Having a laser cutting machine at home opens up a new world of DIY crafts! You can use a laser cutter to cut different materials, and in this guide, we will help you with laser cutting plastic techniques. You’ll learn how a laser is used to cut different plastics, the type of plastics you can use, and about other safe cutting materials.
Laser cutting in plastic processing
Lasers are used in many industries and because of CO2 lasers, it is also useful in plastic products processing. This type of laser is very precise and offers contactless cutting. Lasers have become the best tool for all-around plastic processing.
CO2 lasers are comparable to plastic machining, wherein the workpieces are secured and clamped to ensure proper cuts are made. When using lasers, plastic workpieces don’t need to be clamped. Even the smallest, most delicate details may be cut while waste materials are very minimal. And because lasers vaporize materials, there are no chips and wastes plus there is a very little amount of material to clean.
Lasers are preferred by many industries in cutting plastic because
- Lasers can cut very fine, delicate, and radius-free designs.
- There’s no need to clamp or fix the plastic sheets for laser cutting.
- There is minimal breakage and less waste.
- There’s no need to rework the workpiece therefore there are very few waste materials.
- There is no chipping, no cleaning of the area along with the machine.
- No worries about tool wear. Lasers will produce high-quality cuts all the time.
- Laser-cut plastics can be used in different industries.
Safe laser cutting plastics
Lasers can cut through plastics like a hot knife on butter. But remember that plastics can release toxins that are very dangerous to health. So before you start cutting plastics, you should promote proper room ventilation with an exhaust fan available to remove toxic fumes and smoke.
The most toxic plastics to cut using laser is vinyl plastics. These can release fumes that can cause severe headaches and fainting. Aside from opening a window and using exhaust fans, wear a face mask, safety goggles, and gloves when working with vinyl plastics.
Related: What are Budget Laser Cutters
Consider the following safe plastics for laser cutting
- Acrylic – this is the most popular type of plastic used in laser cutting as these are available in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Acrylic requires a medium laser cutting machine for the plastic set at low speeds. As always, use protective gear and open ventilation systems to remove any toxic fumes during acrylic laser cutting.
- Depron foam – this is a type of plastic suitable for laser cutting. It is used in making models like aircraft, toys, and other objects. Because it is foam, you must watch out for open flames. Have your fire extinguisher ready, just in case. Depron foam needs a low-powered laser at high speeds.
- Derlin – this type of plastic is common in gear-making projects. It is strong but is easy to cut and shape. Derlin releases dangerous fumes and may catch fire so be ready. It needs a low-powered laser set at low speeds to cut precise patterns and shapes.
- Foamcore – this type of plastic is called the “cardboard of wood laser cutting” because it is used in making displays or mockup projects and is a flexible plastic for laser cutting. Foamcore is cut using a low-powered laser at high speeds.
- Gatorboard – this type of plastic has similar properties to Foamcore but is very strong and more costly than Foamcore. Gatorboard is cut using a low-powered laser at high speeds, which are also the requirements of Foamcore material.
- Kapton tape – this plastic is used to make solder markings. Kapton tape needs a medium-powered laser set at moderate speeds to make efficient cuts.
- Mylar – this plastic is commonly used in making stencils. You need a low-powered plastic laser cutting machine set at high speeds to cut through Mylar material.
- Polycarbonate sheets – this type of plastic is very strong and very durable used in roofing and other construction applications. Laser cutting polycarbonate material is not so easy to cut and thus needs a high-powered laser set at very high speeds. Polycarbonate sheeting has many uses and is one of the most popular types of plastics.
- Teflon – this type of plastic requires high-powered lasers set at moderate speeds for perfect cuts. You need a well-ventilated room to cut Teflon as this is a very toxic laser-cutting plastic sheet.
Related: Laser Cutting Power vs Material
Other safe laser cutting materials
Aside from plastics, lasers can also cut through other safer materials like wood, leather, magnetic sheets, cloth, hemp, rubber, carbon fiber, and more.
- Carbon Fiber – you can cut just about any type of carbon fiber sheet except those with epoxy layers. Carbon fiber needs a medium-powered laser set at very low speeds.
- Cloth, hemp, or felt – lasers can work extremely well with cloth and other similar materials. Low-powered lasers set at high speeds are used.
- Leather – lasers should cut only genuine untreated leather. Treated leather will release hazardous chemicals. A medium-powered laser set at low speeds is best for leather.
- Magnetic sheets – the magnetic sheet should not have a PVC coat because this can damage the laser cutter tool. You need a medium-powered laser with medium speeds for cutting magnetic sheeting.
- Rubber – only rubber that does not contain chlorine may be cut with lasers. Use a high-powered laser at low speeds to cut rubber. Always wear protective clothing when cutting dense materials like rubber.
- Wood – you can cut hardwood, softwood, plywood, MDF, paper or cardstock, veneer, and cardboard. Wood is a versatile material used in making all kinds of projects big and small. With a laser cutter, you can reduce waste and the cost of tool maintenance.
The best laser cutting plastics are plastics that release very minimal toxic fumes. You should always wear protective clothing and work in a well-ventilated area to ensure your safety when working with plastics. Laser cutting machines can also work with non-plastic materials like wood, leather, cloth, rubber, and more, but you must follow closely instructions on how to work with these materials.