Laser Cutter

 

The Laser cutter is an extremely useful tool for prototyping ideas as it is one of the fastest ways to make accurate parts.  Some examples of things to use the laser cutter for are; Building robot wheels and parts, making solder masks for PCB’s, Engraving trophies/giveaways, Making signs, etc. This page is dedicated to the 90Watt Full Spectrum Laser that is located in the Deason Innovation Gym.

 

Training required

You must be trained on the laser cutter before you use it!    In order to be trained please watch the below video and then seek out the Innovation Gym Director or Lab Assistants to be signed off.

Materials

Each student is required to provide their own materials to use on the Laser Cutter. At any time there may be some materials in the Innovation Gym which can be used, but approval is required and it is the expectation that you replace any materials you use.

The laser cutter can etch and/or cut a wide range of materials — but some materials don’t work well, and some materials are extremely hazardous to the machine and people.

Only the following materials are permitted to be used on the laser cutter.

Material Max thickness Notes WARNINGS!
Many woods 1/2″ Avoid oily/resinous woods. Some exotic woods can be toxic. Oily or resinous woods can catch fire
Plywood/composite wood 1/2″ Glues in plywood sometimes don’t cut well, charring rather than vaporizing. Interior finish grades generally perform better.
MDF/engineered wood 1/2″ May experience charring when cut.
Paper, card stock thin Cuts well and quickly. Use low power and high speed to prevent burnination. Don’t stack multiple sheets, as this increases the chance of fire.
Cardboard thicker Cuts well. Watch carefully, as it may catch fire. Watch for fire!
Cork 1/4″ Quality of the cut depends on the quality of the cork. Engineered cork contains a lot of glue, and may not cut well. Avoid thicker pieces
Acrylic (Lucite, Plexiglas, PMMA) 1/2″ Cuts well, leaves a smooth cut edge. Higher powers may leave smoke/scorch marks along the cut edges. Stinky fumes
Delrin thin Harder Delrin tends to work better
Kapton (polyimide) 1/16″ Works well in thin sheets or tape strips
Mylar 1/16″ Thin sheets work well. Thicker sheets tend to bubble, warp and curl. Gold-coated mylar cannot be cut
Styrene sheet 1/16″ Does not etch well. Cut edges will have a small ridge of melted material; thicker sheets will have a thicker ridge.
Depron foam 1/4″ Cuts cleanly, with a smooth edge. Watch out for flames! Must be monitored constantly.
Gatorfoam Foam core will get burned away deeper than the top and bottom surfaces. Not a great material for cutting, but it can be cut. Watch constantly for flames!
Natural-fiber cloth (cotton, wool, hemp) All cut well. Do not use plastic-coated or impregnated cloth!
Leather/suede 1/8″ Belt-weight leather (say 1/8″ thick) can be cut. Thicker pieces will not cut completely. Can be stinky, and the smell can linger on the pieces for a few days. DO NOT cut artificial leather!
Magnetic sheet Cuts cleanly
NON-CHLORINE-containing rubber Can be cut Beware chlorine-containing rubber! If you’re not sure, assume you’ve got chlorinated rubber, and don’t cut it.
Teflon (PTFE) thin Cuts OK in thin sheets
Carbon fiber mat without epoxy applied Can be cut, slowly. Will fray along cut edges. Do not cut coated carbon fiber!
Coroplast (corrugated plastic) 1/4″ Difficult to cut through cleanly, due to the ribs. Multiple passes are usually needed.

Etching (Rastering)

Any of the materials listed in the “Cutting” table can also be etched.

In addidtion, the following materials can be etched, but not cut:

Material Notes WARNINGS!
Glass Gives a sandblasted look. Flat glass only, we cannot etch on rounded or cylindrical surfaces
Ceramic tile
Anodized aluminum Blasts away the anodized layer
Painted metals Blasts away the paint layer
Stone Gives a white textured look

Settings

Recommended settings for various materials

Material Etch Settings Cut Settings Notes
Poplar, 1/4″ 25 pwr/100 speed 100 pwr/40 spd Lower the speed for a deeper etch. Use orange cleaner to get rid of the sticky sap residue left behind.
Poplar, 1/2″ 25 pwr/100 spd 32 pwr/14 spd For cutting, move the Z axis up 0.1″ from focussed
Acrylic, 1/8″ 2 – 8 pwr/100 spd 8 pwr/15 spd
Mylar, .010″ 8 pwr/80 spd
Styrene, .020″ 10 pwr/56 spd Styrene does not darken when etched. Probably a bad candidate for etching, as it tends to melt.
Styrene, .040″ 20 pwr/84 spd
Styrene, .060″ 20 pwr/42 spd
Drawing paper 0.2 pwr/100 spd
Posterboard 0.5 pwr/100 spd
Transparency film 0.5 pwr/100 spd
Plywood, 1/4″ 25 pwr/100 spd 40 pwr/100 spd Use orange cleaner to get rid of the sticky sap/glue residue left behind.
Plywood, 6mm birch 35 pwr/28 spd May need to tweak the settings to get a cut all the way through. (Plywood in general will vary based on the quality of the plys and glue.)
Plywood, 1/4″ MDF core 45 pwr/25 spd, 2 passes Not great, but it works. MDF core shows a lot of charring.
Ceramic tile 60 pwr/40 spd Beware — the laser spot is screaming bright!
Leather, ~1/8″ 1-2 pwr/100 spd 20 pwr/70 spd As for tile, the laser spot is blinding. Stinky — let the chamber clear for a couple of minutes before you open it. Cut edges will have an ashy residue.

Software

File formats

The laser cutter software is fed through a print driver, so any file that can be printed on the control computer can be sent to the laser cutter. We’ve had good success with PDF files, so we recommend using that format for ready-to-cut artwork.

The control software itself can directly open XPS files. Windows users can use the “XPS Document Writer” printer to create an XPS file.

Maintenance

Users are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Make sure you remove any off-cuts from the laser bed, and clean up the counter tops when you’re finished.

The laser cabal is responsible for the maintenance of the laser. Users should not attempt to align or clean the optics!

Resources

 

Thanks to the Twin Cities Makerspace for much of this content.

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