In comments on Would a laser weapon visibly fire?, it is claimed that the majority of devices sold to consumers as lasers are, in fact, LED-based. I think that (at least in the US), laser devices up to a few milliwatts power are legal and inexpensive. For instance, I own this device, which I believe to be a laser. Is it? More generally, are real lasers available for purchase to consumers for less than, let us say, $100US?

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    And what would it cost to attach real lasers to the heads of sharks...
    – Flimzy
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 2:33
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    There's an easy way to tell whether a device that produces a beam is a laser or not. Lasers and only lasers produce speckle, where a spread-out dot appears not uniform in brightness but swirly patterns of light and dark just barely visible; furthermore, this pattern changes as you move your gaze even when the spot stays still--this is interference on your retina of the coherent laser light. LEDs (and incandescent and fluorescent lights) are not coherent and thus cannot produce this effect.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 4:06
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    This is dangerously near General Reference territory. Laser Emiting Diode (the basis of laser pointers) have been around for a long time now and are also used in consumer electronics, supermarket checkout scanners and many other places. They may (especially if cheap) have poor qualities in terms of beam spread and coherence length which makes them unsuitable for some classroom demos but they are still lasers. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 17:05
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    In what way are LED devices not lasers: the question implies you can't be both. Most devices are low-power LED lasers.
    – matt_black
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 21:34
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    They are both LEDs and lasers: "A laser diode is an electrically pumped semiconductor laser in which the active medium is formed by a p-n junction of a semiconductor diode similar to that found in a light-emitting diode." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_diode
    – endolith
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


All the laser pointers I have seen, are in fact lasers. It's easy to tell, If you point one at a wall about 20 feet away, it will create a very small point of light, a few mm across. If you do that with a LED light, the beam, if it's powerful enough will be anywhere from half a meter to a meter in diameter. Only a laser can keep a beam that tight.

The device you link to is a real Laser

There are laser Diodes, which might be the source of the LED comment. Here are some commercially available laser diode modules.

Small, inefficient lasers are cheap. They're used in DVD players, CD players, bar code readers, and in the mouse I'm using.

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    Anecdotal answers are not allowed here. Please add references or delete.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 9:34

The device you have is a real laser pointer, with a wavelength of 532nm and an output power <5mW - and I can pick one up for $70 or £50. You can also get ones with a power output of up to 1W for personal usage - as this one proudly states.

They are widely available in the US and the rest of the world, so relevant legislation for you in the US is as follows (from Wikipedia):

  • Laser pointers are Class II or Class IIIa devices, with output beam power less than 5 milliwatts (<5 mW). According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, more powerful lasers may not be sold or promoted as laser pointers.
  • Also, any laser with class higher than IIIa (more than 5 milliwatts) requires a key-switch interlock and other safety features.
  • Shining a laser pointer of any class at an aircraft is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $11,000.
  • All laser products offered in commerce in the US must be registered with the FDA, regardless of output power.

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