What is the best value – plasma, laser, or waterjet?(2)

Cut Edge Quality

Cut edge quality refers to the squareness of the finished edge, as well as how much dross adheres to the bottom of the cut. The highest quality cut would usually be from Waterjet, which gives a very square cut with no dross, and no pierce spatter. Laser is a very close second place, because it also yields a very square cut. But on thicker mild steel or on stainless steel it can leave some dross and generates some pierce spatter. By comparison with these two processes, plasma cutting would have the lowest cut quality. Plasma will always have some edge bevel angle and often causes some dross. It also generates much more pierce spatter than laser, due to the larger kerf width.

Cut Part Precision

Cut part precision is a measure of the actual resulting part size compared to the programmed part size, and also includes consideration of the kerf width, which determines how small of an inside contour can be cut. Heat distortion should also be considered, as it can throw off the finished part size as well as cause the parts to warp.

Again, waterjet would be the best precision, usually in the neighborhood of +/- 0.005”, and having a kerf width around 0.035”. Waterjet also causes no heat-distortion. Laser would be very close second place, with typical part dimensions of +/-0.005”, and average kerf width around 0.025”. But laser can cause some heat distortion, especially on thicker plate. Again, plasma comes in last place, having a typical part size tolerance around +/-0.020”, and a typical kerf width of around 0.150”. Plasma also creates some heat distortion, which can be reduced by cutting under-water.


This criteria can’t be quantified as easily as something like cost or speed. But it might be extremely important to consider the variety of materials you can cut in your buying decision. Waterjet cutting is by far the most flexible of these 3 cutting processes, because it can cut almost any material. Laser is limited to metalics, some plastics and fiberglass, some fabric. Plasma is the most limited. It can only cut conductive metals, and is really only practical for mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum.


There are many other things that could be taken into account, and much more accurate assessments available. But this comparison gives a quick overview with relative ratings for some of the things that people will value most in a CNC cutting system. The result though, depends on which criteria is most valued to you and your company.

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