Laser Engraving: It Doesn’t Just Engrave — It Cuts, Too!

 

laser engraver headA laser engraving machine will engrave, etch, or mark most materials but depending on the power of the CO2 laser tube it can be a powerfully precise cutting tool as well. And unlike any cutting tool I know of you don’t have to secure or lock down the material that’s being cut since the laser beam never actually touches the material surface.

Even low power CO2 systems can slice up a variety of materials, like:
– Cork
– Wood
– Plastic
– Paper
– Acrylic
– Fabric
– Vinyl masks, overlays
– metals need at least 300-400W to cut metal

These represent potential new profit centers to many laser owners. Being able to cut materials means an engraving business can now produce marketable items such as:

– Signs
– Name tags
– Vinyl / acrylic lettering
– Cutouts from balsa woods
– Architectural models
– Matboard
– Christmas ornaments
– Miniatures
– even craft items!

A 30 Watt laser can generally cut materials up to 1/8″ thick. Higher power systems will be able to cut thicker materials more quickly. When choosing a laser engraving machine, keep in mind that cutting will take much longer than engraving.  With lower powered laser machines you may need multiple passes, as well.

If you anticipate offering both cutting and laser engraving as a service on an ongoing basis, you’ll definitely need a much more powerful laser tube for faster and longer cutting engraving speeds.  Time, after all, is money.

“For most engraving you can get by with a 40 watt laser engraver.  However, for cutting look at a 50 or 60W at the absolute minimum.”

Some materials do cut poorly with a CO2 laser. Metals and glass are among the materials you should not try to cut. If you plan to cut those as part of your business, you’ll want a separate Nd:YAG based laser system.

If you only plan to work with those materials occasionally, you can look into custom laser engraving services. By outsourcing parts of jobs that aren’t a core part of your business, you can avoid the up front capital costs, though you’ll pay much more per piece.

Conversely, if buying a metal cutting system is an option, consider offering custom laser engraving to other operators. This can provide you a new source of revenue and give you access to new markets.

Using a Laser Engraving Machine for Cutting

It’s fairly simple to turn a laser engraving machine into a laser cutter.

Start by making sure the machine is in vector mode, not raster. The difference is critical for cutting. Vector mode draws continuous straight lines, like cuts. Raster moves the laser back and forth, firing at points where the image should be, to build up the image out of a matrix of dots.

Many systems will switch back and forth between vector and raster automatically depending on the line thickness. Check your manual to be sure.

Just as in engraving, lay out the artwork in the graphics program. If your graphics program doesn’t have outline capabilities, it won’t work for cutting.

If the source artwork is a TIFF format image, it may have to be converted to HPGL. Always use the thinnest lines possible for cutting.

Keep PPI above 150 for cutting. Below 150 pulses per inch means that the points will be spread out so far that they don’t touch. This will not produce a continuous and clean cut. On the other hand, that may be just what you want when making perforations in paper or rubber stamps.

Set both power and speed just like with engraving work. You’ll probably find that the speed has to be lower so the beam can cut through the material completely. What laser power to use will depend on the material and the result you want.

It’s worth noting that some materials cut more cleanly if you mask or dampen one or both of the sides. Your laser manual will have recommendations from the manufacturer as to speeds and feeds. A bit of experimentation will let you fine tune these for optimal results. Just make sure to save them for future jobs, in order to save time.

(If you’re using laserable materials, the manufacturer may have recommendations, so check with them as well.)

You can make many products in one step using a combination of raster and vector modes. Your machine may have a color mapping function that allows you to indicate which one should be used. When using both modes, the machine will generally do the raster engraving first. At the end, it will vector cut the designated shapes.

The combination of both vector cutting and raster engraving makes manufacturing name tags, signs, and keyfobs fast and very easy.

Laser Cutting Aids

To get clean and undistorted results, there are a few accessories available that will help. Most take the form of specialized tables. By keeping the material off the machine’s table, you prevent beam reflection and considerably improve air flow.

Beam reflection happens when the laser beam travels through the material and reflects off the metal underneath. It can then proceed to mark the underside edge of the material, which may ruin it. This becomes particularly important when both sides of the material will be visible to the user, as with key chains.

Proper air flow is critical regardless of how the final product will be used. Good airflow makes a much cleaner and more precise edge. It even reduces burning around the cutting path. Proper airflow does this by sweeping away heat, smoke, and debris before they can damage the material.

Air assists are a common way of improving cutting quality. Air assists can also improve the effective laser power. An air assist blows a fine stream of air across the surface being engraved, keeping debris, smoke, and fumes away from where the laser’s being focused onto the material.

