Picture of How to Use a Laser Cutter
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.

Step 1: Materials - Part 1 - The Machine

Picture of Materials - Part 1 - The Machine
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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SweetTea5 years ago
 What is the purpose of this instructable? 

If someone spent 8K on an Epilog Laser, shouldn't they have the initiative to RTM?
hintss SweetTea4 years ago
but trust me, the manual dosen't cover everything.

same goes for the manuals for MRI machines. apparently, they're not to be used in explosive environments*.

*I actually found that in a manual for an MRI machine
acornstu5 years ago
Hey! Great tutorial. Sadly my budget for laser machines is running about $8,000 short. Would you be interested in erching some arcrylic for me? Please email me at acornstu@gmail.com. thanks!
hintss acornstu4 years ago
ah-el4 years ago
tanl you merci
knektek5 years ago
gonna use a laser cutter @ school for my own bookend project.
kcls5 years ago
Oh how I want a laser cutter...
thepelton5 years ago

Make sure that you DO NOT use any plastic that contains CHLORINE, or says PVC on it, or any other chlorine related chemical.  That will VOID THE WARRANTY on your laser, and screw up the lenses in the process.

srlbeln5 years ago
what brand and model are those exhaust fan and air compressor?
noahw srlbeln5 years ago
The compressor comes directly from epilog - but anything that can output a steady stream of air at 30 psi will do.   The exhaust fan is a 1 HP Delta dust collector motor that pulls around 650cfs.
CrabTerl5 years ago
 OpenOffice.org 2.4 Draw works fine too
thepelton6 years ago
Using certain varieties of plastic in an Epilog laser will void the warranty.
One of the Warranty killers I beleive is Polyvinyl Chloride.
Yes, everything with chloride is not laser safe.

The fume created by the plastic will damage the lenses. I think it fogs the lenses .

You can know if the plastic your using has Chloride.You take COPPER and heat it up so it is RED with a torche. I took copper wire, 12 gauge.

Then touch your plastic to get some plastic residue on the copper wire. Then put it to the flame, is you see GREEN in the flame, it is chloride, do not use with laser!

Dave at Solarbotics.com teach me that.
So you couldn't laser engrave a salt crystal. Didn't intend to anyway.
They also put recycling instructions on a lot of plastic items that should say if they containt Chlorine.
melasers6 years ago
I have one so if anyone needs some work done we are reasonably priced. I have a mechanical engineer with over ten years experience that runs it. I just sell the jobs. He does some really cool work though.
I have one. I can be contacted at donaldpelton@gmail.com 8>)
How can I contact you about some cutting work I need done? You may email me at marionwilhelm@gmail dot com. Thanks. marion
Make that money, Melasers. Haha. So, I want to make some models in Maya. Then I will export them as OBJ's and then I want you to cut them out of metal. Is that how it works?
we have a nonmetalic laser. it does now cut metal. it is 75 watts and cutls lots of other things. thanks
this one is non-metallic so it does not cut metal
mman15066 years ago
what is the cheapest laser cutter there is that can cut more than paper
t.rohner6 years ago
Interesting, to see a instructable of what i have to teach my customers, when they buy one. In step 4 you write, reflections can damage the laser diode. Do you mean the visible red aiming diode? Because the power infrared (10,6 micrometer wavelength) comes from a CO2 lasertube. You also seem to blow the fumes and dust just out the window. We'd be calling for trouble, doing that here...(enviromental codes) The units we carry are more expensive, but also more sophisticated. Lately i had the chance to "inspect" ultracheap chinese built crap. The bigger unit sold for 10k$ with a size of 60x50 inches and a 110W tube went up in flames. The smaller unit for 2k$ is about in the size of the unit shown here, but it was dead on arrival... So if you think about buying one, think twice before you buy one of those. Tubes for them are between 300-500$, but they live only about 300hours. Whereas American made Coherent tube make 3000hours.
robomaniac6 years ago
That is the old driver, I got a other one that was more user friendly for saving and other small detail in the colour mapping. The design is more "blueish" and more esthetic.
yourcat6 years ago
The honeycomb looks too much like a giant wasp nest...
thepelton6 years ago
for ventilation, I cut a hose-sized hole in a board, put a plastic fitting in that was a tight fit, and glued it in place. The board was cut long enough that I could close the window around it, and let the January weather stay outside. I also found that when I was on a ground floor that rhodents were climbing in around the hose before I attached it to the board.
thepelton6 years ago
I used some of my inheritance from an estate to purchase mine. You can get them used, but they still aren't chickenfeed prices.
Just to pile on another 'me too.' I keep seeing all these wonderful things I could do ... if only i could afford $8000.
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