and it’s an affordable, clean option that doesn’t take much prep. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. The best welding takes years of practice and even the most experienced welders are still learning new techniques and tricks!
MIG vs. TIG: Which One Should You Use for Your Laser Cutting Project?
MIG and TIG welding, although unique, both have a place in joining laser cut metal parts. MIG welding is more beginner friendly and TIG welding is more precise and clean, and MIG welding is also better suited for strength applications while TIG welding is suited for more versatile projects. But the best way to decide between MIG welding and TIG welding is identifying the materials you intend to use in your project.
Some of the best laser cut metals for welding are:
Our materials guide can help you navigate the best laser cut metals for welding and find their ideal applications.
MIG Welding vs. TIG Welding Pros and Cons
Let’s summarize the advantages and disadvantages of both MIG and TIG welding:
Advantages of MIG Welding
Fast welding process
MIG welding takes the least amount of time between set up, preparation, and actual welding. Clean, strong results are achievable with little time sunk in.
As mentioned above, MIG welding is the most affordable method by far. There are fewer consumables required and the unit itself is cheaper than other options.
Since the welder only has to manipulate the torch, MIG welding is highly accurate with little effort needed.
With a filler rod/electrode that is mechanically fed through the torch, MIG welding is the only semi-automatic welding process.
Delivers a clean weld
With a little practice, MIG welding creates a clean bead with little spatter.
MIG welding lends itself to a wide variety of metals and can be used for a number of unique applications.
Disadvantages of MIG Welding
Less stable and less reliable due to arc stability problems
Because MIG welding can only use a DC power source, the arc through the electrode is less stable and can cause mistakes in the weld.
Not environmentally friendly
MIG welding produces a high amount of ozone and nitrogen oxides during the welding process.
May cause rust formation
If not properly cleaned, the parent metals can rust after MIG welding since the oxide layer cannot seal the weld fully.
Can burn thin materials because of less operational control
It is easy to burn through metals with MIG welding if you can’t move the torch fast enough. This is why MIG is better suited for thicker materials.
It requires the process to be run indoors because of the shielding gasses
Because MIG welding shield gasses are lighter than oxygen, they can get carried away leaving the welds and parent metal unprotected. MIG welding must be done inside.
Advantages of TIG Welding
Precision and accuracy
TIG welding is even more accurate than MIG welding thanks to its manual control.
It is aesthetic
TIG welds have a tendency to be cleaner, more uniform, and just overall more aesthetically pleasing than MIG welds.
It is more eco-friendly
The gasses produced and used in the TIG welding process, such as argon, are more environmentally friendly.
Better operational control
Although it takes some finesse, the separate filler rod and torch allow for greater manual control by the welder.
It reduces maintenance and operating costs by using non-consumable electrodes
MIG welders have to constantly purchase and replace the electrodes in their torches, while TIG welders just have to use separate filler rods.
Disadvantages of TIG Welding
It is more expensive
TIG welding units are more expensive overall and the process takes more time. So whether you’re doing it yourself or outsourcing it, TIG welding is the more expensive option.
Requires a clean surface
All parent metals to be TIG welded have to be thoroughly cleaned and sometimes lightly ground to give the welds a clean surface to adhere to.
Requires an experienced operator
TIG welding is not beginner friendly and takes some practice to accurately weld holding both the filler rod and the torch.
Time-consuming welding process
MIG welding allows you to breeze through the welding process but the precision required of TIG welding takes time.
Applications of MIG and TIG Welding with Laser Cuts
MIG welding and TIG welding are best suited for entirely different applications. Each has the same value in different arenas, and choosing the best option for your project depends on several key factors.
Uses for MIG Welding
MIG welding is the best welding method for thick materials. The strength found in MIG welding is ideal for thicker metals, and they are less likely to be burned through by the process than thin materials.
MIG welding takes significantly less time than any other welding process, so it’s best for big projects that are projected to take a long time to weld and assemble.
Welding unique shapes and angles is easier with MIG welding since you don’t have to manipulate two separate objects. You can work with these odd parts a little easier while just holding the torch.
With a faster and more affordable production process, MIG welding is best for large runs of a product or part.
Uses for TIG Welding
The delicacy of TIG welding lends itself to thinner materials, allowing you to create a clean weld without burning through the material.
For experienced welders, non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum and copper, are best joined using TIG welding.
Bench or shop work
TIG welding is best utilized when working in your shop or in a stable environment.
If you have small projects or only a few parts that require precision, TIG welding is the best option. Doing short production runs keeps the electrode from overheating while allowing you to create clean, accurate welds.
Fine or detailed work
Small, beautiful welds are a TIG welder’s MO. TIG welding creates aesthetic welds that don’t require grinding down, making it the best option for delicate projects.
MIG vs TIG Welding: Choosing the Right Method
Choosing the right welding method for your project is ultimately up to you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options presented here, and what you decide to do is dependent upon the metal you’re working with, the final application of the project, and what your goal as the welder is. Is it strength and speed? Or precision and aesthetics? If you need some more help deciding, check out this article on our best welding tips from SendCutSend’s welding experts.
If you’ve read through this article and decided welding just isn’t for you, you can find other methods for joining laser cut parts on our blog. Be sure to look through our full catalog of high quality materials and services to find the best fit for your next project!
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MIG vs TIG Welding FAQs
“MIG” stands for “metal inert gas.” A powerful electrical current is generated through a torch and arcs through a consumable electrode, joining the metal together and reinforcing the joint with added material. The welder only has to manipulate a torch, and only a DC power source can be used.
“TIG” stands for “tungsten inert gas.” In TIG welding, the electrode in the torch is made of tungsten and not consumable. A secondary filler rod of consumable material is used to reinforce the weld. The welder has to manipulate both the secondary filler rod and the torch, and either an AC or DC power source can be used. You can read some tips on how to TIG weld in this article.
Depending on the applications, TIG welding can be stronger than MIG welding. But TIG welding is generally used on smaller, thinner metals while MIG welding is used on thicker and stronger metals by nature.