Guide to Laser Cutting for Glass, Wood, Metal, Paper, Plastic, and Gemstones
Traditional cutting methods posed limitations in achieving intricate designs or complex shapes, requiring time-consuming manual labor and specialized tools. Fortunately, laser technology introduced a level of precision and intricacy that was previously unimaginable. It utilizes highly concentrated light beams to vaporize or melt through materials with remarkable accuracy.
Since 1958, Shoemaker has become the leading provider of top-notch machining services. We are fully committed to delivering customized solutions that meet and exceed our customers’ expectations. We also comply with ITAR regulations, ensuring the highest level of security and confidentiality for every project we handle.
How Laser Cutting Works
Laser cutting is a highly precise method of material fabrication that works by focusing a concentrated light beam to cut through various materials. The process involves several key components and steps to achieve accurate and clean cuts. First, atoms or molecules within a lasing medium are stimulated to produce the laser beam. It is then directed through mirrors and lenses to focus it into a small, intense spot.
When the laser beam interacts with the surface of a material, it delivers a concentrated amount of energy capable of vaporizing or melting the material. For instance, the beam melts the metal, and a high-pressure gas jet removes the molten material to create an incision. Meanwhile, the laser beam vaporizes the substance when cutting through plastics and wood before producing a narrow kerf.
The cutting equipment has computer numerical control (CNC) technology for precise cuts. The CNC system interprets digital designs or patterns, such as vector graphics, and regulates laser head movement along the material. This precise control enables the accurate and consistent execution of intricate and complex incisions.
Types of Laser Cutting Materials
Laser technology has proven its versatility in processing various materials, including glass, wood, metal, paper, plastic, and gemstones. Discussed below are the common techniques and considerations when it comes to cutting each material:
Laser cutting is highly effective on certain types of glass with specific characteristics. Ideally, flat glass without any coatings or laminations is suitable for laser applications. Low-iron or clear glass is preferred due to its excellent transparency, allowing for efficient laser energy transmission. It is important to note that thicker glass requires higher laser power to achieve successful cuts.
Achieving clean cuts on glass requires careful techniques and considerations to minimize the risk of cracks, chipping, or unwanted surface damage. Aside from clear or low-iron glass, here are some specific types suitable for this cutting technique:
- Borosilicate glass
- Colored glass
- Frosted glass
- Laminated glass
- Mirrored glass
One of the primary advantages of laser-cut wood products is their accuracy and repeatability. Laser cutters can precisely follow digital designs, ensuring consistent results across multiple pieces. This accuracy is particularly valuable when creating complex wooden components requiring high precision and a perfect fit.
The digital nature of the process also allows for easy modifications to designs. This makes it convenient to adapt and personalize wooden products according to specific requirements.
The following are the most popular wood types for this cutting method:
Laser cutters can work with various metals, including stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. The cutting parameters can also be adjusted to accommodate different metal thicknesses, ensuring optimal results across various applications and industries. Furthermore, the laser provides excellent control over heat-affected zones (HAZ) and minimizes distortion or warping.
The concentrated heat of the laser beam limits the heat transfer to the surrounding area, reducing the risk of thermal damage. This precision and control make it suitable for applications where high dimensional accuracy is required.
Listed below are common metal types for cutting:
- Mild steel
Laser technology offers a range of benefits for paper crafting, stationery production, packaging, and other paper-based applications. Its exceptional precision capabilities make it especially valuable for projects requiring intricate designs. Whether creating paper art, invitations, paper decorations, or pop-up cards, the process ensures that every detail is flawlessly executed.
In addition to precision, this technique offers clean and sealed edges on paper. The heat generated effectively fuses the paper fibers using a focused laser beam. This fusion minimizes the risk of fraying or tearing, resulting in neat and professional-looking edges. As a result, additional post-processing steps are greatly reduced.
Examples of paper types that can be laser cut include the following:
- Colored paper
- Kraft paper
- Watercolor paper
Laser cutting offers high-speed and efficient processing of plastic materials. The machines can rapidly cut through plastics, enabling fast production times and increased productivity. This efficiency benefits industries requiring large volumes of accurately cut plastic components. These sectors include electronics, signage, packaging, and displays.
This also allows for intricate engravings, markings, and plastic surface customizations. Adjusting the laser parameters can generate diverse designs, logos, text, and other personalized elements on plastic surfaces. This feature can enhance their aesthetic appeal and add value to the final products.
The following are plastic types suitable for cutting:
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
The advantage of laser cutting for gemstone processing and jewelry production is its ability to create precise cuts, intricate patterns, and custom designs. Its non-contact nature also reduces the risks of chipping, cracking, or breaking gemstones during the process. This ensures the preservation of the gemstone’s integrity and minimizes material wastage.
Furthermore, laser technology offers customization and intricate detailing on the material. The precise control of the beam allows for the creation of personalized engravings and custom shapes on gemstone surfaces. This customization level creates unique jewelry pieces that reflect individual styles and preferences.
The most popular gemstones for this cutting technique are as follows:
Factors To Consider for Choosing the Right Laser Cutter
Several factors should be considered when selecting a laser cutter for different materials to ensure optimal cutting results and efficient operations. These include the following:
Consider the specific properties of the materials, such as their thickness, composition, and density. For example, certain machines may be more suitable for cutting thicker metals, while others may be better for delicate woodwork or glass cutting.
Cutting Thickness and Speed
The varying thicknesses of different materials affect the cutting procedure. Thus, consider the laser cutter’s maximum allowable cutting thickness and speed. Ensure the machine can accommodate the required material thicknesses while maintaining the intended speed for efficient production.
Machine Size and Bed Capacity
The machine’s size and bed capacity determine the maximum dimensions of materials that can be processed. Consider the size of the materials and ensure that the machine’s bed size accommodates them comfortably. This factor is particularly significant when dealing with large sheets or bulkier materials.
Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the machine, considering factors like initial purchase cost, operational costs, and potential maintenance expenses. Compare the features, capabilities, and reputation of different devices to make an informed decision based on long-term value.
Choose Shoemaker for Advanced Laser Cutting Capabilities
Shoemaker’s capabilities are at the forefront of precision and efficiency, enabling quick turnaround times for estimates and production! Our state-of-the-art laser cutters can cut various materials, including up to ¾” carbon steel and ⅜” stainless steel and aluminum. Our advanced Nesting software can also efficiently arrange the parts, minimizing waste and maximizing productivity.
We also offer bending services with our Omega press brake, equipped with a 5-axis back gauge. This allows us to cut and bend parts quickly, streamlining the production process and reducing lead times. Our skilled operators use the press brake to achieve precise bends, meeting exact specifications with exceptional accuracy.