UTDesignLabBlogLaser cutting preparation instructions

Laser cutting preparation instructions and tips!

How to laser cut

Before cutting you have to prepare your model:

  1. Prepare your model concept.
  2. prepare your work area. Usually the dimension of our wood sheet are 60×60, 60×120, in 4, 6, 8 and 10mm poplar plywood. We don't sell materials.
  3. use ONLY RGB colors: RED for cutting (255,0,0) or BLACK for raster engraving (0,0,0). A special color BLUE (0,0,255) is used for vector engraving. Other colors will not be recognized by the machine. Images can be made in degrees of gray or dithered pictures, CYMK lines will not work well.
  4. position your 2D model in a smart way to waste as less material as possible.
  5. export it in a vector format (corelDraw native, PDF, DXF).
  6. come to cut!


Safe Materials

The laser can cut or etch. The materials that the laser can cut materials like wood, paper, cork, and some kinds of plastics. Etching can be done on almost anything, wood, cardboard, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, marble, stone, tile, and glass (most of this, only with proper coating).


Materials allowed for cutting:

Material

Max thickness

Notes

WARNINGS!

Many woods

12mm tested

Avoid oily/resinous woods.

Be very careful about cutting oily woods, or very resinous woods as they also may catch fire.

Plywood/triplex/Composite woods

12mm tested

These contain glue, and may not laser cut as well as solid wood.


MDF/Engineered woods


These are okay to use but may experience a higher amount of charring when cut.

Too much smoke is generated so it is not allowed anymore in DesignLab

Paper, card stock

thin

Cuts very well on the laser cutter, and also very quickly.


Cardboard, carton

thicker

Cuts well but may catch fire.

Watch for fire.

Cork

10mm tested

Cuts nicely, but the quality of the cut depends on the thickness and quality of the cork. Engineered cork has a lot of glue in it, and may not cut as well.

Avoid thicker cork (>1 cm)

Acrylic/Lucite/Plexiglas/PMMA

12mm+ tested

Cuts extremely well leaving a beautifully polished edge.

Thicker the material bigger the error and higher probability of melting and fire, the thinner the better.

Thin Polycarbonate Sheeting (<1mm)


Very thin polycarbonate can be cut, but tends to discolor badly. Extremely thin sheets (0.5mm and less) may cut with yellowed/discolored edges. Polycarbonate absorbs IR strongly, and is a poor material to use in the laser cutter.

Too much smoke is generated so it is not allowed anymore in DesignLab

Delrin (POM)

6mm tested

Delrin comes in a number of shore strengths (hardness) and the harder Delrin tends to work better. Great for gears!

 Due to the high risk of catching fire and the formaldehyde gas released, we cut only thinner sheets.

Kapton tape (Polyimide)

not tested

Works well, in thin sheets and strips like tape.


Mylar

not tested

Works well if it’s thin. Thick mylar has a tendency to warp, bubble, and curl

Gold coated mylar will not work.

Solid Styrene

not tested

Smokes a lot when cut, but can be cut.

Keep it as thin as possible.

Depron foam

not tested

Used a lot for hobby, RC aircraft, architectural models, and toys. 1/4″ cuts nicely, with a smooth edge.

Must be constantly monitored.

Gator foam

 not tested

Foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard paper shell.

Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched.

Cloth/felt/hemp/cotton


They all cut well.

Not plastic coated or impregnated cloth!

Leather/Suede

not tested

Leather is very hard to cut.

Real leather only! Not ‘pleather’ or other imitations!

Magnetic Sheet

 not tested

Cuts beautifully


NON-CHLORINE-containing rubber

 not tested

Fine for cutting.

Beware chlorine-containing rubber, cutting causes toxic vapours.

Teflon (PTFE)

not tested

Cuts OK in thin sheets


Carbon fiber mats/weave
that has not had epoxy applied

 not tested

Can be cut, very slowly.

Coated carbon fiber can't be cut.

Coroplast (‘corrugated plastic’)

not tested

Difficult because of the vertical strips. (other machines: Three passes at 80% power, 7% speed, and it will be slightly connected still at the bottom from the vertical strips)


WARNING: Because many plastics are dangerous to cut, it is important to know what kind you are planning to use. Make:zine has a How-To for identifying unknown plastics with a simple process not to be done in DesignLab.


Materials that are not allowed for cutting:

Material

Risk

Cause/Consequence

PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)/vinyl/pleather/artificial leather

Emits pure chlorine gas when cut.

Don’t ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.

Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan

Cut very poorly, discolor, catch fire.

Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation. This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting.

ABS

Emits cyanide gas and tends to melt.

ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well and tends to melt.

HDPE/milk bottle plastic

Catches fire and melts.

It melts. It gets gooey.

PolyStyrene Foam

Catches fire.

It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires.

PolyPropylene Foam

Catches fire.

Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.

Fiberglass

Emits fumes.

It’s a mix of two materials that cant’ be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes).

Coated Carbon Fiber

Emits noxious fumes.

A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying – but not when coated.

 Polyurethane

Emits noxious fumes.

Upon decomposition, this product emits carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and/or low molecular weight hydrocarbons.


Useful Links:

For students from the UT there is always the possibility of downloading for free the CorelDRAW suite.