MDF - Laser Cutting and Engraving

Home image with many 3D printed objects in many colors Smoothing beautifier egg size Layer thickness of a plastic 3D Printing
Small home image with many 3D printed objects in many colors MDF gravure.jpg MDF_catapulte.jpg MDF_metre_2.jpg


EU.png European catalogue*

Standard
Black
Grey
Light Grey
Yellow

Red
Green


EU.png American catalogue*


*You can order from both catalogues, no matter where you're located. It will simply influence your shipping cost and time.

Overview

Here you will find all the information, tricks, know-how, and advice to help you laser cut and laser engrave your model in our MDF material. You will learn about:

General Information on our material

Our MDF Material

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product. MDF is made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres and combining it with wax and a resin binder. Panels are then formed by applying high temperature and pressure. The end result is a aesthetic light beige panel with a fine texture.

MDF is available in a number of thicknesses and colors,  and has a lot of benefits:

  • Isotropic: its properties are the same in all directions so no tendency to split
  • Inexpensive: you can usually purchase MDF for a fraction of the cost of purchasing real wood
  • Resistant

Furthermore, as previously said, MDF has a fine texture with a better surface quality that makes painting it easy.

Processing Times and Pricing for Laser Cutting and Laser Engraving

The price of manufacturing your MDF design is calculated automatically the moment it is placed online. It is calculated in an interactive way and depends on several factors such as the quantity of material being used,  machine manufacturing time , and some logistic costs  - to name a few . As you modify your object and utilize our optimization tools, you will note that the price changes automatically. To see the cost of your model in a few clicks, you can go ahead and upload your file.

For laser cutting, we have two different catalogues: one for the materials we produce in our factory in France, and one for the ones we produce in our factory in the United States. According to whether you choose materials in either or both of those catalogues, your shipping time and cost will be modified.

The time for cutting and engraving is approximately 2 working days for plywood produced in France, and 4 working days when it’s produced in the US. An additional period of 24 to 48 hours may be necessary depending on the size of your vector file. Based on the details of your engraving, the operation may take some time. The final time period is given on our website when you place your order.

Delivery time is added to the laser cutting and engraving time and depends on the delivery method you choose, on whether you order from the French or American catalogue and on where you are located.

Laser Cutting technique


PA process


Laser Cutting is a digital subtractive fabrication technique that consists of cutting a material by means of a laser. Laser Cutting can be used on a number of materials such as acrylic, wood, cardboard, etc. The process involves cutting material using a powerful and highly accurate laser that focuses on a small area of the material. The high power density results in rapid heating, melting and partial or complete vaporizing of the material. Usually, a computer directs the high-power laser at the material and traces the path.

Laser Engraving technique


PA process

Laser Engraving (or Laser Etching) is a subtractive manufacturing method, that uses a laser beam to change the surface of an object. This process is mostly used to create images on the material, that may be seen at eye level. To do so, the laser creates high heat that will vaporize the matter, thus exposing cavities that will form the final image. This method is quick, as the material is removed with each pulse of the laser. It can be use on almost any kind of metal, plastic, wood, leather or glass surface. 

Uses and Maintenance


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MDF, from a technical point of view, is a material that has several benefits, both on its ease of use and on its durability. The technical properties of MDF can vary depending on the thickness but will stay quite stable regarding expansion and contraction. When cutting, MDF is not subject to any cracks or any deformation and its tecture allows makes it easy to get a perfect cut. Moreover, it can be painted, stained, dyed, painted on, fireproofed, waterproofed, molded, lacquered, or curved. Unlike solid wood, MDF does not contain knots or rings, making it more uniform for planing or sanding. All these features explain why MDF is used notably in interior design and in the furniture industry.

MDF is easy to maintain. To clean your models, simply use a cleaning product, that has no ammonia or abrasive powder, with a damp cloth on the object. It is recommended to avoid rough cloths, scouring sponges, lacquer thinner, and aggressive cleaning products.


Choosing between MDF and Plywood

For some projects, you might hesitate between MDF and plywood. There is one case in which you'll want to choose MDF: when you need parts to fit together tightly, and be assembled into a 3D shape. The fact is that the thickness for plywood is indicative, and may vary. Because MDF, on the contrary, is so stable, it will help you make sure your parts fit together correctly. 

However, engraving on plywood have more contrasts, so you might prefer plywood to MDF when it comes to engraving.          

Thicknesses and colorings

Sizing and Finishing Options


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There are multiple sizing and coloring options available through Sculpteo.

