Using CO2 lasers to cut acrylic, and plastics has advantages over the traditional mechanical methods of cutting. Acrylics can be laser cut more accurately with a laser than a CNC cutter. A mechanical cutter can only cut detail as fine as the diameter of the smallest off-the-shelf router bit. A CO2 laser cutter by contrast can cut to the width of the laser beam, measured in hundredths of a millimeter.
This precision and control along with the intense heat produced by a laser makes crystal clean cuts, fire polished edges, perfectly rounded corners and fine details that are the signature effect of laser cut acrylic letters and logos.
The type of acrylic used is important
The selection of the acrylic to be used is important to understand. Acrylic may be cast or extruded. Cast acrylic is excellently suited to laser cutting. With extruded acrylic, the cut edges can become milky after cutting due to the stresses released.
The choice of color of the acrylic will also affect the laser settings. Colors (such as blue or red) contain pigments. The type and color intensity of pigment will cause changes to overall power and cutting speed settings (as well as requiring some experimentation) to achieve the cleanest cutting possible.
Training, Tips and Techniques
We can recommend expert training and after sales support to help you with any acrylic cutting challenge you might come upon. Our expert staff is eager to share tips and techniques to make you successful.
The Laser Source
The selection of a laser source with good beam quality and enough power to cut is crucial. It is important to achieve proper power and profile of the laser beam to obtain crystal clean cuts, fire polished edges, rounded corners and fine details.
If your requirement is to cut acrylic; we suggest that you consider a sealed tube CO2 as the laser source. The laser systems we are discussing all use a nearly maintenance free sealed tube CO2 laser system. The sealed tube CO2 comes in power levels of 10 Watt thru 400 watt.
Think of the laser source as the “engine”. Critical in creating the highest quality cut image with little to no after cut polishing and cleaning is selecting a laser that has the correct amount of power (watts) and has an excellent performance profile with a wide dynamic range.
The optimum laser source for you particular application would be depending on how thick of acrylic you wish to cut. For instance for cutting thick acrylic use either a 200 Watt CO2 laser for cutting acrylic thickness up to ¾ inch (19 mm) or alternatively a400 watt CO2 laser for cutting acrylic thickness up to 1 inch (25 mm).
The costs in laser systems are in the laser power selected (in watts), the response time of the laser (fractions of seconds) and the bed size or working area (in inches or feet).
Size matters if power matters
As a rule the higher the laser output power the longer the physical size of the CO2 sealed tube. The overall width of the machine selected (real estate) determines the maximum size laser you can physically mount on the unit.
Lasers, software, training and acrylic cutting
Many people think that laser cutting is just another form of routing and it is not. Instead laser cutting of acrylic is a healthy mix of science and art. The training, equipment, and knowledge supplied by your vendor needs only your artistry and flair to deliver the unique advantages of laser cutting to your customers.
This is a good thing!
It is exactly the unique, specialized, technical and artistic skill set; the specialized and profitable market niche, that you are looking for to expand your business. Not just anyone with a laser is going to be your competitor!