3. Materials for Laser Cutting
We can laser cut plastics, woods, rubbers, foams, papers, and thin metals as long as they do not contain chlorine. Depending on the material, there is usually no limit to the thinnest sheet we can cut, and the thickest sheet we can cut is typically 1" (24 mm). We stock some woods and various plastics including acrylic, ABS, Mylar, Delrin®, PETG, and styrene, and you are welcome to mail us material or have suppliers ship us material directly. A complete list of materials is available on the quote request form.
Materials we can laser cut
We can cut the following materials. If you do not see your material listed, we would be happy to try cutting it as long as it does not contain chlorine (please submit a quote request and provide details about your material in the special instructions section of the quote request form).
- ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
- Acrylic (also known as Plexiglas, Lucite, PMMA)
- Delrin (POM, acetal) – for a supplier, try McMaster-Carr.
- High density polyethylene (HDPE) – melts badly
- Kapton tape (Polyimide)
- Mylar (polyester)
- Nylon – melts badly
- PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol)
- Polyethylene (PE) – melts badly
- Polypropylene (PP) – melts somewhat
- Two-tone acrylic – top color different than core material, usually for custom instrumentation panels, signs, and plaques.
- Thin metals:
- Stainless steel (up to 0.060")
- Spring steel (up to 0.060")
- Depron foam – often used for RC planes.
- Gator foam – foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard shell.
- Cloths (leather, suede, felt, hemp, cotton)
- Magnetic sheets
- Rubbers (only if they do not contain chlorine) – for a supplier, try McMaster-Carr
- Teflon (PTFE, Polytetrafluoroethylene) – for a supplier, try McMaster-Carr.
- Woods (MDF, balsa, birch, poplar, red oak, cherry, holly, etc.) – we stock various thicknesses of birch plywood. For other types of wood, try Inventables.
Materials we cannot laser cut
We do not or cannot cut the following materials:
- Most metals – We cannot cut most metals. The two exceptions are thin sheets of stainless or spring steel (up to 0.060" thick). We also stock an acrylic-based, dual-tone plastic with a faux-metal finish on one side. If you need thicker metal parts, you might consider a water jet cutting service.
- Polycarbonate (PC, Lexan) – we stopped cutting Lexan due to the fumes.
- Any material containing chlorine
- PVC (Cintra) – contains chlorine
- Vinyl – contains chlorine
- Glass – we can engrave glass, but we cannot cut it.
- Printed circuit board (FR4 and other material types)
- Carbon fiber
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE) thicker than 1/16" – We are unable to cut HDPE thicker than 1/16", and HDPE of any thickness melts badly when laser cut.
Below are pictures of most of the 1/8" acrylic colors we stock. Your monitor will probably not show the colors exactly, but the pictures should give you some idea of what the colors are like. We do stock other colors and materials: see the quote request form for a complete list.
Two-tone acrylic stocked: We also stock two-tone acrylic with either a black top and white core, or a brushed-aluminum top and black core (in both 1/8" and 1/16" thicknesses). You can have other laser-safe two-tone materials shipped to us from suppliers such as Johnson Plastics.
Special-order acrylic colors available:
- Translucent acrylic in orange, yellow, purple, turquoise, and ivory
- Transparent acrylic in orange, dark blue, and green
- Transparent neon or fluorescent acrylic in red/pink, orange, green, and blue
- Mirrored acrylic in red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and bronze
General information about some plastics
We mainly laser cut the following plastics, for which we have provided some additional information:
Acrylic (PMMA, Plexiglas)
Acrylic, also known as PMMA, is a type of plastic with a variety of brand name manufacturers, including Plexiglas, Lucite, Acrylite, and Optix. We stock different brands depending on what our suppliers carry. We can cut up to 1" acrylic. The thicknesses in inches of acrylic is nominal; the actual thicknesses are in millimeters and vary by + or – 10% within the same sheet.
Acrylic is typically manufactured using two methods: cast into a glass mold, or continuously extruded through a machine. The following table highlights their differences:
|Cast Acrylic||Extruded Acrylic|
|Turns frosty white when engraved, which provides high-contrast engravings||Engraving is difficult to see from most angles|
|Thickness varies much more||Better thickness tolerances|
|Higher molecular weight; less susceptible to cracking, e.g. when machined||Lower molecular weight; more susceptible to cracking, e.g. when machined|
|Higher melting point results in less polished finish||Lower melting point provides a more polished finish|
|Wider variety of colors available||Fewer color options|
Acrylic is the cheapest plastic to laser cut. It is attractive (it has a glossy surface), comes in a variety of thicknesses and colors, and the edges of laser-cut acrylic have a “laser-polished” look. Acrylic is somewhat brittle (you have to be careful not to crack if you want to drill holes after laser cutting; it is better to have us laser-cut all screw holes and mounting holes). Acrylic parts will crack or chip (especially at sharp corners) if you drop them on a hard surface. Acrylic usually comes with a paper masking on both sides.
