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Laser Cutting and Engraving Plastic: the Ultimate Guide

by Winnie Li Posted on January 30, 2023

Laser machine owners, beginners, and people who have an interest in laser cutting and engraving try to work on different laser cutting materials to make a variety of products.

Plastic is one of the most common materials we use in our daily lives; from our kitchen to our bedroom, there are dozens and hundreds of things made of plastic. Therefore, it is the priority of laser enthusiasts to work on plastic.

A laser cutter or laser engraver can cut and engrave plastic with utmost perfection and precision. But the problem is not all types of plastics are suitable for laser cutting and laser engraving. It is a must to understand what type of plastic you can engrave or cut using a laser cutting machine because some of them can produce toxic fumes.

In this article, we will discover the types of plastics. We will discuss what kind of plastics you can laser cut and engrave, what you can make with laser engraving platic, and which type of laser engraving machine is the most suitable for the task.

laser cutting and engraving plastic projects

In This Article

  • How Laser Cutting Plastic Work?
  • What is the Best Plastic for Laser Cutting?
  • Tips for Clean Cuts in Laser Cutting Plastic
  • 5 Laser Engraving Plastic Ideas
  • Best Laser Engraver for Plastic
  • Best Laser Cutter for Plastic
  • FAQs of Laser Cutting Plastic
  • Conclusion

How Laser Cutting Plastic Work?

Laser cutting and engraving machines work by generating a laser beam to heat up the material to the point of vaporization or melting, creating a cut or an engraved mark. The laser beam can be modulated in power, speed, and frequency to achieve different effects and depths. The laser beam can also be moved along a predefined path by laser cutter software, allowing for complex and precise shapes and patterns. The difference between laser cutting plastic and laser engraving plastic lies in the amount of material that is removed by the laser beam. Laser cutting removes material completely along the cut line, creating a separation or a hole in the material. Laser engraving removes material partially, creating a depression or a contrast in the material surface.

laser cut plastic ornaments
laser engraved plastic earrings

xTool P2 55W CO2 Laser Cutter

xtool p2 co2 laser cutter for plastic

Price:

$4,299.00
$4,999.00
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What is the Best Plastic for Laser Cutting?

Before you start laser engraving plastic, you need to understand what plastics can be laser cut . Some plastics are suitable for lasers because they do not harm the laser operator and other people. But unfortunately, some plastics are very dangerous and can lead to cancer and various other serious health issues. 

Plastics are polymers, which means they are made from a very large and repeating chain of molecules. You can easily find thousands of polymers that create different types of plastics. However, they are commonly categorized into seven or eight categories.

  • Acrylic
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Polyvinyl Vinyl Carbonate (PVC)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
  • Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS)

These are the broad categories of plastics. They are further classified into different types. With that being said, there is a massive list of plastics. Let’s uncover the types of plastics you can and cannot use with a laser engraver and cutter machine and why.

What Plastics Can Be Laser Cut?

There is a wide variety of plastic that is cut and engraved using a laser machine. You might have seen laser engraving and cutting of acrylic, mylar, polyimide, and various other materials. These are quite suitable for laser machines as they do not emit any kind of hazardous or poisonous gas or particles that can harm your health.

Some of the common plastics you can cut and engrave using a laser cutter and engraver are,

  • Acrylic
  • Fluoropolymers
  • Delrin
  • Mylar
  • Polyimide
  • Polyester
  • Polystyrene
  • Polyurethane
  • Polymethylmethacrylate
  • PET

Thus, there are dozens of plastic materials you can process using a laser machine. However, you need to select the right machine for the right material. For instance, blue lasers cannot cut clear and blue acrylics. Therefore, you need to use a CO2 laser cutter for that purpose. In some cases, diode lasers could be more suitable, but CO2 lasers are the real winners in plastic laser cutting and engraving.

Even though these plastics are safe for laser processing, you need to know the right temperature for the job. Heating plastics too much can also be hazardous. For instance, fluoropolymers can cause influenza and similar health issues. Plus, make sure the ventilation is proper and there are complete safety considerations. 

What Plastics Cannot Be Laser Cut?

If you want to cut plastic using a laser cutter, you must know which plastics are suitable and which are not. Some plastics can emit harmful fumes and vapors that can damage your health and lead to serious illness. Thus, before you give plastics a try, make sure which kind of plastic it is and whether you can laser engrave/cut it or not.

PVC is a very common plastic, and it is used in a wide range of essential and daily used products. But you cannot cut it using a laser machine as it produces harmful smoke of hydrochloric acid, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, and dioxin. All these vapors and fumes are corrosive, toxic, and carcinogenic, so your health will be at risk if you process them using your laser machine.

ABS emits cyanide gas (HCN), which is deadly. It does not allow the cells to get oxygen, and it results in the failure of various organs.

