If you don't know much about laser cutting, its types, the materials that can be cut with a laser cutter, and the pros and cons, you've come to the right place. In this article, we will introduce laser cutting and discuss everything in detail. Also, we will share a great laser cutter that can be used for small projects.
What is laser cutting? How does it work?
Laser cutting refers to the process of cutting materials and objects using a high-powered and highly focused laser.
Different processes can be performed using a laser, including engraving, marking, cutting, and others that involve physical alteration of materials. But cutting is a completely different process, cutting the material into pieces. It takes out a piece of object by evaporating material.
The laser beam is obtained from a light source and consists of electromagnetic radiation of a single wavelength. Radiation may be invisible to the naked eye, such as infrared radiation in CO2 lasers. The beam then passes through different curved mirrors and reflectors before passing through a converging (convex) lens.
After passing through a convex lens, the beam is highly focused and converged on a single point with a diameter of a fraction of a millimeter. The beam is accompanied by a fast-moving gas, usually nitrogen or oxygen. The laser then emerges from the nozzle, ready to hit the material with high energy. Due to the high focus, the laser is extremely powerful and suitable for cutting, engraving and marking.
The laser beam and its convergence mechanism are packaged in the laser module. The module is moved and guided by computer numerical control (CNC). Therefore, the process is also called CNC laser cutting. A computer program moves the laser head as needed.
The place where the laser beam lands is affected by extreme and intense energy. The temperature of the material rises within milliseconds and the material evaporates immediately. The laser beam penetrates the object and cuts it as required. If the laser beam is powerful enough, the material can be cut in one pass; otherwise, multiple passes are required. The material is partially or completely cut into small pieces.
You might be thinking about how a laser can vaporize material directly. It's actually sublimation, a process in which a material changes from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid state. The laser makes the material so hot that it reaches vaporization temperatures within milliseconds. The material then begins to evaporate and disappear from sight.
Types of Laser Cutting Machines
It is important to know the types of laser cutters because they are all used for different materials. The type of laser determines the type of material it can cut and use.
Laser cutting machines are divided into three types according to the type of laser used.
CO2 Laser Cutting Machine
Crystal Laser Cutting Machine
Fiber Laser Cutting Machine
Diode Laser Cutting Machine (Semiconductor Laser Cutting Machine)
CO2 Laser Cutting Machine
Compared to other types, CO2 laser cutters are the most common because they can cut widely used materials such as wood, acrylic, plastic, glass, leather and foam. These lasers can also engrave materials, which is their specialty. Also, they are much more efficient and cheaper than other types.
In CO2 lasers, the laser beam is generated in a sealed gas tube containing a gas mixture. A higher proportion of the gas is CO2. The tube is completely sealed with two electrodes connected at both ends.
When a high potential difference is created between the electrodes, positive nuclei and electrons start to move in a specific direction. The laser beam is generated from the tube due to the high energy released by the atoms. The beam is then reflected using mirrors and reflectors, and converged using a convex lens. The fast-moving gas accompanies the laser beam.
The radiation emitted by CO2 lasers is invisible in the infrared region. It can be used on non-metals such as wood, plastic and glass. It can cut and engrave because the power of the laser is not high compared to other types.
Crystal Laser Cutting Machine
Crystal laser cutting machines can be further divided into two types. They can use d:YVO (neodymium-doped yttrium orthovanadate) or nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet).
These laser cutters are so powerful that their parts don't last long. You can use them for about 10,000-15,000 hours, after which you need to replace the pump diodes. The initial cost is high, and you'll need to replace parts frequently compared to other types of laser cutters. Therefore, the overall cost is quite high.
The wavelength of the beam is 1.064 microns, which is much smaller than a CO2 laser cutter. Therefore, it is more powerful and intense.
These laser cutters are metal and non-metal. In addition, they can also be used in ceramics. Due to the high power, metal can be cut quickly.
Fiber Laser Cutting Machine
Fiber laser cutters are more advanced than CO2 laser cutters because they are newer and equipped with the latest technology. Therefore, they are very expensive.
These are based on seed lasers, where a set of diodes are used to generate a low-power laser, which is then amplified. For amplification, fiber lasers use glass fibers and thus produce a laser beam that is 100 times stronger than a CO2 laser beam. The wavelength of the laser beam is 1.064 microns.
These laser cutters require little maintenance and last longer. Due to the strength and high energy of the laser beam, they can easily cut metals such as stainless steel, copper and aluminum.
Fiber laser cutters are very effective. They are almost four times more efficient than CO2 laser cutters. The reason behind the high efficiency is the use of glass fibers to convert 75% of the power into the laser beam and reduce power losses. As a result, fiber laser cutters are more powerful and intense than CO2 laser cutters of the same optical power rating. They also cut material at a faster rate.
Diode lasers are also called semiconductor lasers because diodes are made of semiconductors. As the name suggests, diodes are used to generate the laser beam in this type of laser.
The diodes used in the production of lasers are slightly different from ordinary diodes. They have a special intrinsic layer that emits high-energy photons, which are then amplified into laser light.
The work of these lasers is very simple. The diode group emits a laser beam, which is then reflected using a reflector. If there are multiple diode lasers in a module, all beams are converged using convex lenses. Once they pass through a convex lens, they are highly directional and focused, and can cut and engrave objects.
In diode modules, air assist is also used. They provide a high-pressure airflow that blows smoke and debris away from objects. When the laser beam hits an object, smoke and debris are produced.
Debris should be cleaned with high pressure to reduce the risk of fire. Smoke can cause a variety of problems, including discoloration of the object you're cutting or engraving, and it can also block the path of the laser and reduce its power. Therefore, laser assistance is required.
