Laser cutting refers to the process of making use of a powerful laser to engrave (etch) or cut items from flat sheets of material like wood, plastic, and others.
By using laser cutting, it is possible to make things like signage, rubber stamps, proto-types, jewellery and mass production work. The laser cutter works by directing a high-powered laser beam in a precise manner at the chosen material to either engrave or cut through.
In the case of cutting, the laser beam burns away the material leaving a cut-out shape that has been specified in the vector file. The beam for cutting is extremely thin (around 0.1 mm) and accurate resulting in incredibly detailed and precise cuts. The beam power can be reduced to mark the surface of the material and this is known as engraving or etching. It creates some incredible effects on plastic and wood.
Conventionally, laser cutting and etching have been utilized by engineers to cut complex portions of machines. It needed the use of special CAD software to create Vector files that could be understood by the machine. It required expertise in part fabrication and design and high volumes of production to justify the cost.
The laser cutting experts set out to provide designers, illustrators, and artists, easy access to laser cutting such that they could realize the dream of making their designs a reality.
How does the laser cutter work?
There are 3 modes of using a laser cutter: Engraving, Cutting and Vector etching.
Laser Cutting (red, 0.1 pt stroke, no fill)
When the laser cuts, it follows the red strike lines in the file straight down the middle of the line. During the cutting process, it can cut away around 0.1 mm of material on each side of the line. Laser cutters can easily cut via a wide variety of materials. This includes materials that are 0.5 mm thick (card/ paper) to 12 mm thick (plywood).
While cutting, it takes longer to cut intricate patterns than simple shapes. Straight lines are faster and easier than circles and curves. It is good to have all cut lines joined up such that laser cutter can follow a single line, cutting quickly.
Laser cutter will find and cut every red line in your file, even if you mask them or hide them. Additionally, double cut lines will cut twice, causing burning and may cost extra.
Raster Etching (black strokes and/ or fills)
This type of etching is created by laser head going back and forth on the sheet like that of an ink-jet printer. Keep the files in the same area on the sheet where possible as this will help etch quicker and become cheaper. Black areas may be masked and covered because black artwork is typically flattened when it is sent to the cutter. High-quality JPG images may be used but a vector is always better.
Vector Etching (blue, 0.1 pt stroke)
This is a way of etching a thin, continuous line using a laser cutter. In this mode, a laser head will follow blue lines and the etching is basically a very low power cut line. Like red lines, blue lines cannot be masked or hidden. It is fast and cheap but can become expensive when there are multiple lines. The lines may be dark or pale as per request.
These are all some major kinds of laser cutting and etching.