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Thread: Wanting to Build my first computer controlled XY scanner

  1. #1
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    Default Wanting to Build my first computer controlled XY scanner

    :?

    Hello,

    I have always been interested in building a scanner capable of graphics since mounting a mirror on a speaker in high school in the 80's. I have read about the kit system using an amiga computer and lsd1000 freeware from midwest laser, and have seen the scanner kits offered on ebay by aijii . Has anyone used these to build a system? I do not have much electrical engineering or programming experiance, but do have an engineering background. What is an inexpensive (relatively) set up that wouldn't be too hard to assemble and I wouldn't outgrow the minute I finished it? I would like to add multicolor in the future.

    Also, what wattage green would be a good laser to use for beam effects and graphics without needing smoke? IE the chinese lasers offered by aijii.

    Thanks, Bret

  2. #2
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    Greetings and welcome. You're almost in the same boat I am in. I just received the SCANPRO30 of eBay and didn't realize it didn't include a DAC. I actually thought the scanner driver boards were DACs. I'm still waiting for the DAC I purchased so I am of no help at the moment, but would be glad to share pictures, problems, and accomplishments with you. Although, with the welth of knowledge and knowledgable members here I'm sure any and all your questions will be answered. 8)
    Love, peace, and grease,

    allthat... aka: aaron@pangolin

  3. #3
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    Hi Bret and welcome to the forums.

    If I recall correctly using the Amiga you are unable to do blanking of the laser due to the audio card being only 2 channel (stereo) and it is that what you utilise to control the galvo's.

    As for expense the laser hobby is worse than the PC market. Unless you are spending thousands and thousands of dollars you will ALWAYS want better than you have, even then you will still want more.

    When you decide to start buying components try to think of the upgrade path. Going for the cheapest will end up expensive in the long run as you will find it hard to resell the cheapest products.

    As for the green laser, you need to know how and where you will be using it. Lower power ones will work in small dark rooms for graphics. If you want to do beam shows in light large halls with little fog or haze you will need much more power as you need to see the beam in the air.

    At a minimum I would suggest using an analogue green of about 100mw so when you start to build a RGB graphics projector (and you probably will) you will be able to use it there.

    Jim

  4. #4
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    Jimbo is correct re: the Amiga 500 mod. You won't have blanking. But you can do some very cool things with it nonetheless.

    If you don't have any galvos yet, you might want to start with some cheaper open-loop galvos. There are plans on the internet that will show you how to build "accelerator" galvo amps that allow you to get pretty decent output (including graphics up to around 18kpss) from open loop galvos. This is a cheap way to start, assuming you're not afraid of a soldering iron!

    On the other hand, if you want to jump right in and get a set of closed-loop galvos (which will come with their own amps), then I'd have to recommend the Dragon Tiger Electronics DT-40 scanners. But they're going to cost nearly $700...

    If you want to go multi-color, and you're SURE you want to stay in this hobby (despite the fact that it's really expensive), then go for the DT-40's. If you are unsure, or if you really like to tinker with electronics, then go the open-loop route to start.

    Keep in mind that the cost of the scanners is just the begining. Wait 'till you see how much a 100 mw DPSS blue laser is going to cost you! (Then too, when you want to step up from the Amiga 500 to a more professional DAC that offers blanking and color control, be ready to spend yet more money on a DAC and some software...) Just want to warn you of the "money pit" nature of this hobby!

    Adam

  5. #5
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    I doubt there is anyone here who isn't pushin 2k of whatever currency the use on their et up. :roll: ops: And anyone with an argon burns a hoe in their wallet ever time they/we fire it up... :?

  6. #6
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    Actually, I don't mind the fact that my Argon lasers are inefficient. Sure, they use a lot of electricity, and yeah, it is annoying to have the loud fans running all the time trying to get rid of the excess heat, but electricity is CHEAP.

    Consider that for between $1200 and $2000 you can purchase a used argon laser that will make several WATTS of blue. Now, how much do you think you'd need to spend to get, oh, say 2 watts of DPSS blue at 473 nm? Sort of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

    I agree that solid state lasers are the future for this hobby, at least until you get up into the 10's of watts for large outdoor shows, but right now Argon lasers are more economical than DPSS lasers, at least for blue. (Admittedly, what you save in terms of money you pay for in terms of increased size, weight, and power consumption.) Then too, for the really big shows where you need 20 + watts of blue you really don't have any choice but to go with Argon lasers...

    I don't think I'll ever be able to afford more than 150 mw of DPSS blue, but I've seen a few Argon tubes on E-bay that would give me over a WATT of blue for less than $300. (I'm sitting on a large Argon PSU with a dead tube hooked to it. If I get a live tube I'll be in business with some REAL power for a change! Still need to make sure my unit will handle a water-cooled tube though...) I think that long-term I'd like to have an all-solid state RGB projector with, say, 400 mw of red, 100 mw of blue, and 50 - 100 mw of green, plus a second projector with just a single large argon laser and maybe some slower galvos that would only be used for beams.

    As for how much money we have invested - yeah, there are quite a few folks here that have way more than $2000 invested. But you can do a lot with just $2000, too. You could purchase a good DAC, some decent software, a set of high-speed closed loop galvos with amps, and still have enough money left over to buy the lasers and optics needed to assemble a red-yellow-green projector. (We're talking low power here - 200 mw of red and 50-100 mw of green) If you had another $600 or so you could even add a little blue (50 mw or so) to the mix and have a full color setup. (Or, if you go Argon, you could add LOTS of blue!)

