Laser Cutters

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We are now allocating 'owners' to the Makerspace equipment, these owners will be responsible for ensuring there are appropriate processes in place for things like maintenance, safety and training etc.  The 'owner' for the laser cutters is Adam Reid, if you are having trouble using the cutters, want to report a fault, need some training please speak to Adam
Lasers are fabulous


Use of this equipment is strictly for trained members only, before use, users MUST attend an induction. Incorrect use of this equipment can cause serious harm or death, or worse, break our lasers. If you are not inducted do not touch. Especially do not touch any wires or open the casings, the dragons are fed on distilled lightening, and believe me it can jump.

This page is not an instruction manual, but more a reference and reminder.

Tips relevant to both lasers

Keep an eye on the smoke. If you see smoke pooling in the cutter this may indicate that the fan covers have jammed, or you forgot to turn it on - consult Mr Laserducky to verify this. Power cycle the extraction fan to hopefully fix it.

If smoke is solely departing from the top of your workpiece, you probably haven't fully cut through it. Check before removing it! If so, do the same cut again but five times faster; unless you completely hosed the settings, you probably have less than a millimetre of material left in place.

If the laser is performing unusually poorly, consider:

Is it focussed properly?
Is the air assist set up correctly?
Is the laser coolant over temperature (should be <15 degrees)
Does it have the lens in there that you believe it does?
Do the mirrors or lens need cleaning?

Acrylic is a strange material to cut. As a plastic, it will sometimes melt itself together again after cutting; slow speeds prevent this, so even if a higher speed, higher power pass looks like it would be more efficient, it will not work as you would intuitively expect.

The plastic window in the lid absorbs the cutting beam's particular wavelength, so from that view it is safe to watch - however the light generated by the act of cutting can sometimes be bright enough to cause concern, much like burning magnesium or similar. It may also be worth mentioning that we have no idea what class of laser the guide beams are, and it often reflects at the user, unhindered by the lid. Staring at either for too long is inadvisable. There is a lot that can be said about the safety of running them open, but the very short version is, don't do it. The cutout switches are there for a reason.

Both RDWorks and Laserweb can send files to a laser that somebody else is using, which can ruin projects - always check to see that it isn't in active use before accessing or sending data.

If the laser starts cutting something it should be doing later, and is likely to cause drop-out of something else that needs cutting/etching, it is possible to very quickly toggle power to the laser beam, which creates a manual tab holding the item in place. Not ideal, but it can save workpieces.


Bathtime for Debugger #1

Purchased as broken, and without any software, within the day we had it cutting again, and up to full original operational condition before the weekend was out. One of our more notable achievements!

Helios is the axe to Selene's scalpel. Cutting bed size is 100*45, tube is ~90 watts, and the exact cutting limits are unknown yet, pending a different lens. Whilst we could probably cut wood up to an inch thick with this tube and a long lens, it would also immediately catch fire. Helios uses a 20mm lens, usually it's armed with a 1.5" PC, which means the focal distance is about 16mm. Brute Mode focal distance yet to be established.

Using this for actual work is not possible until we sort out fume extraction airflow and proper cooling, then finish documenting the software and workflows needed. Again this will change as soon as we can make it happen!

Preliminary documentation

The short version: go to Laserweb and upload R12 ASCII DXF files made in your program of choice (SVGs can work too, see below). Then load the documents into the work area, and click the arrow in the top right position to move it to the positive x & y axis. Set your cutting parameters, and generate the gcode. Switch to the Comms tab and make sure you're connected, then lastly, the Control tab to run your job.

Due to both hardware and software limitations, Helios should only be used for vector operations, eg cutting and scoring from DXF or SVG file data. In brief, the gantry and bearings are not precise enough for the detail needed in dithered images, and the Laserweb software chokes when sending the data, causing huge bottlenecks which pause the operation constantly; since we have a very powerful dragon under the hood, that will lead to a bad end.

Saving DXFs

Inkscape can save many files as DXF types - best options are as yet unknown.

Fusion can save sketches as DXF, simply right-click the sketch name in the browser and choose the option. Note that construction lines may be caught up, if so this can be worked around via projecting the geometry or body outlines into a clean sketch and saving that.

Note that DXFs are not all created equal. You may find that spline data and other useful features are lost upon import to Laserweb, if so use Draftsight to open and re-save them as R12 ASCII format, and try again.


'Some' SVG lines are ignored for output. Reasons unknown, pending further investigation. It's certainly nothing obvious.

Laserweb will also take Inkscape-made SVGs, but text must be converted to path data first, via the object menu, otherwise it will be lost. Illustrator SVGs will work with some minor caveats. If you experiment with other SVG generators please document your findings.

Unknown factors

Homing after job completed (done in laserweb now)
Can some sort of beep/feedback be issued on job completion?

