Laser cutter, start slicing stuff for under 50 dollars

There are many out there that are making things to win a laser cutter. Here is a project for those 500 that don't win, but still want a laser cutter for simple stencil cutting needs.

This project was conceived during a chat with Alex where we wished we had a laser cutter and thought we could make one out of an etchasketch. Alex, this instructable is for you. Keep on inspiring me.

--Update: Samuel just built one of these things! He did a much better job t han I did ; P I can't wait for video!--

Here's a video showing the basic setup:

This project demonstrates a simple hack to create a large format laser cutter utilizing all the scrap electronics you may have lying around. If you have a broken scanner or two, the cost can be just about 30 dollars for the entire project.

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Step 1: Get your supplies

I say that this costs < 50 dollars. And it does, you can even get it cheaper if you have a broken scanner.

Here's the list:
1x Laser diodes Ebay Store $36 dollars for 2
2x Old Scanners Salvation Army $10 Dollars each
2x ULN2003 Electronic Connection $5
1x Prototyping board RadioSchack $2
2x 3/8" Aluminum Rod Home Depot $3 each
1x 3/8" Aluminum Tube Home Depot $3
10x Brass Brackets Home Depot $1
1x 2" cube of wood Home Depot $1
A bushel of Patience

Here is a video showing all the supplies you'll need including the tools:

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NoahL12 days ago

Awesome! What is the scan gap? I need to know!

jcapple3 months ago

How exactly does this connect to a computer?

hannson5 years ago
This instructable inspired me a little.

Imagine you'd want to create laser-cut plastic stencils for surface mounted PCBs, you're not willing to buy them at $25 each and your room is lacking the floor space required for this otherwise elegant solution.

Would it be possible to create a laser cutting "printer" by converting a B/W inkjet printer by replacing the cartridge with a laser-diode - possibly a blue one?

That way you'd get the X and Y axes from the printer, plus the motors that are obviously precise enough for regular printing so you'd only need to mount the laser and most likely replace the circuits from the printer.

Am I on to something or am I on a wild goose chase?

ps. I'm talking about the thin transparent plastic sheets commonly used for projection on a wall.

lasers especially those using diodes have a hard time with clear materials as the light passes tight through them. you would either need a very high wattage laser (so as to heat the backing material) or you would need a near infrared or beyond uv light that will be stopped in seemingly clear materials. all in all the easiest and possibly cheapest method would be to use colored plastic
That's exactly what I wanted to do. Let's just hope the printer motors will have enough torque. I tough of hooking up the laser power supply to the ink 'trigger', which means, instead of sending ink onto paper, the laser will be triggered. Thus, the surface, burned/etched/cut. I would suggest a potentiometer at the laser supply to adjust laser power. You could then just print a B&W image, where the black parts would be where to be etched/burned/cut. Sounds good to me, I made rough plans based on my inkjet printer here.
I was thinking the exact same thing. Have you gotten anywhere on that ink trigger? I'm also trying to figure out how to activate the diode when it "prints"

A problem I see is that every time the diode and the driver circuit turns off, the capacitor should/needs to be shorted out to protect the diode. Is there a way we can hook it up to the potentiometer so that when it triggers, it switches from low output visible to full 100-200mw. Thinking about this driver. Any thoughts?
2 problems:

how do you keep small bits from getting stuck in mechanisms instead of coming out


how will you protect the other parts of the printer from the rest of the laser that shines through
zajactom hintss2 years ago
"how do you keep small bits from getting stuck in mechanisms instead of coming out"

how about adding something that will blow the small parts and push into desired direction and be sucked by sort of small vacuum?
just an idea ;-)
Use a fluorescent light diffuser (aluminum) and make a vacuum box, any cut away parts will be pulled down into the trap. This is how we handle it on a very high power CO2 laser.

Lithonia Model # L2GT PLTS R5
well, 2nd problem first:
If you use an "ink" trigger, you don't really need to worry as it will only turn the laser on when "ink" would be applied, or, in this case, laser cuts made.  It shouldnt be on long enough to put a hole through plastic.

For the first question, hope and prayer?
Agrees with the first problem's solution lol. Just hope for me.

Or, you try it first. If it doesn't go through the printer correctly, well it won't while lasering.
You have to build an enclosure, and use a shop vac to create suction to pull the waste away from the cutter.  instead of a solid plastic sheet to place the paper on perhaps some kind of metal screen should be used to allow small waste to fall through and withstand the heat of the laser.
 Why, you are right. Plus I could use some steel sheet painted black, with a "hi-heat" paint (like the ones for high temperature parts in cars, like brakes and some engine parts). The black is to actually absorb the heat, cauz if I used some metal finish, it would actually reflect the beam and it might damage something else. 

Screw what I just said. ceramic. non polished finish. Heat cannot kill it.
Or you could glue/tape on a sheet the laser can't cut through. The actual material you use would depend on the kind of laser you use and how powerful it is, but the principle idea would be like using a piece of black paper with the edges glued onto a piece of white paper. The laser cuts the black paper, but not the white paper. The pieces from the black paper are trapped between the black and white pieces of paper, so nothing ends up in your printer. When it comes out just cut off the areas you glued and you have a nice clean stencil and a nice clean printer. Sometimes the low-tech solution is the best solution. :) Also, for a cutting laser you can just use the laser from a DVD-R/RW drive - these are very powerful Class 2 lasers that are quite capable of cutting thin materials, especially black colored material. They should also go right through any clear plastic, so you can just use a transparency as your backing material.
hintss bigjeff54 years ago
use spray adhesive to connect the 2 papers...though, it may spontaneously combust :P
You make an interesting point...have you gotten any feedback on that?

