A laser cutter is a great tool for creating many different things. From engraving boxes or cutting highly detailed patterns and graphics into 3D objects, a laser cutter is a flexible tool that can be used on a range of different materials to create many different designs.
What is a laser cutter?
They are a tool controlled by computer software that uses a highly concentrated laser beam to cut, burn, or engrave materials. They are in their most basic sense very amplified light that is capable of burning, melting or vaporizing materials. The types of materials that a laser cutter can cut depend on the power of the machine.
The technology for the machines was first developed back in the 1960s. There are different kinds of machines out there, for instance, gas machines, C02 machines, and fiber or crystal machines. Gas and CO2 technology are popular with hobbyists whilst fiber or crystal machines are used for industrial purposes. These machines are often used for materials such as cutting or engraving wood, paper, acrylic, textiles, and leathers, or other fabrics.
How do they work?
Most machines work by concentrating a beam with mirrors and lenses and directing it through ahead onto the surface of different materials so cut or engraved designs. The designs are fed to the machine with software that uses vector or raster images. When the beam of the machine is pointed at a material it heats it up to burn, melt or vaporize the material in a short period of time.
What can you do with them?
There are essentially three main things that a laser cutter can do; cutting, engraving and marking.
Depending on the materials used and the power of the machine, it is possible to create cuts. This means that a pattern or design is etched all the way through a material. These machines are popular for creating cuts because they are very precise and create very clean cuts. The way a cut will look is dependant on the material, for instance, the edges of timber that have been cut will generally look a little bit darker as they have essentially been burned whilst acrylic will appear the same color and have a smooth, glossy edge where it has been cut.
The size of the cut will depend on the ‘kerf’ of the laser cutter.
Machines are also capable of cutting away part of the top of the material but not cutting through to the end or back of the material.
Machines are also able to create ‘marks’ on the material by changing the color of the material without actually removing the material, usually, this is done by putting a marking solution on the material and then heating it to mark it.
Buying a machine
If you’re new to using the machines then it’s a good idea to do as much research as you can and try to learn about the different types of technology and how to use it, it can take some experience and time to learn how to use them and what features are most important to you. New machines are coming to market all the time and the technology is getting more and more advanced, so it’s worth doing your research and asking around if you know anyone who uses them as they can be a big investment. Many hobbyists think that the initial investment is more than worth it however, as the list of things you can do with them are almost endless and they are a lot of fun to experiment with.