FAQ – Lasers

  • Laser Uses and Capabilities
  • What sorts of materials can I use with a laser cutter?

    The materials that you can process depends on the wavelength and watt-rating of the laser being used.

    CO2 lasers emit a 10.6µm infrared beam which is effective on most non-metallic materials; wood, acrylic, cardboard, MDF, cloth, cork, leather, paper, wool, mylar, etc. Lasers if this wavelength can also etch (but not cut) glass, stone, ceramic, and anodized aluminium, however they are ineffective against all metallic materials.

    Fiber lasers emit an approx. 1.06µm infrared beam which is effective on most metallic materials, such as copper, brass, aluminium, and steel, and can also mark some other materials with varying degrees of effectiveness.

  • What sizes/shapes of material can I use?

    The maximum material size and thickness that is suitable for a laser machine varies widely based on a number of factors, but generally varies between 3mm and 20mm. The ideal material to use in a laser cutter is one that is perfectly flat, relatively thin for a fast cut, and no larger than the rated bed size of the laser machine. However, laser machines work with a wide range of non-ideal materials as well.

    Items such as boxes, planks, and musical instruments can be engraved by either removing (on a fixed-bed laser) or lowering (on a mobile Z-axis bed) the laser bed, long materials such as signs can be cut or engraved with push-through (the material sticking out of the front/back of the laser cutter and processed in sections), cylindrical objects can be cut/engraved with the optional rotary attachment, and even very uneven objects such as driftwood can be processed by manually setting the focus.

  • Can I create a 3D relief or similar?

    Laser cutters/engravers are perfect for the creation of high-contrast relief images and stamps suitable for anything from ink transfer to leather embossing. However the uneven density of most materials causes laser engraving to generally be considered unsuitable for making more sculpted-type variable-depth engravings due to the roughness of the resulting surface, and the inability to preview the etch depth.

    For true "2.5d" machining of landscapes, plaques, busts, etc., a CNC Router is much more suitable.

  • What software do I need?

    We supply software to run the laser cutter free of charge for general download, which is all that is needed to access all of the functions of the laser. However, it is not intended to be a content creation tool, so if you are creating your own designs (or even processing other people's designs), other software is recommended.

    We are familiar with importing into LaserWorks from the following software packages:

    • Inkscape (free)
    • Adobe Illustrator
    • VCarve
    • SolidWorks
    • Adobe Photoshop (raster etching only)

    Other packages work as well, though we are less able to assist with developing a workflow.

  • How safe are CO2 laser cutters?

    Much like any other workshop tool, when used properly a laser cutter/engraver is very safe, and our lasers are equipped with a number of safety features to ensure that risk to the user is as minimal as possible. A few of the potential hazards (and the safety features that protect the user) are listed below:

    Laser Beam Hazards
    CO2 lasers emit infrared radiation with a 10.6 micrometer wavelength, which is non-ionizing (it won't set off a Geiger counter) and is readily absorbed by skin as thermal energy. This is beneficial because it means that the human eye cannot act as a lens for CO2 laser light - small amounts of scattered light that hits the eye is simply converted into unnoticeably small amounts of heat, rather than being focused by the cornea into a potentially damaging beam.

    However, while scattered light is therefore harmless, reflected or directed light from the laser tube is not at all so. The thermal energy in the laser beam could set anything flammable alight, and if it were to hit human skin it could cause extremely severe surface burns. This is why all but our largest industrial-scale laser cutters have a completely enclosed work area, and a safety cutoff switch that prevents the laser from firing while the lid is open.

    We also supply CO2 laser safety glasses for complete personal eye protection.

    Electrical Hazards
    The electrics in all of our laser cutters and engravers are completely contained within the cabinet, and most of our models include keyed locks to prevent direct access. However, if these physical barriers are bypassed, contact voltages inside the cabinet range from 24 volts to 35,000 volts, and are potentially lethal. While this does not pose a hazard to the typical user, it does mean that servicing must be done by qualified individuals.

    All of our lasers are equipped with standard electrical safety mechanisms such as circuit breakers, physical insulators, and electrically grounded casings.

    Fume/Vapour Hazards
    Both cutting and engraving with a laser beam is achieved via thermally vapourizing the material away - effectively burning it. The resulting fumes are a potential hazard depending on the material being burned. To minimize risk, all of our CO2 laser cutters and engravers come standard with fume extraction systems.

    Fire Hazards
    The beam of a CO2 laser will vapourize most materials without significant heating to the material, however some materials (such as acrylic) vapourize into fumes which are themselves flammable. This can, in some circumstances, result in small fire plumes.

    Any fire can be extinguished nearly instantly by user intervention, and we strongly recommend that users keep their laser cutters clean and never leave the machine operating unattended to minimize fire risk. We also highly recommend that the room in which the laser cutter is housed follow standard fire safety procedure, including a heat-based fire detector, and fire extinguishers placed nearby.

  • Do I need a workshop to own a laser cutter?

    Our laser cutters are most at home in a workshop as the extraction system is reasonably noisy, and panel products often need to be cut down to size with loud/dusty saws in order to fit nicely on the laser cutter's bed. But there is absolutely no requirement for a workshop. With a little bit of soundproofing around the extractor fan and a bit of problem-solving applied to material supply, the laser cutter works equally well in a copy center, storage closet, garage, or even bedroom.

    With the addition of a particulate filter on the extraction exhaust (not included - please contact us for more information about these) the laser cutter doesn't even need to vent to the outside and can operate as a completely self-contained unit.

