Laser cutting is an innovative technology that takes the creative power of big-name manufacturers and puts it in the hands of everyday people. In this essential guide to laser cutting, we’ll explain in detail how this technology works, its numerous applications, and what types of business owners and hobbyists can take advantage of it.
Similar to 3-D printing, the coolest thing about laser technology is its versatility – with a variety of applications and an endless scope of materials, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish with laser cutting.
What is Laser Cutting?
Laser cutting is a methodology used in manufacturing and prototyping. It entails the use of a focused, high-powered laser beam to create cuts, etching, or scoring on flat-surfaced materials according to detailed specifications. Unlike other manufacturing methods, a laser cutter doesn’t require the skill of an artisan – laser cutting machines are controlled by computers that modulate the strength of the laser, depth of the cut, and relay information about the design.
To grasp the full versatility of laser cutting as a design tool, imagine a laser cutter as a “reverse 3-D printer”, but instead of telling the machine to print a material in a specific design, we’re telling it to cut specific designs out of any material we choose. 3-D printers are often limited by the types and colors of plastics they can print, but laser cutters work on virtually any surface, offering virtually unlimited creative options.
How Do Laser Cutters Work?
To use a laser cutter, all you need are the machine itself, some material to cut or etch, and a design file, so the computer that operates the laser knows how to tell it what to do. The word “laser” is an acronym that means “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” – but how does that work exactly?
The most common type of laser used in laser cutting is a carbon dioxide laser. The device consists of a laser tube that emits a laser beam when a current is passed through it. This beam of light becomes increasingly powerful as it bounces off of a series of mirrors and through a focal lens in the machine head. The beam is directed towards the desired area and a precise cut is made.
The best part is that this entire process is computerized. Designs are uploaded digitally, and settings for the laser are customized via computer, allowing for high-precision cuts that produce consistent results.
Designing for Laser Cutting Machines
A laser cutter can cut, engrave, or score materials in any pattern that you choose – but you’ll need to understand how to give it the correct instructions. Laser cutters come with drivers that interface with a variety of two-dimensional and three-dimensional design applications, translating your design work into instructions for the machine to create cuts that are precise to the millimeter. Here are some of the available options:
2-D Design Software Options
Adobe Illustrator – This popular design software is popular among graphic designers for its versatility and precision. It can be used to create high-quality designs.
CorelDRAW – With a robust catalog of stencils and built-in tools, experts in CorelDRAW can make custom graphics and intricate designs that fully leverage the precision of laser cutters.
AutoCAD – This groundbreaking application is a favorite of architects, engineers, technologists, construction professionals, and anyone looking for unparalleled quality and precision through the design process. AutoCAD was specifically created to support quality and precision in the design process.
3-D Design Software Options
Autodesk Fusion – An excellent all-in-one solution for professionals working collaboratively on product design, this cloud-based platform functions for both PC and Mac and is free to use for startups, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
Solidworks – Engineering 3D design software with diverse modules that support all types of product development – take advantage of packages for electrical design, real-world condition simulation and a product data management system that promotes quality and documentation in your design process.
What Can We Make with Laser Cutting?
You’ve got the software to create designs and a laser cutting machine that’s ready to use – but what can you really make with laser cutting? Hai Tech lasers has provided manufacturing and prototyping services for diverse industries. We’ve helped with prototyping for medical devices, automotive and firearm parts, semiconductors, electronics and more.
Laser cutting isn’t just for big industries though – it’s also for hobbyists, artists, and makers of all kinds. Take a look at these project ideas and the materials we can use to make them come to life.
Wedding Invitations – If you’re an event planner looking to add value with eye-catching invitations, laser cutting paper is a fantastic option. Use two-dimensional design software to create intricate cut-out designs and impress your clients – and their guests.
Jewelry – Laser cutting metal is the perfect way to create pendants, earrings, necklaces, brooches, and just about any other wearable metal accessory. For even more aesthetic options, combine laser cutting and etching to add laser-drawn designs to any piece once it’s formed by laser cutting.
Custom Coasters – Coasters are a great housewarming gift, and laser cutting acrylic is a great way to make them. There’s nothing more thoughtful than a gift that’s custom-designed and created by laser cutting wood to your exact specifications. We’d recommend amber bamboo or another light-colored wood.
Key chains, Badges, Business Cards – You’ll never find yourself limited by designs or materials when creating with lasers, especially when you use versatile materials. Laser cutting acrylic is a preferred option for many makers – acrylic is lightweight, highly durable, and easily sliced through with precision laser cutting techniques.
Design your own razor-thin acrylic business cards with a unique look and feel, create conference badges and ID tags that won’t be damaged in the wash, or design custom keychains in a variety of colors.
If you feel your inner creative coming out, that’s a great sign. Laser cutting is one of the most powerful technologies we have available today, allowing anyone with access to a computer to design their own products and make them come to life in less time and at a lower cost than ever before. With immense versatility in materials and design specifications, it’s tougher to figure out what you can’t do than what you can – and that’s the way we like it.
Thousands of entrepreneurs and businesses around the world are using laser cutters to innovate new products every day – will you be next?