Economy Lasers for Craftsmen, Artist, Sewers. Crafters, Model Makers, and Inventors
I’ve been using lasers for over ten years for new product development, art projects, production runs, and more. For less than $1500 a 50 watt CO2 laser can be had in about a week. Compared to ten years ago, that cost is about seven thousand dollars cheaper. Albeit, the laser is a foreign model, but I have used several of these and except for a few minor tweaks, they succeeded in living through the paces I put them through. But before we get into the nitty gritty and limitations of the machines, let's look at some of the cool things we can make them do.
Whether you are a craftsmen, artist, sewer. crafter, model maker, or Inventor, a laser in workshop or design area, will quickly become your friend.
Wood Bowling Set
There are ten primary materials that a laser can either engrave or cut (in laser terms, raster or vector). Wood, Plastic, Metal, Paper, Cloth, Rubber, Glass, Cork, Marble, and Ceramic. A laser cannot do both in all and certain materials can vary within their category. For example, when engraving metal you can engrave brass, but not stainless steel. We will explore each material as we look at some sample projects. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
As a side note, aside from the ten primary materials, there are some other types of objects that can be engraved such as certain food items and objects like bowling balls.
Wood Rolling Pins
Wood is one of the more popular materials to work with, with a laser. Practically and wood material can be engraved and depending on the power of the laser, it can laser cut up to three-eighth of an inch thick in one pass--it all depends on the wattage of the machine you are using, the speed you run it at, and the focus lens you have installed. It is a lot more simple than it may sound. It takes a little bit of practice but once you have your settings dialed in, repeating the same or similar project will be a breeze. The possibilities for cutting thin wood and creating art, models, and inticate designs doesn’t take much once you get the set-up figured out. Enraving can be done on any kind of wood with any wattage.
Engraved Metal Mug
Engraved Machine Placard
Now, working with metals is a little more difficult. First off, with a CO2 laser you cannot cut metal, only engrave it. Some metals will engrave better than others. For instance, stainless steel cannot be directly engraved but you can coat the surface you want to engrave with a special solution that when the laser beam hits it, will engrave a permanent black color or other color depending on the solution.
Brass and Copper can be engraved directly and it will appear as if a rotary engraver did the job. Aluminum will not engrave directly (the aluminum disperses the heat too much, but just like specially coated stainless, anodized aluminum engraves beautifully.
Laser Cut Cloth
I love working with cloth, it is so simple and there are so many things you can do with it. I work with a lot of costume designs and pattern making; the laser cuts and engraves cloth as easy as a hot knife through butter, plus, it's fast and extremely accurate.
Imagine making a dress, instead of using the traditional method of cutting out the paper patterns, then laying them on the cloth and pinning them, and then following the lines and cutting your cloth with a scissors, the laser will eliminate all of that. But, before I make it sound too good to be true, there is the matter of creating the pattern file for the laser. We will talk about that in just a little bit.
In the meantime, however, let's look at the two examples to the right. The top one shows a fleese cover that was engraved with a logo. It takes about one minute. Getting the settings just right is critical or you will engrave right through. The top was laser cut and takes about two minutes. The other fabric that really comes out good is denim, especially denim jeans.
Engraved Plastic Award
Plastic can be both cut and engraved. Small items like jewelry can be cut in a matter of seconds and if laid out on a large sheet of plastic can be fairly profitable. Engraving is usually done on the reverse side and is great for cast resin acrylics. There are supply houses that specialize in providing blanks for the avid laser engraver. If the goal is to pay off your machine by selling goods or services, plastics will help do it quickly,
There are some plastics you most definitely do not want to engrave or cut--any type of pvc is definitely a “no-no”.The fumes that are created are deadly. No matter what material you are cutting or engraving, you want to make sure you have a good exhaust system.
Laser Cut Acrylic Earrings
Some items popular in plastics:
- Model Parts
- Picture frames
- Cell phones
Using the right rubber when creating rubber stamps makes all the difference. This takes a little more skill on the front design end but once that is mastered, the possibilities for rubber stamp making are endless. Scrapbookers, corporate offices, school teachers, and even places like lumber mills for example, are clients just waiting for you to begin if you would so choose to approach this niche.
Rubber gaskets are another great area that is high in demand. Anywhere from industrial machinery to the automotive industry, need gaskets of every shape and size. The biggest challenge, just like rubber stamps, is the up front preparation. I recommend getting some CAD design education simply because of the high accuracy required for most gaskets.
Perhaps, one of my very favorites, is working with black marble and of course, the laser. There is a very short learning curve because black marble create so much contrast, it's hard not to have a good result. I also love engraving photographs on marble. There is also, a high demand for engraved products.
As a side note: Creating photographs on marble (or other materials like wood, plastic, etc.) works so much better if you use a dedicated software programs designed specifically for that.
Laser Cut Cards
When it comes to creating with paper using a laser, you don’t have to worry too much about making mistakes as far as the material cost goes. If your files are correct and your settings on the laser are true, most projects will cost you very little to produce.
Paper cuts easy and super quick. Cardboard and foam core board generally will use the same settings as regular paper. The last big project I did with paper was for 2000 paper feathers for a costume I helped design for the 12th Annual Denver Paper Fashion Show. Without the use of a laser, there’s now way that design would have been feasible. (I certainly wasn’t going to hand cut all of those feathers!)
Now, think about the stencil market alone! I’ve made a few for tattoo artist, street artist, school teachers, and shipping companies.
Play with your food
Just a Touch
When it comes to the possibilities with using a laser, we've just touched the surface. Hopefully after looking at several of the above designs, you've gotten the idea. And, hopefully your mind is thinking up of some of the designs that you could create up using a laser.
So now, lets take a little bit of a look at a laser machine itself.
The Laser Machine
When it comes to machines, it becomes as challenging sometimes as shopping for a car. A small table top unit can be purchased for a couple hundred dollars. A large unit in which a four by eight sheet of plywood in can easily cost ten thousand or more. A machine that will do all of what we saw in the examples above, can cost less than two thousand. The best place I’ve found if looking for an economical foreign laser is Ebay. Most lasers, big or mall, expensive or economical, have some basic things in common. Its mainly the bells and whistles that set them apart. You can always upgrade or go bigger later,
How a Laser Works
Without getting into a ot of tehicanidal detail, here is the very simple “how-it-works”.
A laser tube (sort of like a long light bulb) shoots a wide laser beam
The beam is redirected through a series of mirrors
The beam then is directed to a concave lense where is concentrates the beam into a very small ray
The ray then hits the material being engraved or cut
Power and speed is adjusted to get the desired effect
Over the years, safety development and regulations have led to a very safe operating system. As long as all safeguards are in place, there is no danger to operator or observers. Cut off switches and limit switches will shut down the machine if any are breached. Even my grand kids can and do operated my laser.