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Laser cutter materials

The laser cutter can mark, engrave or cut a large variety of materials. However, some materials simply don't work well (e.g. most metals), and some are extremely dangerous to the machine and to any humans nearby. You must check this list before placing any item in the laser cutter.

It is not always obvious which materials are dangerous. For example, polycarbonate (Lexan) produces flames, lethal chlorine gas, and hydrochloric acid, which will rapidly corrode both the laser cutter internals and the lungs of anyone who breathes in the fumes. Yet acrylic, which looks exactly like polycarbonate, cuts cleanly and safely, and is a very popular lasering material. So check and double-check your materials!

Never cut these materials!

These materials will damage or destroy the laser, humans, and potentially the entire shop (fire hazards). Placing any of these materials in the laser will get you perma-banned from the laser!

Many plastics are dangerous to cut, so it's important to know exactly what plastic you have. Make: has a post describing how to identify unknown plastics.

Material DANGER! Cause/Consequence
Chlorinated plastics (PVC, vinyl, pleather/artificial leather, Sintra, Kydex)Emits chlorine gas when cut Destroys the focus lens and mirrors, corrodes metal parts and motion control system.
polycarbonate/Lexan cuts poorly, discolors, catches fire Polycarbonate absorbs infrared energy, and thus does not cut – if anything it tends to scorch badly.
ABS Emits cyanide gas, melts, bursts into flame Tends to melt rather than vaporize, leaving behind gooey deposits on the honeycomb bed. Easily bursts into flame. Also engraves poorly (it melts rather than etches).
HDPE (milk bottle plastic) Catches fire and melts Do we need to say more? Don't use it!
Polystyrene foam Catches fire This is the #1 cause of laser fires!
Polypropylene foam Catches fire Just as bad as polystyrene, with the added feature of leaving behind rock-hard deposits.
Fiberglass Emits dangerous fumes Glass can't be cut, and the resin emits dangerous fumes.
Coated carbon fiber Emits dangerous fumes The coating emits dangerous fumes. Thin, uncoated carbon fiber mat can be cut, but will fray along the cut edges.
Pressure treated wood Emits dangerous fumes Should never be burned – not in your fireplace, and definitely not in our laser.
Galvanized metal Emits dangerous fumes Zinc fumes are poisonous. Galvanized metal should never be super heated (so don't weld on it either).
Mirrored surfaces Will not cut, reflects laser beam Mirror surfaces can reflect the laser beam, damaging the cutter's interior components. Some mirrored materials can be placed reflective-side down and cut.

Safe materials


Material Max thickness Notes WARNINGS!
Many woods 1/4“ Avoid oily/resinous woods. Some exotic woods can be toxic. Oily or resinous woods can catch fire
Plywood/composite wood 1/4” Glues in plywood sometimes don't cut well, charring rather than vaporizing. Interior finish grades generally perform better.
MDF/engineered wood 1/4“ May experience charring when cut.
Paper, card stock thin Cuts well and quickly. Use low power and high speed to prevent burnination. Don't stack multiple sheets, as this increases the chance of fire.
Cardboard thicker Cuts well. Watch carefully, as it may catch fire. Watch for fire!
Cork 1/4” Quality of the cut depends on the quality of the cork. Engineered cork contains a lot of glue, and may not cut well. Avoid thicker pieces
Acrylic (Lucite®, Plexiglas®, Perspex®, PMMA) 1/2“ Cuts well, leaves a smooth cut edge. Higher powers may leave smoke/scorch marks along the cut edges. Stinky fumes
Delrin® (acetal/POM) thin Harder Delrin tends to work better
Kapton® (polyimide) 1/16” Works well in thin sheets or tape strips
Mylar® (polyester film) 1/16“ Thin sheets work well. Thicker sheets tend to bubble, warp and curl. Gold-coated Mylar cannot be cut
Styrene sheet 1/16” Does not etch well. Cut edges will have a small ridge of melted material; thicker sheets will have a thicker ridge.
Depron foam 1/4“ Cuts cleanly, with a smooth edge. Watch out for flames! Must be monitored constantly.
Gatorfoam/foamcore Foam core will get burned away deeper than the top and bottom surfaces. Not a great material for cutting, but it can be cut. Watch constantly for flames!
Natural-fiber cloth (cotton, wool, hemp) All cut well. Do not use plastic-coated or impregnated cloth!
Leather/suede 1/8” Belt-weight leather (say 1/8“ thick) can be cut. Thicker pieces will not cut completely. Can be stinky, and the smell can linger on the pieces for a few days/weeks. DO NOT cut artificial leather!
Magnetic sheet Cuts cleanly
NON-CHLORINE-containing rubber Beware chlorine-containing rubber! If you're not sure, assume you've got chlorinated rubber, and don't cut it.
Teflon® (PTFE) thin Cuts OK in thin sheets
Carbon fiber mat without epoxy applied Can be cut, slowly. Will fray along cut edges. Do not cut coated carbon fiber!
Coroplast® (corrugated plastic, yard-sign material) 1/4” Difficult to cut through cleanly, due to the ribs. Multiple passes are usually needed.

Etching (Rastering)

Any of the materials listed in the “Cutting” table can also be etched.

In addidtion, the following materials can be etched, but not cut:

Material Notes WARNINGS!
Glass Gives a sandblasted look. Flat glass only, we cannot etch on rounded or cylindrical surfaces
Ceramic tile To get deeper etching, use higher resolutions. But be aware that high resolutions will greatly increase your run time!
Anodized aluminum Blasts away the anodized layer
Painted metals Blasts away the paint layer
Stone Gives a white textured look
documentation/laser_cutters/laser_cutter_materials.txt · Last modified: 2022/06/09 12:24 by bradf