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A laser cutter is a machine that can use a 2D software command to cut or engrave. A very high-powered laser is aimed at a small area, cutting or engraving it.
The laser may be sourced or pulsed. The CO2-sourced laser is the most commonly used. It can cut many more materials at a higher speed than the pulsed laser. It is deemed more reliable, efficient, durable, and easier to operate than any other laser.
Contrary to popular belief, there are more laser cutters in a fablab than there are 3D printers. However, the laser cutting machine is not only used by Makers, many industries see applications for its use.
In 1967, Peter Houldcroft invented the gas-assisted cutting process and a focusing nozzle. Two years later, the United Kingdom launched the first CO2 laser cutter.
DIY, FabLab, and increasingly open and easy access to CAD software have all popularized the laser cutter. It is now generally in widespread use. Today, the laser cutter is used in various sectors. Coupled with other processes, such as 3D printing, laser cutting opens up great opportunities for exploration and production.
Depending on the power of the laser, the cutter works on wood, Plexiglas, metal, aluminum, plastic, paper, steel, stainless steel, leather, polycarbonate, cardboard, fabric, glass, etc. Most often, laser cutting is done on horizontal, planar surfaces. However, it is possible to engrave three-dimensional surfaces.
Like with 3D printers, we make the distinction between personal and professional laser cutters. The materials used vary, depending on whether it’s for personal or professional use. When used professionally, the cutter is bigger, and the range of materials that can be use is much larger. Personal laser cutters cut mainly paper, cardboard, and paper labels. They are very useful for DIY projects and allow everyone to easily express their creativity. Professional laser cutting machines cut larger and stronger materials.
Many industries have integrated laser cutting into their production processes, especially the manufacturing, automotive, and electronics industries, the field of health, and even the military. You can therefore imagine the wide range of possibilities for use and creation that are offered by laser cutting.
The technology of laser cutting has become more and more precise. Special functions such as positioning by red laser pointer, automatic vertical adjustment (auto-focus), time indicator, and the end-of-work notification allow optimization of adjustment and make-ready times.
To use a laser cutting machine, it is necessary to really know how to prepare the digital file. There are courses for this in fablabs or makerspaces.
There are all sizes of laser cutters, at all powers and costs, on the market.
For personal laser cutters, prices can vary from $100 – $600 (100€ – 500€) and professional cutters range from $1700 – $90,000 (1500€ – 80,000€). The difference in size is also significant. While a personal laser cutting machine can fit on a desk, the work surface of a professional laser cutting machine can be as big as 85 in. x 125 in. (2210 mm x 3210 mm). The machine’s working surface area, along with the power of the laser, largely determine the materials that can be cut.
So the use of a personal or professional laser cutter has two very different usage sizes.
So what about you? How do you want to use it? Do you need a large cutting surface and use a wide range of materials? An online laser cutting service can help you achieve your creations and ideas.