Laser Cutting: Ultimate Guide for 2022

par Raymond Lei sur March 11, 2022

Laser Cutting has made the cutting of materials easier than ever. Now, users can cut metals, wood, or any other materials with high precision, accuracy, and speed. These have brought a revolution to cutting machines.

If you do not know much about laser cutting, its types, materials you can cut with a laser cutting machine, and advantages & disadvantages, you are in the right place. In this article, we introduce laser cutting and discuss everything in detail. Moreover, we will also share a splendid laser cutting machine that can be used for small projects.

Let’s begin with the introduction of laser cutting.

What is Laser Cutting? How Does It Work?

Laser Cutting refers to the process that is used to cut materials and objects using a high-powered and extremely focused laser. 

With lasers, different processes are carried out, including engraving, marking, cutting, and other processes that include physical alteration of materials. But cutting is a quite different process that cuts the materials into pieces. It takes out a piece of the object by vaporizing the material.

The laser beams are obtained from a source and are composed of a single wavelength of electromagnetic radiation. The radiation could be invisible to the eye, such as infrared radiations in CO2 lasers. Then the beams are passed through different bending mirrors and reflectors before passing through a converging (convex) lens.

laser cutting beams

After passing through the convex lens, the beams are highly focused and converge at a single spot having a diameter in fractions of a millimeter. The beams are accompanied by a fast-moving gas, which is usually Nitrogen or Oxygen. Then, the laser comes out from a nozzle and is ready to strike the material with high energy. Due to the high-level focus, the laser is extremely intense and suitable for cutting, engraving, and marking.

The laser beams and their converging mechanism is encapsulated in the laser module. This module is moved and directed through computer numerical control (CNC). Therefore, the process is also known as CNC laser cutting. The computer program moves the laser head according to the requirement.

The place where the laser beams land is subjected to extreme and intense energy. The temperature of the material increases within milliseconds and the material is vaporized in no time. The laser beams penetrate the object and cut it according to the requirement. The laser beams can cut the material in one pass if they are powerful enough; otherwise, there are several passes needed. The material is partially or completely cut into pieces.

You might be thinking about how a laser can vaporize the material directly. It is actually sublimation, a process in which a material changes from solid to the gaseous state without passing through the liquid state. The laser makes the material so hot that it reaches vaporization temperature in milliseconds. The material then starts to vaporize and vanishes from the eyesight.

Types of Laser Cutters

It is important to understand the types of laser cutters because all of them are used for different materials. The type of laser defines what kind of materials it can cut and work with.

Laser cutters are classified into three types based on the type of laser they use.

  1. CO2 Laser Cutters
  2. Crystal Laser Cutters
  3. Fiber Laser Cutters
  4. Diode Laser Cutters (Semiconductor Laser Cutters)

CO2 Laser Cutters

CO2 Laser Cutters are the most common compared to other types because they can cut widely used materials, such as wood, acrylic, plastic, glass, leather, and foams. These lasers can also engrave materials, which is their specialty. In addition, they are efficient and much cheaper than other types.

In the CO2 laser, the laser beam is produced inside a sealed gas tube that contains a mixture of gas. The higher proportion of the gas is CO2. The tube is completely sealed, and there are two electrodes connected at the ends.  

When a high potential difference is created between the electrodes, the positive nucleus and electrons start to move in particular directions. Due to the release of high energy from atoms, laser beams are produced from the tube. The beams are then reflected using mirrors and reflectors and converged using a convex lens. A fast-moving gas is along with the laser beams.

The radiation emitted from CO2 lasers is invisible as it is in the infrared region. It can be used on non-metals, such as wood, plastic, and glass. It can cut and engrave as the laser is not much high-powered compared to other types.

see a CO2 laser cutting machine example.

Crystal Laser Cutters

Crystal Laser Cutters can be further classified into two types. They can either use d:YVO (neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate) or nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet).

These laser cutters are so powerful that their parts do not last for a long time. You can use them for about 10,000-15,000 hours, and after that, you need to change the pump diodes. The initial cost is high, and then you need to replace parts often compared to other types of laser cutters. Consequently, the overall cost is pretty high.

