Laser Cutting Simply Explained

Laser Cutting Simply Explained

All about laser cutters. How it works, and what the benefits are.

Laser cutting is fun and satisfying, and it gives you the ability to explore your creative sides and helps you get ideas to life.

But what is laser cutting, and what are the benefits of getting your hands on such a machine? 

In short, a laser cutter is a machine that cuts or engraves in some materials without a blade. It cuts with a concentrated beam of light. Sounds cool, isn't it?

And it is guided with CAD (computer-aided design) software, So you don't need to do the work manually. Just create your design in your preferred design software (such as Photoshop or CorelDraw), import it into the cutter's software, and press start and go take a nap.

But what's wrong with regular cutters? Why in the world should I cut with a light beam? It seems so strange.

Well, the truth is that laser cutting brings enormous advantages for its users compared to regular cutters.

Here is a partial list.

  • Contactless cutting: The materials stay in place and don't move around, resulting in better quality cuts.
  • Don't need sharpening: On the other hand, blades have, in general, a short life span because it gets worn and torn.
  • Smooth edges: Because it cuts with heat, it seals the edges of the materials and creates a smooth finish, especially on synthetics.
  • Superfast: Laser cutting is much faster than Blades because it doesn't have friction with the materials and doesn't need to rotate or move up and down.
  • Accuracy and detail: It is faster, stronger, and contactless, so the precision and attention to detail are higher.

The three types of lasers.

Three technologies can be used to create the laser beam that should be concentrated enough to cut through a material piece.

CO2 Laser - This happens when electricity runs through a gas-filled tube, and the tube of gases is surrounded by mirrors that reflect the light and make sure that no light escapes, which results in the light building in intensity.

The gases used in the laser beam are a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium. I can get into a tedious explanation of how these gases help produce a powerful light beam, but I think I will let it go for now.

  1. Faster speeds
  2. Smooth finish
  3. Handle thicker materials
  4. More affordable

Fiber laser - Fiber lasers use optical fibers "pumped" with diodes to create a solid-state laser. (Don't worry if you aren't getting to the bottom of it, as I'm not getting it as well.) The point is that the fiber laser is far more efficient and simple to make and use than C02 lasers. One example of its simplicity is that it doesn't need alignment due to its avoidance of mirrors, which is a headache for every C02 laser cutter owner and manufacturer. 

  1. Maintainance free
  2. Easy to use
  3. Power-efficient
  4. Cuts metal
  5. Works on reflective materials

Crystal lasers - This is the industrial side of the laser cutting industry which has powerful lasers but is quite expensive, and it wears and tears fast and needs constant replacement. The technology behind crystals is not meant for people like me, and it is something about rare-earth ions and doped crystals (figure it out yourself!).

  1. Handle thicker materials
  2. Cuts metal

What is the laser cutter capable of doing?

So people might now wonder who can benefit from the great features and use a laser cutter. It is cool but does it have real-life value as well?

The laser cutter has many great uses in the creative world, and you can do all types of creative arts and crafts. But you can use it in tons of valuable ways, including Personalize gifts with name engraving, Name/award plaques, and prototype manufacturing. It can be used for custom manufacturing and for replicating parts as well.

All of this is for general desktop lasers, but when you're talking of advanced lasers made for a specific need in mind, the uses are endless, from medical surgeries to the aerospace industry.

Between laser cutting and 3D printing.

Laser cutters is considered part of the family of desktop manufacturing, together with the more picked up 3D printers, so what are the main differences between these two?

  1. Additive vs. subtractive: 3D printers are additive manufacturers meaning they're adding a dot after a dot, one on top of the other, creating the desired object. On the other hand, Laser cutting cuts through a bigger piece of materials and subtracts from it to make it into a particular shape. In general, additive manufacturing is more environmentally friendly because no mart of the materials is wasted.
  2. Working speed: The laser cutter is much faster than the 3d printer, probably about 25 to 50 times as fast.
  3. Easy to use: The 3D printer requires a lot of experience in order to get good results, but the laser cutter (at least the better quality ones) is simple as it can be. You can start using your cutter 15 minutes after receiving it. 
  4. Design capabilities: Laser cutters can basically cut from top to bottom, so more complex projects may require dividing your project into several pieces so you can create every part separately. But when 3D printing, you can do the most complex print in one shot.
  5. Materials available: Laser cutters can handle a broader range of materials than 3D printers because 3D printers are mainly limited to plastics. And the laser cutting materials are, in general, much cheaper as well.
  6. Adaptability: 3D printers often require the users to use the filament of the same printer brand due to spool size and print settings. On the other hand, with laser cutters, you can use everything you imagine, and you can even place your MacBook inside to get it engraved with some personality.

To conclude, we can say that both of them are incredible technologies, and depending on your projects, you may benefit from both and use each of them at the right time and place.

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