Waterjet vs. Laser Cutting: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Metalworking Needs

A waterjet cutter in action

If your business relies on metal fabrication, choosing the right cutting technology can significantly impact the efficiency and productivity of your operations as well as the quality of your finished products. Two popular cutting methods—waterjet cutting and laser cutting—offer unique advantages and are suitable for various applications, but how do you decide which is right for you? If you’re considering investing in a cutting system for your metalworking needs, understanding the differences between waterjet and laser cutting is crucial. Let’s explore the key differences between these two technologies to help you make an informed decision.

Waterjet & Laser Cutting Basics

Waterjet cutting systems use a high-pressure stream of water mixed with an abrasive substance to cut through materials. Laser cutting systems use a focused laser beam to melt or vaporize materials, resulting in precise cuts. Waterjet cutting is commonly used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and architecture for cutting materials that are sensitive to elevated temperatures or require high precision. Laser cutting is widely used in industries such as electronics, medical devices, and signage because of its ability to cut intricate designs with speed and accuracy.

Pros & Cons of Each Method

Waterjet cutting pros:

  • Precision – Waterjet cutting can be used for intricate shapes and tight tolerances, making it ideal for detailed metal fabrication projects.
  • No heat-affected zone (HAZ) – Unlike thermal cutting methods like laser or plasma cutting, waterjet cutting does not create a heat-affected zone, minimizing the risk of material distortion, warping, or hardening.
  • It’s environmentally friendly – Waterjet cutting is a cold cutting process that uses water and abrasive, making it environmentally friendly compared to other cutting methods that produce fumes or hazardous byproducts.
  • No material contamination – Since waterjet cutting does not use heat, there is no risk of thermal distortion or material contamination, making it suitable for food, medical, and aerospace industries.


  • Slower cutting speed – Compared to laser or plasma cutting, waterjet cutting is generally slower, which can lead to longer production times for large-scale projects.
  • Higher operating costs – The use of high-pressure pumps, abrasive materials, and water consumption can lead to higher operating costs compared to other cutting methods.
  • Limited thicknesses – While waterjet cutting can cut a wide range of materials, it has limitations in cutting very thick materials compared to plasma or flame cutting.

Laser cutting pros:

  • Precision – Laser cutting also delivers excellent precision and accuracy.
  • Speed – Laser cutting is a fast process and is ideal for high-volume production and rapid prototyping.
  • Versatility – Laser cutting can be used for a wide range of materials and is a versatile option for various industries.
  • Minimal material contact – Since laser cutting is a non-contact process, there is minimal risk of material contamination or distortion.
  • Automation – Laser cutting machines can be fully automated, reducing the need for manual labor and increasing efficiency.


  • Heat-affected zone (HAZ) – Laser cutting generates heat, which can result in a heat-affected zone (HAZ) along the cut edge.
  • Material limitations – While laser cutting can be used on a wide range of materials, it may not be suitable for very thick or reflective materials.
  • Cost – Laser cutting machines can be expensive to purchase and maintain, making them less cost-effective for small-scale operations.
  • Safety Concerns – Laser cutting involves high-intensity laser beams, posing an injury risk.
  • Environmental impact – Laser cutting produces fumes and dust, which can be hazardous to health and require proper ventilation and filtration systems.
  • Maintenance – Laser cutting machines require regular maintenance, including alignment, cleaning, and replacing of parts, which can increase downtime and operating costs.

Which Option Is Right For Your Needs?

While waterjet and laser cutting are suitable for many applications, there are instances where a CNC plasma cutting system may be a better choice. CNC plasma cutting is ideal for cutting thick materials, such as steel and aluminum, at a lower cost and higher speed compared to waterjet and laser cutting. It is commonly used in industries such as construction, shipbuilding, and metal fabrication because of its efficiency in cutting thick materials.

If you’d like a reliable cutting system that increases your shop’s capabilities, look to Machitech. We offer waterjet, laser, and CNC plasma cutting systems and can help you select the system that best fits your company’s needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.