Mechanical Engineering Blog

What Can a Laser Cutter Cut?

What Can a Laser Cutter Cut?

Laser cutting is so popular largely because of its versatility. Laser cutters can cut a wide variety of materials – anything from paper, wood, cork, acrylic and foam to different types of metals.

Still, there are some materials that would seemingly fit well into this list but should never be cut using a laser cutter. So let’s further explore the possibilities.

Suitable Materials for Laser Cutting

One of the biggest advantages of laser cutting is the ability to cut a wide range of materials. At the same time, you should be aware of the properties of each material. Some of them need extra attention when cutting.

Remember, we are talking only about materials here. But aside from that, tube laser cutting can also tackle a wide range of profiles, from square tubes to open channels.

Different Metals

laser cutting kerf

Laser cutters can cut all types of metals, from mild steel to stainless and also non-ferrous metals. More reflective metals like aluminium are more difficult to cut. In those instances, fibre lasers are the better option.

The thickness of the metal can be anywhere up to 30 mm. The maximum thickness, however, depends on the laser cutting service. It varies based on the power of the laser as well as the expertise of the machine operator.

Wood

Laser Cutting Plywood

Different types of wood, including plywood and MDF, are suitable for cutting. You should, however, be aware of oils or resin, as they pose a threat of catching fire.

Paper & Cardboard

Laser cut wedding invitations from paper

Yes, also suitable for laser cutting. That’s exactly how the popular intricate wedding invitations are made.

Plastics

Acrylic, PMMA and Lucite are all see-through plastics. All of them also leave a great finish when laser cut. The edges are melted in a way that they seem polished.

POM

Another plastic laser cutters can cut. POM is a highly utilised plastic in the engineering sector, finding usage in gears, guiding and sliding elements, medical instruments, food packaging, etc.

The ability to perform complex cuts with lasers definitely contributes to POM’s variety of use-cases.

Can a Laser Cutter Cut Glass?

Laser cutting glass is a seemingly impossible task because of the fragile and reflective properties of it. However, laser cutters can cut glass.

The reflectiveness of glass poses requirements to the power of your laser cutting equipment. Also, the cutter must have a cooling system. Only then can the machine operator have full control over the direction of the fracture at every step, resulting in a good finish.

Materials You Should Not Try to Cut

Although it seems like lasers can cut pretty much anything, there are some limitations. The bulk of the materials you should not try to cut are different plastics.

PVC

Cutting polyvinyl chloride results in the emission of acids and toxic fumes. These are harmful to both the operator of the machine but also the laser cutter itself as they can be a source of corrosion. Therefore, PVC cutting should be left for mechanical methods instead.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate plastic stacked on top of each other

Thin (under 1 mm) polycarbonate is okay to cut. But even this tends to result in patches of discolouration.

In case of thicker material, laser cutting should not be used. Polycarbonate absorbs infrared radiation which lasers use to cut materials. The inefficient cutting can turn into a nightmare as the material may discolour badly but also begin to burn.

ABS

Usually, the laser beam is hot enough to make the material vaporise. Not with ABS, though. It tends to melt, leaving a messy working table and a cut with a quality that does not really satisfy anybody.

HDPE

You can read the last paragraph as HDPE reacts to lasers in a similar way to ABS.

Polysterene & Polypropylene Foam

Both catch fire very easily. There are other problems as well. But fire should be enough to stop you from trying to either use laser marking or cutting those materials.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a mix of two materials – glass and epoxy resin. As we already know, cutting glass on its own is difficult. Add a fume-inducing resin into the mix and you should stop right there.

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