Acrylic comes in a variety of thicknesses. It is available in transparent, translucent, and opaque colors, including neons, fluorescents, and mirrored colors. If we do not stock the thickness or color you need, we can special-order it for you from our suppliers, or you may have it shipped to us from a supplier such as United States Plastics, or McMaster-Carr.
Two-tone acrylic (with a thin, top layer that is a different color than the core material) is available for parts that require high-contrast engraving such as instrumentation panels, signs, and plaques. We stock a few basic colors (including one with a faux-metal, brushed-aluminum finish on one side); you can get other colors at Johnson Plastics.
Acrylic is transparent to infrared light (IR), so it is not appropriate for blocking IR (e.g. shielding around IR sensors). You can glue acrylic together using special acrylic glues such as Weld-On. Please contact your local hardware store and ask for glues used for acrylic or Plexiglas.
Our customers have made the following types of parts with acrylic:
- robot parts and chassis
- computer case parts
- computer fan grills
- custom jewelry and charms
- custom stencils
- luthier templates and tools
- instrument inlays
- instrument-making tools
- enclosures for electronics
- custom ornaments
- custom awards
- custom gifts
- custom trinkets
- custom model railroad parts
- other scale model parts
- custom art pieces
- custom sign lettering and logos
ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
ABS comes in black or white, with one side smooth, and the other side textured. The texture is called a “hair cell texture” and is similar to the texture on the sides of older refrigerators. We have cut up to 1/4" ABS. We can probably cut thicker ABS, but we have not tried. The thickness in inches of ABS is nominal; the actual thicknesses are in millimeters and vary by + or – 10% within the same sheet.
ABS does not come masked. If you would like us to mask it during cutting, please request this in the special instructions section of our quote request form. ABS is opaque to infrared light (IR), so it can be used for IR-sensing applications.
ABS is easy to machine and is not brittle (it will bend quite a bit before it cracks). ABS parts will not crack or break easily, even if you drop them. Legos, many computer peripherals, and graphing calculator cases are made from ABS. ABS is less rigid than acrylic, and is somewhat soft. You can glue ABS parts together using sticky, black, ABS glue available at hardware stores. With ABS, you can design parts that snap together by making tabs with small “hooks” or “feet” that fit into slots that are slightly smaller than the feet (so they stay hooked in to the slots).
Laser-cut ABS parts tend to smell, so you might have to air them out for a few days and wipe dust and residue from the edges. Do not attempt to clean ABS parts in your dishwasher (the parts become discolored).
Other customers have made laser-cut encoders, sturdy robot chassis, instrumentation panels, gears, and sprockets using ABS.
PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol)
We only stock PETG in clear. We have cut up to 3/16" PETG; we can probably cut thicker PETG, but we have not tried. The thickness in inches of PETG is nominal; the actual thicknesses are in millimeters and vary by + or − 10% within the same sheet.
PETG usually comes with a thin, plastic, film masking on both sides. It is not brittle (it will bend quite a bit before it cracks), and PETG parts will not crack or break easily, even if you drop them. PETG is less rigid than acrylic, and is somewhat soft.
Laser-cut PETG parts tend to smell, so you might have to air them out for a few days and wipe off any dust and residue with warm water.
Other customers have laser cut PETG to make very thin grids/nets for scientific experiments and guards for pinball machines to protect the pinball parts from the impact of the pinballs.
Delrin (POM, acetal)
Delrin is a very tough, slippery material that resists warping and deforming well. You cannot glue anything to Delrin. It is more expensive than acrylic, ABS, or PETG. Gears are often made from Delrin. We do not stock Delrin, but you can order it from McMaster-Carr or another supplier and have it drop-shipped to us directly. Please be sure the material is shipped FLAT (not rolled).
How to supply your own material for laser cutting
If you plan to supply your own material, please mention this in the special instructions section in our quote request form, and also specify the sheet size of the material you plan to supply. Material sheets must be no larger than 35.5" x 50". If you are raster engraving parts, or if you can only supply a CDR, AI, SVG, or PDF file (not a CAD file set up for laser cutting), your material must be no larger than 24" x 36". Please send the material to our address as shown on our contact page.
If you are sending the material yourself, please include a note that has your full name, day-time phone number, quote number, and email address that you check regularly. The material must be very flat (not bowed, warped, or rolled; otherwise the laser cannot focus properly).
If a material supplier is shipping to us directly, please be sure they include your full name and quote number in the attention line in the address. If possible, the shipping receipt, label, invoice, or packing list should also include your day-time phone number. Please instruct the supplier to select the flattest material and ship it flat, not rolled, folded, or bent.
It is always good to supply extra material just in case something goes wrong with the cutting, and for testing and calibration purposes, especially if you are sending material we have not cut before. If you would like us to ship excess material back to you, please let us know in the special instructions section of our quote request form.