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Laser Engraving & Cutting

A guide to PPLD's laser engravers/cutters

Working with Plastics

Image result for colored acrylicImage result for laser cut acrylic

Acrylics and other plastics are generally very easy to work with (with the exception of ones containing vinyl - see below).

Important Safety Information

Working with plastics can be potentially hazardous if the wrong type of plastic is used. Additional safety considerations include:

  • Be aware that many types of plastics contain vinyl and therefore cannot be used in the laser cutter under any circumstance.
    • If you need help determining if your plastic contains vinyl, see a makerspace staff member.
    • If it cannot be determined whether or not it contains vinyl, you cannot use it.
  • Plastics with coatings such as UV-blocking or anti-glare often do not work well. Untreated plastics are almost always preferred.
  • Various types of plastics are not recommended, even if they are non-hazardous, as they do not produce quality results.

Remember, it is up to the discretion of the makerspace staff as to whether or not it is safe to use any material in the laser cutter.

Tips on Engraving Plastics

  • Different types of plastics react very differently when heated with a laser.
  • Many lighten, however others do not change color at all (though part of the top layer will still be removed).
  • If possible, test your designs on a spare piece, or an inconspicuous part of the material. You can also research the plastic through a simple internet search to see if other people have tried it.
  • Some plastics, such as acrylics, react negatively to ammonia-based cleaners. Make sure any cleaner used will not damage or discolor the material.

Tips on Cutting Plastics

  • Try to cut through the plastic in a single pass.
    • If the laser does not go all the way through the material, often times the melted plastic will pool in to the gap created by the laser and re-solidify.
  • Unlike wood, plastics generally do not change color along the edges when cut. 
    • However, they are prone to warping if the power is too high or the speed is too slow. For best results, try to determine the minimum amount of power needed to cut through at a high speed.