Instructables
Picture of Laser Cut Shirt
My sister and I headed down to heatsync labs in Mesa, AZ this morning to try out the laser cutter on some t-shirts!

(By the way?  Do you think this is cool?  Do you think huge LASERS are cool?  Check out this contest that instructables is running right now: http://www.instructables.com/contest/hurricanelasers/  -- Grand prize is a laser exactly like the one we used on this project!  My favorite machine in the lab!  <3  Enter that contest!)

The effect is really cool, like a lace, except part of the shirt itself.  We found that a 5% polyester/95% cotton blend worked best.  The polyester seems to melt at the edges of the cuts, sealing them against fraying.

Cotton works as well, but care has to be taken not to fray the edges of the cuts.

See: lace.dxf if you want to cut one of these for yourself!
lace.dxf293 KB
 
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Step 1: Gather your materials

Picture of Gather your materials
7382051420_c721822cca_c.jpg
As usual, first gather up all of your materials.  For this we're using a 5% polyester/95% cotton blend t-shirt.

We also grabbed a piece of cardboard out of the scrap heap to keep the shirt rigid while we cut it.

Step 2: Cover the collar with something

Picture of Cover the collar with something
My sister's pattern would transit her shirt's collar with the laser on, which is a problem.  Rather than try to custom fit the pattern to the shirt, we decided to just cover the collar with something that the laser wouldn't cut through.  (Cover the collar with something so the laser couldn't touch it)

Our first thought was plywood.  The problem with this was that our laser has a "whisker" for zeroing the z-axis.  Unfortunately, the whisker travels really close to the material while cutting, and this meant that it would catch on the plywood.  NO GOOD!

Instead we decided to cover it with LOTS of tape (5 layers) and hope it worked.

It did.  If your laser has room for it, do plywood, otherwise tape will work.

(You can see the tape in step 4.  We forgot to take a photo of it, OOPS!  In it's place, please enjoy this photo of me operating a bandsaw.  This was for the piece of plywood we didn't end up using.)

Step 3: Tape the edges of the shirt

Picture of Tape the edges of the shirt
Stretch the shirt so that it is tight against the cardboard, and tape the edges back.

Step 4: Load the laser cutter

Picture of Load the laser cutter
We taped the cardboard/shirt down so that it wouldn't jostle around, and set the laser to work!

Our settings were:

Speed: 50mm/s
Power: 16watts

This seemed to work really well!  Our 5 layers of tape also protected the collar!  Hooray!

Step 5: The result

Picture of The result
The result was really nice.  Towards the top right, unfortunately, we cut the collar a bit :(.

Oops!  This was because we started the cut at much too high of a power!

Step 6: Try it on!

Picture of Try it on!
Here's the final result!
kelly5699 months ago
Hey I'm a product design student and I'm doing a project of which I'm looking into designing a clothing laser cutter for consumer use in homes for the next 5 years time .
I'm wondering if you have any tips or advice that you might have.
from using it is there any aspects of the process that would benefit being made easier for use.
Thank you,
Kelly
moore_kellyann@yahoo.co.uk
blhack (author)  kelly5698 months ago

Not sure how you could make it easier. This was REALLY easy! Maybe some pre-cut forms of cardboard backing?

kelly569 blhack8 months ago

Thank you for replying back to me,

I just have a few questions

does the laser cut deep into the cardboard?

what software did you use to design the pattern to be cut out?

davemenc1 year ago
Seems like you could also adjust the image to avoid the top of the shirt. Of course that will require some registration but almost everything on a laser etcher does...
pippi462 years ago
Hi very nice job, compliments.
Would you contact me at lori.venturi@gmail.com
I need to make some object with laser cut and want to have an estimation
thanks
Loredana
hohum2 years ago
with the pieces that are cutout, you could apply them to other 't shirts' in a free form design, one could use iron on adhesive tape to iron on a design from the cutouts..

hope this make sense,,

trying to get as much use from the laser as possible, the cutouts will also have their ends melted..


you guys made a fantastic 't'
blhack (author)  hohum2 years ago
That *does* make sense and sounds really cool :)
Oh, that's gorgeous! Makes me want to go laser cut some clothing!
blhack (author)  jessyratfink2 years ago
DO IT! :-D

I guess lasering on cloth is actually really common in production. You can stack many layers of cloth on top of each other, then laser cut them instead of using shears.
I've done that before with great success! Want to make several of one pattern? Check, done, perfect. It's awesome.
I particularly like this idea because I love sewing but HATE cutting patterns... Sadly I'll have to stick to relatively small patterns for now, as the cutter I have access to only has a 12" x 24" bed, but I do see several murloc hats in my immediate future.
blhack (author)  jessyratfink2 years ago
Did you go laser cut anything!?
Noooooooo. But soon! SOON! I have spent far too much time typing lately, I think I am going to remedy that next week. :D
HollyHarken2 years ago
There is a really great product that we sewers use called Fray Check. It will seal the edges of any material. You can buy it at any Jo-Ann's. If your local Wal-Mart has a fabric section (many sadly don't) then you can probably find it there as well.

