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Laser Cutting vs Waterjet Cutting: Which Method is Best for You?

Looking for the best sheet metal cutting method? Look no further than laser and waterjet technology!

While both methods emerged in the late 1960s, they offer vastly different approaches and techniques. But which one should you choose for your factory?

In this article, we’ll break down the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of laser and waterjet cutting, so you can make an informed decision. From unparalleled speed and precision to eco-friendly and sustainable cutting, we’ll cover it all.

So, buckle up and get ready to discover the ultimate guide to laser and waterjet cutting!

I. Laser Cutting Technology

1. The Principle of Laser Cutting Technology

Laser cutting works by using a high-power density (which can reach 107 to 1011W/cm2) laser beam to scan the surface of the material.

This process heats the material to several thousand or tens of thousands of degrees Celsius in a very short time, causing the material to melt or vaporize. A high-pressure gas then blows the melted or vaporized matter away from the cut seam, achieving the goal of cutting the material.

Schematic Diagram

Fig. 1 Principle of laser cutting
The principle of laser cutting

Laser Cutting Equipment

2. Characteristics of Lasers

   (1) High brightness of lasers;

   (2) High directionality of lasers;

   (3) High monochromaticity of lasers;

   (4) High coherence of lasers.

3. Advantages of Laser Cutting Technology

   (1) Fast speed, smooth and flat cut edges, generally no need for subsequent processing;

   (2) Small heat-affected zone in cutting, minimal distortion of the plate, and narrow cut seams (0.1mm ~ 0.3mm);

   (3) No mechanical stress on the cut, no shearing burrs;

   (4) High processing precision, good repeatability, without damaging the material surface;

   (5) CNC programming, capable of processing any flat diagram, can cut a large whole plate, no need for mold opening, time-saving and economical.

4. Applications of Laser Cutting Technology

Laser can cut many materials, including non-metal sheets such as plexiglass, wood, plastic, as well as various metal materials like stainless steel, carbon steel, alloy steel, aluminum plate etc.

Pulsed lasers are suitable for metal materials, while continuous lasers are suitable for non-metal materials. The latter is an important application area of laser cutting technology.

5. Product Categories of Laser Cutting

(1) Metal sheet parts that are not economically feasible to manufacture molds from a technical-economic perspective, especially those with complex contour shapes and small quantities.

(2) Patterns, markings, fonts, etc. made of stainless steel or non-metallic materials for use in the decoration, advertising, and service industries.

(3) Special parts requiring uniform slits. Typical parts are die-cutting plates used in the packaging and printing industry.

(1) Laser cutting technology will progress towards higher degrees of automation and intelligence. By applying CAD/CAPP/CAM and artificial intelligence to laser cutting, highly automated multi-functional laser processing systems can be developed.

(2) With the advancement of Internet and WEB technologies, establishing a WEB-based network database, using fuzzy inference mechanisms and artificial neural networks to automatically determine laser cutting process parameters, and being able to remotely access and control the laser cutting process is becoming an inevitable trend.

See also  Sheet Metal Laser Cutting: Training Tutorial & Fundaments

(3) The development towards multi-functional laser processing centers is in view, integrating quality feedback from various processes such as laser cutting, laser welding, and heat treatment, to fully utilize the overall advantages of laser processing.

(4) Three-dimensional high-precision large-scale CNC laser cutting machines and their cutting process technology are evolving towards high efficiency, high precision, multi-functionality, and high adaptability to meet the needs of three-dimensional workpiece cutting in industries such as automotive and aviation. The application scope of laser cutting robots will become larger and larger. Laser cutting is developing towards laser cutting units FMC, unmanned and automated operation.

7. Laser Cutting Machine

Initially, the laser cutting machine was developed to create holes in diamond molds. It uses laser radiation to heat the material being cut, resulting in unparalleled speed and precision. This technology is often compared to a “Swiss Army Knife” for its versatility.


Laser cutting has the following characteristics:

  • High cutting accuracy and capability to process workpieces with intricate shapes while minimizing waste
  • Ideal for cutting thin materials such as plastic, ceramic, or metal with a thickness of less than 25mm
  • Ability to perform cutting quickly from any direction.

Currently, there are two types of laser cutting machines: CO2 cutting (carbon dioxide cutting) and fiber laser cutting.

Related reading: Fiber Laser vs. CO2 Laser

8. Difference Between CO2 Cutting and Fiber Laser Cutting

1. Power

The fiber laser cutting machine utilizes the diode Aurora system, allowing for the effective transmission of high power without any loss.

In contrast, increasing the power of a CO2 laser cutting machine can be challenging, and the mirrors used may become damaged when the power output is high.

As a result, the fiber laser cutting machine has a significantly larger available power compared to the CO2 laser cutting machine.

2. Cutting thickness

Currently, the thickness that can be cut by a fiber laser is comparable to that of a CO2 laser in many cases. However, the fiber laser is more efficient, consuming 70% less power and incurring less wear and tear.

Related reading: Laser Cutting Thickness & Speed Chart

3. Simplicity

Many fiber laser cutting machine manufacturers advertise their product as “plug and play,” making it easy for users to install and utilize.

For those in need of this technology, the fiber laser offers high efficiency and a rapid return on investment.

Laser cutting has become a cost-effective production method due to its fast cutting speed, short processing time, and high precision.

