What can I cut or engrave with a laser?

What can I cut or engrave with a laser?

Customers often ask if I can cut or engrave an item with my laser, and sometimes it takes a bit of research to answer the question. The short list is that a CO2 laser cannot cut or mark metal, and any plastics with Chlorine are not safe. Paper, wood, acrylics (Plexiglas) and leather can all be cut and engraved, glass can be engraved. Some plastics make a huge mess in the laser and others, especially those containing chlorine are not safe.

I have a CO2 laser from Epilog which does a great job for typical engraving jobs.

Metals

While a CO2 laser cannot mark metal directly, many engraving materials are coated so you can see the mark. Anodized aluminum is a great example – it engraves beautifully! Cermark is another coating for metal that turns into black ceramic coating where the laser hits it, and the rest washes off with water.

Wood

A CO2 laser will cut and engrave wood.  Each species of wood is a bit different in how it reacts to a laser, and different pieces of the same species will behave differently.    When engraved, some woods darken  giving good contrast, other woods have a very light mark.  Cutting wood often leaves a charred edge with a residue near the cut line.  Charring and residue while engraving can be removed with a light sanding or by applying a mask before putting in the laser.  For thicker pieces, cutting using traditional woodworking methods is more practical before engraving.  For example, I would not try to cut out a cutting board with the laser but the laser will do an excellent job of engraving it.  Baltic birch is a commonly lasered plywood up to about 1/4 inch on my laser.  It is available as thin as 1/64 inch which could easily be mistaken for paper.

Acrylic

Lasers do a great job on acrylic plastics – cutting and engraving.  The laser when cutting gives a flame polished edge.  Engraving looks great on it’s own or it can be colour filled with acrylic paints for added effect.  Most laser engraving sheet materials for plaques and signage are based on acrylic materials.  When edge lit with LED lights the engraving on acrylic signs really stand out.

Glass

Lasers can engrave glass, but it can be tricky to get high quality results.  Sometimes less expensive glass engraves better than more expensive types.  For example I would not recommend using a laser  on an optical crystal glass.  For a high quality result on glass or crystal I prefer to sandcarve the item. 

Rubber

Rubber can be processed with a laser.  Rubber stamps are made from a special low odour  laserable sheet rubber which is engraved first then cut to size.  You can also engrave a hockey puck, but so far I have not found a low odour puck.

Paper

Lasers can be used to cut paper.  With a nice card stock a laser can produce very intricate designs for such things as wedding invitations or cut outs for scrapbooking.

Stuff that shouldn’t be lasered

Any plastic with chlorine should not be lasered, for example PVC or vinyl or polycarbonate.  The heat from the laser causes poisonous gases to be released. What is not harmful to people is harmful to the machine.

There are several great charts of materials out there of what can and can’t be lasered – I use this list for example.

Recycled trophies save money and the environment!

Saving materials from the landfill is always good.  Sometimes when a single special trophy is needed for an organization with a lean budget, using recycled components can save money and make your budget go farther!  Companies commission some very fine corporate awards, and when the company is sold or re-branded these pieces become surplus.  They can see new life in the hands of clubs and organizations that would not otherwise be able to afford a larger trophy or award.

recycled trophy

Trophy made from recycled camera.

Star Wars Storm Trooper Toilet Brush

Well, I guess everyone in the military draws latrine duty at some point in their careers!  And maybe, just maybe, someone will think it is cool enough to actually use it!

I can see it now:
Mom:  “Joe, where is the toilet brush from your bathroom?”
Joe:  “It’s in my back pack.  I took it to school today for show and tell!”

Star Wars Storm Trooper Toilet Brush

Star Wars Storm Trooper Toilet Brush

Engraved Plaques

Plaques can be created in a multitude of sizes, materials and colors.  This plaque has a black colored brass plate which has been Diamond Drag engraved.  The logo creation takes more effort than with Laser Engraving, but the results look fantastic as the engraved lines sparkle in the room light.

Sample Environmental Award Plaque

Diamond drag engraved awards creates classy results

Sand Carved Mugs

One of the beauties of Sand Carving is that you can create just one item – you don’t need to have a minimum quantity! A single mug sand carved with your text or artwork is $15.00 per mug.

