CNC routers and laser cutters are two different types of CNC machines. While they can be used as automated tools for cutting flat materials for applications such as woodworking, sign making, and hobby projects, they work in very different ways.
The CNC router uses a professional bit as a cutting tool to physically cut the sheet by removing material. The cutting tool comes in a variety of shapes and sizes suitable for cutting pockets, lettering, joinery, and edge grinding. When the CNC router cuts, it spins the tool at a very high RPM while running precisely along the cutting path. The CNC router can cut a variety of panels, including wood, plastic, non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, and composite materials.
Laser-cutting machines use a focused, high-intensity beam of light to cut and etch sheet metal. As the laser head moves over the workpiece, it turns the laser beam on and off, burning through the material. Compared to CNC routers, laser cutters allow for a more precise engraving process. However, laser cutters have difficulty cutting harder metals, and most laser engravers are limited by laser power to cutting certain non-metallic materials such as wood, acrylics, fabric, cardboard, and paper. Laser cutters are also much more expensive than CNC routers.
Although CNC milling machines and laser cutting machines are both automated sheet metal cutting tools, they are very different in terms of cutting tools, cutting processes, etc. This also results in both having different functions and applications. Using both a CNC router and a laser cutter gives you the flexibility to cut a variety of materials depending on your project needs. But for cutting wood, plastic, and aluminum alone, a CNC router may be able to meet your needs at a lower cost.