Laser cutting simply explained.
Before we delve into acrylic laser cutting in dept, let's quickly review the whole laser cutting process and how it works.
Cutting via light? Laser cutting seems strange. But in fact, it is quite a simple technology. Here is a short explanation of the technology behind the CO2 laser, which creates an intensified light beam.
It happens when electricity runs through a gas-filled tube, and the tube of gases is surrounded by mirrors that reflect the light and make sure that no light escapes, which results in the light building in intensity.
The gases used in the laser beam are a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium. I can get into a tedious explanation of how these gases help produce a powerful light beam, but I think I will let it go for now.
And laser cutters are guided with CAD (computer-aided design) software, So you don't need to do the work manually. Just create your design in your preferred design software (such as Photoshop or CorelDraw), import it into the cutter's software, press start, and go take a nap.
What is acrylic?
Acrylic or plexiglass, as some call it, is a plastic material with great properties, it is transparent like glass but not so brittle, and it does not break so quickly.
There are various types, sizes, and colors of acrylic, and acrylic is used in many applications such as windows, lighting, and, of course, awards and other art pieces.
One of the advantages of acrylic is its cost-effectiveness. Acrylic is cheaper than most plastics due to its simple production process and widespread use.
Which acrylic is best for laser engraving?
There are two common forms of acrylic plastic, cast (GS) and extruded (XT). Cast acrylic is made of liquid Acrylic purred into molds, and it reacts great to laser engraving with a lovely frosted white look and matte finish when engraved. Most acrylic awards are made with cast acrylic.
On the other hand, extruded acrylic is typically cheaper than cast, and it gets smoother and flame-polished edges after a laser-cut, but if you engrave it, the engravement stays clear and is not frosted. Therefore it is mainly used as a cutting material vs. cast, whose prime use is engraving.
How thick of acrylic can you cut with a laser beam?
The general rule of thumb is that you need 10W of laser power for every mm of acrylic. Some high-quality acrylic laser cutting machines can handle even thicker ones.
Just one word about the print setting to laser-cut acrylic sheets. The results will be of much higher quality if you use a slow cutting speed, and it will allow your material to get flame-polished edges, at least if extruded acrylic is used.
How to laser engrave like a pro.
Here are some small tips and tricks to have you cut and engrave like a pro and get high-quality results.
- Choose the right type of acrylic. The cast acrylics are best for laser engraving because of the frosted and matte finish. The extruded is best suited for cutting because it gets nice flame-polished edges.
- For cutting, make sure you have enough laser power for the size acrylic you have. Remember, in general. You will need 10W for every additional millimeter you want to cut.
- As opposed to wood, acrylic can't have too much air-assist because if it cools down too quickly, it may result in dull edges.
- Ensure a good ventilation system because of the harmful fume that acrylic cutting creates, and without proper ventilation, the vapor may catch fire and do harm.
- Engraving on acrylic will generally take place on the back of the sheet because that will leave you with a glass-like effect over your art. Therefore you have to always reverse your art before sending it to the laser engraver for execution.
- Acrylic typically comes with a protective adhesive on both sides, so it should scratch. It is recommended to leave the front film while taking the back film off (remember, you are engraving on the back!). It will help the other side stay clean and unscratched during the engraving process.
- Acrylic engraving needs low laser power and a high cutting speed to ensure no distortion on the material. Acrylic laser cutting does need a higher beam power.
Is acrylic laser cutting safe?
Cutting with laser technology is a pretty safe way of cutting vs. regular cutting via knives or other blade devices because of no contact work and closed work area.
However, you need to consider a few safety measures, especially while granting access to that machinery for kids.
- It can catch fire. This happens if the laser will cut through the material and still be actively focused on the same spot, which will cut through the laser's metal case, and then it may start burning.
- Toxic fumes. A laser cutter is used to cut various materials. Some of them, such as certain plastics, are harmless when solid but can be poisonous and unhealthy when heated by laser power.
- Hot or sharp surfaces. A laser becomes really hot while in action, and it also has many moving metal parts that can endanger children's hands if they can access the machine's interior while it's active.
Luckily, a few home laser systems were created for educational purposes with kids in mind and have put great effort into safety features.
MakeBlock laserBox is one of them, featuring a 40W CO2 laser, a rotary option (engraving on cylinder-shaped items such as mugs). It has robust safety features in place, such as if you open the lid, the machine pauses the job, and it has an advanced Early Warning System in place to detect unsafe situations and make you aware.
All of these laser cutters are safe enough for schools, workshops, and home, and it fits perfectly on your desk in your home office or elsewhere.
Where to buy good quality acrylic?
Now you are finally at your work desk finalizing the details of the next cool project to laser cut and engrave. The question arose: Where is the best place to buy the acrylic blanks, so we created a partial list containing some of the best acrylic suppliers.
- Johnson plastic plus - They have a large selection of blank acrylic awards and other pre-made shapes. They also have acrylic sheets for cutting available at good pricing.
- Amazon - Amazon may be a great place to be on the lookout for cheap acrylics. There are various sellers for it, one of them, AgoDeo, has great quality for low cost, and they have received the amazons choice label for laser Cutting Acrylic query.
- Your laser cutters manufacturer - Some quality laser cutting brands offer branded materials specifically tailored for their cutters and have pre-defined settings in their custom software. Glowforge proofgrade is the official Glowfore material, and G-weike cloud has its own materials as well.
- Delvie's plastics - Delvie's has a large selection of Acrylics for all types of uses. They carry popular brands such as Gemini, Chemcast, and Plaskolite.
- Invetables - Invetables is another great supplier for all sizes and colors of acrylic sheets; they carry some exotic and rare types such as two-tone sheets and some pastel colors.
- Tap plastics - a large catalog of good acrylics are available at Tap plastics for the best pricing. They sell useful acrylic accessories such as acrylic hinges, knobs, and handles.