It’s possible to make your own laser cutting tables. The following materials allow good air flow and prevent unwanted reflections, especially if you spray-paint them flat black.

– Fluorescent light “egg crate” diffuser panels
– Paper honeycomb treated with fire retardant (untreated paper may cause a fire)
– Aluminum or stainless steel honeycomb (a common material for commercial laser cutting tables)
– Fine metal screening

Air flow enhancing surfaces like these are often combined with downside exhaust supporting tables. Those kinds of tables pull smoke, vaporized material, and fumes away from the cutting point. This minimizes smoke damage, and produces much more consistent laser power. By removing smoke from the underside, much less laser power is absorbed by smoke and debris rising from the material. The result is a more consistent cut, with less finishing clean-up necessary.

Downside exhaust tables generally mount on top of the engraver table, and usually come with their own datum stops or rulers. Your laser manufacturer or dealer will be able to recommend one for your laser.

Vacuum work support tables are another option. These tables are generally aluminum, drilled with many small holes. The vacuum suction holds the material flat. Vacuum support tables are great for cutting flexible materials that might otherwise bow or warp during processing, like:

– Paper
– Fabrics
– Flexible brass
– Engravers’ plastic

The perfect flatness achieved by a vacuum hold-down table will give you much better quality and consistency. The ease of positioning materials — no more lead weights! — will also save a lot of time.

Laser Exhaust

When cutting a lot of material, exhaust is inevitably an issue. This is particularly true when cutting acrylics or plastics. Some laser units, like larger ones, may have specific requirements for the exhaust that they need in order to function. You will have to have a certain air exhaust volume and pressure available at the time of installation.

For cutting the polymer mat material needed to make rubber stamps, look into a charcoal filter, sprayer, or bubbler exhaust air cleaning system. These can help eliminate potentially hazardous fumes. Check with the air filter company for their recommendations.

Rotary System Attachments

Most higher end laser engraver systems offer rotary attachments as accessories, These allow you to engrave cylindrical objects like drink glasses. Rotary attachments are generally available either as roller or chuck types, each with their own trade-offs. The maximum diameter you can engrave will be limited by the Z-axis travel your laser system allows.

Where to find a laser cutter for sale

Yes, cutting takes a little more thought than laser engraving. On the other hand, the tremendous possibilities opened up by maximizing your engraver as a laser cutter neatly illustrate the incredible versatility of your laser engraving machine.   Big ticket laser companies like Epilog, Universal, or Trotec arent the only laser machine options now a days. They’re not the only laser machine suppliers out there of course since imports have improved in quality as well as support within the US. Not how it was years ago, however.
FS Laser reviews:

https://www.adayinthelifeof.nl/2013/07/21/fullspectrumlaser-aka-why-you-should-think-twice-on-buying-from-them/
http://www.cnczone.com/forums/general-laser-engraving-cutting-machine-discussion/156252-fs-laser-just-lost-sale.html

Universal laser review:

http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Universal-Laser-Systems-Reviews-E260822.htm

We hope to add more reviews as users send in more links for posting.  Feel free to send your relevant laser engraver review as well.

Eternalizing The Memoire – Laser Engraved

laser etched crystal giftHow to capture and keep alive the memory of years gone by is one of the most difficult tasks people attempt to do for their loved ones.   The same can be said of living family members as well.  But, how does one capture the memory of a long lost love one? Traditionally, images and pictures are organized and stored away. Then with the passage of time videos began to be more commonly used to remind your loved ones with the memory.

On the other hand there are some memories which are not captured on video but it would still be good to see this image in still buy life like imagery.   Memories that can be frozen in ice is what 3D crystal engraving offers.   Now we cannot use ice to freeze memories obviously.  But, something better for laser engravers has come along…

http://www.thingsremembered.com/thumbnail/Wedding/Your-Favorite-Brands/Waterford-Crystal-Gifts/pc/2114/c/4867/3631.uts

The concept of “Frozen in ice” is captured by the 3D crystal engraving gifts. How does it work?  They engrave the object or wish which we want to eternalize into the crystal thus making it beautiful and immortal at the same time. The delicacy and clarity of ice is present in the crystal and the image which is laser engraved inside is also captured and its an amazing piece of art to see.

The laser etchedd crystals are now available at almost every hallmark or custom gift shop. You can simply enter in the shop and select the crystal which suits you the best and have it customized.  Customers love to personalize gifts for their loved ones. The laser engraved crystals are available in different sizes and shapes as well. On the other hand if you want to get a crystal customized you can have it done right away. You simply provide the photograph which you want to engrave or the wish that you have selected. You can select the shape and size of your crystal and once you are done you can have it personalized as you prefer.

