How to use a laser cutter

Written by larry parr
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Improper use of a laser cutter can result in fires and other dangers, so proper training is required. Laser cutters should not be used on certain materials, including many types of plastic, because of the toxic fumes they emit. Always wear protective clothing, gloves and eye protection when running a laser cutter.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Laser cutter
  • Material to be cut
  • Computer drawing program (such as CorelDRAW)
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
  • Heavy clothing

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  1. 1

    Create the image to be cut using the computer drawing tool appropriate for the cutter you are using. Many laser cutters use CorelDRAW software, but your particular cutter may use a different software.

  2. 2

    Set a cutting line width to 0.004 of an inch unless specifically directed to do otherwise. Wider lines take considerably more time to cut and often result in somewhat jagged cuts.

  3. 3

    Set the cutting speed, cutting depth and PPI (pulses per inch) based on the thickness and hardness of the material you are cutting and whether you wish to etch the surface or to cut completely through the material. Settings will vary between machine manufacturers and even between different models from the same manufacturer so consult your owner's manual or contact the manufacturer directly for advice.

  4. 4

    Check the lens to make sure it is clean. There are three small screws that must be removed in order to check the lens. Use cleaning fluid or rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to clean the lens. Reinstall the lens and then focus the machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  5. 5

    Turn the power on. Wait for a minimum of 30 seconds to allow the machine to fully boot up. Click on "Properties" and confirm that the "Power" and "Speed" numbers are correct for the material you are cutting, the depth you are cutting and the speed at which you are cutting. Consult your owner's manual or contact the manufacturer if you are unsure of any of the numbers.

  6. 6

    Secure light materials to the cutting table with tape or by other means. Don't allow materials to move during the cutting process. Set the initial registration point according to the size and shape of the material being cut (consult your owner's manual for the proper way to set the registration point for your particular machine) and then allow the machine to begin the computer-guided cutting process.

Tips and warnings

  • Get proper training before attempting to operate a laser cutter.
  • Never cut PVC or similar chlorinated plastics on a laser cutter. Such plastics emit dangerous chlorine gas when heated by a laser.
  • Always monitor your laser cutter constantly when in use. Look for problems and shut the machine off at the first sign of a malfunction.
  • Never try to cut a mirror. The reflected laser light could damage the cutting machine or injure the operator.

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