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Laser Cutter Materials

Laser cutters provide a fine level of control over cutting and engraving of a wide variety of materials.  Here is a guide to the different materials you can use with a laser.  The benefits and drawbacks of each material are described.  And you will learn where to source the material.

Acrylic

Acrylic is a type of plastic that is a common material used on the laser cutter.  The term acrylic is used for products that contain a substance derived from acrylic acid or a related compound. Most often, it is used to describe a clear, glass-like plastic known as poly(methyl) methacrylate (PMMA). PMMA is also called acrylic glass.  For the laser, acyrlic is extruded into sheets of various thickness, color and transparency.

Pros

  • available in a wide variety of colors and thickness
  • Light weight
  • Sheets come laminated with pealable paper that protects it during the lasering process
  • No post processing needed

Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Brittle
  • Easily scratched

Where to find it:

You can get sheets of acrylic at your local plastics store.  Just search for 'acrylic supplier' to find a store near you.  If you live in an area that doesn't have a supplier nearby, you can order it online.

Acrylic comes in sheets.  Most supplies will cut the sheet down for you if you want less than a full sheet.

Here's one way to save money.  If your local supplier cuts sheets to order, they also have scrap material.  They probably sell the scraps at significant cost savings.  The store near me has a very organized scrap bin. The scraps are sold by the pound.  And by scraps, I mean parts of sheets.  They are decent sized from one square foot to a full quarter of 4'x8' sheet.  As they are scraps, not all colors and thickness are always available.  So I actually stop by my local supplier regularly to see if they have any scarce colors in the bin.  If I see a color that I don't have in my stockpile, I buy it for future use.

acrylic-color-choices

Acrylic is available in a spectrum of colors

Wood

Wood is a very common material on the laser cutter.  Some people are surprised that wood can be cut on the laser as they expect it to go up in flames.  While wood can catch on fire from the laser, it easy to ensure that it does not.  The laser needs to blow air on the cutting area.  This helps to remove heat from the wood so that it doesn't ignite.

Wood can be both cut and etched on the laser.  Plywood and board stock can both be used.

Pros

  • Relatively cheap
  • Readily available

Cons

  • Cutting the wood burns the edges.  Some people do not like this look
  • The organic nature of wood provides imperfections that may affect the final result
  • Heavy post-processing (sanding, staining, etc) to get a 'finished' look

Where to find

Many plywoods can be found at your local Big Box retailer.  My most common wood on the laser is 1/4" maple that I buy at Lowe's in 4'x8' sheets.  For higher quality hardwoods, search out your local hardwood lumber shop.

 laser-cut-engraved-maple-plywood

 Laser cut and engraved 1/4" maple plywood
Product design - http://obrary.com/products/wedding-ceremony-wine-box

laser-burned-plywood

Plywood in flames on the laser

Bamboo

Bamboo is technically a grass, not a wood.  So it gets its own section here.  Like wood it is available in plywood sheets.  I use 1/4" and 1/8" sheets.  It is denser than most 1/4"wood plywoods.

Pros

  • Beautiful look with multiple grain options
  • Finish doesn't need as much sanding as wood
  • Eco-friendly material
  • Strong, dense material

Cons

  • Cutting the bamboo leaves a charred edge that will need to wiped clean or sanded.
  • Relatively expensive

Where to find

The 1/4" plywood sheets are typically found at your local quality hardwood store (in other words, not at the local big box retailer.  The 1/8" plywood, I have only found online.  I have them cut the 4'x8' sheets into thirds to save money on the shipping.

folding-notepad-covers-in-bamboo

Folding notepad covers in Bamboo
Product design - http://obrary.com/products/folding-notepad-booklet 

MDF

MDF is a great product for the laser.  Because it is manufactured, it is a more consistent material than wood.  So its performance under the laser is more predictable.  MDF cuts well.  Engraving it yields a more 'fuzzy' result.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Consistent material resulting in predictable cuts

Cons

  • Doesn't engrave well

Where to find it

MDF is readily available at your local big box store.

laser-cut-mdf

 Laser cut MDF

Metal

Anodized Aluminum - can be etched (Black anodized aluminum provides best contrast out of all anodized aluminum)

Brass - un-coated brass can not be etched with a laser as it is too reflective.  It needs to have some kind of coating like paint.

laser-engraved-anodized-aluminum

Laser engraved anodized aluminum

Glass

Glass can be etched on the laser with some beautiful results.   This includes bottles (both full and empty), drinking glasses, and plain flat glass. 

engraved-glass-bottles

Engraved glass bottles

Stone

Yes, you can engrave different types of stone with a laser cutter.  Stone is generally too hard to cut through with a CO2 laser though.  Here are some details:

Rocks

Rock is a hard material.  Some will engrave better than others.  To have a consistent engraving, you'll want to start with rocks that are smooth.  River rock is a good place to start.

laser-ergraved-rock

Laser engraved river rocks

Marble

Marble engraves very well.  It's very hard so you'll need to go slow with the laser at full power.  Here's an example of black marble.  The engraving is naturally white, so the contrast between engraving and background is very large.

Laser-Engrave-Black-Marble

Laser engraved black marble

Granite

Granite does engrave, but it doesn't engrave as well as marble.  The reason for this is that granite is not a consistent material.  It's made up of a variety of minerals.  This variation becomes a variation in hardness.  So engraved granite is not a smooth as other materials.  And as you can in this photo, the color of the engraving is also inconsistent.

Laser-Engraved-Granite

Laser engraved granite

Other Materials

Lots of materials can be either cut or engraved in the laser.  If there's something you want to try, I recommend experimenting with it.  Here's some other materials that can be used on the laser:

  • Whiteboard
  • Cardstock
  • Paper
  • Fabric

Products

One fun thing to with a laser is to engrave products.  This can include cell phone cases, laptaps, bottles and much more.  As long as the surface you are engraving is a laserable material, you are good to go.

laser-engraved-macbook-pro

Laser engraved MacBook Pro

Materials to Avoid

PVC and vinyl are not safe for the laser. Lasering these materials produces a corrosive chlorine gas that is toxic and can also damage your laser.


Learn More about the Laser Cutter

We've created a free eBook to help you get started on the Laser Cutter.  It has a lot of information that will accelerate your learning and improve the quality of your products from the laser.

Download the free Laser Cutter eBook

Topics: Laser Cutter