Laser Cutter

The Best Way to Use Laser Beams

The laser cutter is a fast and precise cutting tool that can be used to cut simple and complex 2D shapes, which can either stand alone or be assembled to build 3D objects. A variety of materials can use used, but plastic (usually acrylic) and wood are most common. It can cut artwork exported from graphic design softwares, giving its users the ability to create detailed and exciting projects!

One advantage of working with a laser cutter is that it is fast for a digital fabrication device, with job and setup times much lower than tools like 3D printers or CNC routers. Laser cutters can be used to make both vector and raster cuts.

PDL NOTE:

The bed size for the laser cutter is 32"W x 18"H

Operating the Laser Cutter

 

Laser Parameters

  • Power: Describes total power output of the laser. The PDL laser cutter is a 60-watt machine. Detail in engravings is sacrificed if too low or too high.

  • Speed: Describes the speed of the laser head. This is the only parameter that has an effect on runtime. Detail in engravings is sacrificed if too low or too high. A lower speed burns deeper.

  • PPI (pulses per inch): Determines how many laser pulses per inch (how many times the laser turns on and off) during cutting. Detail in engravings is sacrificed if too low or too high. A higher PPI increases burning and melting. A lower PPI decreases burning and melting.

  • Z-Axis: Determines the z-position (i.e. height) of the materials bed. This parameter is important since it makes sure the surface of your material is at the right distance from the laser head for a clean cut.

  • See the laser setting guide or the laser parameters guide for more detailed information.

Materials Chart

If material to be used is not in the materials database check to see if it is okay to cut it in the materials chart above. If so, you may want to try cutting test pieces starting with with low power and high speed, carefully and incrementally increasing power while decreasing speed until you can determine the ideal cutting parameters. If the material is not in the chart, please reach out to a member of the teaching staff.

Vector Cutting

Vector cuts are cuts where the laser will cut through the entire depth of the material, following the lines or outlines in the artwork. These cuts are useful for creating parts of custom shapes where you want to make a part by cutting out a section of a larger sheet. In order to do this you need your artwork to be saved in a vector graphics format. Vector graphics formatting uses geometric formulas to describe lines and shapes as a sequence of vectors. This makes it easy for the laser cutter to read and make cuts.

How to Vector Cut

 

Vector Cutting Summary

  • remove any fill
  • stroke color should be red (R:255, G:0, B:0)
  • stroke width must be set to 0.001in

Raster Cutting

Raster cutting (also known as laser etching, laser engraving, or raster engraving) is different than vector cutting in that in raster cutting the the surface of the material is etched instead of cutting all the way through. Because rastering happens by quickly passing the laser head back and forth and precisely turning on and off the laser, complex images can be etched into the surface of a variety of materials. In raster cutting you can use vector images or raster images. Vector images need to have a fill in order to be used for engraving and are not resolution dependent. Raster images (also known as bitmap images) consist of pixels, and are resolution dependent.

How to Raster Cut

 

Raster Cutting Summary

  • fill color should be black (R:0, G:0, B:0)
  • remove any stroke
  • if engraving a line, instead remove the fill and set the stroke width to 0.01

MakerCase

MakerCase is a website that can help you automatically generate box designs for laser cut casings. The website takes in a few simple parameters about your casing geometry and can generate vector files for a few different types of box designs. Keep in mind that setting the kerf parameters will be key for getting a box that fits together well.

Kerf Information

Kerf refers to the space that is opened up when the laser passes through a material. Kerf is determined by material properties and thickness.

Note: Makercase’s formula for kerf is the laser’s beam width divided by 2. Kerf is usually used to describe the full width of the cut being made by a tool, so be careful you don't get conventions mixed up when referring to kerf in different contexts. More info on kerf here.

Kerf Settings

Material (thickness) MakerCase Kerf
Baltic Birch (1/8") 0.0045"
Baltic Birch (1/4") 0.003"
Acrylic (1/8") 0.0045"

Gear Generator

Gear Generator is a website that can help you automatically generate gear vector files. You can then take these files and lasercut custom gears for your project. Neat!

Laser Tips

From Solidworks to a Lasercutting

 

For exporting artwork from SolidWorks for use when laser cutting, you'll need to take your SolidWorks part and make a drawing file. From there, you can export a .dxf file, which can be prepared for laser cutting in illustrator.