Laser Engraver Side Hustle Discussion

Laser Engraver Side Hustle Discussion

I’ve spent a lot more time on Laser Engraver forums lately and picked a few flowers out of those fields.  I’ll do my best to keep this brief and fun.

Poison Gas

Go to any laser forum and there is always one mama bear who will gasp with disbelief when some people post photos of the items they laser.  She (it is usually a she) will then post something like this:

“OMG, don’t you know that item releases Hydrochloric gas which will kill you and corrode your machine?”

Let’s be real for a moment here.  That same person probably lasers all manner of painted things like tumblers and mugs.  Almost nothing that you put under a laser to engrave, including wood is safe to breathe.  Nothing.

If you have any questions about the fumes that you are creating, the answer is simple.  Do what the rest of industry does when a working environment creates hazardous fumes.  WEAR A RESPIRATOR.  In our case we’d want organic vapor cartridges.   If you opened a laser engraving business and hired an employee, you’d be required by law to give them respiratory protection.

Mama bear needs to shut the hell up and go buy a respirator.

And regarding Corrosion……..I spent many, many years in the DOD Material Science program specifically teaching Corrosion Control to active duty Sailors, Marines, Civilians, and Foreign Nationals.   I won’t get into specifics other than to say “you’ll corrode your machine” is utter bullshit.  Keep your machine clean, and it won’t corrode.

Nobody Is Buying My Laser Engraver Stuff

Just because you make a little widget and think it is cute as a button does not mean anyone will be interested in buying it.  I have spent years doing this and you have to find a niche.  I’m the odd man out here because I don’t care about making anything but lunch money.  When there gets to be too much interest in an item I create……..I shut down and go dark for a while.

I possess the ability to make all kinds of cute, artsy items that make people say “Awwwww”, but not reach for their wallet.  At this moment, I am killing it making cigar ashtrays and lasering logos in them.

Laser Engraver

Cigar Ashtray with USMC Logo

I don’t smoke, I don’t endorse smoking, and I don’t smoke cigars.  But you know who does?  Doctors, Lawyers, Military Officers, rich old dudes.   THESE THINGS SELL.

You just have to find what sells.  You may not even like what you sell.

Copyright Infringement

Go to any laser engraver forum and you’ll see Harley Davidson stuff, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, etc.  Those are trademarked and copyrighted images.  If those people get a hold of you for selling their image they will break you and your side hustle into bite sized pieces.

In my cigar ashtray above you will see a USMC logo.  The Marines are especially aggressive in finding people who use their logo.  And that is why John’s Tech Blog has a USMC Hobby License (304-23) which allows me to sell their logo on hand made items.

It is NOT okay to steal other peoples copyrighted images and try to profit from them. 

Recently I wanted to make a single time gift for someone who swears by a certain brand.  I wrote that company and told them I wanted to make a gift for someone and use their logo and that I swore to God no money was changing hands.  They responded by saying, “thanks for loving our stuff, here is a logo file to use.”

If you want to use a file to make money then inquire about licensing.  Yes you will have to pay money.  The USMC Hobby license is $200 every 3 years.  I can make that back by selling a few ashtrays.  If someone walks in your door and says they want a Harley Davidson something or other and you silently do it, who can know?  But the second you post it on Facebook Marketplace or Etsy you are playing with fire.   I don’t do copyrighted stuff without permission.  Period.

Knock Offs

laser engraver

Metal Wallet

I’m sure we’ve all seen the metal wallets.  They are perfect for laser engraving and can be bought cheaply from places like Aliexpress.

But did you know that Ridge Wallet holds a patent on them?  And that they could be confiscated by Customs?  Buying, and reselling those other non-Ridge wallets could be problematic.  And now you know.

Updated Software

I tend to have upgrade-itis.  But with lasers, I resist the urge to upgrade my software or firmware  IF EVERYTHING IS WORKING JUST FINE.   That is another thing you’ll find on forums:  “Everything was working just fine until I upgraded the software”.  I read an article just this week that some transportation depot in San Francisco was still running their system on several 5 1/2″ floppy disks.  Yet another place is still using BeOS.   1990’s stuff.

If it is working for you, don’t mess with it.  I download the updates and don’t install them for a period of time.  I wait and see if other folks realize any major problems.

Plus, I’m kind of a one trick pony.  I recently upgraded my CNC software in the middle of a large order.  While the software was fine it caused me TO WASTE TIME working through its differences.

