Laser Cutting

Materials

Suitable materials to cut

Material

Max Thickness

Notes

WARNINGS!

Many Woods

1/4" Avoid oily, resinous woods Be very careful about cutting oily woods, or very resinous woods as they also may catch fire.

Plywood, Composite woods

1/4" These contain glue, and may not laser cut as well as solid wood  

MDF, Engineered Woods

1/4" These are okay to use but may experience a higher amount of charring when cutting  

Paper, Card Stock

Thin Cuts quick and well on the laser cutter  

Cardboard, Carton

Thicker Cuts well but may catch on fire Watch material in case of fire

Cork

1/4" 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 pieces of cork

Acrylic, Lucite, Plexiglas, PMMA

1/2" Cuts extremely well leaving a polished edge  

Thin Polycarbonate Sheeting (Lexan)

< 1mm Very thin polycarbonate can be cut, but still tends to discolor. Extremely thin sheets (<0.5mm) may cut with yellow / discolored edges. Polycarbonate absorbs IR strongly, and is a poor material to use in the laser cutter.  Watch for smoking/burning of material

Delrin (POM)

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

Kapton tape (Polyimide)

1/16" Works well in thin sheets and strips like tape  

Mylar

1/16" Works well if it is thin. Thick mylar has the tendency to warp, bubble, and curl Gold coated mylar will not work

Solid Styrene

1/16" Smokes a lot when cut, but can be cut Keep it thin! Keep hood closed till smokes clears until opening.

Depron foam

1/4" 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

  Foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to top and bottom hard paper shells. Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched. 

Cloth, Felt, Hemp, Cotton

  All cut well. Look into lace-making! Not plastic coated or impregnated cloth!

Leather suede

1/8" Leather is very hard to cut, but can be if its thinner than a belt.  Real leather only! NOT pleather or other imitations. 

Magnetic sheet

  Cuts nicely  

NON- Chlorine - containing rubber

  Fine for cutting Beware of chlorine-containing rubber!

Teflon (PTFE)

Thin Cuts OK in thin sheets  

Carbon fiber mats/weave that has not had epoxy applied

  Can be cut, Very SLOWLY You must NOT cut carbon fiber that has been coated.

Coroplast ('corrugated plastic')

1/4" Difficult because of the vertical strips. Three passes at 80% power, 7% speed, and it will be slightly connected still at the bottom from the vertical strips.  

Suitable materials to etch (Includes all materials above)

Material

Notes

Warnings!

Glass

Green glass works really well. (Gives sandblasted look) Flat glass and cylindrical items can be engraved.

Ceramic tile

   

Anodized aluminum

Vaporizes the anodization away  

Painted/coated metals

Vaporizes the paint away Make sure settings are set to just etch off paint!

Stone, Marble, Granite, Soapstone, Onyx

Gets a white "textured" look when etched. 100% power, 50% speed or less works well for etching.

Materials we cannot cut

Material

Danger

Cause/Consequence

PVC, Vinyl, Pleater, Artificial Leather

Emits pure chlorine gas when cut! Do not 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

Cuts very poorly, discolors, and catches 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. 

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 

HDPE (Milk Bottle Plastic)

Catches on fire and melts It melts. It gets gooey. Do not use.

Polystyrene Foam

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

Polypropylene Foam

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

Fiberglass

Emits fumes It is a mix of two materials that cannot be cut. Glass (Etch only) and epoxy resin (emits fumes)

Coated Carbon Fiber

Emits noxious fumes A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, however prepare for some fraying. But, carbon fiber cannot be cut when it is coated. 

Tables sourced from ATX Hackerspace

FAQs

What is laser cutting and how does it work?

Our laser cutters use a high-powered CO2 laser in order to vaporize the material in its beam path. Due to the vaporizing of material the laser cutter is able to do complex designs otherwise, near impossible to do via hand labor. In our system, angled mirrors reposition the laser beam in different directions with the purpose of it being directed into one focusing lens. The lens then draws the laser into a point onto the material surface vaporizing the artwork via the parameters set on the software.

What are some limitations of the laser cutter?

Laser cutters can make cuts as small as the diameter of the laser beam itself. However, material limitations still exist. Cutting "thick" materials continue to go beyond the laser cutters' current capabilities such that, discolorations, and burning usually occur. In such events, post-processing using tools in the woodworking shop becomes apparent.