The beams have a wavelength of 1.064 micrometers, which is much smaller than CO2 laser cutters. Therefore, it is more powerful and intense.

These laser cutters are metals as well as non-metals. In addition, they can also be used on ceramics. Due to high power, it can cut metals quickly.

Fiber Laser Cutters

Fiber laser cutters are more advanced than CO2 laser cutters as they are newer and equipped with the latest technology. Consequently, they are very expensive.

These are based on seed lasers, in which a low-powered laser is generated using a bank of diodes and then amplified. For amplification, fiber lasers use glass fibers, so the resultant laser beams are 100 times more intense than CO2 laser beams. The beams of the laser have a wavelength of 1.064 micrometers.

These laser cutters require little maintenance and last for a longer period. Due to the intense and high energy of the laser beams, they can easily cut metals, such as stainless steel, copper, and aluminum.

Fiber laser cutters are very efficient. They are nearly four times more efficient than CO2 laser cutters. The reason behind high efficiency is the use of glass fibers that convert 75% of the power into laser beams and reduce the power loss. Thus, fiber laser cutters are more powerful and intense than CO2 lasers of the same rated optical power. They also cut materials at a faster rate.

Diode Lasers

Diode lasers are also called semiconductor lasers because diodes are made of semiconductors. As the name suggests, diodes are used to create laser beams in this type of laser.

The diodes used for producing lasers are a bit different from common diodes. They have a special intrinsic layer that gives off high-energy photons, which are then amplified into a laser.

The working of these lasers is pretty simple. The diode banks emit laser beams which are then reflected using a reflector. If there are multiple diode lasers in a module, all the beams are converged using a convex lens. Once they pass from the convex lens, they are highly directional and focused, and they are ready to cut and engrave objects.

In diode modules, air assists are also used. They offer a high-pressure flow that blows smoke and debris away from the object. When the laser beams strike the object, smoke and debris are produced.

The debris should be cleaned with high-pressure to reduce the risk of fire. The smoke causes various issues, including the discoloring of the object you are cutting or engraving, and it also blocks the path of the laser and reduces its power. Thus, a laser assist is necessary.

Diode lasers are quite popular and widely used these days. These are widely used for DIY projects and creating various products. They are excellent for cutting wood, acrylic (various colors), and a few other materials. They can engrave wood, steel, leather, glass, rubber, acrylic, cardboard, ceramics, etc.

The materials for cutting are limited because these are not as powerful as other laser types. Usually, the laser optical power is 10W or lower; however, we have introduced a 20W diode laser module, which is the world’s most powerful diode laser module.

Typically, these are not suitable for translucent and reflective materials, such as metals. You cannot use them for metal cutting. However, they are excellent for cutting wood and acrylic for small projects. Due to low power, the speed is also lower than other laser types.

These lasers are very compact and lightweight. They are much more affordable than other types of lasers, which is why they are quite common. Mostly, these are fixed on various machines that are controlled via CNC (computer numerical control).

The life of diode lasers is more than other laser types. Therefore, these are preferred for startups and small businesses. These are usually used for engraving rings, tumblers, lockets, and various other objects. Wood and acrylic can be cut without any hassle. Thus, 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 is a wide range of materials that can be cut through laser cutting. The laser beams are powerful enough to vaporize the area to which they came in contact. When these highly focused beams are directed towards an object, the temperature rises quickly, and the cut is made in no time.

The commonly used materials can be cut through laser cutting. Some of them are,

  • Wood
  • Metals (Brass, Steel, Copper, Aluminum, etc.)
  • Metal foils
  • Plastic
  • Acrylic (a type of plastic)
  • Leather
  • Foam
  • Ceramics
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Cork
  • Rubber
  • Polyethylene
  • Food
  • Fabric
  • Polyester

Advantage and Disadvantage of Using Laser Cutters

Advantages

Laser Cutting has many advantages, which is why laser cutters are widely used compared to other types of cutters.