Four different types of thickness are available for MDF:

In our European catalogue:

  • 3 mm
  • 6 mm
  • 8 mm 
  • 10 mm
In our American catalogue:
  • 1/8 in

However, colored MDF are only available in 8 mm sizes. It is also worth noting that an additional delay can ensue on standard 10 mm MDF and colored MDFs. 

Colored MDFs exhibit some additional characteristics compared to the raw MDF. They are waterproof, that is to say, they are resistant to moisture and can be used in kitchens, bathrooms, and for coatings. In addition, the colored MDFs have greater internal cohesion which gives them greater strength, on average 30% higher than the standard MDF.


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Your MDF object is originally light brown but can also be colored. The color is obtained by a process of dyeing in the mass. Indeed, the fibers are dyed individually: they are impregnated with organic dyes and chemically bonded by a special resin. Hence the colored MDF keeps its color and does not require use of any painting. The dyes used are non-toxic, organic and environmentally friendly.

Colored MDF are only available in 8 mm thickness. The six available colors are:

  • black
  • grey
  • light grey 
  • yellow 
  • red
  • green  

To summarize:

In our European catalogue:

 Thickness of MDF (mm)
  3     6    8  10
Colors of
 MDF
  Standard   short lead time short lead time short lead time short lead time
  Black unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable
  Grey unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable
  Light Grey unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable
Yellow unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable
Green unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable
Red unavailable unavailable short lead time unavailable


In our American catalogue:

  Thickness (in)
  1/8  
Color   Standard   short lead time


Paint and glue your MDF parts and creation

MDF is a material that lends itself to different types of operations. Indeed, MDF can be painted, glued, varnished, dyed, painted, fireproofed, waterproofed, molded, lacquered, and, unlike solid wood, MDF does not contain knots or rings, making it more uniform for planing or sanding.

For painting, for example, MDF lends itself well to either a solvent based   paint , such as oil based paints, or a water-based paint, such as acrylic paint. MDF has a surface that absorbs the paint, it is best to apply a primer before painting the MDF.

Bonding operations can be easily done with wood glue such as polyvinyl acetate, better known under the name of Elmer's glue .

Design Guidelines

Laser Precision for Laser Cutting and Laser Engraving

Laser cuts and engraves material by burning its surface. Therefore, the sides of the piece tend to be darkened, and are marked slightly on the edges. Sometimes, marks appear on the cutting line. The sides of the part cut in MDF might stain skin or clothes, as a thin layer of black wood powder remains on the part.
When burning the surface, the laser also leaves a kerf of a width that can vary, depending on the type of material and the thickness chosen.

When designing your project, you need to take this kerf into account, and plan for a surplus of material accordingly.

The following chart lists the kerf sizes for MDF in function of the thickness.

For our European catalogue:

Thickness of MDF (mm) 3 6 8 10
Width of the kerf (mm) 0,08 mm 0,145 mm 0,19 mm 0,205 mm

For our American catalogue:

Thickness of MDF (inch) 1/8
Width of the kerf (inch) 0,0015


About the laser's precision and its effect on the material, you also need to keep in mind that your object might get some burning stains on their inner side.

Maximum and minimum dimensions for cuts and engraving 


For our European catalogue:
Minimum dimension 15 x 15 mm
Maximum dimension 940 x 590 mm 


For our American catalogue:

Minimum dimension 0.59 x 0.59 in
Maximum dimension 32 x 18 in 


The maximum size of your designs is limited by the dimensions of the machine's cutting table. Your designs must abide by the measures below in order to be cut/engraved by our machines.

Minimal dimensions may be necessary for laser cutting, but not for engraving. When you load your design onto our website in order to have it cut, we can't detect, based only on the information contained in the file, whether you wish to keep the outer or inner surface. Therefore, if you wish to keep the inner surface, you must respect minimal dimensions. Indeed, if the surface is too small, it could be lost under the cutting table's grid. If you wish to keep only the outer surface, this constraint does not apply.


Warning

Be very careful to respect the minimum size of 15x15 mm: objects of this size are all susceptible to not be delivered.

Minimum distance between two vector paths for Laser Cutting and Laser Engraving

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Because of the kerf created by the laser, a minimum distance is required between two lines, whether it is for cutting or engraving, in order to prevent the lines from touching or mixing. 

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This table gives you the minimum distance not to forget in your design, depending on the thickness of the material : 

Thickness of MDF (mm)     3          6          8         10   
Minimum distance between two paths (mm) 1 1 1 2

You can refer to our tutorial for more precision and guidance for your vector construction.


Tips

Double check the aforementioned kerf constraint and respect the minimal distance between two lines.

