Introduction: Laser Cutter, Start Slicing Stuff for Under 50 Dollars

Picture of 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.

Step 1: Get Your Supplies

Picture of 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:

Step 2: Putting the Laser Cutter Together Electronics Edition!

Picture of Putting the Laser Cutter Together Electronics Edition!
Now that you have all your supplies, how do you put it together to create this beast?

FIrst cut your parallel port wire near the end that comes away from your computer. Second check for continuity. While holding one end of the multimeter on the wire you're looking for, check the entire row of pins one at a time till you find the continuity. Write down the color and matching pin number.

Here is my list in case it will help you:

Pin # / Color

1 - brown
these pins 2-9 are the pins that go to the ULN2003 driver
2 - brown white stripe
3 - red
4 - red black stripe
5 - orange
6 - orange black stripe
7 - yellow
8 - yellow black stripe
9 - dark green
10 - dark green black stripe
11 - light green
12 - light green black stripe
13 - dark blue
14 - dark blue white stripe
15 - light blue
16 - light blue black stripe
17 - purple
18 - purple white stripe
19 - grey
20 - gray black stripe
21 - white
22 - white black stripe
23 - pink
24 - pink white stripe
25 - black

On prototyping board solder the ULN2003 on it with the current channels down between it's pins. Then take wire 2 3 4 5 from the parallel port to the 3 4 5 6 pins on one of the ULN2003. And then take wire 6 7 8 9 from the parallel port to 3 4 5 6 on the other ULN2003.

For good stepper motor information. I changed his design a bit, but yes, i did use it.

Take apart the scanner and remove everything from inside of it except the pulleys the metal rod, the plastic carriage and the stepper motor. Take the stepper motor out and find the ground wire. This will be the one wire that has two of the same color. Cut them both from the white pin holder and solder them together to another wire. Take that wire to pin 9 on ULN2003.

The rest of the stepper motors pins should go directly //without rearranging// into pin 14 13 12 11 and 10 on ULN, just solder them into the neighboring pad on the prototyping board.

Do the same with the other scanners stepper motor wires.

Now bring in a 12 volt adapter with a 500 mA current and > and solder it to the current track in the middle of your ULN2003 pad. take the + and connect it with a wire to pin 9 on both IC drivers. Also connect both pin 8's on the ULN2003 to the - track on your prototyping board which is connected to the adapters - wire.

This completes the electronics section.

Step 3: Mechanics.

Picture of Mechanics.
Now how do you make the parts that move?
(Update, if you want you can find a way to attach the laser to the print head of an etch a sketch and not worry about this part. Here's a demo on how to take apart an etch a sketch)

First you need to use a 3/8" drill bit to drill a perpendicular hold in your scanners carriage. Fit your 3/8" rod in it and hold it down firmly with a pipe bracket. Do the same for the other scanner

Cut your Aluminum tube into two pieces of 3".

Take the block of wood you cut to 2" by 2" and use another bracket to affix the 2.5" tube to the top side. This is your X directed slider.
Then use another bracket to affix the other 3" tube to the lower side perpendicular to the first. You can see the pictures or the movie to see what I mean. This is your Y directed slider. A breif plotter demo is at the end of this video:

Fit your Rods through these sliders and ensure they are all perpendicular to each other. Raise one scanner off the floor 1" so that the slider is not sitting at any angles and can slide easily in both directions. USE LUBE.

Once everything is arranged and slides just so. Open up your old school windows PC and it's time to get postscripty!

Step 4: Programming the Laser Cutter

Picture of Programming the Laser Cutter
First you need to create a postscript file. I suggest you do your drawing in Inkscape. It's an open sourced program for vector drawing. But not just that, it is the only app I have that lets me save drawings as //CLEAN// postscript files that we can work with later. So even if you do your original drawing in Illustrator, save it as a .SVG and reopen it in Inkscape, and from that application save your drawing as a .ps file. Postscript.