Cut Wide Range of Materials: Laser cutters can cut a wide range of 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. Thus, there is a wide range of materials that can be cut using laser cutters.

High Precision: The precision of laser cutters is quite high because the beams are extremely focused. The diameter of the laser is a fraction of millimeters. Due to highly focused beams, the kerf width is quite narrow. It can do complex cutting with perfection.

Fast Cutting: Laser beams are quite intense, so they increase the temperature of the materials in no time. The material reaches the vaporization temperature in milliseconds, and the piece of laser is cut quickly. Projects can be done at high speed. It is much faster than CNC milling. 

Smooth Edges: As the laser beams are very narrow, the edges are quite smooth. There is no need to sand the edges to make them smooth.

More Reliable: Laser technology is more reliable for cutting. The systems work for a long time and ensure accuracy and precision. You can start multiple projects at the same time. There is no need to change the laser during the process as it does not wear out like a drill head. There are almost no mishaps and unexpected delays.

Less Mess: The beams of the laser are ultra-fine, so the kerf width is minimal. Thus, the laser beams cut a negligible piece of material and do not create a huge mess. 

Disadvantages

High Power Consumption: The first disadvantage is the high-power consumption of the laser cutting machine. You might think that a 10W laser does not consume energy. This 10W actually represents the laser optical power. The electric input power of the laser is actually higher. In addition, the machine also consumes too much power. The total will be around 100 watts or more.

Toxic Emissions: Some materials, such as plastic, produce toxic fumes when exposed to the laser. These emissions are quite harmful to the operators. The area should be well-ventilated to deal with such fumes.

Burnt Edges: The laser beams are very powerful. They can burn the object from corners while cutting. The object can also be discolored.

Human Involvement: Humans are involved while using the laser cutting machine. It is essential to follow all safety standards. Sometimes, the machine needs to be repaired, and the repairmen are at high risk. There can be serious burns if there is any contact made with the laser.

Best Laser Cutter for Small Business

xTool D1 is a high accuracy and powerful laser cutting and engraving machine. It is perfect for DIY projects, hobbyists, professionals, and small businesses. It can be used to cut various types of materials in one pass with its powerful laser technology. The best thing about it is that it is very compact, like a desktop printer.

xtool d1 laser cutting machine

xTool has 10W and 5W laser modules that you can choose. It has also introduced the world’s most powerful laser module, which is a 20W module, and it can also be fixed on xTool D1. 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 beams are ultra-fine; the diameter of the laser is only 0.08 x 0.08mm. It offers high accuracy and precision and makes the cut finer and smoother. Due to highly focused beams, the kerf width is minimal, and consequently, there is almost no wastage.  

The powerful laser cuts 10mm plywood and 5mm acrylic in one pass. It cuts the objects with extra precision and perfection. It can be used with more than 300 materials, so you have a wide range of materials to choose from for engraving and cutting.

Anyone can use xTool D1 as it is beginner-friendly and does not require any knowledge and pre-requisites. It runs through Laserbox Basic, which is simple software. It can be used on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. Moreover, it is also compatible with LightBurn if you want to do professional engraving.

For small businesses, xTool D1 is perfect. It is cheap and available with several attachments. The laser module can be easily changed and upgraded as required. It can be a source of earning as you can create your own products through laser cutting and engraving.

Laser Cutter FAQs

Can lasers cut metal?

Yes, laser cutters can cut metals, but not all types of laser cutters are capable of that. CO2 lasers cannot cut metals as they are not powerful enough. However, fiber laser cutters and crystal laser cutters can cut various types of metals.

Is laser cutting safe?

Extra precautions and safety are needed. While operating, lasers are equipped with safety measures. So, they are safe to use. However, some materials like plastic produce toxic fumes, so there should be a fumes extraction system.

Do laser cutters smell?

Laser cutters do not smell, but some materials produce smell, fumes, vapors, and particles. Materials like plastic can produce a toxic smell that is harmful to humans. So, it is necessary to take safety measures while cutting such materials.

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