A Diode Laser for a CO2 lover? – AtomStack A5 M50 Pro Review

Find more information below:
Atomstackofficial- https://bit.ly/3yF9SqR 
A5 M50 Pro- https://bit.ly/3Pn75sp 

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Materials I used in my review:

ATOMSTACK A5 M50 Pro laser engraver: https://amzn.to/3yu0Rkz
Multicolor Anodized Aluminum Business Card Blanks: https://amzn.to/3yqYcbh
Stainless Steel Flask: https://amzn.to/3kWkGJ8
Basswood Plywood Sheets: https://amzn.to/3M7jEpy
LED Acrylic Lamp Base: https://amzn.to/3M7jFK8
Black Acrylic Sheets: https://amzn.to/3vZNV4c
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Video Transcript:

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Hoffman Engineering. Today we are taking a look at the Atomstack A5 M50 Pro laser engraver. Long time viewers know I am a big fan of CO2 lasers, but can this benchtop diode laser convince this CO2 lover to switch? Lets find out.

But first, this A5 M50 Pro was provided by Atomstack for review. Like all of my reviews, they aren’t paying me for this review, and everything I say is my own honest opinion after using this laser for the last month. Lets get to it.

[Specifics]

The Atomstack A5 M50 Pro is a 445 nanometer blue laser diode benchtop laser engraver. It has a working area of 410mm by 400mm, which could be extended up to 410mm by 850mm with an optional upgrade kit. The engraver uses 40W of power, with the laser diode outputting 5.5W. The laser itself is fixed focused, and you manually adjust the height of the laser head above your material using the handy knob. The laser head has built in eye protection, as well as a fan which blows air down towards the material which does a good job pushing smoke away from the lens. The frame is all aluminum extrusion, and motion is from belt-driven stepper motors controlled by a 32-bit GRBL control board.

The front controller has power and USB connections, as well as a micro-sd card slot (labeled as Trans-Flash). The emergency stop button is important on machines like this, and immediately cuts all power when pushed. The front controller has a touchscreen panel that is magnetically attached. This panel allows you to select files to engrave from the micro-SD card, so you use the machine without needing a computer attached.

[Assembly]

Assembly was relatively easy. Unfortunately I lost the footage of my initial assembly, but it took me about an hour to assemble and get up and running. It shipped in a really small box, less than two feet by one foot, and was well packaged. The manual provided assembly steps, and all the hardware was packed in individual bags with the step numbers labeled. I did find a couple of the assembly steps a little hard to follow, mostly around how to run the cables without them pulling too tight. But overall the assembly wasn’t too difficult.

[Software]

As for software, Atomstack recommends using LaserGRBL or LightBurn to control the laser. LaserGRBL is a free and opensource tool for Windows, and the built in Material Library includes pre-built profiles for a variety of materials for the Atomstack A5. That premade material library is awesome, and those profiles were spot on. Lightburn is a paid software, but provides a 30 day trial. I ended up really liking LightBurn, so most of my testing was done using it. I did pull over all the materials settings from LaserGRBL though.

[Usage]

Using the laser was really easy. Place the material in the laser (taping the edges so it doesn’t move if needed), adjust the focus by placing the provided acrylic spacer on your material, and lowering the laser head until it rests on the spacer and tightening the knob. Connect the laser to your computer via USB, and start the job through LaserGRBL or Lightburn. It only takes a couple of tries to get really used to switching materials and changing focus. And it’s great that the frame is raised off of the surface, because you can slide larger pieces of stock through the sides. You are not limited to just 400mm square pieces of stock.

[Wood]

Atomstack advertises that this laser can handle a variety of materials, so I wanted to try as many as possible. First up is Wood. Wood is this laser’s bread and butter. Normal craft woods like Basswood and Baltic Birch engrave and cut beautifully. I was cutting through 1/4 inch plywood with 3 passes. The fan in the laserhead makes sure there are no flames, the only time I got flames were when I was running really slow with full power during my initial material test patterns.

The accuracy of the machine is great. I cut this Raspberry Pi case out of basswood, and all the pieces fit together wonderfully. 

It can take some tests to really dial in the settings for different materials. Some of my initial tests on these living hinges didn’t cut all the way through. You still get some of the bending effect, but you can see that it didn’t go completely through. Thankfully, LightBurn has a wonderful Material Test tool to generate grids with different settings, so you can really dial in those settings.

Engraving images on wood also works amazingly. Here are a couple of image tests which showcase images created through LightBurn. It varies the laser power, and gives a really good monochrome image effect. I come from a CO2 laser background, and those do not handle images well, so I was really impressed with how good images on a diode laser can be.