II. Waterjet Cutting Technology

1. Principle of Waterjet Cutting Technology

High-pressure waterjets utilize water or a liquid with additives, which is pressurized by a pump booster to pressures ranging from 70 to 400 Mpa.

The high-pressure liquid flow is stabilized by a liquid accumulator and then formed into a high-speed liquid beam of 300 to 900 m/s by a man-made sapphire nozzle, which is sprayed onto the surface of the workpiece to remove material.

See also  Metal Laser Engraver: Revolutionizing the World of Metalworking

High-pressure waterjets can be divided into pure waterjets, abrasive jets, and special jets (such as electro-hydraulic pulse jets, self-excited oscillating pulse jets, etc.).

Schematic Diagram

Principle of Waterjet Cutting

Water Jet Cutting Machine

2. Basic Equipment for Water Jet Cutting Processing

(1) Hydraulic system.

The hydraulic system mainly includes boosters, controllers, pumps, valves, filters, and sealing devices.

(2) Cutting system.

The nozzle is the most important part of the cutting system, and the quality of the nozzle directly affects the quality and efficiency of the water jet.

(3) Control system.

Computer control systems can be used for automatic control.

(4) Filtration equipment.

This filters out dust, particles, mineral sediments, etc. from the liquid.

3. Application of Waterjet Cutting

From metal materials to non-metal materials, from natural materials to artificial materials, from food to daily necessities, it can basically cut everything, earning it the reputation of a “universal cutting machine. The main application areas include:

(1) Processing of building materials such as ceramics and stones;

(2) Processing of glass products, such as cutting of glass components in household appliances, architectural decoration, and crafted glass;

(3) Metal sheet cutting in the mechanical industry;

(4) Cutting of signage and artistic patterns in the advertising industry.

4. Advantages of Water Jet Cutting

(1) Broad cutting range. It can cut most materials such as metals, marble, glass, etc.

(2) Good cutting quality. The cuts are smooth, with no rough or burr edges.

(3) No heat treatment. This is ideal for materials that are affected by heat, such as titanium.

(4) Eco-friendly. This machine uses water and sand for cutting, which does not produce toxic gases during processing and is more environmentally friendly.

(5) No need to replace tools. You don’t need to change the cutting device, one nozzle can process different types of materials and shapes, saving cost and time.

(6) No direction restriction for cutting. It can complete various cutting shapes.

(7) Minimal lateral and longitudinal forces. This can reduce setup time and the cost of using fixtures.

(8) Narrow cuts. This can reduce a lot of waste material, saving direct manufacturing costs.

5. Disadvantages of Water Jet Cutting

(1) High initial investment cost.

(2) Cannot be used for parts that cannot be in contact with water.

(3) High wear-resistance requirement for materials.

(4) Issues with ultra-high pressure sealing.

(5) Safety concerns with ultra-high pressure.

6. Water Jet Cutter

Water jet cutting is a more economical option compared to laser cutting.

The concept was first introduced by Norman Franz, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

He discovered that high-pressure water flow possesses a significant cutting force.


Water jet cutting has the advantage of being a wider cutting method than laser cutting as it is a cold cutting process that can be applied to various materials.

It is a sustainable and eco-friendly cutting method, making it ideal for materials that are sensitive to heat.

See also  Waterjet Cost Calculator: #1 FREE Online Tool

Water jet cutting does not cause thermal damage to the workpiece, making it suitable for industries with high standards, such as aviation, navigation, automobile manufacturing, textiles and shoemaking, ceramics, machining, and others.

However, it is not suitable for cutting absorbent materials such as wood or materials that may corrode when exposed to moisture.

Another advantage of water jet cutting is its ability to use 3D nesting software, as it can cut from any direction.

When water is expelled from the nozzle with high force and pressure, it can cut the surface of the material at the specified position.

For cutting softer materials, only pure water is used, while for harder materials, garnet sand is usually added to the water to facilitate sheet metal cutting.

The nozzle size varies depending on the thickness of the workpiece, with smaller nozzles used for thinner materials and larger nozzles for thicker materials.

However, cutting very thick and hard materials takes more time, which increases the cost.

While water jet cutting is more economical, its maintenance cost is high as parts such as high-pressure pumps and cutting heads are prone to wear and tear.

Related reading: Waterjet Cutting: The Ultimate Guide

III. Laser Cutting vs Water Jet Cutting

(1) Laser cutting equipment requires a large investment, mostly used for cutting thin steel plates, some non-metallic materials, cuts quickly with high precision, but laser cutting can cause arc marks and thermal effects at the cut.

(2) Laser cutting is not ideal for some materials, such as colored metals, alloys, especially for cutting thick metal plates, the cutting surface is not ideal, or even unable to cut.

(3) The investment, maintenance, and operation costs of laser cutting equipment are considerable. Waterjet cutting has a small investment, low operating costs, a wide range of cutting materials, high efficiency, and convenient operation and maintenance.

IV. Conclusion

Laser cutting and water jet cutting share a common advantage in that they have a narrow cutting width compared to other methods, such as plasma and oxyfuel cutting, making them suitable for small workpieces that cannot be cut by other machines.

In conclusion, while the cutting methods of laser and water jet are distinct, they complement each other rather than being mutually exclusive. Sheet metal factories can choose between the two based on their specific needs.

Having both cutting machines in your factory will significantly enhance its competitive advantage, as it offers more flexibility in terms of the type of material being cut, the thickness of the workpieces, and the factory’s order management system.

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