“What’s better? Laser cut or waterjet cut?”

Laser cutting machine with console in the foreground
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It’s an age-old question that manufacturing engineers hotly debate in machine shops across the globe.

But SendCutSend answers the question with:
“Why not both?”

In addition to our state-of-the-art laser cutting, we utilize waterjet cutting to ensure that all your parts are cut to perfection at the best price. Let’s take a closer look at both waterjet and laser cutters to really understand the benefits of having both around.

Best Materials for Waterjet and Laser Cutting

Because waterjet and laser cutting are such vastly different processes, the materials they each can cut are equally as different. This is also one of the biggest reasons why having both a waterjet and a laser is so valuable for a machine shop.

To begin with, waterjet cutting is ideal for thicker materials. For example, most steels are good candidates for waterjet, but steel thicker than 1” is the best fit since lasers can “run out of power” after about 0.750” of thickness. In general, waterjet cutting is better for many thicker materials than laser cutting, at the expense of speed. The broad range of thickness that is acceptable for the waterjet method is about 0.040”- 4”. Projects less than 4” in thickness are most common.

Other types of materials suited to waterjet cutting are:

  • Thick Metals (greater than ½” thick) – brass, carbon steel, tool steel, aluminum, copper, titanium, and more
  • Natural Materials- leather, stone, marble, granite, and more
  • Composites- fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fiber, and more
  • Rubbers and Plastics- foams, polycarbonate, and more

Where waterjet cutting is best suited for thick materials, laser cutting is its perfect complement for precisely cutting thinner materials. For example, laser cutting is not well-suited for materials like granite, which is thick and brittle, and tends to shatter when exposed to the heat of a laser beam. However, laser cutting is fantastic for materials that are less than ½” in thickness, and cannot be processed as quickly or efficiently with waterjet, such as:

  • Metals less than 1/4” in thickness – brass, carbon steel, tool steel, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, steel alloys, titanium, and more
  • Natural Materials- wood, paper, cardboard, cork, and more
  • Rubbers and Plastics- acrylics, PET, Delrin, and more

All in all, using a waterjet and laser cutter side-by-side allows us to cut all your parts regardless of thickness and material to greater precision and at a fraction of the cost.

Waterjet and Laser Cutting Precision and Speed

You’ve heard the adage: “Quality, speed, price. Pick two.”

You can have all three with laser and waterjet cut parts from SendCutSend. We provide quality parts, quickly, and at low costs. No compromises! These are all achieved with both the waterjet and laser cutter, but let’s go over the few differences in the processes that will affect how we choose which one to use for your project.

Production speed and precision for either waterjet or laser cutting depends on a few factors:

  • The thickness of that material
  • Type of material
  • Intricacy of design

Let’s unpack how all of those affect the production of your laser or waterjet cut parts. 

Waterjet and Laser Cutting: Speed

 Accurate estimates of speed will rely heavily on the intricacy of your design: the more intricate the design, the higher the cost. So if you want to cut a simple shape out of steel, like a 1/2” thick stainless steel plate with a hole in each corner, waterjet is a precise and cost-effective method to produce that part. But suppose you wanted to create a piece of artwork, such as a dragonfly wing? Your cost will increase proportionately to the intricacy of the design.

SendCutSend's laser in action

Laser cutting is a swift manufacturing process. Modern high-power (>4kW) fiber lasers can cut up to 80-100 times faster than waterjet in thin materials. Because lasers cut so quickly, they benefit from better machine utilization, thus lowering the cost of parts cut with laser.

Waterjet and Laser Cutting: Precision and Kerf

Waterjet cutting is a relatively precise process, but you’ll need to prepare for a bit of tolerance. Tolerance is the difference between the specified dimensions and the finished dimensions of a part. For example, if you want one of your parts cut to a 10.000” length, and there’s a cutting tolerance of +/- .008”, your cut is within acceptable tolerance if it is between 10.008”- 9.992” long. Of course, we’re talking about eight-thousandths of an inch, but it’s still something we take into consideration when cutting your parts.

Cutting tolerance with a laser cutter is usually +/- 0.005”, or better. The diameter for a standard laser cutting beam is around 0.007” (which is about the diameter of a single strand of human hair.) Thanks to the small beam diameter, the kerf is drastically reduced and precision increases with laser cutting. If we apply laser cutting to our dragonfly wing example, we experience virtually no issues with intricacy or detail, provided that we have appropriately designed geometry. However, as material thickness increases, more heat is introduced to the material being laser cut. This additional heat can cause excessive slag (dross) or distortion.

The kerf of the stream of water plus the blended abrasive in a waterjet is usually equal to 0.020” to 0.040”, depending on the material processed. Returning to our earlier example about the dragonfly artwork, if we wanted to have an extremely detailed wing, we’d have to consider our design’s small holes and features. Due to the waterjet’s relatively large kerf when compared to laser, small patterns and tight inside radiuses can get lost during the cutting process. But because there is no additional heat introduced in waterjet cutting, thicker parts don’t experience the same issues with dross or heat distortion.

Summary: Waterjet and Laser Cutting Precision and Speed

Wow, that’s a lot of information to take in, right? It’s all pretty easily summed up like this: where waterjet cutting is best for thicker and simpler parts, laser cutting is best suited for thinner, more intricate parts. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about choosing between waterjet and laser cutting because SendCutSend proudly offers both and you can trust us to select the right process for your parts.

General Laser and Waterjet Cutting Service Costs

Regardless of the cutting process used for your parts, the key factors driving cost are:

  • Time spent on the machine: a more intricate design and thicker material both contribute to the amount of total time spent on the machine
  • Material prices (this includes raw material prices): an expensive metal like copper or titanium will undoubtedly cost more than aluminum, and these prices often fluctuate
  • Quantity of order: the more you order, the lower the unit price, thereby making it worth your while to make a few large orders as opposed to many small orders
  • Automation factors reduce the cost of fabrication by reducing the personnel involved in physical work

SendCutSend is committed to making it as easy and affordable as possible for you to get custom parts, fast. The waterjet paired with the laser allows us to maximize parts being produced at a time, the kind of parts we can cut, and the kind of materials we can cut. All this contributes to a low cost for you and a faster production time. And who doesn’t love getting their parts cheaper and faster?!

The Machining Match Made In Heaven

Waterjet and laser cutting make the perfect machining pair. They play to each other’s strengths and bring unique benefits to the table, so it’s a machine shop’s dream to have access to both. And let it not be said that SendCutSend doesn’t make dreams come true! We are proud to finally be offering waterjet cutting services alongside our state of the art laser cutting services.
Don’t wait to bring the full spectrum of your dream projects to life – get your instant free quote now today! There are no strings attached here at SendCutSend. Really.

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