Laser Cutting - Suitable & Unsuitable Materials

laser cut

What can be laser cut?

Laser cutting is popular because of its versatility since a laser cutter can cut a wide variety of materials, like, paper, wood, cork, acrylic, foam and different types of metals. However, there are a few materials which should never cut using a laser cutter. Scroll through the article to read more about it.

Laser Cutting – Approved and Forbidden Materials

S.No. Materials Approved for Laser Cutting Materials Forbidden from Laser Cutting
1 Wood PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
2 Acrylic Artificial Leather
3 Fabric ABS and HDPE
4 Ceramic Polystyrene Foam
5 Leather Fiberglass
6 Marble Any Powder
7 Paper Coated Carbon Fiber
8 Tile Polypropelyne Foam
9 Glass Moleskin Notebooks
10 Gemstones and Anodized Metals Lexan

Materials suitable for Laser Cutting

One of the pros of laser cutting is the ability to cut a wide range of materials. Before getting into laser cutting, you should be aware of the properties of each material since some of them need extra attention when cutting.

1. Different Metals and Gemstones

From mild steel to stainless and also non-ferrous metals, laser cutters can cut through all types of metals. However, some reflective metals like aluminium are difficult to cut. In those instances, you can use fibre lasers. The thickness of the metal which you are cutting can be anywhere up to 30 mm. The maximum thickness depends on the laser cutting service. It depends based on the power of the laser as well as the expertise of the machine operator. Laser cutting is also used by jewellers to cut gemstones and diamond to make gemstone rings and diamond jewellery.

2. Wood

Laser cutting can be used for cutting different types of wood, including plywood and MDF. However, be aware of the oils or resin, as they pose a threat of catching fire.

3. Paper & Cardboard

Paper and cardboard are also suitable for laser cutting. This is popularly done to create those intricate wedding invitations and other papercraft.

4. Plastics

All see-through plastics like Acrylic, PMMA and Lucite also leave a great finish when laser cut. The edges are melted in a way that they seem polished and clean.

5. POM

POM is a highly utilized plastic in the engineering sector, typically used in gears, guiding and sliding elements, medical instruments, food packaging, etc. POM requires complex cuts and lasers definitely contribute to POM’s variety of use-cases.

6. Glass

Laser cutting glass is a very challenging task. However, a few laser cutters can cut glass. The reflectiveness of glass positions requirements to the power of your laser cutting equipment. Also, the cutter must be equipped with a cooling system. Only then can the machine operator have full control over the direction of the cut at every step, resulting in a good finish.

Materials unsuitable for Laser Cutting

1. PVC

Cutting PVC or polyvinyl chloride results in the emission of acids and toxic fumes. These fumes are harmful to both the operator of the machine and the laser cutter itself as they can cause corrosion. Therefore, PVC cutting should be done with mechanical methods instead.

2. Polycarbonate

Thin or polycarbonate less than 1mm is fine to laser cut. But even this tends to result in patches of discolouration. When it comes to cutting of thicker material, laser cutting should not be used. Polycarbonate absorbs infrared radiation, which lasers use to cut the materials, resulting in discolour or burn.

3. ABS and HDPE

The laser beam is hot enough to make the material vaporize, but this doesn’t happen with ABS and HDPE. When cut with a laser, it tends to melt, leaving a messy working table and a cut with a poor quality that does not really satisfy anybody.

4. Polystyrene & Polypropylene Foam

Both Polystyrene & Polypropylene Foam catch fire very easily, and since a laser beam is hot enough to make the material burn and melt, it is not recommended to use a laser to cut Polystyrene & Polypropylene Foam.

5. Fibreglass

Fibreglass is made from two materials – glass and epoxy resin. As we already discussed above, cutting glass on its own is difficult, and when you add a resin into it, it becomes nearly impossible to cut the fibreglass.

Summing Up

Before you decide to use a laser cutter for cutting material, please research and make sure that the material is suitable for cutting. Also, don’t forget to take safety measures before beginning with the laser cutting process.

What are the advantages of Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is used to cut a wide variety of materials like wood, ceramics, plastic, rubber and certain metals. It is easier to keep the work-piece in the right position, and the machines require less energy for cutting sheet metal. Laser cutting process is controlled by computer programs, which makes it very precise while saving a considerable amount of work.

What are the risks of using a laser cutter?

Laser cutting includes a variety of hazards like the possibility of fires and the generation of hazardous and/or irritating combustion products. The laser cutter high powered laser can also cause damage to eyes and skin, and it must be contained within the cutter.

How to safely use a laser cutter?

Only operate the laser cutting machine while an instructor is in the room and avoid leaving the laser cutter unattended. Only cut materials approved by your instructor. Keep the laser lid closed at all times unless loading material while the laser is turned off. Make safety arrangements at your workplace, including fire extinguishers and blankets.

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