Acrylic Laser Cutting: All you need to know
Acrylic Laser Cutting: All you need to Know
What is acrylic laser cutting?
Acrylic laser cutting is a precise cutting technique that utilizes a CAD file as a guide to cut a desired design from acrylic material. This process is a form of digital subtractive creation where the laser cuts or engraves the material with precision. Essentially, acrylic laser cutting is a highly accurate and efficient way to create intricate designs in acrylic material.
What is acrylic?
Acrylic, also known by the trade name "plexiglass", is a transparent thermoplastic homopolymer that shares similarities with polycarbonate as an impact-resistant alternative to glass. While not as strong as polycarbonate, it is still very durable and suitable for various applications where glass-like clarity is desired. Acrylic was first manufactured in 1928 and commercialized by Rohm and Haas Company five years later. During World War II, it was widely used for submarine periscopes, aircraft windows, turrets and canopies. Its impact resistance proved valuable in protecting airmen's eyes from shards of broken acrylic, which were less harmful than shattered glass.
Today, acrylic is used in a wide range of applications that take advantage of its natural transparency and impact resistance. It is commonly used for eyeglasses, acrylic nails, paint, security barriers, medical devices, LCD screens and furniture. Its clarity also makes it a popular choice for windows, tanks and display cases. With its versatility and transparency, acrylic continues to be a valuable material in various industries.
Known for its luster, transparency, optical clarity and vibrant colors, acrylic is a visually captivating material. Acrylic is used in a wide variety of high-demand products because of its stunning properties. Acrylic is usually available in sheets. But to make the item you want, you need to cut out the appropriate shape or pattern. Laser cutting is one of the fastest and easiest ways to cut acrylic sheets. It provides a precise and refined cut that enhances the appearance of the finished panel.
What Laser Cutter Can Cut Acrylic?
Directing powerful laser beams can rapidly raise the temperature at the surface of the material, which is a key part of the acrylic laser cutting and engraving process. Once the material reaches its boiling point, it can change from a solid to a gas. Acrylic, which has a low boiling point of 200°C, undergoes this solid-to-gas transformation directly when its temperature is rapidly raised to the boiling point.Acrylic can be engraved with a laser by rapidly raising its temperature with powerful laser beams, causing the surface material to vaporize, leaving a cavity or deep mark. The laser's power and speed allow it to penetrate the acrylic sheet and cut it into the desired shape.
However, when using an acrylic laser cutter to cut or engrave acrylic, certain factors must be considered, such as the type of laser machine, the type of acrylic, and its color. The wavelength and color of the laser are critical because different colors absorb light differently. For example, blue lasers do not cut blue acrylic due to the reflection of the blue laser, which prevents the laser from absorbing heat. Clear acrylic will not be cut with a blue laser because the light will pass through the material and not be absorbed.
This requires an appropriate laser, such as a CO2 laser cutter. A CO2 laser cutter emits a laser beam in the infrared range, which can be absorbed by acrylic of any color. Another important factor is the power of the laser machine because, with enough power, acrylic laser cutting will work easily, ideally in a single pass, which saves time and gives the best results. To get the best results when cutting and engraving acrylic, you need to choose the right laser, the right grade and color of acrylic, and the right laser power.
Does Diode Laser Cut Acrylic?
There are some limitations to diode laser when it comes to achieving different color acrylic laser cutting; however, most diode laser cutters are not capable of clear acrylic laser cutting, nor can they engrave or cut it. For preventing laser reflection or penetration, some users may apply paint or masking tape to acrylic surfaces, but this is not always practical. The optical power of the machine is another factor to consider when cutting acrylic with a diode laser. It will typically be possible to cut acrylic up to 6-8mm thick in a single pass with a 15-20W diode laser with adequate optical power.
The acrylic used for laser cutting
The manufacturing process of acrylic sheets can be categorized into two broad categories: Cast Acrylic and Extruded Acrylic. Cast acrylics are made by pouring molten acrylics into molds, which determine their shape, size, and thickness. Extruded acrylics, on the other hand, are made by pressing hot acrylic sheets under rollers mechanically. As the acrylic is rolled until it reaches the desired thickness, it can be manufactured in large quantities. For this reason, extruded acrylic is more affordable than cast acrylic.
Despite having the same chemical composition, both acrylic types exhibit different properties when exposed to acrylic-laser-cutting machines. They come in sheet form but are manufactured differently. To ensure optimal results, it is essential to test each type for laser cutting or engraving.
You can also select acrylic by color, thickness, mirroring, light diffusion, tint, texture, and radiation blockage, allowing you to select the most suitable acrylic for your project.
Color and thickness are important when choosing acrylic for laser cutting. A CO2 laser cutter can cut acrylics of any color, whereas a diode laser cutter can only cut some dark opaque acrylics. It is also important to choose the right thickness of acrylic according to the power of your acrylic-laser-cutting machine. With a 20W diode laser, acrylic up to 8mm thick can be cut effectively in one pass, while CO2 lasers, which have higher power, can cut the most commonly used acrylic sheets.
Handling acrylic laser-cutting Fumes
When it comes to acrylic laser cutting, it is important to remember that the process involves extremely high temperatures that can produce harmful fumes. These fumes can pose a significant threat to your health, especially if you are exposed to them for long periods while cutting acrylic. In addition, acrylic laser cutting can result in irregular shapes that can be inconvenient.
To minimize the risks associated with acrylic laser cutting, there are several steps you can take. First, it is important to wear protective equipment such as a mask and goggles to prevent inhaling the toxic fumes produced during the acrylic laser cutting process.
Another way to reduce fume production and achieve a clear finish is to polish the acrylic material before cutting. There are special polishes that can be sprayed onto the surface of the material, which helps to eliminate the fumes. In addition, the polish helps the machine cut the material smoothly, resulting in a clear finish.
It is important to note, however, that the polish should not be applied to the edges that are to be glued. By taking these precautions, you can minimize the risks associated with cutting acrylic and achieve a high-quality finish.
Avoiding Burns During acrylic laser cutting
In addition, safety issues should always be a top priority when it comes to acrylic laser cutting. For beginners who may not fully understand how the acrylic laser cutting process works, one important safety measure to take is to wear protective gear, such as gloves, to prevent hot pieces of material from landing on your skin and causing damage. While it may seem like a small detail, taking this precaution can make a significant difference in preventing accidents.
Another important safety tip is to set the temperature of the laser cutting machine to the appropriate level for cutting acrylic material. Misuse of the machine, such as setting the heat too high, can result in burns or other accidents.
By taking these safety precautions, you can reduce the risk of accidents when cutting acrylic with a laser and ensure that the process goes smoothly.
In short, acrylic laser cutting is an excellent way to achieve precision cuts and intricate designs in acrylic material.
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