    Adam

  7. #7
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    Ok, so if I decide to go with a DAC and software and buy a set of galvos off ebay, how hard would it be to set it all up?

    I am gathering that the higher the galvo speed the better, and I am guessing I need at least 20K galvos for graphics? and the higher the speed the less flicker? (ie 40K's the best if I want to invest that much to start) are the 30K's on ebay good enough to use for a future RGB setup?

    It sounds as if the best infrastructure you can afford is what to sink your $$ into, then add higher power lasers as you can afford?

    What is a good do it all affordable software program and DAC card to start with?

    Thanks for all your help! -Bret

  8. #8
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    laserpaca:
    Buy DT40 Pro galvos They are really fast gavlos! Price is 650-700 usd + shipping

    You will find DAC + software on ebay!

  9. #9
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    I think that the Mamba Black and Easylase/Medialas USB package is pretty good for $599.
    You get a dozen shows thrown in at that price and thousands of frames too.

    Jim

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Advice for starting out....

    Bret:

    Setting up galvos isn't that difficult. I think it's actually more difficult to align two or more lasers using dichros (or a trichro) than it is to just hook up the galvos. You'll want a stiff metal surface to mount everything on, of course. (You can use other materials if you need to, but metal or really dense plastic composite works the best.) But really, you just need to connect the output of the DAC to the input on the scanner amps. It's not hard.

    Aligning everything is tricky; you need to be patient and work slowly and carefully. It helps if you've got some adjustable optical mounts, but if you're planning on starting with a monochrome projector you can probably just hard-mount the galvos and then stick shims under the laser until it's at the correct height. See pictures in the gallery section of PhotonLexicon for various projector layout designs. The monochrome projectors are really straighforward, while the full-color RGB systems are a little more complex.

    Tuning the scanner amps to get the best output is also a little tricky, but there are several published procedures on how to do this. (Some can be found here on PhotonLexicon.) Tuning is normally something you do one time, and after that you leave it alone. Fortunately for me, my galvos were pre-tuned when I received them, so I haven't had to mess with it. But the galvo amps have adjustments on them that you can tweak to get the projected image to look as good as possible. Again, work slowly and be patient.

    If you are really interested in graphics, you will want the fastest galvos you can afford. The DT-40's are just about the best value out there right now. However, if you are on a budget (and who isn't these days, right?), then you can do graphics with 30kpps scanners. In fact, you can do some graphics with 24kpps scanners, and even some really simple graphics with 18kpps scanners! But if you're going to to graphics, I would bite the bullet now and get a set of the DT-40's. They'll serve you well for a LONG time.

    As far as a software/DAC combination, my advice would be to purchase Mamba Black and the EasyLase USB DAC. The combination will set you back about $650 or so (about the same price as the DT-40 scanners and amps). But this will give you a hardware and software combination that will support full color shows, syncronized to music, with analog blanking. (Analog blanking gives you superb color mixing and blending; TTL blanking only gives you 7 colors.)

    However, we're now talking near $1300 spent, and you don't have a laser yet! (See what I mean about lasers being a money pit hobby?) This is the reality I faced last year when I decided that I wanted to jump into closed-loop galvos and computer controlled shows. I couldn't afford everything I wanted all at once. I ended up buying a less-expensive software and DAC package (the Alphalite XC Pro), though I did get the DT-40 galvos and a nice 100 mw DPSS green laser.

    Though I managed to save some money in the begining, I soon became frustrated at the limits of both the software and the DAC. The Alphalite software does not support any sort of music syncronization, and the Alphalite DAC runs off the parallel port of your PC, which induces all sorts of timing glitches - including "freezes" and hot spots in the displayed image. Since the limits of the Alpahlite system are intrinsic to the design, there was no upgrade path for me. I am thus forced to start over with a new software package and a new DAC to get the features I want.

    I'm not saying that it wasn't worth it at the time... I learned a lot about running a laser show from a computer by playing around with the Alphalite. And the Alphalite will display some amazing images. (Again, see the gallery for some pictures...) But laser shows really need music, in my opinion. I also think that the timeline interface design that Mamba uses is a lot easier to work with than the cluster of frames interface that Alphalite has. (The Full-Auto software uses an interface similar to the Alphalite, which is one reason why I didn't even consider that software package when deciding on what to upgrade to.)

    I should admit that there are other, more expensive software and DAC combinations out there that can do even more than Mamba Black and the EasyLase USB DAC can. Pangolin makes some GREAT hardware, for example, and their software pretty much sets the standard by which everything else is compared to. But their pricing also reflects this fact. Still, if you have the cash to spend, you might want to investigate some of the higher end packages before making your decision.

    But I believe that with Mamba Black, the average hobbyist will never run up against a wall of obsolescence. (You most certainly *will* hit that wall with the Alphalite, however.) Thus Mamba Black is a good choice to start out with, because you can do so much with it. If at some point you become so involved in the hobby that you need the power and flexibility of a full-blown Pangolin setup, well, at that point you will probably be doing commercial shows and have the income needed to pay for it!

    Eh - I just remembered one other reason to recommend Mamba Black... A recent poll here on PhotonLexicon revealed that Mamba Black was used by the majority of the users here. So there's lots of help available! (Truely though, Pangolin and other software companies have excellent customer support as well.)

    Adam

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