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The Laser Cutter

Introduction to laser cutting and file preparation

The laser cutter is one of the most versatile and utilised fabrication machines in fabrication Industries. It can cut a wide variety of materials with impeccable accuracy. Our CO2 laser cutter can cut, score and engrave material depending on its power setting and the drawn vector file. This two axis machine cuts through flat material of various thicknesses, however its adjustable bed can accommodate for larger objects to be scored or engraved.

Please submit your work or design here.

Layered Acrylic

Card

Mountboard, Card Etc.  

Acrylic

Thickness from 1mm - 10mm

Fabric

Fabric different kind up to 10mm thickness

Paper

Paper and Cardboard

Wood

Cutting of MDF and Plywood up to 4mm thickness. Engraving of solid woods.

Designing for Laser Cutting

The laser cutter is a simple machine in terms of the amount of axis and that it just needs to follow the lines in a drawing. That being said there are still some things that need to be kept in mind when designing artwork to be cut/engraved.

Machine Work-Envelope

Our laser cutter has a 900mm x 600mm working bed, however we would suggest working with a 895mm x 595mm frame as to ensure that all the artwork fits within the boundary. Depending on the material it may be pre-cut with straight edges, or in some cases it may come slightly ragged from one or more side. We would therefore suggest to work with a 5-10mm offset. Not all materials come pre-cut to 900mm x 600mm so one should keep in mind the available sizes of materials.

Material Tolerences

Unlike a CNC machine, a laser cutter doesn’t have milling bits with different shapes and sizes that need to be taken into account. However the laser beam itself does have a thickness and depending on the material there are some tolerances that you would want to keep in mind. Here are some figures to help you with your design:

  • 0.3mm laser beam width
  • +- 0.25mm when cutting cast acrylic
  • No tolerance required for friction fit when using mdf
  • When cutting materials that burn rather than melt (eg. MDF burns, acrylic melts) it is required that there is at least 2 mm between lines.
  • As a general rule of thumb it is safe to cut objects with thin sections as long as the width is not less than half than the materials thickness.

Types of Markings and Cutting

By Varying the power and technique of the cut the laser can engrave, score or cut the material. The images below show examples of each of these techniques.

Engraving

This is when a complex or detailed image is lightly marked onto the material. Greyscale bitmaps can also be used as the engraving file, as well as standard vector files.

Score

Here the laser path follows a vector curve with low power. The material is marked but not cut right through.

Cut

This cuts completely through the material along the vector paths. Often the cutting process chars the edges of the material. Any smudging of soot can be wiped off with a clean cloth or rubbed off with a putty rubber.

Start designing today and download our laser cutting templates below.

Creating Tabs

Depending on the complexity or on how delicate an artwork would turn out to be you might want to be able to support it well so as to avoid damage during the cutting process.

Pieces that are meant to fall through might get caught on the material and may obstruct the nozzle of the laser cutter.
This can sometimes lead to the nozzle colliding and moving the material which would then ruin the cut.
You might want all pieces to remain attached until the end of the cut for ease of sorting later or for whatever any number of reasons.

One way of achieving this is to work ‘tabs’ into the design of your artwork.
This would allow you to make sure that all pieces remain attached for any engraving or scoring that is left.
It would also allow you to keep small delicate pieces in place until you can carefully extract them.

tabs example

Sometimes words or details would have to be cut out from the main piece instead. In this case some characters will have pieces that would need to be supported.

letter tabs example

Another use for tabs is to deliver an end product that comes in a frame as the pieces might be small and easily lost, to save time one making sure the right amount of components go into a set or just so they are packaged neatly.

tabs example gears

A general rule of thumb for tabs is to make them as wide as half the material thickness to be able to support the piece well. As you go up in thickness (8,10,12 mm etc) it can be less than half. We recommend using between 2 and 4 tabs for every object, however depending on the size and shape you can get away with just using one.

 

Using Layers

An Alternative method to using tabs to control how your artwork is cut is to use layers to separate objects.
You may want to define the order of how different parts of your artwork are cut depending on its design.
Another reason to separate your artwork in layers is to define what is meant to be cut and what is meant to be engraved/scored.

 

In the example below you can see that we have multiple cuts within others and how they are ordered.
It would not be ideal for the green layer to be cut before the blue one as, depending on the size, it might fall through before the laser has a chance to cut the inner design.

Blue is first since it is the inner most design and it is defined as ‘cut’ so it will be cut all the way through.

Yellow is the second layer and is defined as ‘engrave’ so the settings will be changed accordingly.

At this point it does not matter whether the yellow engraving or the blue cutting is done first as they are independent of each other.

Green is now safe to be cut since both yellow and blue have been engraved and cut. The red and final layer can be cut now that all the designs within it have been cut and engraved.

Colours don’t necessarily have to be used to order different objects in different layers but they can help visualize the process and point out any mistakes that would need to be amended.

using layers example

 

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