The Top 4 Materials You Should Never Cut with a Laser | Apex Laser Machines

One of the greatest things about C02 laser cutters, as we’ve touched on before, is their amazing level of versatility. Since a laser beam can’t warp or contaminate materials like a cutting blade can, they can be applied to everything from delicate human eye tissue to thick plates of steel. With that said, though, there are some materials which should never be cut with a laser, due to the high levels of heat involved. Learn more below from our Apex fabrication machine distributor.

HDPE (or “Milk Bottle” Plastic)

Milk bottle plastic is a popular craft material since it comes free with the milk you purchase each week. However, the HDPE plastic making up the bottle is highly flammable, and susceptible to melting under high temperatures and pressure. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to handle whatever you are trying to cut and/or fabricate—in layman’s terms, it will all turn into a gooey mess. If you would like to create something with a similar weight and texture to HDPE, extruded acrylic is much safer to cut and has a smoother, neater finish to boot.

Polyvinyl Chloride (or PVC)

Think twice before you attempt to cut those white PVC pipes commonly used in plumbing. “PVC” stands for Polyvinyl Chloride, and it’s the “Chloride” part that causes the problems. When PVC is cut with a laser, it will release chlorine gas, which is toxic to both humans and machinery. For humans, exposure will cause coughing, shortness of breath, and possibly lung damage; for your machine, it will ruin the optics and motion-control system, and corrode the metal components. Not a good time for anyone.

Polycarbonate (or Lexan)

You may have never heard of Lexan, but you’ve definitely used it at some point in your life—probably quite a lot, in fact. Lexan (which is a brand name that has become synonymous with the product, like Band-Aids) is an extremely durable material used in everything from football helmets, to bulletproof ‘glass’, to car windshields, to machinery safety guards. You may have noticed a pattern; indeed, Lexan is extremely impact-resistant, 250 times more than glass, and can withstand extreme heat, acids, and chemicals like gasoline. Lexan is so danger-resistant that it’s even used in the window of laser cutting machines—because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation, the the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials. In other words, trying to cut Lexan/polycarbonate with a laser will be extremely ineffective, and you will likely only succeed in turning the edges black.

ABS Plastic (used in Legos)

ABS plastic is another incredibly durable, impact-resistant material, which explains how a single stray Lego brick can easily fell a 190-lb man. Seriously, though; ABS is used in lots of things we don’t want to break, like computer parts, medical supplies, car parts, and protective headgear; it’s also very easy to melt, making it a popular material for 3D printing. However, for all its useful properties, ABS doesn’t cut or engrave well in a C02 laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a high chance of catching on fire, leaving behind melted, gooey deposits on the cutting grid. More importantly, combustion of ABS releases hydrogen cyanide, a cancer-causing agent found in cigarettes and other products. While there is some debate about the dangers posed by ABS laser cutting, we say it’s best to err on the side of caution and skip the lasers (ABS can be easily machined by die-cutting, shearing, sawing, milling, drilling, etc.)

Looking for a Laser Cutting Machine in Apex?

As long as you choose the abundance of safe materials available, laser technology can bring unparalleled precision and safety to your fabrication work. If you’re looking for laser machines for sale in Apex NC, be sure to give us a call today!