What Are the Different Types of Laser Cut Materials?

Paul Scott

Laser cutting is a production process where a high power laser is used to cut, bore, or engrave various materials. The process is characterized by extremely accurate and clean cuts, making it ideal for high-precision applications. When it comes to suitable laser cut materials, there is an extensive range used in both industrial manufacturing and decorative applications, which include a large selection of plastics, ceramics, and a variety of metals. Several foam grades can also be laser cut, as can leather, paper, and wood, among other materials. Laser cutting is generally carried out with three different types of lasers, not all of which are suitable for all laser cut materials.

A man working on a piece of furniture made with laser cut MDF.
A man working on a piece of furniture made with laser cut MDF.

Technological advances in the high power laser industry have seen an increase in the numbers and variety of potential laser cut materials. Laser cutting is a process where a computer-controlled high-powered laser is directed to cut a shape from a sheet of material. The laser melts, or vaporizes, the material in a very finely focused area to achieve a cut with very little residue around its periphery. This, coupled with the inherent accuracy of computer control, makes laser cutting a high-precision process capable of exceptionally clean, accurate cuts.

A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.
A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.

A large selection of materials of various thicknesses are suitable for laser cutting. The process is typically used on flat sheets, although cylindrical and several other geometric shapes can be cut. Laser cut materials include a large number of plastics, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), acrylics, and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Mylar, nylon, and polypropylene (PP) can also be cut, although nylon and PP can melt unpredictably during the process.

Several metals are suitable laser cut materials, including mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Types of ceramic materials can also be cut or engraved using laser technology. Foam products such as Depron, Gatorfoam®, and expanded polystyrene (EPS) are also suitable laser cutting materials, as are several types of wood sheet products including balsa and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). A wide range of other materials such as fabrics, rubber, and paper, as well as leather and magnetic strip are also ideally suited to laser cutting.

One point that should be kept in mind when selecting laser cutting materials is the type of laser involved. There are three basic types of laser used in these operations namely CO2, neodymium (Nd), and neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd YAG) lasers. These lasers are not all suitable for all materials, so it's a good ideal to check whether the material chosen is suitable for the laser in question.

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