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Frequently Asked Questions
Laser cutting (2)
A laser Engraver/Cutter is a computer controlled machine that uses a focused beam of infrared light as the cutting tool and cuts by vaporizing the material being cut.
As the laser cutting process does not use a mechanical cutter and the laser can be focused to a point only 0.005" across it can cut materials and detailed parts that would be impractical to cut using any other process.
Different materials react differently when they are laser cut. In general organic materials (wood, wood composites, and leather) have a darker edge when cut. Some plastics have a clean polished edge when laser cut, others melt back slightly, some discolor, and some others just melt into a puddle. To check how your material cuts please send a small piece of your material and return postage and we will make a sample for you.
If you have any questions about having a part laser cut, please contact us.
Laser cutting applications:
Due to the incredible versatility of this process and the range of materials that can be processed the following list is not all-inclusive but rather a sample of what can be done with laser cutting.
- Plastic / Acrylic - letters, stencils, plaques, rulers, templates, toys, awards, craft parts, boxes, etc.
- Fabric - letters, appliqués, patches, ribbons, buttonholes, cut outs, decorations, craft parts, etc.
- Foam plastic / rubber - stamps, protective bases, gaskets, decorations, toys, etc.
- Leather - pockets, patches, craft components, key fobs, wallets, purses, knife sheaths, containers, bracelets, decorations, etc.
- Paper - cut outs, scrap booking, crafts, gaskets, decorations, presentation bags, fold up shapes, etc.
- Polyester and Mylar - stencils, templates, and patterns, resist film, covering, decorations, packaging, etc
Wood - models, letters, puzzles, grills, fret work, scrollwork, decorative accents, craft parts, robot parts, clocks, templates, boxes, toys, inlays, ornaments, signs, etc.
The process starts with a drawing of your part(s) in a file format that the laser can understand. Usable formats include .dxf, .cdr, .ai, and many other vector file formats. If in doubt most drawing programs allow you to save as / export .dxf format files. If you do not have a computer drawing of your part you can mail or email a drawing or sketch along with the required sizes and we can draw it for you.
Once you have a design you can email it to us and we will send you an estimate of the costs. Upon receiving your approval and payment in full we will cut and ship your part to you.
Tips for preparing files for laser cutting
If you create your design using a program such as CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, AutoCad, or TurboCAD, here are some tips for designing your parts;
- Draw all parts full size.
- Use thin black lines (.001") where you want the laser to cut; the laser will cut down the center of the lines.
- Include a 1" square for a size reference, and include just the outline of your parts.
- Remove all fills and duplicated lines!
- Include only one copy of each unique part and indicate how many of each you need.
- Leave enough space around each part so that we can easily select them to create the cutting pattern.
The process only works with graphics in a vector format. Preferred file formats are;
- .CDR - CorelDraw X5 or earlier
- .AI - Adobe Illustrator (for PC) CS4 or earlier - Uncompressed
- .3DM - Rhinoceros Version 5.0 or earlier
- .DXF or .DWG - AutoCad R2000 or earlier - Uncompressed
For parts that have a critical fit you may want to adjust your drawing for the kerf, the width of the cut made by the laser, which is about 0.005". The preferred method of doing this is to draw your part to the required size and then save both the original drawing and a cutting path copy. Edit the cutting path copy by creating an offset of .0025" to the outside of parts (or to the inside of holes) and then deleting the original lines.
Note that the absolute accuracy of the part may vary slightly depending on the material and its thickness.
The largest part we can cut is 24" X 18". If the part doesn't fit in a 24" X 18" box in your drawing program it will not fit in the laser!
Text, thick lines, bit maps, and fills (shaded areas) will not be cut but may be engraved if that is required. Note that if a black graphic has a thin red outline the laser will engrave the area and then cut along the outline.
We can laser cut;
- Acrylic, (Plexiglas, Acrylite, Lucite, Perspex, PMMA)
- Thin Polycarbonate (Lexan, Makrolon, Nalgene, Merlon)
- Fabrics from silk to denim
- Leather and suede
- Paper, card, and cardboard
- Polyester and Mylar sheeting
- Wood, plywood, Masonite, and veneer
- and many others
We cannot laser cut;
- Carbon fibre
- PVC / Vinyl
We can supply Baltic Birch plywood, Lexan, and acrylic, and can quickly obtain most other sheet plastic materials from our suppliers (minimum quantities may apply). If you wish you can also ship your materials to us or have them drop shipped to us from your supplier.
To determine if your material is suitable for this process please send a small piece of your material (4" X 4") and return postage and we will make a sample for you.
The largest part we can laser cut is 24" X 18".
Plastic thickness is nominal and can vary by + or -10%.
