Waterjet Cutting vs Laser Cutting: Which is Right for You?

waterjet vs. laser cutting

In the realm of manufacturing and design, two cutting-edge techniques stand out: Waterjet Cutting and Laser Cutting. Both methods offer unique advantages, making them go-to choices for various applications. But when faced with the decision of selecting one over the other, which should you choose?

This post delves into the intricacies of both waterjet and laser cutting, providing a comprehensive overview to help you determine the best fit for your specific needs. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, understanding the distinctions between these two techniques is crucial for informed decision-making. Let’s dive in!

How Waterjet Cutting and Laser Cutting Works

Laser and waterjet cutting are two common processes manufacturers use in sheet metal fabrication.

Water jet cutting is a fascinating process that harnesses the immense power of water. By focusing water into a high-pressure stream, often reaching up to 60,000 pounds per square inch (psi), it can slice through materials with remarkable precision.

Waterjet Cutting

But water alone isn’t always enough for tougher materials. That’s where abrasives come into play. By mixing water with abrasives like garnet, the cutting capabilities are significantly enhanced, allowing it to tackle harder substances with ease.

On the other hand, the laser cutting operates on an entirely different principle. Instead of water, it employs a concentrated beam of light—laser—to melt, burn, or vaporize materials. This high-intensity light beam is directed at the material, which then either melts, burns, or vaporizes away, leaving a high-quality surface finish in its wake. The precision of laser cutting machines is unparalleled, especially when dealing with materials like plastics, wood, and certain metals.

Comparisons Between Waterjet Cutting vs Laser Cutting

Operations Performed by Each Technique

Laser cutting isn’t just about slicing through materials; it also boasts impressive engraving capabilities. This feature allows users to etch intricate designs, serial numbers, or assembly marks directly onto surfaces, adding a layer of customization and detail that’s hard to achieve with other methods.

Both water jet and laser cutting are predominantly used for creating 2D objects. Their precision and efficiency make them ideal for producing flat designs from various materials. However, their approach to handling material combinations presents some challenges. For instance, when laser cutting, if two materials have different melting points, it can result in uneven cuts. Similarly, with waterjet cutting, there’s a risk of delamination, especially when working with layered materials.

In summary, while both techniques excel at 2D object cutting, laser cutting has the added advantage of engraving. However, care must be taken when dealing with mixed materials to ensure optimal results.

Cut Materials and Thickness Each Technique Can Cut

The versatility of both waterjet and laser cutting is evident in the wide range of materials they can handle. Laser cutting shines when working with plastics, wood, glass, and most metals, except for highly reflective ones like aluminum. Its precision ensures clean cuts, especially in materials with consistent melting points.

cut materials difference

Waterjet cutting, on the other hand, is a powerhouse when it comes to material diversity. From metals to ceramics and even rubber, there’s virtually no material restriction. Its ability to mix water with abrasives like garnet allows it to tackle even the toughest of substances.

When it comes to thickness, laser cutting is optimal for materials ranging from 0.12’’ to 0.4’’ (3 to 10 mm). Waterjet cutting, with its robust force, can handle thicker materials, ideally between 0.4’’ to 2.0’’ (10 to 50 mm). Thus, depending on the material and its thickness, one can choose the most suitable cutting technique.

Precision Levels of Each Technique

Precision is paramount in cutting, and both waterjet and laser techniques offer impressive accuracy. Laser cutting, with its concentrated light beam, provides an edge in precision, achieving cutting slits as fine as 0.006’’ (0.15 mm). Its processing tolerance is also commendable, hovering around 0.002’’ (0.05 mm).

Waterjet cutting, while powerful, has a slightly broader cutting slit, typically around 0.02’’ (0.5 mm). Its processing tolerance is approximately 0.008’’ (0.2 mm).

In essence, while both methods are precise, laser cutting slightly outpaces waterjet in terms of sheer accuracy, making it the go-to for projects demanding the utmost precision.

Potential Damage to Materials

Every cutting technique comes with its set of challenges, and potential material damage is a concern. Laser cutting, while precise, can sometimes leave burn marks on the material, especially on the edges. These marks might darken the cut sides, although in many cases, they can be cleaned or factored into the design for aesthetic purposes.

Waterjet cutting, on the other hand, poses a different set of challenges. The immense pressure exerted by the water can lead to deformation, especially in smaller parts. There’s also a risk that some delicate materials might not withstand the force, leading to potential breakage or warping.

Nuisance Levels: Noise, Danger, Maintenance, Waste

Both waterjet and laser cutting techniques come with their own sets of nuisances that users should be aware of. Laser cutting, for instance, is relatively quieter, making it more suitable for environments where noise pollution is a concern. However, it does produce some dust and smoke, especially when cutting certain materials. Proper ventilation is essential, and while safety goggles aren’t mandatory, they’re recommended for added protection.

Waterjet cutting is a louder affair. The high-pressure water stream generates significant noise, necessitating ear protection in most settings. Additionally, the combination of water and abrasives can create a messy workspace. Cleanup post-operation is more intensive compared to laser cutting. Safety gear, including goggles and protective clothing, is a must to shield against the forceful water jet and potential splashes.

In summary, while both methods have their nuisances, being informed and prepared can mitigate most concerns, ensuring a smooth and safe operation.