Why use a blue diode?

those just 'look cool' and cost alot

get a high-powered red diode, it's cheaper
 Blue cuts a wider range of colors
blue doesn't just "look cool" blue lasers are at around 400nm in wavelength meaning a lower mW laser could cut more effectively than it's red counterpart. As far as expense goes... 20$ for one powerful enough to light a cigar. plus they look cool.
In picking the color of the laser, coolness is a side issue. As to which cuts better, you have to ask yourself, what color does your target absorb? If you think of a color wheel, you'll be on the right track. An object which looks blue (when you shine white light on it) is absorbing the orange and red part of the spectrum. An object which looks green is absorbing the red part. Something that looks white isn't absorbing visible light much, mostly just scattering it, and if it looks black (or brown), it absorbs most of the visible spectrum. This works until you get into much more exotic stuff light multi-photon absorption, but you don't want the grad-school optics lecture here. You can cut stuff that's clear (like plastic film) nicely using an infrared laser , such as the ones in DVD burners at 785 nm (but be careful, just cause it's invisible or you can barely see it doesn't mean it can't hurt you.)
The same logic goes with laser safety glasses--you have to pick the ones which block the color laser you're using (but then, you can't see the laser either, be prepared for that!). Remember, it this thing can cut even paper, it can hurt your eyes. We use webcams to look at our laser hitting things in my lab, they're cheap and don't get hurt.
Thats a great idea.. I have seen a guy who is doing that and is cutting foam sheet. I cannot for the life of me find it right now.. but it can be done.
I would make one of these if you can do that.
lol, read my first comment, then PM if you're interested, I'll try to find out my "plans" and communicate with you for further project rendering.
Nemo3147 months ago

Hey I know this is a little late to post questions here, but I've been looking all over for laser cutter plans and this ible is AWESOME! I was wondering though, do these lasers over heat and burn out after cutting for so long? I see you cut that stencil which is all I want to do but I heard even 300mw lasers will burn out within 5 minutes constant use...

jcasetnl9 months ago
This project looks like fun! Does it require a parallel interface, or can USB scanners also be used?
iFirefly10 months ago
Cool work!

The ebay link is expired, so could you please post the specs for the laser components?

mikemorana1 year ago
PERFECT! thank you sir!

p.s. Wouldn't mind watching a video of you explaining the 4 times electrical tape saved your life. I'm dead serious. Useful info for anyone that thinks it ok to substitute it with other stuff.
23trink2 years ago
do you think it would be possible to make a handheld laser cutter? if so, please comment back
I've seen YouTube videos on converting handheld laser pointers into cutting lasers. Search it.
eronjonson2 years ago
I have some projects that require acrylic pieces of various shapes that would be very difficult to cut with a coping saw or a jig saw, and was wondering if i could use this design to build a laser cutter that is capable of cutting i think 3/16th inch acrylic sheets. i have already found a nice free canon scanner, and am looking for another, but if this may not work, i will not continue.

Thank you for your time, Eron.
You need something more powerful. A CO2 laser would do.
AFAIK the reason you need the scanners for is to scavenge its stepper motors and the pulley it's fastened to. You need 2 scanners due to the fact that you need to be able to move the laser in 2 directions (x and y obviously), since scanners only need one.
Also, cutting acrylic with laser can be tricky because it's transparent and hence probably won't absorb the laser's energy as well as a black sheet of paper would (it's no surprise that he used black paper as a stencil, after all black absorbs the most light). This means that you might need a stronger laser or adjust the whole setup to account for the considerably longer cutting times. That's just 2 cents though.
gemguy3 years ago
cool ideas! my question is... what about using something like this to cut rocks?
yeah, i do cut rocks by hand but this idea would be so much easier and cooler.

any ideas on how powerful a laser must be to cut silica?

Thanx in advance!
Very powerful is how I'll say it is. Unless you can concentrate the laser by a lot you won't be cutting anything. By the way, a 1 watt laser is dangerous enough, a kW laser (I dunno what I'm saying) can be barely moved. You might as well motorize your drilling technique.
get an old tile saw and modify it. lasers are impractical
gemguy ilpug3 years ago
Have they make laser engravers for rock and jewelry applications, but they are spendy.
pastiya gemguy1 year ago you should replicate one like this , it of course requires more power but still can be made
db852 years ago
This is awesome, I would love to try it! All of the links seem to be dead though, is there any way you could post an update with live links and/or files? Great job!
hr242 years ago
Probably a stupid question but do the two scanners have to be the same? Also would this laser be suitable?
Great post thanks.
amason92 years ago
Is it possible to wire this up as serial rather than parallel? My workplace has a metric crapton of old Wyse terminals that would be great repurposed as laser cutter controllers, though only the older x150SEs have parallel ports, the newer S30s don't - and only some of the x150SEs can boot Linux, the older OLDER ones don't even give me the option.

I suppose I could eat some concrete, harden up and buy USB-Parallel adapters, but I'd much rather run Linux (and port flutterfly to it in the process, shouldn't be too hard - easier to get Linux on one of those than anything other than WinCE) and I'm not sure if the adapters will support Linux, though it would depend on how generic they are. Jaycar has one for AU$40, but it's a lot to blow on something that may not even work for my situation.

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