Choosing Materials to Laser-cut

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The laser cutter can cut or etch a wide variety of materials. However some are not possible to cut with our current set-up, and other materials are dangerous - they release fumes that damage humans or the laser cutter itself. There are some materials that cannot be cut, only etched.

You are responsible for knowing exactly what your material is before you try to cut it. DO NOT cut any of the banned materials. You are liable for expensive damage to the machine or worse - you may release toxic fumes that could easily harm or kill!.

DO NOT CUT

  1. Materials that contain a high proportion of glue (such as particle board)
  2. Plastics (or any other materials) that contain chlorine (such as all varieties of vinyl like PVC).media:LaserProcessingGuide_Plastics.pdf A trace amount of chlorine, such as found in the glue in thin plywood or the resin of medium density fiberboard, is acceptable. Particle board has too much glue. You are responsible to know whether there is chlorine in your material before you try to cut it.
  3. "Plexiglass" - please be sure that it is acrylic and not polycarbonate. Look along the cut edge of the material, from the side. Polycarbonate is dark on this area; acrylic is light. Polycarbonate is one of the most dangerous materials you could try to laser. It instantly starts producing yellow, acrid, toxic fumes which will corrode your lungs, and the mechanisms and lens of the laser. When the lens clouds up with these fumes, it may reflect the laser back into the machine, which may melt the head and set the machine on fire. You may not be able to reach the fire extinguisher due to what is in your lungs. Both these outcomes will upset the community.
  4. PTFE (Teflon) will release Fluorine gas, which when inhaled by humans causes flu-like symptoms, and when mixed with hydrogen (in the atmosphere) will create hydrofluoric acid. This is corrosive and will fog up the optics of the laser.

Most dense materials can normally be cut up to about thicknesses of 3/8 to 1/2 inch in a single, slow pass. Some thicker materials can be with multiple passes. The thickest that can be practically cut through is about 1 inch (or 25 millimeters), since the focal point of the laser is just a little more than half an inch below the nozzle. You will have to get creative to cut anything thicker, such as cutting half way through, flipping the object over, and perfectly realigning it to cut from the other side.

Material Cut? Etch? Mark? Notes
ABS Plastic
Yes Yes Yes ABS Can produce some very nasty chemicals when cut so it is really critical to make sure the exhaust system is operational!
Acrylic (Plexiglass) Yes Yes Yes for cutting 2mm (300 speed, 100 power, corner 50)
Basswood 3/16" Yes Yes Yes cut 30, corner 20, speed 120
Ceramic No
Yes
Yes
Cloth
Yes
Yes
No

Chipboard
Yes
Yes
Yes
for cutting 1-ply (120 speed, 100 power, corner 50) for scoring 1-ply (160 speed, 30 power, 20 corner)
Delrin Yes
Yes
Yes

Glass No
Yes
Yes

Leather Yes
Yes
Yes
ONLY natrual leather; no synthetics!
Human flesh BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
(yes, this has come up )
Marble No
Yes
Yes

Matte Board Yes
Yes
Yes

MDF Yes
Yes
Yes
Speed 10, Power 100, Corner Power 50 to cut 1/4" material
Melamine Yes
Yes
Yes

Model Foam
Yes
Yes
Maybe
(expanded polystyrene)
Mylar
Yes
Yes
No

Metals
Yes
Yes
Yes
Very thin (>0.02 inch) steel can be cut at speed 1-2, power 100, 40 psi shop air assist
Metals - Painted
Yes
Yes
Yes
See Metals.
Nitrile (NBR)
BANNED BANNED BANNED see above
Particle board
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Paper
Yes
Yes
No
Speed 400, Power 30, Corner Power 16 to cut bristol board with high resolution (small kerf)

Speed 200, Power 30, Corner Power 16 to cut bristol board with low resolution-across long edges

Plywood
Yes
Yes
Yes
We've even recently had success with 3/4" birch plywood at speed 2.5, power 100, 20 PSI. though better luck might be had with lower power, higher speed, and several passes.
Polycarbonate (Lexan, Plexi, etc.)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Polypropylene Yes Probably? Not sure
Polystyrene sheet Yes Yes No Also known as Styrene, and used in the Vacuum Former. The 0.03" sheets cut easily at speed 50, power 100, corner power 60.
PTFE (Teflon)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Rubber (non-chlorine containing)
Yes
Yes
No

Tile
No
Yes
Yes

Vinyl or PVC of any kind
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Wood, veneer
Yes
Yes
Yes

Wood, natural
Yes
Yes
Yes

Wood, Plywood, Birch - 1/8" thick
Yes
Yes
Yes
Cut - 40 (First pass, minimal char, some stray strands.)

External references on laserable materials