To do:

Identify and purchase a suitable long focal lens. (done - needs a new head with extendable air tube though)
Sort the bed again, with a steel sheet hopefully. This has been ordered and is en route.
Bed lift motor needs fixing.
Cross airflow needs addressing
Cooling. At the least we need to monitor what temperature the bucket's getting to!
Through-beam crosshairs (Needs recreating)
Under-gantry lighting
Update the GUI movement arrows if possible, to point in the correct direction.
Remove Z movement controls!
Add 'go to max & min X & Y buttons. testing by moving 1cm at a time  over a meter bed is an royal arseache. I've stuck some macros in laserweb for now.
Is it possible to remove the printing related buttons?
Safety cutout
Add Max X endstop, and make them all actually do something. Currently seeking to impossible numbers causes stepper grinding. alpha_limit_enable and beta_limit_enable ?
Moving the laser manually (via the panel) sometimes seems to trigger firing? No idea how if those are G0 commands, but that could wreck work pieces.
Better 'pistons' to moderate the speed the anvil lid falls at

Useful Gcode

( | )

switch.buzzer.enable                              true
switch.buzzer.input_on_command         M42
switch.buzzer.input_off_command         M43
switch.buzzer.subcode                          1
switch.buzzer.output_pin                       0.25
switch.buzzer.output_type                     pwm

Execute "M42.1 S100" to turn it on
Execute "M43.1" to turn it off

G1 F1500 ; set the feedrate to 1500mm/minute

Set max feedrate for XY to 100mm/s:
M203 X100 Y100

gcode to zero:
G92 X0 Y0 Z0

(note there are no far end endstops - wide jobs with errant 0s may punch out!)

 'to fire at 10% power for 1/10 second you would input G1 Z1 F600 S0.2' <-- fire command mentioned, seems to do sod all?


The Mysterious Stranger installs a letterbox

Our original, smaller laser; quick and precise. Best for engraving and detail work; cutting area is 500*300mm, tube is 40 watts. Cutting limit is 6mm in most materials.

A user guide can be found here

Using more than 65% power is usually inadvisable. The tube is underrated so that is almost at the safe maximum. The actual output difference between 65% and 75% is minimal, and over 75% is overdriving the tube, e.g. it's at maximum output and you're just throwing more power at it anyway. Using more than 75% power is a really bad idea and you shouldn't be doing it ever.


You need to use RDWorks to prepare and send your design to the machine - it is installed already on both of the PCs. It can be downloaded from here so you can prepare laser files at home and use the Makerspace time more efficiently. Note that the software is Windows only.

The design that you wish to cut can be designed in almost any vector graphics program, as long as the result is saved as a DXF file.

Autocad, Draftsight, Inkscape and so forth are good choices for both editing and conversion.

For non-trivial projects, the file should ideally be layered, with layers setup for each type of cut. We would usually recommend three layers as follows:

  • Cutting, all inner cuts
  • Cutting, the outer perimeter, i.e. the last cut so the material does not fall out before all the inner cuts are complete
  • Etching, anything to be etched, i.e. text and images.

Once loaded into RD Works, the layers can be ordered to ensure the outer cut is last. Usually though, for simple cutting operations RD Works can be trusted to order the operations sensibly to prevent dropout of uncut parts, without the need for layer management.

Bed cleaning

Clean the Acorn nuts with soapy water, and the bed with methylated spirits. Once dry give it a quick wipe with 3-in-1 applied with a tissue, if you do not do this, it will develop a skin of rust within days, flecking work with brown muck.

Settings for common materials

Pending updates

  1. 3mm Acrylic
    • Cut
      • Power = 30 %
      • Speed = 10mm/s
      • Note that not all acrylics are created equal. Transparent acrylic in particular needs a little less speed.
    • Etch
      • Power = 20 %
      • Speed - 200mm/s
  2. 3mm ply
    • tbc
  3. 6mm ply
    • tbc
  4. Cardboard
    • Cut
      • Power = 30%
      • Speed = 20mm/s
      • Note that the offcuts from this fall and end up igniting later! Ensure you remove them.
      • You may need to turn down the blower, to prevent embers being fanned into flames.
      • Note harder that corrugated cardboard loves to catch fire if the blower blasts air through the channels. Must be watched constantly!


We have a stock of laser safe materials to use, our preference is for you to use and pay for these materials. If you want to cut anything else, please check for material in the lists below.

Materials NOT to cut

Material DANGER! Cause/Consequence
  • PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)
  • vinyl
  • pleather
  • artificial leather
Emits chlorine gas when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system. It may also kill us; chlorine gas can turn to HCl on the lens, turning it into hydrogen selenide gas.
Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan Cuts very poorly, discolours, catches fire Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting.
ABS Melts ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt).
HDPE/milk bottle plastic Catches fire and melts It melts. It gets gooey. Don't use it.
PolyStyrene Foam Catches fire It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!
PolyPropylene Foam Catches fire Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.
Fiberglass Emits fumes It's a mix of two materials that can't be cut. Glass (etch, not cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)
Coated Carbon Fiber Emits noxious fumes A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying - but not when coated.