Some materials also emit benzene, which is another carcinogen. It is quite harmful to laser operators and other people. Moreover, some plastics, such as Polystyrene, produce styrene, which is a derivative of benzene. It is also considered a carcinogen.

Other than harmful plastics, some plastics are not suitable for laser cutting and engraving. Lasers do not cut them with perfection. Some plastics melt, produce dripping, etc.; therefore, they are not ideal materials for lasers.

Some plastics that cannot be laser cut and engrave are:

  • ABS
  • PVC
  • Carbon Fiber 
  • Polycarbonate
  • HDPE

xTool P2 55W CO2 Laser Cutter

xtool p2 co2 laser cutter for plastic

Price:

$4,299.00
$4,999.00
Learn More

Tips for Clean Cuts in Laser Cutting Plastic

The laser engraving and cutting machines are powerful enough, and they can process plastic better than other technologies, such as CNC routers and drills. If you want to get clean, fast, and optimal results, you can go with a laser machine that is suitable for plastic cutting and engraving.

1. Use a Suitable Laser Machine

The result of laser cutting plastic depends a lot on the machine you are using. First of all, the power of the machine should be enough to cut plastics of suitable thickness easily. 

CO2 laser cutter with optical power of at least 40W is the best option to laser cut and engrave plastic. Low-power machines take a lot of time, and they melt plastic, which results in bad cuts. You can also use a powerful diode laser for cutting acrylics up to 5-8mm. But the first choice should be a CO2 laser.

xTool P2 55W CO2 Laser Cutter

xtool p2 co2 laser cutter for plastic

Price:

$4,299.00
$4,999.00
Learn More

2. Adjust the Focus of the Laser

The second most important thing to get clean cuts is laser focus. If your laser is focused at the right point, you will get clean cuts. Make sure to set the focus of the machine according to the instructions of the manufacturer and the thickness of the material. 

3. Run a Speed-Power Test

If you are using a laser machine for the first time on a material of a certain thickness, it is better to run a speed-power test. Beginners think it is a waste of time, but it gives you the optimal speed and power to save time in cutting. It is better to have a power speed test on a spare piece; it will prevent the wastage of the material.

4. Attempt More than One Pass

If the material is too thick, it is better to run several passes instead of running the machine at a very low speed. It is because the plastic can melt due to excessive temperature. Therefore, you can go for multiple passes to get clean cuts.

5 Laser Engraving Plastic Ideas

Here are a few simple ideas you can try on laser cutting and engraving plastic. Let’s have a look at them.

Laser Engraving Plastic Lamp

laser engraving plastic lamp

The acrylic lamp is a mesmerizing piece of laser art that makes everyone fall in love with it. It looks phenomenal, and you can do it without any hassle.

First of all, you need to buy the premade lamp bases from the market or online stores. But if you understand electronics, you can also make your own light base using LED lights and wood.

Buy a clear acrylic sheet from the market. Now, you need to cut the acrylic in the desired shape and engrave the pattern you like. You can engrave names, pictures, sketches, or anything you like. Finally, place the acrylic sheet you have cut over the lamp base. Turn on the light, and you will see the mesmerizing reflection on acrylic.

It can be a birthday gift, anniversary gift, décor item, etc. These are perfect personalized items that sell like hotcakes.

Laser Cutting Plastic Wall Clock

laser cutting plastic wall clock

You can design the clock of your choice using a laser, and it is quite simple. You just need to get an acrylic or plastic sheet of suitable thickness, such as 3mm, 4mm, etc. You can also glue multiple layers together. There are tons of clock designs available, and you can even get them for free from various websites.

Place the sheet under the laser and import the design. Cut the desired pattern, and now, you just need to attach the clock machine, which is easily available on the market and in online stores. But if you want to take it to the next level, you can engrave it or use multiple layers of different colors.

These clocks can be personalized according to the liking of the buyer. Along with that, it can also be according to the business, such as a pizza clock, barber shop clock, etc. Thus, there is a massive market along with a good profit margin.

Laser Cut Plastic Birthday Cake Toppers

laser cut plastic cake toppers

Birthday toppers are essential for every cake. Getting a simple topper is now outdated because people love to get personalized toppers for their birthdays, weddings, and special events.

You can make personalized and unique toppers using a laser machine. It can be made using shining acrylic. These sheets are available, and you just need to cut them in the desired shape.

But keep in mind that you should know how to design a topper. You need a design tool to make everything personalized. After that, you can write names, dates, ages, or anything else. These sell well in online stores and markets.

Laser Cut Plastic Signs

Sings are also made from plastics. You can make home signs, office signs, building signs, etc. All these can be cut using a laser machine. 

Get plastic sheets from the market. There are various plastic options and colors. Choose everything according to your design and cut it using the laser cutter.