Today, diode lasers are very popular and widely used. These are widely used in DIY projects and creating various products. They are great for cutting wood, acrylic (various colors) and some other materials. They can carve wood, steel, leather, glass, rubber, acrylic, cardboard, ceramics and more.
Materials for cutting are limited as they are not as powerful as other laser types. Typically, laser optical power is 10W or less; however, we have introduced a 20W diode laser module, the most powerful diode laser module in the world.
Generally, these are not suitable for translucent and reflective materials such as metals. You cannot use them for metal cutting. However, they are great for cutting wood and acrylic for small projects. The speed is also lower than other laser types due to the low power.
These lasers are very compact and lightweight. They are more affordable than other types of lasers, which is why they are so common. Mostly these are fixed on various machines controlled via CNC (Computer Numerical Control).
Diode lasers have a longer lifespan than other laser types. Therefore, these are the top picks for startups and small businesses. These are commonly used to engrave rings, glasses, lockets and various other items. Wood and acrylic can be cut effortlessly. Therefore, these can also be used to carve and make small furniture such as wooden tables or chairs.
What materials can a laser cutter cut?
There are a variety of materials that can be cut by laser cutting. The laser beams are powerful enough to vaporize the areas they touch. When these highly focused beams are pointed at an object, the temperature rises rapidly, and cutting occurs very quickly.
Commonly used materials can be cut by laser cutting. Some of them are,
Metals (Brass, Steel, Copper, Aluminum, etc.)
acrylic (a type of plastic)
paper and cardboard
Advantages and disadvantages of using a laser cutter
Laser cutting has many advantages, which is why laser cutting machines are widely used compared to other types of cutting machines.
Cutting various materials: Laser cutting machines can cut various materials. You can cut almost anything, depending on the type of laser cutter. It can cut metals including copper, aluminum, stainless steel, iron and precious metals. It also works on non-metals such as glass, plastic and wood. Therefore, there is a wide range of materials that can be cut with a laser cutter.
High precision: The precision of the laser cutting machine is very high because the beam is very concentrated. The diameter of the laser is only a fraction of a millimeter. The slit width is very narrow due to the highly focused beam. It is perfect for intricate cuts.
Fast cutting: The laser beams are very intense, so they immediately raise the temperature of the material. The material reaches vaporization temperature within milliseconds, and the laser sheet is rapidly cut. Projects can be completed at high speed. It is much faster than CNC milling.
Smooth edges: Because the laser beam is very narrow, the edges are very smooth. No need to sand the edges to make them smooth.
More reliable: Laser technology is more reliable in cutting. The system works for a long time and ensures accuracy and precision. You can start multiple projects at the same time. There is no need to replace the laser during this process as it does not wear out like a drill. Few surprises and unexpected delays.
Less clutter: The laser beam is ultra-fine, so the incision width is minimal. As a result, the laser beam cuts negligible material without causing a huge mess.
High power consumption: The first disadvantage is the high power consumption of the laser cutting machine. You might think that a 10W laser would consume no power. This 10W actually represents the optical power of the laser. The electrical input power of the laser is actually higher. Also, the machine consumes too much power. Total power is about 100 watts or more.
Toxic Emissions: Certain materials, such as plastics, produce toxic fumes when exposed to laser light. These emissions are quite harmful to operators. The area should be well ventilated to handle such fumes.
Burnt edge: The laser beam is very powerful. They can burn objects from corners while cutting. The object can also change color.
Involvement of people: When using a laser cutting machine, people are involved. All safety standards must be followed. Occasionally, the machine needs to be serviced, and the risk to the maintenance crew is high. Severe burns may result if there is any contact with the laser.
The Best Laser Cutter for Small Businesses
Atomstack A10 Pro is a high precision and powerful laser cutting and engraving machine. It's perfect for DIY projects, hobbyists, professionals and small businesses. With its powerful laser technology, it can cut various types of materials at once. The best part is that it is very compact, like a desktop printer.
ATOMSTACK has 10W and 5W laser modules for your choice. It also introduces the most powerful laser module in the world, the 20W one, which can also be fixed on the A10 Pro. The 10W laser module contains two lasers that are combined with mirrors and focused using a convex lens. It makes the laser more powerful and intense.
The laser beam is ultra-fine; the diameter of the laser is only 0.08 x 0.06mm. It provides high precision and precision, making the cut finer and smoother. Since the beam is highly focused and the kerf width is minimal, there is little waste.
Powerful laser cuts 10mm plywood and 5mm acrylic in one pass. It cuts objects with extra precision and perfection. It works with over 300 materials, so you can choose from a wide variety of materials for engraving and cutting.
Anyone can use the A10 Pro as it is suitable for beginners and does not require any knowledge and prerequisites. It runs through LaserGRBL, which is a simple piece of software. It is available on Windows, iOS devices. Plus, it's LightBurn compatible if you want to do professional engraving.
For small businesses, the A10 Pro is the perfect choice. It's cheap and has several accessories to choose from. Laser modules can be easily replaced and upgraded as needed. It can be a source of income because you can make your own products by laser cutting and engraving.
Frequently Asked Questions about Laser Cutting Machines
Can a laser cut metal?
Yes, laser cutters can cut metal, but not all types of laser cutters can do this. CO2 lasers cannot cut metals because they are not powerful enough. However, fiber laser cutters and crystal laser cutters can cut various types of metals.
Is laser cutting safe?
Additional precautions and safety measures are required. During operation, the laser is equipped with safety measures. Therefore, they are safe to use. However, some materials such as plastic produce toxic fumes, so there should be a fume extraction system.
Does the laser cutting machine smell bad?
Laser cutters are odorless, but some materials produce odors, fumes, vapors, and particles. Materials such as plastic produce toxic odors that are harmful to the human body. Therefore, safety precautions must be taken when cutting such materials.