    The biggest and most important consideration for where you put your laser cutter - and the most often overlooked - is access. Any laser cutter larger than our TE5040L will not fit through a standard single door, so other access arrangements will need to be made for the larger units; double-doors, roller-door access, extra-wide doors, or even temporarily removing a door jamb or wall.

    Plan ahead, and you can comfortably operate a laser cutter in virtually any environment.

  • Does a laser cutter require special electrical connections?

    No, all of our laser cutters operate perfectly from standard domestic 240v single-phase outlets found in every home and business. The extraction system for our larger laser cutters can require a fair bit of power to spin up, so we recommend running the laser cutter on its own circuit (or one without too many other devices on it), but apart from that there are no specific requirements.

  • Can laser tubes be replaced or upgraded?

    Glass Tubes: Yes they can! We sell a range of laser tubes in various power outputs and rated lifespans. Any tubes with the same diameter are interchangeable - though if the chassis is not physically large enough to fit the replacement tube, some modifications to the chassis may be required.

    Tubes with a larger diameter can be replaced by tubes of a smaller diameter, but not always the other way around; tubes with a larger diameter also put out a physically larger-diameter laser beam, which requires appropriately sized mirrors and lenses. If you're unsure which tubes work for your laser cutter, ask us!

    RF Tubes: The short answer is yes, either full replacement or regassing (although they have to be sent back to the supplier for this process)

  • Can I engrave cylindrical items like glasses and mugs?

    All lasers can engrave onto surfaces with a little bit of curvature; however if you wish to engrave all the way around an object like a wineglass, you will need a rotary attachment for your laser cutter. All laser cutters with a mobile Z-axis (and many without) support a rotary attachment, and you can purchase them either with the laser cutter or as a separate attachment.

  • What is "mobile Z-axis" and "Autofocus"?

    Laser cutters with a mobile Z-axis have a laser bed that moves up and down to accommodate materials of a range of different thicknesses. This particular variant of laser cutter is also especially good for engraving items such as jewelry boxes and musical instruments - things that you would not usually cut, but that you might wish to engrave.

    Since the bed moves up and down anyway, most lasers with a mobile Z-axis are equipped with an automatic focus mechanism for convenience; a little brass rod attached to the laser head which detects when the material is the correct distance from the lens to be properly in focus. This can be a convenient feature as it means that you don't need to keep track of the focus standoff - though the brass rod can also be inconvenient as well as it can catch on uneven objects.

  • What does it mean to "focus the laser"?

    While laser cutters use lasers in every sense of the word that you might expect, the beam that is generated by the laser emitter is actually quite large in diameter - much larger than would be useful vaporizing objects to cut them. To make the laser cutter more effective, a focusing lens - similar to a magnifying glass - is installed in the laser head just above the material, which will focus the laser down to as small and concentrated a point as is possible.

    Just like a magnifying glass though, the lens focuses down to a point at a set distance from the lens - which for the best laser cutting, should be right at the surface of the material. If the material is too close to the lens, the light will hit the material before it's fully focused, causing a sub-optimal cut. If the material is too far from the lens, the focal point will be up above the material, and the light will have de-focused by the time it hits the material.

    You may wish to intentionally de-focus the laser while engraving, as out-of-focus laser light will char and darken wood much more effectively than focused light, which vaporizes the material before it burns. However this is entirely personal preference.

  • Which machine do I need - Glass tube or RF?

    It all depends on budget and what you wish to achieve.

    The TEXXXXL machines are a superb value for money product and can be repaired easily if they have issues- however they are uber reliable and have a low cost glass-tube which will require replacement after 18-36months of use.

    Our LTT RF machines are nicely engineered (using proprietary technology) and use a solid-state RF excited laser-tube which has a stable output for it's whole life and a smaller dot for engraving (professional folks might notice this but we can't really tell the difference!). The tubes have an average life of 5-8 years and then need re-gassing or replacing.

    Glass tube machines use stepper motors for driving the carriages and are not as fast at engraving, example speed would be 600mm/sec engraving speed whereas the I-Laser 3000/4000 machines can use servo motors and speeds can be upto 1500mm/sec when engraving.

    Professional engraving shops (granite, glass etc) might prefer the smaller spot size of the LTT machines but we have done many hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 4 years or so with our trusty "Chinese" machines.

  • Laser Servicing and Maintenance
  • Will my machine be hard to maintain?

    Certainly not (with a few caveats!)

    In fact our oldest machine has had very minimal maintenance (other than regular cleaning) in the past 5 years. A little squirt of oil after wiping down with simple green cleaner is basically it although the focusing lens may need cleaning regularly .

    It all depends upon what your cutting.. lots of MDF will create yucky deposits which are not very nice to clean up and the dust will start to clog your extraction unit after a few months or so & don't worry if you're thinking "oh wow, I won't remember all this stuff" - we'll give you a "how-to-look-after-your-machine" electronic handbook to make things easier!

    The machines WILL RUN FOR YEARS even with severe neglect, but we don't abuse good gear and recommended some regular periodic checking to keep things running smoothly - checking belt tensions, cleaning/oiling drive systems, dusting out electronics areas/cooling fans and a cooling water change every 6 months or sooner if you're starting to get frogs and tadpoles in the water (just kidding, it should really be distilled but it will go green after a while!) and maybe a mirror cleaning and/or realignment session once a year or if you've moved the machine.

    If you don't feel like getting your hands dirty, there is another option - just call 0800 810365 or info@makerspacenz.com, schedule a time and we'll come and do all the dirty work for you! Simple.


  • Laser Troubleshooting
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