CNC Routing, Laser Cutting & Engraving: Which is Right For You?


Understanding the differences and applications for CNC routing and laser cutting and engraving will help you complete your next project using the best tools in the business.

Both production methods have their unique applications. This guide outlines the main differences between CNC routing and laser cutting (and engraving) with all the information you need to bring your next design to life.

CNC routing explained

CNC routing by vitalline in perth

When we use the term CNC machining in Perth it almost always refers to CNC routing.

Computer numeric control (CNC) routing is used to cut 3D shapes from various hard materials like wood, plastic, foam and metal.

A computer loaded with a CAD (computer-assisted design) program guides the cylindrical bit to cut away unwanted material with a high level of precision.

CNC routing can also mill materials, creating bespoke 3D designs in furniture and shop installations.

The machines, which can range in size from desktop routers to huge warehouse units, complete tasks previously performed by panel saws, boring machines and handheld routers.

Advantages of CNC routing

  • Precision 3-axes cutting and milling
  • Variable routing bit for different applications
  • Minimal waste product
  • Produce one-off or multiple pieces with ease
  • Save templates and previous work
  • Only limit to sizing is the router bed

Disadvantages of CNC routing

  • Cannot match lasers on rounded corners and precision edging
  • Smallest router bit is ~1mm (subject to what material is being cut)
  • Expertise required to operate the machine
  • Smaller router bits are prone to breakage

Who uses CNC routing?

Because of its versatility across almost all hard materials, CNC machining in Perth is the chosen tool of many local industries:

  • Sign-making
  • Carpentry, cabinetry and woodworking
  • Shopfitting
  • Plastic fabrication
  • Metal fabrication
  • Engineering
  • Theatre and set design
  • Boat building

Laser cutting and engraving

Laser cutting and engraving are two production methods which employ a high-powered laser to cut through or engrave hard materials like plastic, wood, cardboard and metal.

A pulsed or continuous laser cuts with precision by melting, burning or vaporising, to create highly detailed objects and designs from 2D shapes.

What is laser cutting?

laser cutting by vitalline perth

Like CNC routing, laser cutters are guided by a computer system. Where routers cut with friction, lasers employ heat to slice through material.

The laser is used to cut out designs with incredible precision, giving greater control over angles and intricate patterns.

Laser cutters have a variable tolerance down to 0.1mm and can usually be switched from pulsed (for holes and small details) to continuous (cutting, edging, sharp angles).

What is laser engraving?

Laser Engraved Wooden Sign by vitalline perth

Laser engraving is a subtractive engraving method that uses the same laser to alter the surface of a material.

By focusing the laser’s heat to burn away the surface of the material, laser engraving achieves impossibly precise patterning perfect for plaques, signage, plastic and wood engraving and etching.

Advantages of laser cutting and engraving

  • Precision cutting and engraving to 0.1mm
  • Clean, sealed edges
  • More precise angles and corners
  • Control over precision engraving on jewellery, components etc
  • Only requires a 2D vector file

Disadvantages of laser cutting and engraving

  • Electricity intensive
  • Less milling (z-axis) accuracy than CNC routers
  • Maximum cutting depth ~10mm

Who uses laser cutting and engraving?

Laser cutting and engraving is particularly effective in rapid production and reproduction using materials like acrylic, wood, cardboard and paper, metal and MDF. For more than 20 years we have been providing laser cutting and engraving in Perth for:

  • Sign makers
  • Engineers
  • Mining companies
  • Electronics manufacturers
  • Jewellers
  • Shopfitters
  • Hobbyists
  • One-off plaques and nameplates

CNC routing or lasers: Which should you choose?

Both CNC routing and laser cutting have their unique applications and can be used in a variety of innovative ways.

Your best bet is to call Perth’s CNC routing and laser cutting experts, Vital Line, to discuss your project in more detail. With more than 20 years’ experience in CNC routing, laser cutting and laser engraving we can advise on a solution to achieve the best results and provide a no-obligation quote.