You can add the revolving stand and LED lights in it so that when the crystal will rotates the lights will light up thus producing a mesmerizing effect. The person who will get such a special gift will feel uniquely special because of your effort and thought. The memory which you want to eternalize will always remain alive in his or her heart. The laser engraved product is not too expensive fortunately, but it helps to compare prices online.

On the other hand if you want to go over the top and you have got bucks – you can spend it a tidy sum on a crystal window or wall which is laser engraved. You can also get a wall piece or a corner rectangle of crystal engraved by a laser etcher and it will look simply marvelous. These gifts tend to be cherished for years into the future. So, when it comes to engraved gifts – 3D engraving is always better than 2D.

Purchasing a Laser Engraver Accessories For Sale

Laser Engraver For Sale

Purchasing a CO2 laser engraving machine for sale  is a crucial and major decision. In fact, the entire setup process upon receiving your laser machine can take a lot of work. You will be needing laser engraving supplies that will be necessary in unpacking, installing, aligning, cleaning, maintaining and setting up the machine. Here is a list of some supplies and tools you will need for your CO2 laser engraving machine including the best places to purchase these items.

1. 220V AC power plug and receptacle

These are considered as the recommended type of power plug and receptacle that you can use in connecting 220V AC items and supplies for your laser system. In case you purchase a machine with 40 or 60 watts, then it is possible that it uses 110V AC systems with ordinary plugs.  Although some more advance machines have 100+ watts using only 11oV.

2. 6-inch vent ducts

You may need an exhaust vent for your laser engraving machine that is at least 6 inches in diameter. This is the best option for a duct vent, so you can prevent fumes from remaining in the building. In fact, you may want to extend the pipe a little farther from the building’s wall.

3. Digital Multimeter (DMM)

It is essential that you inspect the input voltage available to your laser machine, so you can be sure that the equipment is not taken advantage by the local electric company in your area. A digital multimeter is also functional in tracking down possible issues with your laser machine. The idea is to purchase a reliable multimeter that is worth at least $20, considering the fact that you can only get the finest quality from a notable brand.

4. Lubricating oil

You will need a three-in-one lubricating oil for the linear axis. After applying oil, the axis will become slightly moist to ensure the excellent condition and efficient performance of the machine.

5. Surge protector

A power surge or surge protector can secure your electronic devices from common power issues. For your CO2 laser engraving machine, you may want to use a reliable UPS or uninterruptable power supply for continuous performance of the device.

6. Marking solution

CO2 lasers typically have low wattage, so they are not able to etch most materials. Hence, you can use a marking solution that may be sprayed or painted to the metal, which is etched into the item’s surface.

7. Integrative mount for mirror lens

A good brand of mirror lens feature an integrative mount that comes with a special lens barrel with adjustable features. This item ensures the balance and stability of this laser engraving component.

8. HV (High Voltage) electrical tape

This type of tape is useful in insulating electrical connections in your laser tube. Keep in mind that the voltage entering the tube goes beyond 23,000 V. Hence, you should use more tape and be very careful in applying the tape. With poor insulation, it is possible for the laser spark to arc towards the entire frame. With an arced power, this may result to feedbacks to the machine’s motion controller, and lead to permanent damages.

9. Rubber type drawer liner

You may use a rubber drawer liner to prevent your honeycomb from scratching the lasered product’s back portion. The pad also comes with non-slip features that prevent damages to the front face of the glass.

10. Other essential supplies

Aside from all of these tools and supplies, you will need bent needle pliers, wire strippers, diagonal or wire cutters, needle nose pliers and utility knife.

Places to Buy Laser Engraving Supplies and Materials

If you choose to buy online for supplies for your laser engraving machine, you may check out several notable sources such as Rabbit Laser U.S.A. This company provides quality software and laser systems to professionals and hobbyists. You can find a wide range of products and supplies that are suitable for your particular laser engraving machine. Moreover, the company specializes in a selection of CO2 laser engraving machines with power that range from 40 to 150 watts.

Cole Technology is another great resource for your laser engraving needs. This enterprise is situated in mainland China, and it is an expert in manufacturing, marketing, and R&D of laser processing tools, mould engraver, CAD plotter, laser tubes, cutting plotter and several other electro-mechanical items.

Lastly, you could check out eBay or Amazon for a list of supplies and equipment you will need for your CO2 laser engraving machine , however, laser machinery has a  torrid history and some unhappy customers.  You would be better served buying from a reputable laser company here in the USA that does not sell over priced, proprietary parts.  Companies such as Boss Laser offer reasonable pricing and support for laser engraving machinery and accessories.

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