Community Forums And Support

Let’s face it.  Most of these desktop laser engraving machines are very similar.  In fact there isn’t much difference between them at all.  Some even have the same laser modules on various manufacturers machines.  And they all come from China.  Go to any laser forum and you’ll see comments like this:  “My machine broke and no one is answering the phone.  I knew I should have bought (some other companies) machine.  They don’t have this problem.”

Uhhhhh.  Yes they do.  And they are also located in China and they also work during regular business hours in their own time zone.  And you should also remember that in Asia there aren’t so many day off holidays, rather they are usually a week long.  You are not getting ahold of them during this time frame.  I lived in Asia for around 16 years and that is just the way it is.  You’re not going to change it, and getting mad about it will only raise your own blood pressure.

I have said at least a million times that if you make money with a laser that you need either a stack of spare parts or a backup machine.   If your business plan does not include this, then one day you will run into a downtime situation.

Smart companies will put a liaison on their Support chat or Facebook pages.  Even smarter companies will sell spare parts and stock them in US warehouses.

Spare Parts And A Backup Machine

I have literally said this dozens of times.  If you are in business and a broken machine will cause you to lose customers or miss timelines, take heed.   You need spare parts, and/or a second machine.

A lot of people think they are going to buy a $500 laser and make millions.  They focus on output and money and not on machine maintenance.  I have no way to prove what I’m about to say but I bet at least 60% or more of laser engraver failures are caused by inexperienced operators.

Best Company To Buy From

John’s Tech Blog loves lasers from various manufacturers.  But for the total experience I generally recommend the machines from xTool to people who ask me for advice.  xTool makes great lasers.  They are innovators in the industry.  They also provide FREE SOFTWARE (xTool Creative Space) with their lasers.

XCS software was kind of sort of really bad in the beginning but it is vastly improved and I use it quite a bit more often these days.  Lightburn will always be the best laser software out there but it costs $60 up front and costs $30 a year extra if you want to upgrade it.   If you are a brand new user trying to figure out if the laser side hustle is for you, then not having to buy software could be a big factor in your total set up cost.

xTool has a great Facebook page, an even better Support page, and they have a projects page where you can download projects others have shared.

In a world of similar machines the real difference is in Support and Customer Care.

Final Thoughts On Laser Engraving


I saved the best for last.  In the last day or so on one forum I found the following comments.  I won’t name the forum or person(s):

HELP.!!! Has anyone had it happen that from one day to another when you turn on your computer, your laser is no longer connected to your Lightburn? 
I don’t remember how to configure it again and I have orders to complete.
I absolutely hate LightBurn here is what I get when I start to cut.
Update: The other night I was definately frustrated, I am trying hard to learn this program, it’s hard when you have had a Gf laser and afrer 4 years, it’s down for the count. I have a lot of orders that needs to be filled.

So one person has no idea how to configure their machine to a computer, and the other has no experience with Lightburn on a machine that requires Lightburn………..AND YET THEY ARE ACCEPTING CUSTOMER ORDERS. 

And I won’t show the pic but one person who has no idea how to use a Rotary tool gave it a whirl and the engraving came out backwards due to their settings.  Well, that’s how you learn, however, this persons 1st rotary attempt was on a $40 Yeti cup.   WHOOPS!  I don’t know how to do this but let me test on the most expensive tumbler I can find.  SMDH.

That’s all I have for now.  Have fun with your laser and make some side hustle money.  Protect your body, and your business.  And learn your craft before accepting orders.

One thought on “Laser Engraver Side Hustle Discussion

  1. Dale

    I’m stunned that the USMC charges to use our logo – no, I’m not a Marine; I’m an American Citizen. I did serve, 10 years in the Navy, but that’s not the “ours” I am speaking of. The USMC logo was designed with our money for our Marine Corps.

    Well, yours is a technical blog and you may not want to get into politics. I am a strong believer in protecting private property so you’re absolutely right about paying for the right to use Harley Davidson’s logo. I was attacked on a social media platform and called an Old-Timer. Of course they meant it as an insult but to me it’s been a badge of honor I spent 50 years as a licensed Ham to earn. What was my sin? I pointed out to someone bragging about that new Baofeng radio one person had bought that it required a license to operate. The pile-on of self-proclaimed rebels was something to see – so that’s me; I do believe in order and private property rights. But paying money for a government logo just seems wrong to me.


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