Nov 25, 2018

Acrylic Laser Cutting – Best Ways to Get the Job Done

Acrylic is a fantastic material to create intricate designs. With a Laser Cutter, you can cut any 2D design you want! In this article, we explain the process of creating a vectorial design and share a few hints to simplify the intricate process of laser cutting acrylic.

Acrylic Laser Cutting What Is a Laser Cutter?

Acrylic sheet-carving machine. Source: Shutterstock

First thing’s first: Before getting into laser cutting acrylic, it’s important to understand what a laser cutting machine is and how it works.

A laser cutting machine is a device that uses a beam of radiation to cut, fuse, connect, and evaporate materials. It’s a technology centered around high speed and precision.

A typical laser cutter connects a computer and works in the X and Y axes. (In other words, it’s a bidimensional machine.) The computer controls the laser (power, frequency, speed). Other aspects — like table setup, lenses and focus, exhaust, gas, and material preparation — must be done manually. All these variables can influence the quality of the laser cut.

With the acrylic sheet in place, the laser will vaporize the solid material, creating a thin, smooth, and glossy surface with extreme precision.

Acrylic Laser Cutting How to Prepare a File

Different anchor points. Source: Dissertation Esculturas em Tecnologia CNC

To laser cut, it’s important to have a good vector model. This model is comparable to a drawing with a single line. The computer will process this line and cut it into the acrylic sheet.

You can work in any of the different CAD software tools available to create your vector file. Here are some popular examples:

To prepare the file, one must know the program in which the machine is working. Most of the programs work in RGB mode and in millimeters. In this case, the color of each line must be indicated by the producer and the stroke weight must be 0.01 mm.

Tips:

  • Minimum distance between components: If there are a lot of parts to cut, it is best to keep them as close to each other as possible (usually limited to 2 mm between components, but it depends on the thickness of the sheet).
  • Outline text: If there is text in the model, only the outline will be cut. Enclosed letters (A, O, B, …) must have a link that bridges internal and external spaces, like stencil letters.
  • Unnecessary points: Each component must be a continuous vector, without unnecessary anchor points or overlapping lines. Too many of the former will damage the quality of the final result.
  • Assembled parts: Components that need to be assembled must have a kerf (width) difference of 0.4 mm between the measurements of each piece.

All this information should additionally be provided by the company that you select to cut the model.

Note: Acrylic is a weak material to work on. Sharp angles, for examples, are likely to break. The solution is to add a small hole to each sharp corner. This will allow the stress to distribute itself across the entire surface.

Acrylic Laser Cutting Can I Laser Cut at Home?

Sparks fly as this machine cuts metal. Source: Shutterstock

Although laser cutters are amazing tools, it can be a problem to have one at home.

As explained above, a laser cutting machine vaporizes the material, turning it into a harmful gas. A home laser cutter should therefore have an exhaust system with a good stream of air to expel the gas outdoors or to an air filter.

Most machines sold on the Internet have a weaker laser designed to engrave or cut paper and soft materials. If such a device is more to your like, take a look at our article on laser engravers, which has all the info you need.

That said, Glowforge, a company in Seattle, sells three similar laser cutting machines:

  • Glowforge Basic: The first laser cutter machine released.
  • Glowforge Plus: An upgrade to the Glowforge Basic, with a high laser power.
  • Glowforge Pro: A professional laser cutter machine with a larger printing area and a different cooling system.

Acrylic Laser Cutting Acrylic Laser Cutter Services

The Laser Co's service plan. Source: The Laser Co

Just because it’s hard to laser cut at home doesn’t mean you can’t have laser-cut products. There are many companies that provide acrylic laser cutting services. In the following, we look at some recommendable websites.

Acrylic Laser Cutting Laser Cutting Service #1: FabLab San Diego

Source: FabLab

FabLab is a worldwide network of associated artists and technicians that work together to help build technological or manufactured projects. Each FabLab offers a different set of machines and technologies.

FabLab San Diego doesn’t have a physical location, but there is still a connection between the associates and new partners and projects. They also provide workshops!

Here’s a list of all FabLab locations around the world.

Acrylic Laser Cutting Laser Cutting Service #2: NYC Laser Cut

Source: NYC Laser Cut

NYC Laser Cut is a studio focused on CNC milling, laser cutting, and engraving. They began as architecture design and fabrication but are now a renowned service for both digital and conventional technologies. They also help prepare the design you need!

Materials:

  • Acrylic up to 1/4″ (6 mm): opaque, translucent, transparent and mirrored
  • Wood up to 1/4″ (6 mm): birch plywood, basswood, wood veneer, and more
  • Paper/board: cardstock, museum board, chipboard, cardboard

If you need thicker materials, they also have CNC milling machines!

Acrylic Laser Cutting Laser Cutting Service #3: The Laser Co

The Laser Co specializes in laser cutting and engraving. Like NYC Laser cut, they help with the design of new ideas and offer local and sustainable materials.

Materials:

  • Acrylic up to 6 mm: matte, colored, clear, opal, and frosted
  • Wood up to 6 mm: poplar plywood, bamboo plywood, premium beech plywood
  • Cork up to 3 mm
  • MDF up to 4 mm: cardstock oak veneer or walnut veneer
  • Polypropylene up to 0.6 mm
  • Screenboard up to 2.5 mm
  • Corrugated card up to 7 mm

Acrylic Laser Cutting Laser Cutting Service #4: Online Laser Cutting

Source: Online Laser Cutting

With years of experience in laser cutters, Online Laser Cutting provides a professional and high-quality service for all type of designs, materials, and sizes.

Materials (in stock):

  • Acrylic: colored, two-tone plastic, transparent, glitter, matte, and frosted
  • Wood: plywood, bamboo, solid wood, MDF, and veneered MDF
  • Rubber stamps: eco rubber, assemble yourself, finished stamps, and A4 sheets
  • Stencils up to 0.3 mm: reusable, tear proof, mylar, and polyester
  • Board: boxboard and mattboard
  • Extras: double-sided and adhesive backing

License: The text of "Acrylic Laser Cutting – Best Ways to Get the Job Done" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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