Laser Materials

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What can be cut?

Acrylic (plexiglass) is a solid performer.

Plywood works great in the laser cutter as long as it's not MDF core. On both the Epilog and Boss lasers, MDF core plywood has the frustrating tendency to almost cut all the way through, but fail. Almost all of Owl Lumber's plywood is MDF core.

MDF itself is very good, but requires almost double the power (or half the speed) for cutting an equivalent sheet of plywood. It warps far less than plywood does.

There are many other materials good for cutting, as well as materials that won't cut well, or worse, may damage the machine. All kinds of foam are not recommended because foam can catch fire incredibly easily. Read below for details about other materials.

NEVER CUT THESE MATERIALS

  • PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride): Also known as "vinyl" "pleather" or "artificial leather." Most adhesive vinyl shelf paper (e.g. Con-Tact Paper) also is PVC. Emits HCl and nasty chlorinated compounds when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.
  • Polycarbonate: Also known as "Lexan." Polycarbonate is also often found as flat, sheet material. The case cover window on the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can also emit flame and chlorine gas when cut, making it a poor choice for laser cutting.
  • HDPE: "milk bottle" plastic. It melts. It gets gooey. It catches on fire. Don't use it.
  • PolyStyrene Foam: It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!
  • Fiberglass: The epoxy resin used in fiberglass is bad to cut, the vapor/fumes of the epoxy resin are bad. The fiberglass mat itself, without resin, is safe to cut.
  • Coated Carbon Fiber: Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying. However, once coated with epoxy it will emit noxious fumes.
  • Silhouette magnet paper (sold by Inventables by example): it likely contains chlorine. Emits HCl and nasty chlorinated compounds when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.
  • PTFE: Also known as "Teflon" or any fluorinated polymer. It releases nasty fluorinated compounds (bad for you) which sublimate then deposit on the lenses (likely destroying them).
  • Gator foam: foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard paper shell. Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched. And the MSDS sheet says it may produce hydrogen bromide and hydrogen chloride known to degrade the optics and mechanic of the cutter
  • Any other plastic with "Chlor" or "Fluor" in the name, for the same reasons as PVC and PTFE above.
  • Material containing Glitter: the glitter flakes get into the encoders which then fail.

Test for material

Some people came up with an easy protocol to help identify unknown polymers: Nyc Resistor - how to identify polymers with burnination. We don't know how reliable it is. And we can't but recommend to do that under good ventilation (outside?)

Use Caution With These Materials

  • ABS: ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt). ABS emits hydogen cyanide when burned. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene

Safe Materials

The laser can cut or etch. The materials that the laser can cut materials like wood, paper, cork, and some kinds of plastics. Etching can be done on almost anything, wood, cardboard, anodized aluminum, plastic, marble, stone, tile, and glass.

  • Cutting
    • Many woods up to 1/4" thick. Engineered woods like MDF are okay to use but may experience a higher amount of charring when cut. Be very careful about cutting oily woods, or very resinous woods as they also may catch fire. Natural wood can be cut or engraved, but varies in density in a single piece; results will vary across the workpiece.
    • Paper cuts very very well on the laser cutter, and also very quickly. Thin paper and single layer card stock and cardboard are perfectly OK. Thicker cardboard, carton, and other papers also cut very well but need to be watched to make sure they don't catch fire.
    • Cork cuts nicely, but the quality of the cut depends on the thickness and quality of the cork. Engineered cork has a lot of glue in it, and may not cut as well. Cork thicker than 1/4" should be avoided.
    • Cast acrylic (also known as Lucite, Plexiglas, PMMA) cuts extremely well on the laser cutter, leaving a beautifully polished edge. With care, acrylic material up to 1/2" thick can be cut on the Epilog laser cutter. Extruded acrylic cuts less well and etches even worse. It tends to melt and puddle rather than vaporize.
    • Delrin (POM) in thin sheets cuts and engraves very well. Delrin comes in a number of shore strengths (hardness) and the harder delrin tends to work better. Great for gears! It is possible to deeply engrave Delrin to make dies for embossing paper and leather.
    • Kapton tape (Polyimide) : Works well, in thin sheets and strips like tape. 1/16" thick is about as thick as you can cut reliably.
    • Mylar : Works well if it's thin. Once you get too far past 1/16" thick mylar has a tendency to warp, bubble, and curl. Gold coated mylar will not work.
    • Solid Styrene : Smokes a lot when cut, but can be cut. Keep it thin (1/16")
    • Depron foam: Used a lot for hobby, RC aircraft, architectural models, and toys. 1/4" cuts nicely, with a smooth edge. Must be constantly monitored when cutting.
    • Cloth (leather, suede, felt, hemp, cotton, polyester, but NEVER vinyl or pleather-- see above) They all cut well. Leather is very hard to cut, but can be if it's thinner than a belt (call it 1/8")
    • Magnetic Sheet material cuts beautifully (make SURE it does NOT contain chlorine, see above)
    • NON-CHLORINE containing rubber is fine for cutting. Natural rubber engraves but leaves a dark sticky residue that doesn't affect stamps if the piece is engraved deeply enough.
    • Carbon fiber mats/weave that has not yet had epoxy applied can be cut, very slowly. You must not cut carbon fiber that has been coated!!
  • Etching: all the above can be etched, in some cases very deeply. In addition, you can etch:
    • Glass (green seems to work best) .. looks sandblasted. Only FLAT GLASS can be engraved in our cutter. No round or cylindrical items.
    • Ceramic tile
    • Anodized aluminum ( vaporizes the anodization away )
    • Painted/coated metals ( vaporizes the paint away )
    • Stone : Marble, Granite, Soapstone, Onyx, Slate (use Marble settings). Gets a white "textured" look when etched
  • Marking

There is an expensive coating called 'cermark'. This marking compound costs $100 for a small bottle, and must be diluted with ethanol and applied to metal (not ceramics or stone) before being etched to leave behind a permanent dark black mark.

Material sources

Petersen Brother's Plastics

2929 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641 (773) 286-5666 Has off-cuts and small pieces for $2/lb. They also sometimes have discounted full sheets with paper protection that doesn't peel away readily as it should. You can buy a spray from them that will let the paper peel easily.

eStreetPlastics

Not as big a selection as Inventables, but cheaper individual pricing on common stock.

Big Box Home Improvement Stores

Lowes' and Home Depot have saws that they will use to cut plywood to size. A 4'x8' sheet of 1/4" plywood will cut down to 16 1'x2' sheets perfect for the Epilog.

Lowes' wood is top notch - their birch plywood seems comparable to baltic birch, which is considered the best plywood for lasering.

Home Depot has a baltic birch product as well, charges $2/cut for chopping down full plywood sheets.

Menards offers Baltic Birch and full sheets, but does not have cutting services in-store (watch because standard panels are 2x4 or 4x8, and won't fit on the Universal bed).

Inventables

Good for acrylic, as of Feb-19 still delivering from Chicago warehouse (good shipping times), but is relocating to Nashville(?)

Amazon.com

Good Baltic Birch 1/8" plywood. (The link may change)

Laser-engravable rubber and polymer, for stamps

Amazon, laserable rubber for stamps