How the Laser Machine Works

A laser cutting machine uses a computer controlled laser beam to achieve very fine details in a range of materials. It is essentially like a fancy printer, but instead of using ink cartridges it uses a combination of power and speed settings to etch and cut flat surfaces.

At Vector Etch, we use a leading laser cutter machine that is able to quickly achieve very fine and precise details – giving you the best results in the quickest time possible. We can cut and etch a variety of materials.

The laser cutter machine can be used to create a variety of different outcomes such as jewellery pieces, accessories, homewares, signage and more – you are only limited by your imagination! The laser cutter machine has a number of techniques that it can be used in order to create different outcomes. These techniques can be used alone or in combination. Read our guides below to understand what techniques could apply your project.

In order to run a project through the laser cutter machine it must ultimately be converted to a particular type of file that the laser cutter can understand, known as a vector file. We offer file set-up as an inclusive service for any products ordered from our shop.  However, if you’re familiar with creating vector artworks, you can order by material sheet at a discounted rate.


Etching

Etching with the laser cutter is a method used to etch into a material surface to a specified depth. Etching is most commonly used to add decorative elements to a design and can be done on a variety of flat materials.

The way that the laser etches is most similar to how a normal inkjet printer works – except instead of ink, it uses a laser beam with specified power and speed settings for the material being used. In order to etch, the laser starts at the top of the piece, and proceeds left-to-right, top-to-bottom over the entire area. The laser turns on and off in rapid succession where areas of black and/or grey occur in the design. Any areas in white are left unmarked. The laser vapourises the material where it etches, leaving an un-burnt indentation. On some materials, like wood, the etched areas darken slightly. Because of the way that the laser head has to move over the entire surface being etched, it is generally slower than cutting.

Etching can be done from any type of black and white image (created traditionally or digitally) and creates best results with solid black and solid white areas. The laser can etch at a very high resolution and works best with images at least 300 ppi/dpi. While very fine details are possible, very thin lines don’t always show up well on different materials. To ensure that all of your details show up well, we recommend a minimum width of 0.2mm or 0.5mm if inverted. We are not responsible for ensuring that your design does not include details that are too fine; if you are unsure about whether or not your design will work, we recommend ordering a sample cut of your design.

Etching greyscale images such as a black and white photograph is possible, but is difficult to perfect because of the variation that happens between different images and materials. For most materials we use a protective tape on the surface of the material, so lighter greys may not etch through the paper. We recommend doing sample cuts of the same image in varying levels of contrast to see which works best. Our robot below demonstrates grey scale etching in wood.

The maximum area that we can etch is 600mm x 300mm.

The robots below use black lines to demonstrate areas that have been etched. The red line around the robot indicates lines that have been cut.

 

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Robot2

Cutting

Cutting is quite different to etching and is most commonly used for cutting straight through a material.

In order to cut, the laser head starts at a point on the image and traces freely along the line. The laser cutter can only cut from a particular type of file known as a vector file; the laser head is guided by the vector points in the digital file.

When cutting, the laser head moves very quickly along the line, leaving a smooth, un-burnt edge on most materials. The thickness of the cut line is very fine and precise and will cut exactly how your design appears on the computer. If you would like to design interlocking parts, you do not need to account for the thickness of the laser beam – just make the shapes the same size. The laser essentially vapourises the material where it cuts, and on some materials, like wood, can darken slightly.

While cutting very fine details are possible, it’s important to make sure that your design does not contain parts that are too thin, which might break when handled. To ensure that your design will be nice and strong, we recommend a minimum width of 2mm. We are not responsible for ensuring that your design does not contain parts that are too thin; if you are unsure about whether or not your design will work, we recommend ordering a sample cut of your design.

We can cut materials from our materials gallery. The maximum size that we can cut is within 600mm x 300mm.

The robots below use red lines to demonstrate areas that have been cut. You can see how multiple cut lines can be used.

 

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Robot1

Line Engraving

Line engraving is essentially the same method as cutting, but it uses a reduced power that lightly engraves the material (instead of cutting straight through it). With line engraving, the laser head starts at a point on the image and traces freely along the line – guided by the vector points in the digital file. Because the thickness of the laser is so fine, line engraving looks best best thin linework. Line engraving can only be done by using a blue vector line, such as what you would create in a vector graphics program such as Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator. We recommend only using line engraving for making simple, thin lines. If you have many areas in your design that you would like line engraving (such as in the second robot example below), it can work out faster to use the etching method.

We can engrave materials from our materials gallery. The maximum size that we can engrave is 600mm x 300mm.

The robots below use blue lines to demonstrate areas using line engraving.
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