The Differences Between Waterjet, Laser, and Plasma Cutting

There are three common precision cutting methods: waterjet, laser, and plasma cutting. All these techniques are known for their speed and flexibility, but there are key differences that ultimately determine which approach is best suited to your intended application. The following guide explains how these methods work and the benefits they provide.

Laser Cutting

Laser cuttingLaser cutting is the most precise method and uses less energy than plasma or waterjet cutting to process metal sheets. It can cut components to a 0.002″ accuracy and process multiple materials simultaneously. Cutting is fully automated except for programming, inspections, and repairs.

Laser cutting equipment uses a nozzle, curved lens, and compressed gas to create a focused and spherical pinpoint of light that a technician or program can control. This allows for fine detail and edge work, speed, efficiency, and replicability.

There are many benefits of precision laser cutting, including:

  • The ability to cut complex and irregular shapes
  • High-speed cutting, without the need for retooling
  • Flexibility to cut metal and non-metal materials
  • Highly efficient and reliable
  • Ability to cut narrow widths

Plasma Cutting

plasma cuttingPlasma cutting is similar to laser cutting—both are accurate and require little human interaction during operation. It offers up to 0.008″ accuracy and can be used for both ferrous and nonferrous metals. Like the equipment which is used during laser cutting, plasma cutting machinery also features a nozzle and compressed gas. Together, these components create a plasma arc that easily cuts through most materials. Heat is an unavoidable byproduct of plasma cutting, which in turn generates fumes and smoke. Because of this, the method can’t be used on non-conductive materials, including wood and plastic, and it requires proper ventilation to operate safely.

The benefits of plasma cutting include:

  • Low cost of operation
  • Fast cutting speeds
  • Simple operations with limited potential for error
  • More efficient than other methods for cutting holes

Waterjet Cutting

waterjet cuttingInstead of using a heat energy source like laser or plasma cutting, the waterjet uses high-pressure streams of water to cut materials. The jet is sometimes combined with a grating material, like garnet or aluminum oxide, to facilitate the process. Of the three methods, waterjet cutting is the most precise with tolerances of up to 0.001″.

At its beginning, waterjet cutting was only used for thin and delicate materials, like paper. Now, due to advances in technology, waterjetting can be used to cut almost any industrial material, including most metals, ceramic, stone, marble, and more. It’s commonly used to produce parts for the aerospace industry, as well as ceramic and marble pieces for construction.

The benefits of waterjet cutting include:

  • Safe operation for workers
  • Sustained material life
  • Removes the risk of overheating the material
  • Low risk of thermal warping or damage
  • Greater material utilization-to-waste generation ratio
  • Exceptionally accurate

Contact Metal Craft for Your Waterjet Cutting Needs

Metal Craft’s dedicated and experienced team provides metal manufacturing solutions to customers from every industry. We use waterjet cutting methods to produce the most reliable, cost-effective, and accurate results. Whatever method is best for your project, our experienced team can help.

For over 50 years, we have proudly provided innovative solutions and excellent customer service throughout North America. If you have an upcoming metal fabrication project, contact us to learn more about our services.


  1. Taylor Hansen

    It’s interesting to learn that laser cutting uses less energy than plasma cutting. My uncle is thinking about switching to laser cutting since he needs an automated system for inspecting his cuts. I’ll be sure to share this with him so he can get the right laser cutting equipment.

  2. Joe Hall

    It’s good to see that even plasma cutting is going to be extremely precise and accurate, with little human intervention. My brother is trying to get a new business off the ground this month. He needs to find a way to get laser cutting services so that he can get custom pieces of steel.

  3. Rebecca Gardner

    I’m glad you mentioned that laser cutting can handle complex shapes at a high speed. My brother mentioned he needs to have some small metal parts made for his construction business this summer. This info should help him decide if laser cutting would fit his needs!

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