Expert Guide to Laser Cutting Acrylic: Techniques, Best Practices, and Top Machines

Updated On

Acrylic, commonly known as plexiglass, is a versatile and visually appealing material used across various industries. Its popularity in both commercial and creative projects is due to its clarity, strength, and ease of fabrication. Using a laser cutter is one of the most effective and exact ways to cut acrylic.

In this blog, we will delve into the intricacies of laser cutting acrylic, explore the different types of acrylic, identify the best laser machines for the job, and provide project inspiration to help you get started.

Is It Possible to Cut Acrylic Using A Laser Cutter?

Yes, acrylic can be effectively cut with a laser cutter, particularly using a CO2 laser. 

The laser's precision allows for smooth, clean cuts and detailed engravings. This method is highly efficient, minimizing waste and ensuring a high-quality finish that typically requires little to no post-processing. 

Acrylic’s responsiveness to laser cutting makes it ideal for applications ranging from signage and displays to intricate jewelry and decorative items.

How Acrylic Laser Cutting Works

Laser cutting acrylic involves focusing a powerful laser beam onto the surface of the material. 

The laser is guided by a design file, which dictates the path of the cut. The laser beam's intense heat vaporizes the acrylic along its path, creating precise cuts.

For engraving, the laser settings are adjusted to vaporize only the surface layer, creating detailed designs without cutting through the material.

Varieties of Acrylic for Laser Cutting

There are two primary types of acrylic: cast acrylic and extruded acrylic. Each type has distinct properties that affect its suitability for different laser-cutting applications.

  • Cast Acrylic: This variety is produced by pouring liquid acrylic into molds. It is known for its superior optical clarity and quality when engraved. Cast acrylic yields a polished edge when cut, making it perfect for applications requiring a smooth finish.
  • Extruded Acrylic: This type is produced by pressing acrylic through rollers to achieve the desired thickness. While it is more cost-effective and easier to cut, extruded acrylic does not offer the same high-quality finish as cast acrylic. It is better suited for uses where edge quality is not as important.

What Laser Machine Can Cut Acrylic?

CO2 lasers are the optimal option for cutting acrylic. These lasers function at a wavelength that acrylic easily absorbs, allowing for efficient cutting and engraving.

The OMTech 60W CO2 laser cutter is particularly effective for this purpose, providing the power and precision needed for a variety of acrylic cutting projects.

Is Acrylic Cutting Possible with a Diode Laser?

Although diode lasers can cut acrylic, they come with notable limitations. Diode lasers, especially those with blue light, struggle with clear and blue acrylic due to the wavelength matching the color of the material, preventing absorption. 

Diode lasers are better suited for dark, opaque acrylics. For most acrylic cutting needs, CO2 lasers are a more reliable choice.

How to Laser Cut Acrylic

Here’s a detailed guide to laser cutting acrylic using the OMTech CO2 laser cutter:

  1. Acrylic Sheet Placement: Ensure the acrylic sheet lies flat on the workbed to avoid any distortion or uneven cuts.
  2. Import Your Design: Upload your design file into the LightBurn software. This software is compatible with the OMTech laser cutter and provides a user-friendly interface for design management.
  3. Adjust the Cutting Settings: Use the preset "Material EasySet Library" for optimal settings or manually adjust parameters such as power, speed, and frequency based on the acrylic type and thickness.
  4. The Cutting Process: Initiate the cutting process once the settings are configured. Supervise the procedure to guarantee accuracy and make any needed modifications.
  5. Finishing Touches: After cutting, remove the acrylic piece and peel off any protective film. Inspect the edges and clean if necessary.

What Laser Settings Should Be for Laser Cutting Acrylic?

Choosing the right settings is essential for obtaining optimal results. Here are some basic recommendations:

  • Power: A general guideline for cutting acrylic is to use 10 watts of laser power per millimeter of material thickness. For instance, a 10mm thick acrylic sheet requires a 100W laser for optimal cutting. But a 60W OMTech laser cutter can also handle it.
  • Speed: Adjust the speed based on the power and thickness of the acrylic. Higher speeds are suitable for thinner materials, while thicker acrylic requires slower speeds to ensure a clean cut.
  • Frequency: For Cast Acrylic materials, a frequency range of 5,000-20,000 Hz is recommended. For Extruded Acrylic materials, a maximum frequency of 5,000 Hz should be used.

OMTech 60W CO2 Laser Engraving/Cutting Machine AF2028-60: The Best Acrylic Laser Cutting Machine

The OMTech AF2028-60 60W CO2 laser cutter is a top-tier choice for cutting acrylic, offering:

  • 60W CO2 Laser Cutting Power: Capable of engraving up to 0.4" (10 mm) on various nonmetallic materials. (Since the maximum cutting depth varies among different acrylic materials, it is recommended to consult customer service before purchasing.)
  • Autofocus: Simplifies the setup process by automatically finding the correct focal distance.
  • Four-Way Pass-Through: Allows for the processing of larger pieces by sliding them through the machine.
  • Dual Workbeds: Includes honeycomb and knife blade engraving platforms to accommodate various materials.
  • High-Performance DC Tube: Provides 60W of power for up to 1000 hours of usage, with extended life at lower settings.
  • Compatibility with LightBurn Software: Ensures seamless operation and ease of use.
  • Safety Features: Includes a flame-retardant material, built-in ventilation, water flow sensor, and automatic shutdown for enhanced safety.

Inspiring Acrylic Projects Using Laser Cutting

Laser-cutting acrylic unlocks limitless creative opportunities. Here are some inspiring project ideas:

  • Acrylic Earrings: Design unique and fashionable jewelry items.
  • Acrylic Signs: Create custom signs for businesses or personal use.
  • Acrylic Awards: Produce personalized awards for various events.
  • Acrylic Keychains: Make custom keychains in different shapes and sizes.
  • Acrylic Ornaments: Craft ornaments for holidays and special occasions.
  • Acrylic Wedding Invitations: Design elegant and distinct wedding invitations.
  • Acrylic LED Lights: Create engraved LED lights for decorative lighting.
  • Acrylic Place Cards: Make stylish place cards for events and celebrations.
  • Acrylic Cake Toppers: Personalize cake toppers for birthdays and other celebrations.

Conclusion

Laser-cutting acrylic with the right equipment and settings can produce professional and precise results. 

The OMTech laser cutter stands out as an excellent choice for working with acrylic, offering the necessary power, precision, and user-friendly features. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional, this machine can turn your creative ideas into reality.

FAQs

How thick can a laser-cut acrylic be?

The thickness a laser can cut depends on its power. A 60W CO2 laser can cut up to 10mm thick acrylic, while a 100W laser can handle even thicker materials.

How to clean acrylic after laser cutting?

Use a non-abrasive fabric like a lint-free or microfiber cloth. For dirty surfaces, use a small amount of mild detergent and avoid applying excessive pressure.

Is all acrylic available to laser cut?

While most acrylics are suitable for laser cutting, variables such as color and type can influence the process. Always test the specific acrylic you plan to use to ensure compatibility with your laser cutter.

What laser power is needed to cut acrylic?

Generally, acrylic needs 10 watts of power for each millimeter of thickness. For instance, a 10mm thick acrylic sheet is optimally cut with a laser of 100W or higher.

Is it possible to laser cut acrylic without the protective film on?

Removing the protective film before laser engraving is usually advised to prevent difficult cleanup afterward. For laser cutting, the film can be left on, especially for large projects, but can be removed for small cuts.