[Leather]

Speaking of natural materials, leather engraves well. Make sure you don’t use chrome-tan leather, as those give off dangerous fumes, but vegatan leather works great. I got really nice, high contrast engravings using their suggested speeds and feeds.

[Anodized Aluminum]

Next on the list is Anodized Aluminum (aluminum oxide). I picked up some blank anodized aluminum business cards on Amazon, and the A5 M50 Pro engraved them beautifully. I really like how well these turned out. They are slow to engrave, each of these cards took a good 40 minutes to finish. But if you are looking to engrave anodized aluminum, these are excellent results. 

[Stainless Steel]

Also on the list is Stainless Steel. I tested it out on a stainless steel flask I also purchased on Amazon, and yes, the A5 M50 Pro was able to engrave on it. Their suggested settings are very slow, 100 millimeters a minute at 100% power, with 3 passes. Due to the sake of time, I engraved with only 1 pass, but even then it was able to make a permanent mark. Even image engraving seemed to work on stainless steel. However, the slow speeds meant the metal was absorbing a lot of energy, and all that heat ended up warping the material. So if you wanted to engrave flasks, you would need to play around with settings to prevent warping. It can definitely handle stainless steel though.

[Acrylics]

Next up, acrylics. Diode lasers cannot cut or engrave clear acrylics. The visible laser light passes right through them, and does nothing to the material. However, opaque acrylics do work. I used some opaque black acrylic, and those cut and engraved just fine. I love making acrylic keychains, they are perfect for handing out at events. These black acrylic keychains look good, and saving the file to the SD card makes cutting more of them easy to do. I wish Atomstack was more clear that when they say “acrylic” is compatible, they just mean opaque acrylics, which is a bit misleading.

[Glass]

Also misleading is “glass” mentioned in their Engraving list. Again, the visible laser just goes through glass, and does not engrave it at all. Some people mention using various paints or tapes to absorb the energy and engrave on glass with a diode laser, but I didn’t have any luck with that. Let me know in the comments if there’s a reliable technique for glass engraving with these types of lasers. But I think that Glass should probably not be listed on their website.

[Issues]

There is one more problem with the marketing on the website… Every image of the A5 M50 Pro’s control screen shows that it’s connected to WIFI with an IP address. However, this laser does not have Wifi capabilities, nor do they sell an upgrade to give it wifi capabilities. The only option in their menu is to toggle whether touch sounds are enabled. They seem to reuse a lot of the same marketing images between their various A5 lasers, so maybe another model that I couldn’t find has wifi, but the A5 M50 Pro does not.

I only have one issue with the hardware itself, and it’s the focusing knob. It is just a screw that you tighten against the back plate, and that holds the laser at the correct height. However, that back plate has pre-drilled holes in it. If the material you are adjusting to just happens to be right height, when you tighten the screw it’ll catch on the pre-drilled holes and cause the head to move down. That puts the head at risk of rubbing and moving the material, ruining the cut.. For me, that just happened to be the exact height when focusing on 1/8th inch plywood. So I added a 3/4 inch riser underneath, but what would you know, those holes are spaced ¾ of inch apart, so same problem. Those holes do not serve a purpose, it would be a much better experience if that back plate was solid.

[Conclusion]

With all that said, I do think the Atomstack A5 M50 Pro is a pretty capable diode laser engraver. Its portable and lightweight, makes it easy to store out of the way after using. Its 410mm by 400mm work area is large enough, and you can pass larger stock through the sides if needed. You could also just place it onto the surface to be engraved, for instance if you wanted to engrave a table. The engraving works well, I was really impressed by the images that it can engrave, great for sign making. The A5 M50 Pro is not the fastest machine for cutting, certainly doesn’t match the power of the CO2 lasers I’m used to, but diode lasers fill a different role in the shop. The touch screen only has basic controls, good enough to cut designs you’ve saved, but missing more premium features like cutting multiple copies at once. But once you dial in the settings for a material, it can consistently run job after job.

The A5 M50 Pro is the top model of Atomstack’s A5 line, and sells for $475. It is competitively priced compared to other engravers with similar work areas and diode powers. I think anyone looking for a diode laser would be happy with their choice if they picked one of these up.

So thank you for watching my review of the Atomstack A5 M50 Pro laser engraver. This was my first full review of a laser engraver, so let me know in the comments if there’s any topics I might have missed that would be helpful in future laser reviews. Also leave comments with any tips and tricks for diode lasers, I’m always looking to learn myself. Thank you all for watching, I’ll see you all next time!

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