Don Lancaster wrote some postscript code that can take a post script file and then turn it into a simple text file that contains the numbers 0-7. The meaning:
0 - E
1 - NE
2 - N
3 - NW
4 - W
5 - SW
6 - S
7 - SE
U means move the pen up
D means move the pen down
and that's all we're going to be using

For those who like to hear the instructions here's a video:


Update, easy way to make a Flutterfly

Some people were having trouble figuring out how to create a flut file, so Bryn helped everyone out by creating this program that does it for you, make sure to send it a file that is "fair", that is without any showpage's, or quit commands in the .ps. The program automatically spits them out, but check the ps if you hit the error page.
flutterflier, this is where you turn your postscript into a flutterfly

--The old way to create a Flutterfy--
Once you saved your drawing as a postscript file. Open it up in a text editor like notepad. Also open up the file in notepad. Cope the entire body of your postscript drawing and paste it in right after the line that says:

% ============= YOUR POSTSCRIPT SOURCE FILE STARTS HERE ===============
% ============= MUST NOT INCLUDE SHOWPAGE, QUIT, ETC... ===============

then you paste your stuff in here

% ============== YOUR POSTSCRIPT SOURCE FILE ENDS HERE ================

then change the paths in these two lines:
/destfilename (c://pope.txt) def
(./pope.txt) readflutfile % read selected flutfile
change these to the values you want to find your finished flut file at.
and install Ghostscript]: Once you have ghostscript installed you can either drag to the icon, or open it up inside ghostscript, it'll create a flutfile for you in the place you told it to c://whateveryousaid (remember to use doube /'s like c://sommat// ..)

So now you'll have a flut file. here's a demo for ya:
(this is the stencil that i cut out, it says "hello lasers!")

next you need to open a C compiler. the old version of bloodshed DEV CPP works great! Get v 4.0, not the new one.
This is the flutafy.cpp file that you can edit to run your own flut file. Right now if you compile it it will create an executable that will accept any filename as a parameter. So you just drag your .txt or .flut file over to the .exe and it'll start chomping. chompchompchomp. I'm providing this code so if you want to make any improvements you can. Please share with me though.


If you don't know much about programming. Here is the executable:
Executable for a .exe that lets you drag any flut file to it and will run the stepper motors properly

And if you have XP you'll need this one:
Updated exe for XP
XP users will need this DLL to run this code:

(For instructions on how to install a DLL, Lifehacker has a nice one.)

Now you can drag any file that has 0-9 for step directions (a flut file. I have some in: and it will start communicating with the laser cutter you just made.

If your parallel port is plugged in and everything is working okay you should be cutting in no time!

Bilal Ghalib

Step 5: Demonstration of a Small Detailed Cut

Picture of Demonstration of a Small Detailed Cut

This is a machine gun that I cut out recently. It's a really small object so you can see the steps my cutter takes.
I'll scan the stencil of this when I have some paint on hand.

You will need to see the larger versions of these to fully see how the stencil was cut.
Large files here:
Machine gun and various laser cut parts from a livetraced image
Just the machine gun up close

Nice clean lines, no?

--Whatdya know, it can be used to burn wood as well:--

Step 6: Follow Me As I Discover a Laser Cutter

Picture of Follow Me As I Discover a Laser Cutter
This isn't so much of a step, but a story. This shows me discovering the stepping, the power of the laser and the first time I cut anything out. If you want a better view of how this actually works, or for more a different perspective on some difficult parts this might be a good place to get it:

Here we start with an overview of my lab, and also all the parts, a basic diagram of how things are set up. A close up view of the "print head" is here if you're curious:
I also get the stepper motors going here!

This is part two where I find out what it means that I have two stepping scanners connected:

This is the part where I take you to show you the power of the laser. You can see the beam outside, and also you can watch as I hold it to burn paper by hand:

Now you can watch as the entire setup is connected and hooked up. Hear my surprise when I actually get it to cut a diagonal line:

lastly hear me as i try out postscript sending for the first time, watch the scanner as it cuts, you get a nice close of up how it's all hooked up.

And that's it, I hope this extra story line helps. This is a fun project, and if anyone wants to improve it I'm sure it can be done. Show me your best!
All the best.


lienrag63 (author)2017-03-24

For those looking for the code, the wayback machine is your friend :)

(binaries and zip are not saved, though) :

NaomiS33 (author)2016-09-27

Does anyone still have the code for this project?

abstract_method (author)2016-08-16

all the videos are gone :(

UmbertoN (author)2016-05-28

Hi Bilal Ghalib! I was just about to make this, but noticed the links you provided from are offline... Could you reupload the software somewhere else, like GitHub or Google Drive, please, because without it, the whole contraption will not come to life...


