There are different types of laser cutters. This guide will focus on gas lasers and CO2 lasers in particular, as this type is most commonly used by hobbyists and small businesses. Other types are for example fiber or crystal lasers which are mostly used for industrial applications.
In a CO2 laser cutter machine, the laser beam is created in a tube filled with CO2 gas. Next, with the help of mirrors and lenses, the laser beam is directed to the laser head and focused on the material surface. Electronically controlled motors move the laser head to cut or engrave the desired shape into the material of the workpiece. The shape is defined by an input file which can be a vector or raster image.
When the laser beam goes all the way through the material of the workpiece it creates a cut. A laser cut is generally very precise and clean. The look of the cut edges depends on the material. For example, the edges of cut wood are typical of a darker brown than the original wood. The edges of acrylic do not change color and have a nice glossy finish after laser cutting.
The kerf of a laser cutter is very small. The term kerf refers to the width of the groove made while cutting. This varies from material to material and is also dependent on the specific settings of the laser. For many materials, the kerf will be somewhere between 0.05 mm (0.002 in) and 0.5 mm (0.02 in).
Marking is when the laser does not remove material but for example, changes the color of the material. With CO2 laser cutters marking is mostly used when working with metals.A marking solution (e.g. CerMark or Enduramark) is applied on the surface of the workpiece. After drying of the marking solution an engraving is performed. The heat from the laser bonds the solution to the metal, resulting in a permanent mark.
The third option is using a laser cutter service. When working with a laser cutting service you just send them your files, choose a material and then the company will do the cutting and ship the finished parts to you. Below you can find some online laser cutting services or just look for a local laser cutting shop.
If you are just starting with laser cutting I recommend trying one of the options above before looking into buying a laser cutter to get some experience and find out which features are most important for you.
CO2 laser machines are capable of cutting and engraving a variety of materials. However, there are also materials which cannot be processed. This may be because the laser can not cut through the material, or because toxic gases would form. Also, very flammable materials cannot be used.
Depending on the power and other specifications of the machine you are using, the maximal material thickness that can be cut will vary. The power of laser cutters is measured in Watt. Typical power levels range between 30 Watt and 120 Watt. Lasers with higher power are mostly used in industrial applications only.
Most CO2 laser cutters work very much like your everyday inkjet printer. The laser cutter comes with specific drivers which convert an image from a computer into a format that the laser cutter can read.
When working with laser cutters it is important to know the difference between vector images and raster images. Both image file types can be processed but raster images can only be used for engraving and not for cutting.
The first thing that should be considered is the size of your material / the maximal size that the laser bed can accommodate. This defines the maximum size of your design. In general, it is a good idea to set the work area to this size.The color mode should be set to RGB. Different colors are usually used to specify different processes. For example, red could be used for all the parts that will be cut and black will be used for engraving.
When engraving with a laser one can distinguish between vector engraving and raster engraving. Vector engraving is basically the same as cutting with the only difference that for the engraving the power is lower so that the laser just removes parts of the material and does not cut through.
For raster engraving, the input file can either be a vector file or a raster image. During raster engraving, the image is engraved by the laser line by line, pixel by pixel. The process is similar to the way in which an inkjet printer applies ink, but instead of ink being applied, material is removed by the laser beam.
First of all, check that your material fits inside the work area of the laser cutter and cut it to size if necessary. Also, be prepared to make some test cuts or engravings and bring some spare material with you.
So now that you have a basic understanding of the available settings you might ask yourself how to find the right settings for your projects A good starting point is the laser cutter manual. Often you will find suggested settings for many materials. If you are working on a shared laser in a makerspace there are usually lists with recommended settings available.
Thanks for the input! Actually, I did some research regarding ABS and found mixed results. Some sources that state ABS should not be laser cut but there are also a lot of sources mentioning ABS as safe for laser cutting. I also found scientific articles saying that the combustion of ABS leads to the formation of hydrogen cyanide but this is also the case for organic materials like wood. I could not find any good info on the quantity of hydrogen cyanide that gets emitted from burning ABS. It looks like with a proper ventilation/filtration system ABS can be cut.
We are new to laser cutting and engraving and have a new led laser machine. We have research this thoroughly and cannot find an answer. What is the best product to have underneath the item that you are cutting. Since the laser when cutting might penetrate through the item what is recommended to sit the laser machine on Thanks!
Thank you for your tip to be prepared to have test cuts and to bring spare material. I am actually in need of having some laser cutting done. I think I will stick with using a professional service this time around.
I really liked your tip about making sure you read and understand all the safety tips before you or anyone working with you use a laser cutter. We were talking about laser cutters for one of my college classes one time, and I am really curious about how they work now. Personally, I believe that even a professional should always follow the most strict rules to make sure other people and themselves are safe.
Great info here, thank you! I am interested in learning more about different laser cutters and tips on purchasing the right one. Have you written an article on this yet, or have a website you would recommend with that information
Hello guys.Thanks for the information.I have an issue with my laser cutting a PCB. I cut thin layers of copper and I see splash of copper particles on the sides of the cut. Do you guys have any suggestion on how to avoid these splashes Which parameter contributes the most I have played with frequency (25-100kHz), and beam diameter(20-100um) and I am practically using the least power that can cut (3-4W).
Hi, Glad to have found this site. 1 week ago was able to purchase a brand new TEN-HIGH C02 80W cutter from an auction. My guess is no one knew what it was as we bought it for 600.00 dollars. So we are new owners of a new project machine that is serious business. we have a few questions, there are no owners manual with this thing, any ideas you can send our way even the 10-high web site is pretty vague.
We have been able to locate coreldraw and get the laserdraw to plug into the corel, have not hooked the machine to a laptop to see if it will all set up. Have used AI in past so understand basics of vector, imaging and raster. Still need to plug in compressor, water lines and the exhaust fans before turning on the machine.Can you steer us in the proper direction of the learning curves for trial and errors. what do you suggest we learn first from you and can you recommend any good reading in book form on the subject of laser machines, software
Hi,I am new to laser cutting and engraving. I just purchased a 400mm x 400mm laser cutting machine. My questions is, Do I need a special table to put the laser on how does it cut through thin wood and not cut the table it is sitting on I do not want to cut through the wood table that the laser is on.Thank you,
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If you want to engrave mostly wood, then a blue diode laser is a good choice. If you want to do a lot of cutting of wood and plastics, then a CO2 laser might be a good choice. And if you want to engrave mostly metals, then you might want to consider a fiber laser.
If you want a bit more upgrades from the get-go, then you should consider the Sculpfun S30 (Official store, Store 1, Store 2, Store 3, Store 4). It costs just a bit more, and it comes with the air assist pump, limit switches and the improved x-axis rail already installed. Plus it has a replaceable lens which enables you to maintain the machine in top working conditions for many years. It is the first type of laser engraver on the market with this feature. Its engraving and cutting performance is similar to the Sculpfun S9. This might be the best laser engraver under 300$ in 2022. 59ce067264