Applications of Parts Made with Laser Cutting

Laser cutting, with its precision and versatility, has found its way into various industries, producing parts that are integral to numerous applications. Here are five notable applications of parts made using laser cutting:

Aerospace & Automotive: Laser-cut components are crucial in the aerospace and automotive sectors. From intricate engine parts to lightweight frames and chassis components, the precision of laser cutting ensures performance and safety standards are met.

laser cutting part

Medical Devices: The medical field benefits immensely from laser cutting, especially in the creation of surgical instruments, dental tools, and even components for medical implants. The ability to produce precise and sterile parts is vital for patient safety and effective treatments.

Electronics: Circuit boards, casings, enclosures, and other electronic components often require the precision of laser cutting. The technique allows for the creation of detailed parts that fit perfectly within compact electronic devices.

Jewelry & Art: Artists and jewelers utilize laser cutting to produce intricate designs, from detailed pendants to elaborate sculptures. The precision ensures that even the most complex designs come to life with impeccable detail.

Applications of Parts Made with Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting, known for its power and versatility, has been adopted across various sectors, producing parts that cater to diverse needs. Here are three prominent applications of parts made using waterjet cutting:

Construction & Architecture: In the realm of construction, waterjet cutting plays a pivotal role in shaping tiles, stones, and glass. Architects and designers rely on this technique to create custom flooring designs, intricate facades, and decorative elements that add aesthetic value to structures. The ability to cut thick and tough materials like granite and marble with precision makes waterjet cutting invaluable in this sector.

waterjet cutting tile

Aerospace: The aerospace industry demands parts that are both lightweight and durable. Waterjet cutting is employed to shape thick metal sheets, titanium, and even composite materials used in aircraft components. Its cold-cutting process ensures there’s no heat-affected zone, preserving the material’s structural integrity.

Marine: In shipbuilding and marine applications, waterjet cutting is essential for crafting parts that can withstand the harsh marine environment. From propellers to custom parts for yachts and commercial vessels, the technique ensures precision and durability, crucial for maritime safety and performance.

Which Technique is Right for Your Application?

Choosing between waterjet and laser cutting hinges on understanding the specific requirements of your project. Both techniques offer unique advantages, but their suitability varies based on material, precision, and desired finish.

Material Type: If you’re working with metals, especially thicker ones, or materials like granite and marble, waterjet cutting might be the better choice due to its ability to handle tough substances. However, for materials like plastics, wood, and thinner metals, laser cutting’s precision and clean finish are hard to beat.

Precision & Detail: For projects demanding intricate details, such as engraving or creating complex designs, laser cutting stands out. Its ability to produce fine cuts makes it ideal for detailed work. Waterjet cutting, while precise, is better suited for broader cuts.

Heat Concerns: Laser cutting introduces heat, which can sometimes alter the material’s properties or leave burn marks. If heat is a concern, especially for sensitive materials, waterjet cutting’s cold process is advantageous.

Operating Cost & Efficiency: While both methods have competitive pricing, laser cutting can be faster for thinner materials and detailed work. However, waterjet cutting might be more cost-effective for bulkier materials.

In conclusion, determining the right technique requires a careful evaluation of your project’s specifics. Consider material, design intricacy, budget, and end-use to make an informed decision.


Laser cutting and waterjet cutting, each with its distinct advantages, cater to diverse applications across industries. While waterjet cutting offers unmatched versatility in material choice and thickness, laser cutting stands out for its precision and engraving capabilities. However, both methods come with their set of challenges, from potential material damage to operational nuisances.

When deciding between the two, it’s crucial to evaluate your project’s specific requirements, from material type to design intricacy. By understanding the strengths and limitations of each technique, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your goals, ensuring optimal results for your endeavors.


What materials are unsuitable for laser cutting?

Laser cutting struggles with highly reflective metals like aluminum and copper, as the laser can reflect, potentially damaging the equipment. Additionally, certain thick materials might not be cut as efficiently with a laser compared to waterjet cutting.

Can waterjet cutting handle fragile materials?

Yes, waterjet cutting can handle fragile materials, including glass. The key is to adjust the pressure and use a suitable abrasive to ensure a clean cut without causing breakage.

Is laser cutting safe for the environment?

Laser cutting is relatively eco-friendly, especially when compared to traditional cutting methods. However, it’s essential to ensure proper ventilation as some materials can release toxic fumes when cut.

How do I decide between waterjet and laser cutting for mixed materials?

Consider the melting points and layers of the materials. Laser cutting can be problematic if materials have different melting points, while waterjet cutting might risk delamination with layered materials.

Which method is more cost-effective for bulk projects?

The cost-effectiveness depends on the material and design complexity. For thicker materials, waterjet might be more economical, while laser cutting could be cheaper for detailed designs on thinner materials. Always consult with a professional before deciding.

What is plasma cutting? 

Plasma cutting is a process that cuts through electrically conductive materials by using a high-velocity jet of hot plasma. It is mostly used to cut metal materials like steel and other metals. The plasma cutter consists of a power supply, an arc starting circuit, and a plasma torch.

The power supply generates an electric arc within the torch, ionizing the gas and creating plasma. The plasma arc is directed towards the material, melting it and blowing away the molten metal with high-velocity gas. Plasma cutting is known for its precision and speed, making it widely used in various industries.