The laser cuts at a slight taper. Due to the taper, one side of a laser-cut part (the side that the beam hits first) will have a slightly wider kerf (cut width) than the opposite side. The taper is almost unnoticeable in 1/8" material and more noticeable on thicker material. Note that this is not the case for Acrylic, which cuts with a vertical edge up to 1/2" thick.
The kerf (the thickness of the laser beam) is about 0.005". See tips above to learn how to adjust for the kerf.
The edges of some materials including Lexan, wood, and paper may be discoloured by smoke or charring. The thicker the material the more discolouration there will be.
The accuracy of the cut will be +/- .002".
Requesting a quote
Once you have your drawing finished, you can send it along with an email to request a quote from us. Some of the things to include in the email would be:
- The drawing as an attachment.
- Contact information where we can reach you. Either by email or phone number
- How many copies of the drawing you want cut
- When you would need the finished product by
- Material you would like to have the product made from.
- Any other information that you feel would be helpful to us in returning a quote.
No set-up fee.
If you have any questions about having a laser cut part made.
A lot of inexpensive silver plated baby gifts come from the pacific rim countries. Many of these products do not have a good quality control in the silver plating process. What happens is the base metal is prepared for the silver plating process. If any oils or impurities are not properly cleaned before plating, the silver will not properly bond to the base metal. As the engraving tool passes over a bad area, the plating flakes up. To look at the cup, it is impossible for the engraver or you, to spot this defect. The responsible party is the store that bought it and the original manufacture.
Most acrylic awards are reversed engraved from the back side. This gives a 3-D effect and enhances the appearance of the acrylic award.
No, but brass name plates can be attached, or gold lettering can be put on using a hot stamping machine. Hot stamping - you run the risk of melting the vinyl. Brass plates require a rigid cover to stay attached.
Yes, but we are limited in what we can do. The biggest problem is holding the item and not having it move during the engraving process. One example: the Reed & Barton round Christmas bell can be engraved.
Yes, we etch the bottles and then put in a gold fill to give contrast. We suggest wine bottles that are dark in color for best results.
Yes, we suggest lighter color woods for best results. One possible problem is oak frames. Make sure the oak is not too grainy as this conflicts with the laser engraving.
To the point where you can't read it with the naked eye. Some engraving surfaces may be too rough to allow engraving to go that small.
Yes, but at a high risk. Puffed hearts are hollow and to keep the price down jewelers make the gold as thin as possible. The engraver has to engrave very lightly in order to not break through the thin gold. At best the engraving is light with no dimples where the gold was too thin.
The back must be buffed and smoothed out, only then will the engraving be visible.
Yes, we use arc engraving usually on the backs of watches where the manufacturer's markings are right in the center. Once in awhile we arc letters on a plaque to highlight the award's name.
Yes, but in recent years we have switched to etching. The reason: more smooth lettering and less chance of breakage.
Many half tones don't work well and have to be modified to work with engraving. Today more and more half tones can be made to work.
In the past the answer was no. Today laser engravers are on the market that can engrave photographs with some limitation. Photos with high contrast give the best results. Also some engraving surfaces work better than others.
Yes, our equipment allows for some variation in the ring thickness.
We use an etching or engraving process for Mag Lights. Most Mag Lights are black, when we engrave the contracting aluminum comes through with excellent results. Company logos and names can easily be engraved on Mag Lights as well as most flashlights.
Yes, many engraving operations can only engrave on flat surfaces. We have specialized engraving equipment to handle cylindrical objects up to 20" in diameter.
Engraving is the process where the metal is either plowed to each side using a diamond drag engraving tool or a rotating carbide cutter to cut into the surface. No color is used to fill in the letters to give contrast. Some people expect engraving to be like printing - very visible. Engraving is more subtle in appearance as light reflects differently off of the engraving as compared to the metal surface. Silver items are the hardest to see the engraving because of the highly reflective nature of silver or chrome metals. Also, the harder the metal the less depth to the engraving, also making less contrast to the engraving. Gold surfaces show the engraving better.
Yes, usually on these pieces only an indent is done on the surface of the item. The engraving usually has no contrast with the surface material, but is permanently in the metal, which is what you want.
Many metal, plastic and wood items can be engraved.
Yes, we can engrave swords. Most of the time we engrave on the blade. You usually find a space down from the guard that is made for engraving. U.S. Military swords have this spot. We also engrave Medieval Swords. These are usually a lower quality sword made of softer metals and we can engrave deeper. Most guards are not a good location for engraving. Remember most swords are tempered steel - this means they are a very hard metal making the engraving somewhat light. In a normal year, we engrave about 25 swords.