Tan OryJ (author)2016-01-05

hi, can it cut 3mm balsa wood?

mpandersen (author)2011-02-01

God Bless Our Throw Away Society !!! This is a wonderful hack ! I was wondering if I could use optical isolators to protect my PC from transient voltage spikes ? If so, what would you recommend ? I was planning on etching PCBs. [I'm tired of using the resist pen, that and I'm no draftsman ...]

jtechian (author)mpandersen2015-12-26

I am planning to do same for PCB work, my plan is: laser cutter at reasonably low power > paint bare PCB black > use laser to burn of paint where copper is to be etched leaving circuit path still covered > etch board. Anyone else ever try this and how well did it work as far as resolution?

Shaye M (author)2015-11-21

This design looks like perfection comparatively to some that I've seen, since it includes every single component from the tech to the build (No other's had video!). Could any one help me with converting some of the tech portions to fit a M42SP-6P Mitsumi bipolar stepper motor? I wanted to create a CNC router to cut acrylic and am afraid that a unipolar stepper motor would not have enough power to do so. Thanks in advance! ??

SamN2 (author)2015-10-22

never thought of using an old scanner great idea

RedstoneM (author)2015-09-20

Now get a 100W laser from and cut diamonds :D

RedstoneM (author)RedstoneM2015-09-20

At least it can cut glass

Printman Industries (author)2015-07-30

I really love the posts with the images. You guys are doing great work. (author)2015-03-18

Link to Ebay Store is broken. Come to a page that says the user could not be found

raouf.laribi.50 (author)2015-03-01

plz send me your email

my email is :

NoahL1 (author)2014-08-29

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

jcapple (author)2014-05-23

How exactly does this connect to a computer?

hannson (author)2009-07-11

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.

fireice289 (author)hannson2014-03-21

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

matroska (author)hannson2009-09-09

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.

eggplanthunter (author)matroska2009-09-15

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?

hintss (author)eggplanthunter2010-01-23

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 (author)hintss2011-12-09

"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 ;-)

dfruits (author)zajactom2012-11-06

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

eggplanthunter (author)hintss2010-01-24

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?

matroska (author)eggplanthunter2010-01-24

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.

rumplesnitz (author)matroska2010-03-21

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.

matroska (author)rumplesnitz2010-03-27

 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.

bigjeff5 (author)matroska2010-07-22

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 (author)bigjeff52010-07-22

use spray adhesive to connect the 2 papers...though, it may spontaneously combust :P

wwaggoner (author)hannson2011-11-25

You make an interesting point...have you gotten any feedback on that?


Sandisk1duo (author)hannson2010-01-22

Why use a blue diode?

those just 'look cool' and cost alot

get a high-powered red diode, it's cheaper

SirColton (author)Sandisk1duo2010-01-23

 Blue cuts a wider range of colors

TheBestJohn (author)SirColton2010-06-19

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.

NastySpill (author)hannson2009-12-15

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.

Splortched (author)hannson2009-09-22

I would make one of these if you can do that.

matroska (author)hannson2009-09-09

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.

Nemo314 (author)2014-01-20

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...

jcasetnl (author)2013-11-06

This project looks like fun! Does it require a parallel interface, or can USB scanners also be used?

iFirefly (author)2013-10-08

Cool work!

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


mikemorana (author)2013-04-02

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.

23trink (author)2012-05-09

do you think it would be possible to make a handheld laser cutter? if so, please comment back

spratjack70118 (author)23trink2013-02-27

I've seen YouTube videos on converting handheld laser pointers into cutting lasers. Search it.

eronjonson (author)2011-12-12

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.

dfruits (author)eronjonson2012-11-06

You need something more powerful. A CO2 laser would do.

CoolKoon (author)eronjonson2012-01-16

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.

gemguy (author)2010-11-11

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!

nutsandbolts_64 (author)gemguy2010-12-25

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.

ilpug (author)nutsandbolts_642011-01-06

get an old tile saw and modify it. lasers are impractical

gemguy (author)ilpug2011-01-07

Have they make laser engravers for rock and jewelry applications, but they are spendy.

About This Instructable




Bio: Bilal Ghalib is interested in doing things that surprise him and inspire others. Let's create a future we want to live in together.
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