Laser safe materials

The laser can cut or etch. The laser can cut materials like wood, paper, cork, and some kinds of plastics. Etching can be done on almost anything, wood, cardboard, stainless steel, some plastics, marble, stone, tile, and glass.


Material Max thickness Notes WARNINGS!
Many woods 6mm (1/4") Avoid oily/resinous woods. Hardwood/heavy duty cutting will require many passes and the gulley thus formed is a firetrap. Consider 'etching' cuts instead with a cut setting but low power and high speed, then band/jig/scrollsawing. Be very careful about cutting oily woods, or very resinous woods as they also may catch fire.
Plywood/Composite woods 6mm (1/4") These contain glue, and may not laser cut as well as solid wood.
MDF/Engineered woods 6mm (1/4") These are okay to use but may experience a higher amount of charring when cut.
Paper, card stock thin Cuts very well on the laser cutter, and also very quickly.
Cardboard, carton thicker Cuts well but may catch fire. Remove all fragments! Blower may need disabling. Watch for fire.
Cork 6mm (1/4") Cuts nicely, but the quality of the cut depends on the thickness and quality of the cork. Engineered cork has a lot of glue in it, and may not cut as well. Avoid thicker cork.
Acrylic/Lucite/Plexiglas/PMMA 12mm (1/2") Cuts extremely well leaving a beautifully polished edge.
Thin Polycarbonate Sheeting (<1mm) <1mm Very thin polycarbonate can be cut, but tends to discolour badly. Extremely thin sheets (0.5mm and less) may cut with yellowed/discoloured edges. Polycarbonate absorbs IR strongly, and is a poor material to use in the laser cutter. Watch for smoking/burning
Delrin (POM) thin Delrin comes in a number of shore strengths (hardness) and the harder Delrin tends to work better. Great for gears!
Kapton tape (Polyimide) 1.5mm (1/16") Works well, in thin sheets and strips like tape.
Mylar 1.5mm (1/16") Works well if it's thin. Thick mylar has a tendency to warp, bubble, and curl Gold coated mylar will not work.
Solid Styrene 1.5mm (1/16") Smokes a lot when cut, but can be cut. Keep it thin.
Depron foam 6mm (1/4") Used a lot for hobby, RC aircraft, architectural models, and toys. 1/4" cuts nicely, with a smooth edge. Must be constantly monitored.
Gator foam Foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard paper shell. Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched.
Cloth/felt/hemp/cotton They all cut well. Our lasers can be used in lace-making. Not plastic coated or impregnated cloth!
Leather/Suede 3mm (1/8") Leather is very hard to cut, but can be if it's thinner than a belt (call it 1/8"). Real leather only! Not 'pleather' or other imitations!
Magnetic Sheet Cuts beautifully
NON-CHLORINE-containing rubber Fine for cutting. Beware chlorine-containing rubber!
Teflon (PTFE) thin Cuts OK in thin sheets. See ; the issues listed in should not matter because our lasers are fully vented and exhausted.
Carbon fiber mats/weave
that has not had epoxy applied
Can be cut, very slowly. You must not cut carbon fiber that has been coated!!
Coroplast ('corrugated plastic') 6mm (1/4") Difficult because of the vertical strips. Three passes at 80% power, 7% speed, and it will be slightly connected still at the bottom from the vertical strips. Due to PSU issues we probably don't want to be cutting this currently. Also ensure it is polypropylene plastic, not PVC!


All the above "cuttable" materials can be etched, in some cases very deeply.

In addition, you can etch:

Material Notes WARNINGS!
Glass Green seems to work best...looks sandblasted. Only FLAT GLASS can be engraved in our cutter. No round or cylindrical items.
Ceramic tile
Anodized aluminium Vaporizes the anodization away.
Painted/coated metals Vaporizes the paint away.
Stone, Marble, Granite, Soapstone, Onyx. Gets a white "textured" look when etched. 100% power, 50% speed or less works well for etching.

Testing materials

If still in doubt and you really want to cut it, there are a few methods available for testing. You must consult Adam, Aron, Jon or Phil before subjecting the laser to new materials - a lot of time and money goes into maintaining it, and the fastest way to ruin it (or flat-out ignite the thing) is with dangerous materials.

Other Learning Resources

YouTube play list

Training Material

This is work in progress, but this is where we keep the latest training material for the training material for the laser cutters


Talk to Adam, Aron, Jon or Phil if either laser seems to be misbehaving. Altering the machine yourself is a fast way to cause expensive injuries to both wetware and hardware.