Handheld, portable design.
Powerful 20,000-watt laser.
12,000mm per second engraving speed.
Simple one-button operation.
Small engraving area.
No Mac support.
Cannot be used with Lightburn.
If you're trying to create branded artwork, engraving is a truly unique medium. Everyone has a t-shirt or mug with their brand on it. It gives off a long-lasting feel that ink can't. Hand someone a carved plaque or similar trinket and they'll cherish it. Engraving is also a practical way to create permanent nameplates and other accessories.
If you haven't looked at routers lately, you might think they are big and bulky. Of course they can. This is a must for engraving larger objects. But engraving machines can also be small and light. This is great news if you have a small work area, or if you need to take your router with you.
Today, we will be reviewing the ATOMSTACK M4 Fiber Laser Engraver. This is a miniature engraver designed for name tags and other small jobs. You can even use it in handheld mode on vertical surfaces. But these are just a few of the features we have to look at. We need to consider laser power and intensity. We'll discuss frames, accessories and compatibility. After we examine it thoroughly, we'll know enough information to draw conclusions.
Frame and design
ATOMSTACK M4 has a unique design. Most laser engravers we've looked at consist of a rectangular frame and a laser mounted on a gimbal. This one is completely different. There is an aluminum base plate instead of an open bottom. The laser is connected by a bracket to a vertical riser located on the back of the base plate.
Adjusting the height is easy with a small crank near the top. There's even a small height scale on the side, with a travel range of 11cm. Maximum overall height is 96mm, or 3.8 inches. However, there is also a removable plate in the base that pops out to create a window. If you need to engrave taller objects, simply prop the engraver up and place the object underneath. This allows you to engrave items of virtually any height or thickness.
Alternatively, you can use the M4 in handheld mode. The rectangular laser housing is attached to the bracket with an easily removable screw. Just unscrew it and the laser module pops out instantly. On top of the module is a molded handle. As a result, it is easy to control.
The kit includes a teal plastic shield that attaches to the laser lens. It is about eight inches long and has a flared shape slightly larger than the engraved area. Simply place the end of the guard on the surface you want to engrave and start engraving. In this mode, you can engrave vertical surfaces and even use the engraver upside down.
Atomstack backs the M4 with a 12-month manufacturer's warranty. It's not very long, but enough to verify that it's working. They also provide excellent online technical support and resolve most issues within 24 hours.
Laser and Control
The laser emitter itself does not move around. Instead, there are three lenses working in series to focus the laser light on a given point. They also tuned the laser to a fine point. Depending on your task, it can be between 0.02mm and 0.01mm in diameter. This allows you to create extremely detailed images, even on very small scales.
This is fortunate as the engraving area is relatively small at 70mm x 70mm. That side is a little over 2.75 inches, so you won't be able to create large images. But you'll still have plenty of room for nameplates, custom business cards, knives, or other small items. For many sculpting applications, this will be all the area you need.
We should also point out that the laser elements are rated for 20,000 hours of operation. That's a little over 15 months of non-stop "24/7 use". Under more realistic workloads, it can last for years without any issues. Chances are, by the time you have to replace it, it will be obsolete.
Another useful feature is the built-in button on the side of the case. Press it and the engraver will duplicate any image stored in memory. This is handy for batch engraving since you don't have to keep your computer connected. You don't need a dedicated laptop for your engraver, you can use an existing laptop. You can even set up multiple engravers for multiple images.
Connection and setup
The M4 is easy to set up. It comes with a USB cable, all you have to do is plug it into your computer. It also needs to be plugged into wall power. The laser is too powerful to operate via USB alone.
You don't have to install any drivers to run this router. It works out of the box and is compatible with Windows XP and above. Just give your computer a minute to recognize it. When a pop-up window appears telling you that the engraver is connected, you are ready to go. The downside is that it doesn't support Macs. It only works on Windows computers.
There are no such issues with image compatibility. M4 supports all common image formats including JPG, BMP, PLT and DXF. In addition, it supports a large number of popular barcode formats. These include Code39, DM, EAN, and PDF417. So if you want to engrave barcodes, you are looking for the ideal tool.
Software compatibility isn't an issue either. The system comes with a small USB thumb drive with the SeaCAD 5.1 installation package. On the one hand, it's a nice touch. Most engravers leave you to find software solutions yourself. On the other hand, the software is very basic. It's clearly Chinese, and the controls are limited and unintuitive. You're better off using another free and intuitive engraving software, such as LaserGRBL. For a complete overview, check out the SeaCAD user manual available on their website.
One of the things we love about the M4 is how fast it can engrave. The laser can travel at 12,000 millimeters per second, or nearly 40 feet. This is the maximum rate and is used for lightweight materials and shading. When the machine is creating darker lines or cutting heavier materials, it will move more slowly. But no matter how you look at it, this is a very fast machine. This is another feature well suited for batch work. If you want to take away 100, 300 or 1,000 things, you need a carver who can keep up.
The laser consumes 20 watts of power during normal operation. That's double what most routers can achieve. Even better, it can dissipate an incredible 20,000 watts of pulsed power. These pulses are so fast that the beam appears to be continuous. But it allows you to work with materials that many engravers cannot.
The M4 can do this because it uses infrared light with a wavelength of 1,064nm. This light, unlike the light used on most other lasers, will not cut through most materials. As a result, the laser can be turned up to full power for regular engraving without damaging the work surface.
As for materials, the sky is the limit. This engraver works on any type of metal, including rare metals. It can carve wood, ceramics, stone, and even leather. You can also use it on ABS, acrylic, poly panels and glass. Be careful when working on transparent surfaces, though. Lasers will just go through them and won't be effective. Instead, cover the surface with black marker or spray paint before engraving. Although you'll have to wash it off afterwards, a laser can be very effective.
Considering the device's form factor, the quality of the engraving is unrivaled. Clearly, precision and accuracy were paramount when AtomStack designed and developed the M4. Whether you use it on wood, plastic or metal, the results will be outstanding.
Accessories and Support
Before we wrap up, the M4 comes with a few accessories worth mentioning. First up is the green goggles. Eye protection is very important to any carver, but it's especially important here. For one thing, when you use the laser on the stand, there is no shielding around the laser.
On the other hand, there are fewer safety features compared to other routers. A normal engraver will have an anti-tilt feature that turns off the laser if it is tipped over. But that doesn't work here. The M4 needs to be able to operate at any angle. This is one of its main features! But if it is mishandled or dropped, it can easily cause damage to the eyes. Always wear goggles!
This kit includes a ruler and an L-shaped positioning rod. These are used to position whatever object you are sculpting. You get precise placement and repeatable results, another key feature of batch jobs. You also get five black sheets for calibration. These are essential for testing your performance before you start working.
The ATOMSTACK M4 Fiber Laser Engraver is a powerful little machine. For one thing, it works in almost any position. In addition to using it as a stationary vertical machine, you can also operate it in handheld mode. This is great for engraving door panels and other stationary objects. You don't have to figure out how to mount the object you want to engrave under the machine.
Lasers themselves are very powerful. With 20 watts of constant power and 20,000 watts of pulsed power, it can engrave almost anything. You can etch metal, wood, stone, glass, ceramic, and many plastics. The small working area is certainly a disadvantage. But that comes with portability and ease of use. With a 1,064nm laser, you don't have to worry about it cutting through your material.
The system is easy to set up. While it doesn't run on Macs, it's plug and play on Windows machines. The included software is a nice bonus, as it works well.