How Does a Laser Cutter Work? – Elena

Unlike 3D printing, laser cutters create designs and patterns by cutting into materials instead of building them up layer-by-layer. This subtractive manufacturing technology uses a powerful laser beam source to melt, burn, or vaporize material away. A desktop laser cutter typically follows directions from computer numerical control (CNC) or G-code.

Emitting a process starts with an extremely small laser beam from a tube when a current passes through. This current causes the laser to reflect off a partial mirror and point through a focal lens in the machine head. Following the vector file that holds the 2D design, the laser beam cuts away at a material until completes the image. These laser cutting machines are highly capable of creating finely detailed patterns with a high-quality surface finish. There is a wide range of laser cutting techniques and compatible materials that you can use.

Laser Cutter Types

Laser Cutter Type #1: CO2 Laser

CO2 powered laser cutters are the most commonly used of the three. With low power usage, relatively low price, and high efficiency, this laser cutting technology is the most ideal for consumers and maker spaces. The laser source is generated from a gas mixture that is primarily comprised of carbon dioxide. Also, CO2 lasers are compatible with the broadest range of materials.

Laser Cutter Type #2: Neodymium

This laser, created with neodymium-doped crystals, has a much smaller wavelength and higher intensity compared to CO2 lasers. Enabling the laser to cut through thicker and stronger materials, including metals and some ceramics. The downside to this type of laser is that machine parts wear down very quickly, requiring a higher degree of maintenance.

Laser Cutter Type #3: Fiber Laser

Created from a so-called “seed laser” and amplified through special glass fibers. This laser source has a high intensity that rivals Neodymium but is easier to maintain due to the way to built them. We usually use fiber-based laser cutters for laser marking processes, which entails marking or labeling workpieces with information.

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