All to Know About Laser Engraving and Cutting Different Materials

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Laser engraving uses a laser beam to cut or etch designs onto various materials, including wood, metal, plastic, glass, acrylic, leather, and stone. The process is fast, effective, and yields high-quality results. In addition to being an environmentally friendly, time- and cost-effective way to mass-produce various items, it is also an enjoyable way to create one-of-a-kind creations.    

Read on to learn about the many substrates suitable for laser engraving from the OMTech team.

What Materials Can a Laser Machine Engrave? 

Laser engraving machines vary in their capacities and the types of materials they can etch or inscribe. With laser etching, a design is carved into a surface by removing or ablating material with a focused laser beam.

Laser machines can engrave a wide range of materials, including:

  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Stone
  • Leather
  • Fabric
  • Paper
  • Cardboard

 

The quality of the etchings for each material will depend on the thickness and composition of the substrate, as well as the wavelength and power of the laser machine. 

What is the Difference Between Fiber Laser and CO2 Laser Machine For All Non-Metal Engraving And Cutting? 

Fiber and CO2 lasers are both commonly used for laser engraving and cutting, but they have some key differences.

  • Wavelength: The 1-micrometer wavelength of fiber lasers make them well-suited for engraving and cutting metals. CO2 lasers produce a light beam that is closer to 10 micrometers, making them more efficient at cutting non-metal materials, such as wood, plastic, and paper. 
  • Lasing Medium: Fiber lasers use a doped fiber, while CO2 lasers use carbon dioxide, helium, and nitrogen gas. 
  • Cost and Versatility: Fiber lasers offer a more effective etching experience and have a longer lifespan, but they are also more expensive. CO2 lasers, by comparison, are more affordable and versatile, but less effective for metal engraving.

Different Cutting Materials for Different Project Ideas 

The optimal material for your project depends on both the type of project and desired result. Some possibilities for laser engraving materials include: 

  • Wood: One of the most popular mediums, wood can be used to create a wide range of products, such as signs and awards.
  • Metal: Metal is best used for name tags, jewelry, and awards. 
  • Plastic: Plastic is an easy medium for signage, promotional items, and affordable, customized gifts.
  • Glass: Glass is excellent for creating customized awards and home decor items.

Settings Adjustments and Parameters Setups for Different Types of Materials 

When laser engraving different materials, selecting the appropriate settings and parameter sets is crucial. Every machine has its own parameter settings and maximum material thickness limitations. Some considerations include the following:

  • Laser power: The laser power should be set at a high enough level to effectively engrave the material, but not so high that it causes damage or generates too much heat.
  • Speed: The speed at which the laser moves over the material can affect the depth and quality of the engraving. Slower speeds may produce more deep and detailed engravings but may take longer to complete.
  • Frequency: Using a laser beam with higher frequencies may produce finer, more detailed engravings, while lower frequencies may produce deeper, bold engravings.
  • Focal length: Focal length influences how closely the laser beam is concentrated, which affects engraving size and depth. The shorter the focal length, the smaller and shallower the engraving.
  • Pulse duration: The laser's pulse duration determines how long the laser beam is on during each pulse. Shorter pulse durations produce finer and more detailed engravings.

 

It may be worth experimenting with different settings and parameters to find the best combination for the specific material and desired engraving result. You can easily Google material cutting and engraving settings in correlation with your output power. 

Here is an example of a parameters chart for CO2 laser machine cutting settings for Baltic birch wood:

Lightburn Setting and Speed Settings for Different Types Of Materials 

Laser engraving machines can be controlled with Lightburn software. Some  general guidelines for setting the speed and other parameters in Lightburn for different types of materials are as follows:

Wood:

  • Speed: 500-1000mm/min
  • Power: 15-40%

Plastic: 

  • Speed: 1000-1500mm/min
  • Power: 10-30%

Acrylic:

  • Speed: 1000-1500mm/min
  • Power: 20-50%

Metal:

  • Speed: 500-1000mm/min
  • Power: 50-100%

 

These are just general guidelines. The optimal settings may vary depending on the specific material, the thickness of the material, and the desired engraving result. 

Test Cutting 

If you are mass producing materials for your business orders, or if you are customizing a precise engraving on a material you’ve never worked before with, I would recommend performing test cutting to the material to see which Lightburn speed and accuracy percentage of setting for speed and shot accuracy.

Laser Power in Correlation With Max Thickness of Cuts and Engraving for Materials

Laser power is an essential factor to consider when laser engraving or cutting materials, as it can affect the maximum thickness of the material that can be effectively engraved or cut. Attempting to cut or engrave materials thicker than the maximum thickness the laser can handle may result in poor-quality cuts and engravings, or even damage to the laser. Therefore, choosing the appropriate laser power for the specific material and the desired result is essential.

Be More Cautious With Certain Materials

Laser engraving may be more delicate with some materials because of the possible risk factors. For example:

  • Reflective materials: Reflective materials, such as metals, can harm the laser and constitute a safety concern. To lessen the reflection, reduce laser power or speed.
  • Materials that produce hazardous fumes: Certain plastics might release harmful gases when heated by a laser beam. It's important to ventilate the workspace and take precautions against breathing pollutants.
  • Materials that are prone to melting or deforming: Some materials, such as plastics, may melt or warp when subjected to the laser's heat. To prevent melting or deformation, lower the laser power or speed.
  • Materials that are sensitive to heat: Laser beams can readily harm heat-sensitive paper or fabric. Reduce laser power or speed to avoid damaging these materials.

It is crucial to know the specific properties and potential hazards of the material being engraved and to adjust the laser settings accordingly to ensure a successful and safe engraving process. 

Safety and Precautions With Different Materials  

There are a few general safety precautions to consider when laser engraving different materials:

  • Wear appropriate protective equipment: Laser engraving produces intense light and heat. Wear protective eyewear, gloves, and other protective gear appropriate for the specific material and laser.
  • Follow proper ventilation guidelines: Laser engraving certain materials can produce hazardous fumes. Follow proper ventilation guidelines to ensure that these fumes are properly dissipated and do not build up in the work area.
  • Keep the laser beam away from flammable materials: The laser beam can ignite combustible materials, so it is important to keep the beam away from flammable materials, such as paper, fabric, or liquids.
  • Avoid direct contact with the laser beam: The laser beam can cause serious injury if it comes into contact with the skin or eyes.
  • Follow the manufacturer's guidelines: Each laser-cutting machine is different and may have specific safety guidelines and precautions that should be followed. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's guidelines to ensure the safe operation of the laser.

 

In summary, it is important to take appropriate safety precautions when laser engraving different materials to protect yourself and others from potential hazards.

Conclusion

For top-quality laser engraving services, look no further than OMTech Laser. Our team is committed to producing high-quality results and is dedicated to serving the laser engraving industry with the latest technology.

Whether you need laser engraving for a one-time project or ongoing mass production, we have the skills and expertise to deliver the best results. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with all your laser engraving needs.