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The laser cutter is one of the most useful tools in a modern shop. Laser cutters work by directing a very powerful laser beam, at a precise focal length, onto a material which they either cut or etch, depending on how the laser cutter has been set up. Laser cutters cut materials similarly to other computer controlled tools, only they do so using a beam of light as opposed to a blade. When laser cutters are set up to etch something on the surface of a material, they operate like a printer, literally using their laser beam to etch an image onto something.

This Instructable is meant to be a resource to anyone who is looking to do some laser cutting for the first time, learn a bit more about how laser cutters work, or just explore the wonderful world of laser cutters.
 
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Step 1: Materials - Part 1 - The Machine

Picture of Materials - Part 1 - The Machine
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The first thing you're going to need to use a laser cutter, is the laser cutter. Though, chances are if you don't have one yet, purchasing one may not be within your budget.

Epilog recently released a line of budget laser cutters that come in just under $8,000.00. With that in mind, I'm going to explore other ways of getting your hands on a laser cutter.

First, there's always local colleges. Community colleges are fairly cheap for classes, and it can't hurt to see if they offer any classes in art or engineering that involve laser engraving. Less then a hundred dollars (depending on cost per credit) for a class, and you should have access to a laser cutter for a whole semester. Going about it this way, you not only get cheap access to a laser cutter, you also get to learn some tips and tricks, plus constant hands on experience.

If you just want your design made and don't have the cash for, or want to buy, the machinery, you can do some searches in your local area for businesses that will laser cut for you. There's a lot of places that make a business of laser cutting items for other people. You can also try to find places that use laser cutters, and see if they wouldn't mind helping you out.

Another way to get your design made without buying a laser cutter is with a company like Ponoko, who will cut whatever design you send them, and send you back the finished product. There is an excellent set of Instructables on doing just that.

If you really want your own laser cutter and just don't have the money for it, there are a couple of options. You can go to manufactures websites and see if they have an option to purchase pre-owned models, or go to a site like ebay and hope that what you buy is what you get.

You could also treat it as you would a car, since it costs just about as much, and lease-to-own.
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TaiE13 months ago

Thug Life

TodorV TaiE12 days ago

4Life

azeri2 days ago

Hi,I HAVE 2 LASER CUTTING AND ENGRAVING MACHINE 130W AND 150W ,150 W MACHINE'S SPEED WEAKER THAN 130 W MACHINE.I DON'T KNOW THAT WHAT IS ITS PROBLEM?

azeri2 days ago

Hi,I HAVE 2 LASER CUTTING AND ENGRAVING MACHINE 130W AND 150W ,150 W MACHINE'S SPEED WEAKER THAN 130 W MACHINE.I DON'T KNOW THAT WHAT IS ITS PROBLEM?

azeri2 days ago
YvonL3 months ago

Thanks for the tips, I think the idea of using a community colleg's laser cutter is a great idea. These things remind me of 3D printing a bit, but this has been around longer right? I would like to design some partitions that go between my living room and kitchen.

Yvon Lebras | http://www.rapidlaser.com.au

Hesham14414 months ago

Thank you in advance ;) I highly apreciate it

nodcah5 months ago

This was super helpful thanks!! =D

triumphlaser8 months ago

triumphlaser

schumi238 months ago

Is all acrylic laser cuttable?

KonstantinG made it!10 months ago

Wanted to mention this free open source ruby software that you can use to generate notched boxes outline. You run the script, and it generates PDF file that can be imported into Adobe or CorelDraw:

https://github.com/kigster/laser-cutter

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SenfengL12 months ago

yes ,laser cutting machine can cut almost any nonmetal materials .

sdcharle2 years ago
Don't forget to see if there's a hackerspace or makerspace in your area. We (Bloominglabs in Bloomington, IN) recently pooled our resources to purchase a laser cutter. Members can use it for reasonable rates (mainly, we just want to cover costs) and members of the public can work something out with us. There may be a place in your town like that, and it's a heckuva lot cheaper than buying your own.

GRMakers(.com) in Grand Rapids, Michigan is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a brand new Laser Cutter this week (April 22, 2014)! I look forward to using it to make custom-designed fence panels and trellis!

lukish2 years ago
Can I use Autodesk Inventor to design a knife and cut it? Thanks in advance :D
makermike2 years ago
I just took the Laser Cutter class at San Jose Tech Shop last night, and this is a really good tutorial! Can't wait to start using the machine!
ljandueza3 years ago
Excellent.
its ... HUGE .
TWSS
I found an affordable laser cutter right here: Trotec Speedy 100
It's an entry level laser system at high quality.
psbatra4 years ago
FANTASTIC tutorial - I always wondered about the process...I. Really. Really. Really. Want. One! I think I will get a large piggy bank and start filling it up with change...one day it'll be enough.....
thepelton4 years ago
If you are going to laser engrave glass, be prepared to run the focusing equipment manually. I found that the glass reflection can confound the auto focus.
ShadowJesus6 years ago
Awesome... now only if i could afford a $8,000 dollar laser cutter:p
They can be bought used, but that doesn't mean dirt cheap. Be prepared for a big bill anyway.
It seems to me that a laser cutter is something that a group of folks could buy together and share. Like a snow blower in the South. One person might not use it enough to make it profitable. But divided among 4 people?
 TECHSHOP FTW!
ponoko FTW. hackerspaces FTW.
Agreed. But there are more specialty tools in general at TechShop.
3 friends and I are planning on buying a Epilog Mini this next year. Gonna start a engraving business, might even take orders offa the internets as well
hintss4 years ago
IIRC, the autofocusing happens at the first point where the laser will be on, right?
StumpChunkman (author)  hintss4 years ago
Yes, but I find it can be a little difficult to determine what point that will be on larger images. I think you have to be very aware of which line is on top of all the other line segments in your vector image.
thepaul936 years ago
was that the EEE 900HA?
StumpChunkman (author)  thepaul936 years ago
It's actually the 1000 model (got it before they started releasing ones with suffixes).
cool. Anyways it reminds me on what i want to do one day. I want to get i really old laptop (that runs windows 3) and put an EEE or something like that in its shell. Just for something to do..
?

also, I wish they had linux drivers
SinAmos6 years ago
HOW TO BE RICH ENOUGH TO AFFORD A LASER CUTTER, so all these instructables don't go to waste. These teases irk me. I want a laser cutter. Waaaaaah.
hintss SinAmos4 years ago
step 1: be rich enough to get a 3D printer
step 2: print 3D printer parts until you're rich enough to get a laser cutter
Me, too. I so want a desktop cutter and yet...so out of reach I think...big sigh
Oroka SinAmos6 years ago
OMG! I was thinking the same thing! I am going back to school in Sept, when I am done and in my job, first thing I buy is a laser cutter! Damn thing is worth more than my car :(
Same here! But $8000...!
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