One Size Does Not Fit All
What is the Maximum Thickness?
For laser cutting consider lasers in the same way you consider a shop tool. In most cases one size does not fit all.
Acrylic in various thicknesses.
Acrylic can be both laser cut and laser marked and engraved. To cut acrylic up to 25 mm thick a 200 watt CO2 laser is highly recommended.
ABS sheet (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
ABS can be both laser marked and laser cut. The most common application is for laser marking however because the ABS is flammable when it is exposed to high sustained temperatures. We have cut up to 1/4" ABS with superior edge quality while thicker ABS can be cut but the edges may be either melted or discolored. Laser cut ABS leaves a slight odor on the cut area that dissipates after a few hours.
Can be both laser marked and laser cut. This is a case where the nose – knows. The laser will indeed cut and mark vinyl however the resulting out gas produced by the heated polymer is caustic and unless your shop is equipped to handle and scrub the ventilated fumes, laser cutting large amounts of vinyl is a hazard to the equipment (makes metal rust) and humans (not good to inhale). Vaporized vinyl has a sharp and pungent odor. In general we cannot recommend these materials for use in any laser system. Vinyl as in Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) and polyvinyl acetate (PVAc) as the name implies when super heated by the laser to the point of vaporization has the potential to out gas chloride, fluoride and acetate fumes.
Paper, Card stock
Can be both laser marked and laser cut. These are good candidates for laser marking and cutting with the results depending somewhat on the properties of the dyes or inks used to determine the color of the paper. Proper ventilation is required. The material has a tendency to flame up if the laser beam is not moved rapidly through the mark or cut process.
Can be both laser marked and laser cut. The chipboard most are familiar with used in scrapbooking is a type of paperboard generally made from reclaimed paper stock (definition in ASTM D996); the term generally used in the US and is not to be confused with particle board which is glued wood chips. This is a good candidate for both laser marking and cutting depending again on the chemicals and bonding agents used in the creation process of the chipboard. Proper ventilation is required. The material has a tendency to flame up if the laser beam is not moved rapidly through the laser marking or cutting process Aluminum (3mm)
Unfortunately this is not a good candidate for lower powered CO2 lasers (under 200 watts). The aluminum is reflective to the CO2 lasers fundamental wavelength and a relatively small amount of laser energy gets absorbed. To overcome this reflectance and absorption problem CO2 lasers in the multi kilowatt range are used with special gas assist techniques to enhance cutting and reduce the slag around the cut area.
This is a poor candidate for cutting with lower powered CO2 lasers (under 200 watts). Most laser companies recommend at a minimum of 400 watts with special cutting heads and gas assist for best cut results. While absorbing the CO2 lasers energy much better than aluminum, stainless steel is also reflective to the CO2 lasers fundamental wavelength and a relatively small amount of laser energy gets absorbed. High powered multi kilowatt CO2 lasers are used with special gas assist techniques to enhance cutting and reduce the slag around the cut area.
Can be both laser marked and laser cut. 6mm is the maximum we would recommend with a laser under 100 watts. What we have found is the problem is more with the plywood glues (bonding agents) used. These adhesive bonds can behave like mirrors requiring variable amount of laser energy to get a good clean cut. Urea glue, adsorbs the laser radiation, and cut more easily. Phenol glue, commonly used in plywood for exterior use is more difficult to laser cut. Alder, Italian Poplar and Baltic Birch seems to work the best as it tends to be uniform in structure than ordinary plywood and remains fairly flat. Also air assist and good exhaust is mandatory to minimize burning. Failure to cut through in all areas is usually due to a change in composition in the material (voids, knots, percentage of glue, etc…).
Foam, various densities.
It really depends on the type of foam. Up to 25 mm on some foam such as polystyrene. Other foams such as polysulfone char and discolor and are not a laser friendly material.
Rubber, epdm, silicone sheet.
Up to 25mm with varying results depending on the type of rubber or silicone. Also air assist and good exhaust is recommended. Various other graphic and “scrapbooking” type materials.
Most non-metals. Such as marble, granites, tiles, cloths, fabrics, glass can be laser marked or cut.
If all you want to do is scrap booking then you need a small low powered machine let say 30 watt with a small 300mm by 600 mm working area. These machines are cheap, desktop, generally light weight in construction and process materials relatively slowly and are usually considered disposable after 5 years. This type of hobbyist machine will place you in competition with every housewife hobbyist within 200 km.
But you are considering a on going business venture that you can market both locally and on the internet, then a larger more industrial machine is required.