Beautiful project!
blhack (author)  HollyHarken2 years ago
Thanks Holly! Yeah, we were talking about using some different sorts of adhesive on the 100% cotton shirts. We'll have to try that. Another person suggested something called Stich Witchery.
Rowen27 blhack2 years ago
Stitch Witchery or any other heat fuseable fabric interfacing would probably be perfect as long as the laser doesn't wind up vaporizing it too. on another note you might try making or buying a cardboard t-shirt form, that way when it was set in the laser cutter you would have a basic idea of where the collar was and set your layout accordingly.
paqrat2 years ago
This is way cool!
dhawktx2 years ago
Wonderful project!

To keep the Cotton from raveling would take something like Fray-Chek, a liquid that fuses the edge. Try not to use too much as it can show. Alternatively, you can outline the cuts with 3D fabric paint, which will also effectively seal the edge.

Denim: The traditional pigment for Denim is indigo-based and only lays on top of the fiber rather than soaking INTO the fiber like most dyes - this is the reason for the lovely fade you get on denim in all the wear spots because the dye is literally rubbed off the fabric. When you blast it with the laser just right you remove the dye molecules and leave the cotton (or most of it), which leaves the fabric 'tattoo'.

Besides the T-shirt fabrics, most quality silks will fuse when laser cut, you can remove the pile from velvet but leave the background fabric, and you can do the same with polyester Moleskin and many faux suedes.
blhack (author)  dhawktx2 years ago
I think we're going to try denim this weekend :-D
dhawktx blhack2 years ago
Here's the Moleskin test panel we did a while back...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhawktx/4045062595/in/set-72157623905104905/

and the same design on a soft leather (really too soft, it drew up in places due to the heat of the laser)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhawktx/4045062595/in/set-72157623905104905/
You are close... lower the power of the laser to about 60% or 80% and slow down your engraving speed as well. You can get very clear engravings... but you need a slower setting at less power to avoid too much heat. Sometimes it takes two passes... but you can do it.

I had not thought of velvet before... nice idea... it should work... I'll have to try that!

Thanks for the tip!

Jerry
gerflash2 years ago
Wow! Great! I'm brand new at this, and though I understand the laser part (enough to go dig up a laser cutting company!), can you tell me a little about developing and printing (or whatever) the actual master design that will be cut?
justjimAZ2 years ago
Kudos for mentioning HeatSync labs!
Great idea, like your design. For some reason I cannot save the dxf file.

fred272 years ago
Nice. I'd be interested in seeing a photo after it was washed though. That would answer the "will it fray" question.
(removed by author or community request)
blhack (author)  DELETED_jrutherford52 years ago
Hi...uhh...we actually covered this in the instructable!

We're also not cutting any metal in this, just fabric o.O
askjerry blhack2 years ago
I didn't say that you were cutting metal... I said that aluminum foil would make a better stop-block than tape would. The aluminum foil will block the laser light 100% for the CO2 type laser you are using.

Therefore, aluminum foil can be shaped and cut with scissors to become a block for any area you do not want cut. I use this method when I engrave on a laptop computer or an iPOD to cover any areas that I don't want to chance damage to.

You said: "Towards the top right, unfortunately, we cut the collar a bit :(."

This was to prevent that error.

You said: "Instead we decided to cover it with LOTS of tape (5 layers) and hope it worked."

I was offering a proven method that works every time... to assist you.

Also... I re-read the Instructable... but I didn't see where you mentioned the use of the Stitch Witchery to bond the fibers to prevent it from coming apart. If you did mention that... sorry... i missed it.

Jerry
blhack (author)  askjerry2 years ago
Oh. Okay, Jerry. I misread your comment. I meant that we covered your first point by saying that you should use a polyster blend instead of cotton.

Btw, to anybody reading these comments, I'd be really wary of putting aluminum foil in the laser. "Not running at 100%" is a meaningless safety precaution; 80% of a 150watt tube and 80% of a 40watt tube are not the same thing.

#3 is a great tip, though. We'll have to try that this weekend!
scoochmaroo2 years ago
The t-shirt shouldn't unravel where it's cut because it's knit, not woven.
Rad design, I love it!
dantistus2 years ago
So cool! Thank you for sharing this knowledge about the lasers! It was specifically useful for me to know about the polyester melting, I might use it in a project one day :) Thank you!
jeanene1232 years ago
thats so cool. i will give it a bash, as I am thinking of making corporate clothing for myself. Also want to try engraving denim.
canucksgirl2 years ago
Well done! I really like how it turned out. Thanks for sharing. ;-)
blhack (author)  canucksgirl2 years ago
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it! :)
MauiJerry2 years ago
What type of laser and settings did you use? I know they may not translate to our laser but it helps to have a starting point.

We did a t-shirt during a laser class/experiment last year. I dont know the material but we put the t on a sheet of melamine board and cut w/75%speed 40% power 1200Hz on an 40watt Epilog Helix. Results were pretty good ...
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mauimakers/6044894766/in/set-72157627312292063/

Source diagram for that shirt was Garrett Lisi's E8 Theory of Everything (http://garrettlisi.com/)
blhack (author)  MauiJerry2 years ago
Oh la la! I really like that design a LOT!

Our is an "XYZ Technology" "Exlas" or something like that. It's a commonly re-branded machine out of China.

It's an 80watt tube, and I cut it at 16watts, meaning 20% power. If you have a 40watt, that would be 40% power.