Laser cutters are one of the most powerful tools available to makers and designers. They can be used for everything from cutting metal and plastic to engraving wood and fabric. Laser cutters can also cut vinyl, making them ideal for use in home studios or small businesses where large-scale production is unnecessary. What’s more, they’re much cheaper than traditional vinyl-cutting machines. But how exactly do laser cutters work? And what do you need to know before cutting your first piece of vinyl with one? Here are some things every maker needs to know about using a laser cutter as an alternative method of cutting material with precision accuracy:
1. What is a laser cutter, and what can it be used for
The short answer is “yes,” but let’s discuss this.
A laser cutter is an additive manufacturing machine that uses a laser to cut, engrave, and etch materials. It can be used for making prototypes, models, and artwork—but for more practical things like cutting fabric or paper (e.g., if you’re making a costume). This means that laser cutters are great for designing projects with multiple components that require holes—like your favorite cosplay!
2. The different types of materials that can be cut with a laser cutter
Here’s a list of the most common materials that can be cut with a laser cutter:
- Plastic: Acrylic, ABS, PVC, HDPE, PETG
- Wood: Milled lumber (plywood or particle board), sheet goods (veneers and plywood)
- Paper/cardboard/fabric: Paper (including newsprint), cardboard, and fabric to be used as clothing or accessories. You’ll need to use a design that doesn’t require cutting through too many layers of material at once—a single layer is best. If you’re using multiple layers in your design, make sure they are small enough to not overlap or interfere with each other when cut together. For example, if you’re using two types of paper, then make sure there isn’t any overlap between them so that when they come out from being cut, there won’t be any problems with tearing them apart as one piece may have been slightly bigger than another piece resulting in one piece being ripped off by accident rather than both pieces coming out cleanly.
3. How to cut vinyl with a laser cutter
Before cutting vinyl with a laser cutter, it’s important to ensure your laser cutter is set up properly. Here’s what you need to do:
- Set up your machine for engraving or cutting. If your machine has multiple options for this setting, choose the one that matches the type of material being engraved or cut.* Ensure air deflectors are positioned correctly and free of dust and debris.* Turn on the ventilation fan on your device’s back, so it doesn’t overheat while in use.* Make adjustments as necessary (such as lowering power settings) if there are any issues with heat build-up after turning on both fans simultaneously.
Now you’re ready to cut vinyl! Just follow these instructions:
4. Things you need to know before you start cutting vinyl with a laser cutter
Before you start cutting vinyl, there are a few things you need to know.
- Check that your vinyl is in good shape! If it has any scratches or tears, don’t use it. Keep the edges straight so they won’t get caught on anything while cutting.
- Prep your material by laying it flat and ironing it if necessary (you can do this by putting paper between each layer). This will keep it from curling when heated and prevent uneven cuts caused by uneven tension on different parts of the material as they pass through the laser beam.* Make sure that nothing else touches your material except what’s being cut out. Even something as small as a bit of dust can cause damage!
- Ensure all safety features are on and working properly before turning on the machine: interlocks must be set correctly so that no one can walk into an unsafe situation while operating the equipment; fume hoods must be closed when not in use; eye protection must be worn whenever near lasers.* Protect yourself from heat generated during cutting operations by placing appropriate barriers between yourself and hot components such as optics housings or mirrors!
5. Tips for getting the best results when cutting vinyl with a laser cutter
- Use high-quality vinyl. When your vinyl is new, it will have a matte finish and be easy to cut through. As the material ages, it will become more glossy and harder to cut. This can lead to uneven cuts and melted edges visible when you peel away the material from your design.
- Make sure your settings are correct for optimal results:
- If possible, use a 50% speed setting on your laser cutter with plenty of power (usually over 100 watts).
- Use a cool beam focus mode instead of focusing directly on an object being cut; this helps prevent warping or melting around curves in designs made with thicker materials like PETG or wood veneer sheets.*
Use a high-quality laser cutter: Cheaper machines like the Epilog Mini can often have overheating issues, leading to inconsistent cutting and warping of your design. For best results, use a machine that its manufacturer has professionally calibrated.
Now that you know how to cut vinyl with a laser cutter, you can start your next project.