Maybe you saw a really cool laser cut item somewhere online, or maybe you were inspired by our list of personalized gifts you can make with a laser cutter. Either way, you want to learn how to use a laser cutting machine, but you’re not sure where or how to get started. No worries—although laser cutters are powerful and precise, they’re not too complicated for an everyday layperson to use. Below are five tips to help you get started.
Where do I get a laser cutter?
The answer for this will depend greatly on your budget, engineering skill, and level of interest. The cheapest option is to use a laser cutter owned by a school or similar makerspace. Many of these facilities even option beginner classes who can teach you what to do. If there are no such schools or makerspaces near you, there are some laser cutting companies which allow customers to use the laser cutter, in addition to ordering a product.
Your second most affordable option is to rent laser cutter from a fabrication equipment dealer near you. Most fabrication equipment companies stock many different models, meaning you can “scale up” to bigger and more complex machines as you learn more about the craft, without having to pay full price for any of them.
If you find that you love laser cutting so much that you want one of your own, your options are to build one or purchase one. To give you an idea of what to expect, a typical laser cutter, the kind used by designers and engineers to cut wood and acrylic, consists of a 100W laser. These cost around $8,000 to build, and $20,000 to purchase. A 40w laser, which can be used to etch a design into wood, can be purchased new for a few hundred dollars. (You can see why laser cutter rental companies, like ours, tend to do a very good business!)
What materials can I cut with a laser?
We mentioned wood and acrylic above as two great options for laser cutting. There are also many no-go materials which will produce acrid smoke when coming into contact with the laser. Polycarbonate sheets in particular are considered very toxic when burned with a cutting machine. Also, it is advised to stay away from cardboard as the focused, intense heat can cause it to catch fire pretty easily (and since an electrical machine is involved, putting it out can become difficult.) One of the best materials to use for laser cutting is cheap, readily available birch plywood just a few millimeters thick. A simple design can be etched out in one of these in just over a minute.
What should I make first?
When it comes to sourcing some cool designs to start with, the internet is your friend. It’s really as simple as typing “SVG designs” into Google, and finding one you really like.
Along with SVG files, the other laser cutter-friendly file type is DXF, which can also be entered into a laser cutter software program to print as-is, or added to if you are feeling creative. Other websites for inspiration and sourcing of previously drawn designs include Thingiverse and Instructables, both of which offer a range of designs from simple to professional-level. If you’re overwhelmed with choices and just don’t know where to start, the simplest thing is to make a vanity plate of your own name, which you can hang in your office or at home.
Need Laser Cutting Equipment in Apex, NC?
No matter your level of experience, Active Machinery has exactly what you need to get the job done. We’re proud carriers of all the top brands you trust, like Sunrise, Flow, Mitsubishi, and Ermac. To learn more about our 2D and 3D laser cutters for sale in Apex, contact us here.