Laser Cutting for Beginners: How to Get Started

Laser cutting – sometimes called etching or engraving – is not only one of the coolest ways of bringing a design to life but also one of the most accurate. A laser cutter can execute multi-layered lettering and design that even a skilled artist would struggle to accomplish. If you’ve always dreamed of running your very own laser cutting machine, here are some tips to get you started.

Which laser cutter is best for a beginner?

Most professional designers and engineers use a 100W laser cutter. However, these tend to cost around $25,000, a price that’s just not feasible for most at-home laser enthusiasts. That’s why we recommend starting out with a 40W laser, which has less power but will only cost around $300. A 40W laser usually won’t be able to actually cut, but it will be capable of, for instance, etching designs onto a thin piece of plywood.

If you’re an absolute novice and you’re unsure if you will want to continue with this hobby long-term, you might get your feet wet with a 5W laser cutter! While these will do little more than etch a design on to paper, it can help you get a feel for the hobby for a low cost.

If you really need the laser to cut hard material like metal, you might also consider renting a used laser cutter for a fraction of the full cost!

What materials do I use for laser cutting?

This might seem obvious, but you can’t just pick any old material and starting blasting it with a laser. There are a number of materials which will produce a thick, acrid smoke when coming into contact with the laser, such as polycarbonate. It is also advised to stay away from cardboard, as the focused, intense heat can cause it to catch fire.

One of the best materials to use for laser cutting is birch plywood just a few millimeters thick. It’s cheap, soft, and readily available. With this, a simple design can be etched out in just over a minute.

What should I make first?

“SVG” is a laser-cutter friendly file type which can be put into a laser cutter software program to print as is, or added to if you are feeling creative. Finding laser cutting inspiration can be as simple as typing ‘SVG designs’ into Google and finding one you really like! Other websites for inspiration and sourcing of previously drawn designs include Thingiverse and Instructables.

As for acquiring a laser cutter, that’s easy, too—just call Active Machinery in Apex NC! We are your one-stop shop for 2D laser cutters, 3D laser cutters, plasma cutters, press punches, and a wide variety of new and used fabrication equipment. To place an order or learn more about our inventory, give us a call!

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