How to Laser Cut Acrylic

Written by matthew dehaven
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Laser cutting makes it quite easy to accurately cut out complex shapes in a wide variety of materials, including acrylic. Recent developments have made laser cutters much less expensive and much more user friendly than they once were. Anyone who is moderately computer literate can learn to use a modern laser cutter without great difficulty. Many small laser cutters are designed such that using one is more like using a printer than operating a complex industrial tool.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Laser cutter

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  1. 1

    Draw the shape you wish to cut as a vector-based file. This could be a DXF file from a CAD program such as AutoCAD, or a vector file from a graphic design program such as Adobe Illustrator. The software of most laser cutters will also accept pixel-based graphic files such as BMP or JPG, but vector graphics will allow for greater accuracy.

  2. 2

    Determine the appropriate speed and power settings for the acrylic sheet you will be cutting. Although the documentation for your laser may have some general guidelines, you will most likely have to experimentally determine the exact settings you will need. Place a scrap piece of acrylic sheet and try cutting through it with different settings. If the laser moves too slowly, the heat of the beam will spread to the surrounding material and create a messy edge. If the laser moves too quickly, the material will not be cut properly. Adjust the speed and power until you find settings that let the laser make a clean cut.

  3. 3

    Load your workpiece into the laser cutter and turn it on. Run the laser cutting software on your computer, load the file you made in Step 1 and start the laser.

Tips and warnings

  • Whenever you use material that is in any way different from what you have used before, you will need to repeat Step 2 and find settings that will cut it neatly. Even the colour of the material can affect how much laser light it will absorb.
  • Laser cutters can be dangerous if not used properly. Thoroughly read the documentation for your laser cutter before attempting to use it.
  • Some materials (such as PVC) can produce hazardous gases when cut. Do not use any such material in your laser cutter unless it is equipped with a ventilation or filtration system designed to handle hazardous gas.

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