Laser Cutting and Etching

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This page covers etching and cutting things using CO2 IR laser engraver machines such as Bumble Bee.

Materials

The laser cutter can cut or etch a wide variety of materials.  However some are not possible to cut with our current set-up, and other materials are dangerous - they release fumes that damage humans or the laser cutter itself.

The laser can only etch some materials; it will not be able to cut through them.  See the materials list for more.

The key thing is not to try to cut:

  1. Metals
  2. Some materials that contain a high proportion of glue (such as particle board)
  3. Plastics or other materials that contain chlorine (such as all varieties of vinyl like PVC)

Please, do not cut any of the banned materials.

You are responsible for knowing exactly what your material is before you try to cut it.

Do not cut any materials marked as BANNED in the list below.  You would be liable for expensive damage to the machine or worse - you may release toxic fumes that could easily harm or kill! 

Materials List

Material Cut? Etch? Mark? Power Speed
Acrylic (Plexiglass) Yes Yes Yes

Ceramic No
Yes
Yes

Cloth
Yes
Yes
No


Delrin Yes
Yes
Yes


Glass No
Yes
Yes


Coated Metals No
Yes
Yes


Leather Yes
Yes
Yes


Human flesh (yes, this has come up) BANNED
BANNED
BANNED


Marble No
Yes
Yes


Matte Board Yes
Yes
Yes


Melamine Yes
Yes
Yes


Model Foam
Yes
Yes
No


Paper
Yes
Yes
No


Mylar
Yes
Yes
No


Metals - Painted
No
Yes
Yes


Metals - Stainless Steel
No
No
Yes


Particle board
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED


Plywood (limited)
Yes
Yes
Yes


Polycarbonate (Lexan, etc.)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED


Rubber (non-chlorine containing)
Yes
Yes
No


Tile
No
Yes
Yes


Vinyl or PVC of any kind
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED


Wood, veneer
Yes
Yes
Yes


Wood, natural
Yes
Yes
Yes


Wood, Plywood, Birch - 1/8" thick
Yes
Yes
Yes
Cut - 40 (First pass, minimal char, some stray strands.)
Cut - 20

Cutting Parts on the Laser Cutter

When cutting parts on the laser, you will use the software to set the cutting speed and power.  If we have cut the material you are using before, you can refer to the power and speed recommendations in the table above.  Otherwise - experiment!  Bring some scrap material to do test cuts on until you find a cut you are satisfied with.  After that, record your power and speed settings in the table above.

In general:

  • Lower speeds allow for lower cutting power, which saves life on the laser tube.
  • Lower speeds cut a wider "kerf" (thickness of cut) through the material.
  • At higher speeds the cut is faster but requires higher power, which uses up the laser tube faster.
  • High power on wood and paper may cause some discoloration near the cuts (browning color from burned material).