Prepare your texts for Laser Cutting and Laser Engraving 

It is possible to cut/engrave texts. These texts must be vectorized, just like all the files sent onto the website in order to be cut or engraved.

For laser engraving , the laser will contour each letter, which will "bolden " the font. Therefore, when you conceive your vector file, you need to:

  • Give priority to narrow fonts

  • Space the letters

  • Not write your texts too small (2mm minimum)

For laser cutting , it is key to take the kerf into account when designing your text. The texts must be treated like shapes: they must be vectorised and respect the same rules as every other shape (see tutorial).

As for full letters (A, D, O, B...) remember to create links between the inside and the outside of the letter (see below), so that the center doesn't get detached from the rest of the letter. These links are necessary if you wish to keep the outer part of the cut (we'll call it the stencil). So that your text looks best and harmonized, you can create similar links all over the text, even on letters that don't need them.

These links are really simple to create on your own, but you can also use a font like STENCIL, in which they already exist. You'll find such fonts with a simple internet search.

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Tips

To get an approximation of the kerf, you can temporarily apply a 1,2 pt thickness to your letters.


Depth of Laser Engraving


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We offer two types of laser engraving:

  • Line engraving : ideal to engrave a contour. It's the same operation as cutting, with less power. For this type of engraving, use our cutting tips when designing your file. On our website, only one line engraving level is available.

  • Surface engraving (also known as infill engraving): For this type of engraving, the outline of your design must absolutely be closed. We offer two levels of surface engraving depth: superficial or deep. With the superficial level, the cut can barely be felt by touch, whereas it is noticeable with the deep level.

Make sure you incorporate different colors in your vectorial design, according to whether you want a cut, an engraving line or a surface engraving.


Tips

Surface engraving requires a horizontal sweeping of the laser head, which can slow the process. Considering that manufacturing time can be an important price factor, we recommend you either choose a superficial engraving level or you limit your surface engraving to a few cm²


Piece Assembly Restrictions

Is it possible to assemble your parts? Yes
Minimum space required for assembly Depends on the kerf

The pieces that are cut can then be assembled. In order to do that you must plan for a minimum space between each of the pieces to assemble. This space must be larger if you want your pieces to be mobile. Make sure to build your design in a way that allows space for the kerf.

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If you want your objects to fit into each other (for example a yellow acrylic square into a blue frame) you must take the kerf into account, which means subtract half the size of the kerf from the blue frame's parameter, and add the other half of the kerf to the yellow square, as you can see on the sketch below:

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For more information on pieces assembly, we invite you to visit our tutorial on how to prepare a model for laser cutting on Illustrator or Inkscape.

Conceiving nodes in order to lock pieces together

If you wish to make MDF pieces fit into each other and make sure they’ll stay connected, we recommend that you add in nodes. Nodes are small bumps situated in a piece’s slots or tabs, that allow to compensate the thickness variations of the material and the kerf. Nodes get compressed when the pieces are assembled and they concentrate the friction on specific points rather than on the slot’s whole surface. This way, the slots can be larger without coming apart, allowing the pieces to stay together.

In order to make sure the pieces stay fixed, you must place the nodes on each side of the slot opposite to one another. Depending on the length of the slot, you can place several nodes. This will minimize the tension that could potentially occur if the nods were not aligned or if one was missing. They must be smooth and long enough to ease the interlocking. Depending on the material’s density, the nodes’ width may be increased or decreased. The higher the material’s density, the smaller the nodes’ width should be.

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Files with multiple objects

Files with Multiple Objects ? Yes

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It is possible to cut or engrave several objects designed in the same vector file, by attributing one different color for each action, as indicated on the tutorial how to upload and prepare your 2D file.

Technical specifications

Natural MDF

Mechanical Properties Conditions Unit Value
Density +/- 7% EN 323 Kg/m3 min. 780 / max. 850
Swelling (24 hours) EN 317 % min. 15 / max. 17 
Modulus of Elasticity EN 310 N/mm2 min. 2500 / max. 2700
Bending Strength EN 310 N/mm2 min. 23 / max. 22
Internal Bond EN 319 N/mm2 min. 0.60 / max. 0.65

Colored MDF

Mechanical Properties Conditions Unit Value
Density +/- 30 Kg/m3 EN 323 Kg/m3 850
Swelling (24 hours) EN 317 % 12
Modulus of Elasticity EN 310 N/mm2 3400
Bending Strength EN 310 N/mm2 42
Internal Bond EN 319 N/mm2 0.80


To learn more about MDF technical specifications, refer to the following documents:


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