People also buy special signs for their weddings and special events. They are excellent for businesses, and people like to have personalized and appealing signs on their walls and entrances.

laser cut plastic signs

Laser Cut Plastic Home Decor Items

laser cutting plastic wall decor

There are tons of home décor items that can be made laser cutting plastic. From Christmas trees to wall hangings, you can make a lot of things.

Some of the common ideas for home décor are key holders, lamps, coasters, wall art pieces, organizers, etc. People frequently buy these items from online stores, and you can create a wide variety of products.

Best Laser Engraver for Plastic

For laser engraving plastic, then xTool D1 Pro with the infrared laser module is more than enough for your task. With this simple, desktop, and powerful machine, you can easily engrave whatever you like with perfection.

As it is an infrared laser, its wavelength is 1064nm, which is quite suitable for plastics as well as precious metals. You can have much better engraving results on acrylic and other plastics. The engraving is pretty clear and clean, and it has got an excellent contrast.

laser engraving plastic using 1054 infrared vs 455 diode laeser engraver

The most important thing in the engraving is the fine results, which can be achieved only if the dimensions of the laser spots are minimal. minute details.

The laser spot of the xTool D1 Pro Infrared module is only 0.03mm x 0.03mm. It can offer precise and fine engraving by considering the tiniest and

It is a beginner-friendly machine, so you do not need any expertise or prior experience. It is quite simple, and the software (XCS) is also self-explanatory. 

The most important thing about xTool D1 Pro is that you can attach different laser modules. For instance, you can use the infrared module for jewelry and plastics. For other purposes, such as wood, metals, stone, leather, etc., you can use the diode laser module. You can upgrade the machine according to your needs, and there are regular new modules and updates to keep the machine up to date.

The machine works at an incredible speed. You get better results in less time. Plus, the machine is quite stable due to its sturdy construction. It offers optimal accuracy of 0.004 inches. It is suitable for small businesses and can last much longer than a CO2 laser cutting machine.

It is also equipped with some safety features, including a flame detector and tipping emergency stop. The emergency stop makes sure to prevent accidents. You can use this machine for a wide range of purposes and establish your small laser business at your home.

xTool D1 Pro 2-in-1 kit
(infrared laser + diode laser)

best plastice laser engraver

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Best Laser Cutter for Plastic

For plastic laser cutting, you need a more powerful laser that can easily cut plastic in a minimal time. Therefore, a CO2 laser cutter like xTool P2 is the best option. 

xTool P2 is a desktop CO2 laser machine that you can use inside your home or a small shop. It can cut and engrave a wide range of materials, including plastic, wood, rubber, leather, paper, fabric, etc. You can easily cut acrylic of any color, including transparent acrylic. Other than that, it can cut other plastics that are suitable for laser cutting. Its superior power (55W) allows it to cut 18mm black walnut or 20mm acrylic in a single pass. Coupled with a built-in air assist and fan, the xTool P2 ensures fast, clean cuts without burnt edges or smoke residue.

laser engraving plastic using 1054 infrared vs 455 diode laeser engraver

The xTool P2 is more than just a powerful machine; it's a smart one, too. Equipped with two 16MP smart cameras, it captures a live preview of the working area, automatically focusing on the material. Its automatic passthrough feature allows for continuous feeding of material, making it possible to work with an infinite length. Combined with the optional Automatic Conveyor Feeder, this machine can handle laser cutting and engraving projects of any size with ease.

You can engrave on spherical and cylindrical objects using the rotary attachment. This increases its versatility.

The machine is completely safe, with features like a completely enclosed design, an automatic lid lock, and an emergency shutdown button. Additional features like exception warnings and a fire safety kit ensure that you can operate the machine with confidence.

xTool P2 55W CO2 Laser Cutter

xtool p2 co2 laser cutter for plastic

Price:

$4,299.00
$4,999.00
Learn More

FAQs of Laser Cutting Plastic

1. How Thick Can Plastic be Laser Cut?

The thickness of plastic that can be laser cut depends on the type of plastic and the power of the laser. For example, xTool P2 CO2 laser cutter can cut acrylic up to 20mm in one pass.

2. Can a Fiber Laser Cut Plastic?

A fiber laser engraver is a type of solid-state laser that uses a fiber optic cable as the active medium. Fiber lasers have many advantages over other types of lasers, such as high power, and efficiency. However, they are not very suitable for cutting or engraving most plastics, because their wavelength is not well absorbed by most plastics.

Conclusion

Laser machines are the best for engraving and cutting plastics because they offer fine and excellent results in the shortest time. The accuracy, performance, and speed of the machines are incredible, so you can go for them in the first place. 

But before laser engraving or cutting plastics, you must know what kind of plastic is suitable for lasers. There are some plastic types that create hazardous and toxic smoke, so you should not process them with any laser in any condition. We have discussed all these types of plastics that you can cut and cannot cut. Once you know the suitable plastics, you can make a wide range of products.

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