Laser 101

About: Jack-of-all Trades

This instructable was prepared and designed for a Makerspace Meetup to introduce participants to the Full Spectrum Laser Cutter.

Step 1: Laser Overview

What is Laser Technology?
Laser Technology uses a laser to engrave and cut a variety of materials. In the past, laser tech was essentially used for industrial manufacturing, but because the cost of machinery is down it is now slightly affordable for schools, small business, and serious hobbyists.

How Does It Work?
Laser cutting works by directing the output of a high power laser through optics. It has a laser glass tube that generates a laser beam. The beam is transmitted onto the material by a series of mirrors that are installed on a machine controlled gantry system. The gantry allows the beam to move on an X/Y coordinate of the laser bed.

Step 2: So What Can You Do With a Laser?

  1. Vector Cut:

    This is when the laser cuts through the material, creating separate pieces.

  2. Raster Engrave:

    This is when the laser does not cut all the way through the material, instead it burns away from the material creating pockets of the design.

  3. Mark:

    The laser does not remove material- but can change the color of the material or change the coating properties applied to the material. Ex. Teal Yeti Mug, marks name, exposing anodized aluminum.

Step 3: Makerspace Laser

The lasers in the makerspace are considered shared lasers, we provide free limited-access to use our lasers.

Here are some benefits to using a shared laser:

  1. Not only do you have access to the tool but you also have access to like-minded people. You get to see what we are doing and what others are doing that could inspire you.
  2. We also show you tips and tricks on the laser or design file prep for the laser.
  3. You don’t have to spend the money.
  4. Maintenance and troubleshooting is taken care of.

The makerspace has two flatbed lasers.

  • Full Spectrum Pro Hobby Series 20" x 12"
  • Full Spectrum Pro Hobby Series 24" x 16"

These are enclosed systems that allow for proper ventilation and light control. The laser we have is a CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) laser. The tube is filled with CO2 that is generally good for cutting carbon based materials.

It is NOT good for cutting metals.

Step 4: Safety First

  • Our laser room capacity is three people. We house both of our lasers in the room and can be a tight fit with more than three individuals in the room.
  • We have on hand some safety glasses should you wish to watch your laser job be performed. Watching the laser beam without eye protection can cause eye strain.
  • Please do not touch the LCD screen- it is sensitive and can ruin your cut/raster.

  • We will never cut and/or engrave on unknown material. Some materials such as PVC release Chlorine gas.

Step 5: Laser Specs

Power
Our power output on the laser is 90 Watts, which allows for deep engravings and cuts on thin materials- no more than a 1/4" thick.

Bed Size

The bed size is the maximum X-Y dimensions of material that you can place on the flatbed.

  • 20" x 12" - smaller jobs
  • 24" x 16" - larger jobs

Z-Axis

The bed is adjustable using the z-axis to accommodate different thickness of material.

Ventilation

Our lasers require proper ventilation. During the engraving and/or cutting job, smoke and particles are generated and the ventilation facilitates the removal of the smoke and particles by drawing them out of the enclosure using the exhaust system. A good exhaust reduces sparks and flaming.

Cooling

We have a water chiller that keeps the CO2 laser cool. It pumps water and is necessary to extend the life of the tube. Otherwise, it will overheat.

Step 6: Accessories

The Rotary Tool Attachment
The rotary tool is used to engrave on round objects like bottles and cups.

We do not engrave on round objects with an obstruction- such as a mug.

Step 7: Materials

Laser cutters provide a fine level of control over cutting and engraving on a wide variety of materials.
Here are the most common along with the pros and cons

All other materials, you can see the handout- you can also ask.

Again- we will never raster or cut an unknown material.

Step 8: Wood

The smell of wood is divine...

Pros:

  • Relatively cheap, unless you go for the more exotic woods
  • Readily available- Home Depot, Lowes..

Cons:

  • Depending on the individual- cuts do leave wood burns on edges, some people don't like this and end up sanding it down.
  • The organic nature of wood provides imperfections that may affect the final result
  • Post processing may be required (sanding, staining, etc) to get a finished look.

Step 9: Acrylic

Acrylic is a type of plastic.


Pros:

  • Available in a variety of colors, thicknesses, and sizes
  • Light weight
  • Sheets come laminated with a peel-able paper that protects it during laser process.

Cons:

  • Can be expensive
  • Easily scratched
  • Can be brittle

Resources for purchase:

Plasticare - 4211 S Natches Ct, Englewood, CO 80110

Step 10: Glass

My favorite...

Can only be etched- provides beautiful results.
Can etch on empty or full bottles, wine/drinking glasses, plain flat glass.

Pros:

  • Beautiful results!
  • Cheaper than getting it done professionally

Cons:

  • If glass is too cold, it can crack- fragile
  • Limited to shape of glass- will not work with handles

Step 11: Tips + Tricks

  • Blue Painter's Tape: This helps protect the surface of smaller pieces being engraved or cut.
  • Cardboard: Used to make jigs (Glass jig bed)

Step 12: Retina Engrave Software & Design

If you have a PC- you can download the Retina Engrave software and print driver to become familiar with the program and the variety of settings.

Retina Engrave

Step 13: Beginner Project Resources

Thanks to the internet and like minded folks who enjoy sharing their creations, it is easier than ever to find premade templates and projects, some are free while others you will need to purchase from the designer/maker.

Here are some awesome links that can help you find a project.

Thingiverse : Sign up required

Grabcad: Sign up required

Instructables : Sign up required

Box Designer

Cartonus


Step 14: More Info

January 8th (tomorrow) from 6-7pm : Photo Engraving

January 17th from 6-7pm: Intro to Adobe Illustrator

*Important* : All laser appointments will be operated by a Creative Specialist.

Step 15: Thank You!

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