To make these mugs a rubberized mask is created and applied to the mug. Special abrasive is then blown against the mask, and the ceramic glaze is removed exposing the colour of the raw ceramic inside. For this reason darker mugs will show more contrast; a white or light coloured mug would be hard to see since the ceramic has a similar colour.

 

sandcarved mugs

Sand carved ceramic mugs

A stand-in for a cast architectural brass plaque

A conservation organization wished to honour a local citizen for a lifetime of community service in the environment by dedicating a walking trail to him.  A cast architectural  brass plaque was ordered and would be affixed to a large rock at the entrance to the trail.

For the unveiling of the new plaque, the guest of honour and and family members were invited as well as dignitaries for speeches and the press.  Tents and podiums and refreshments were all booked, the press releases has been issued.  Only one problem:  the brass plaque would not be ready for at least a week after the dedication ceremony, and the ceremony is only 72 hours away!  What to do?

A substitute plaque was needed for the unveiling.  Due to the time constraints, there was not a lot of time for experimenting and testing various methods to duplicate the plaque.  The stand-in needed to look like the real plaque from a viewing distance of several feet so the audience and the press could enjoy the unveiling.

Using Vectric’s V-Carve Pro software, the proof provided by the foundry was scanned in and scaled to the 12 inch X 12 inch size of the final plaque. Letters were sized and stretched to fit the final product and the flourish at the bottom was vector traced.  The area around the brushed gold letters was then machined away revealing the black plastic substrate.  Two different tool sizes were used 0.020 and 0.060.  The finer bit was needed to pass through some letter areas such as the top of an ‘a’.  The larger bit was used to clear away the larger areas of the background.  As it turned out the larger bit should have been larger –  it took too long to clear the background in 0.060 passes.  The machining time for the plastic stand-in took nearly six hours to cut!

I only had one piece of the material in stock, which meant that it had to be right the first time.  There was not time to re-order materials nor time to re-cut it.  The resulting plastic plaque was glued to 10mm FoamCore which had been spray painted black.  From a viewing distance of say 10 feet, it made a very respectable imitation!

The speeches were made, the plaque was unveiled, and the dedication ceremony proceeded with out further complications.  Most of all a very dedicated community member was honoured in front of friends and family, and it is satisfying to know that I had a small part to play.

brass proof

Proof image from the foundry

Stand-in plaque

This stand-in for the real brass plaque looks like the real thing when viewed from the audience.

Comparison of Stand In plaque with the final brass version

The stand-in plaque made for the ceremony sitting beside the ‘real’ cast brass plaque which arrived a week after the dedication ceremony. The brass plaque is on the left, the stand-in is on the right. If you were sitting in the audience 20 feet away, could you tell the difference?

Geocaching Logo carved into Corian

Geocaching is a great outdoor hobby and pastime where players ‘hide and seek’ a hidden cache using a hand held GPS.  The locations are often very well hidden to make them difficult to find, especially if you are not looking  for them.  In this case the cache was located in a flower bed and there was concern that cachers looking under rocks would soon damage the flower bed at this commerical building, so it was decided to make it obvious which rock to search under.

The plaque is made from half inch thick Corian, V-Carved to a depth of almost 0.4 inches.  The resulting product was then painted to match the logo and affixed to the rock with silicone.

For more information about Geocaching see geocaching.com.  The Geocaching Logo is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. Used with permission.  Note that items with this geocaching logo are not available for sale due to copyright restrictions.

 

Rock with Geocaching Logo in Corian

The Geocaching Logo identifies the cache in the flower bed.

Geocaching marker carved in Corian

Geocaching logo and Cache ID carved from Corian.

The Nines Clock

The Nines Clock – each position on the clock face is made up of three nines in a mathematical formula.  This particular custom made for a high school math classroom.  The face is 10 inches square and made of black on white engraving material backed with 1/4 inch  MDF.  The clock mechanism is a continuous sweep model which means when the room is quiet and all you hear is the sweat dripping from the student’s brow onto the floor, there is no click-click-click coming from this clock.  The frame is walnut.

Do you have a custom request?  Let us know what you have in mind and we can let you know if it is within our capabilities.  Just fill out the contact form!