What One Needs to Know About the Laser Cutter

To begin with the laser is possibly the simplest machine to operate in the Digital Fabrication Lab and also the most dangerous. Running this machine requires constant vigilance because of the elevated risk of fire especially when cutting paper products.

How to Set Up the Laser

Before cutting, or even setting up the job on the computer one must perform some component checks.

  • Check the Optics: The Laser lens needs to be cleaned periodically along with the beam transfer mirrors. The guide rails need to be lubricated. If one has not done this before, get help. Depending on the material to be cut the honeycomb must be placed into or taken out of the machine bed. Typically the honeycomb is needed for cutting plastic and plastic like materials. The honeycomb can be removed for materials such as paper, mat board, and wood bringing up another point of cleaning the bed if needed (done with alcohol).

  • Turn the Machine On: The power switch for the machine is on the right side, not top, of the machine. The machine will go through a short cycle period in which the laser moves across the bed in both directions. Make sure nothing obstructs this movement. After the laser cycles through one must set the focus. This is done by using the down arrow on the far right of the machine to drop the bed down. The material, 3/8 or less, is placed in the bed along with the honeycomb if necessary. The next step is to manually move the laser over the material and snap the focus touch off on the right side of the laser. After this is done hit the auto focus button to bring the focus of the laser to the desired focal length. After the bed has stopped remove the focus touch off and press F1 on the control pad of the laser to reenter job mode.
  • Turn On the Fume Extractor: Push the green button. It will take a few seconds to get going. The only time one has an excuse not to have the extractor on is when cutting material that can be moved by the suction. If one has material that fits this criteria the material can be cut without the fume extractor on, but the fume extractor must be turned on for 10 seconds before removing the part to suck up the fumes left behind.

How to Set Up the Job In The Software

The Laser is run in Corel Draw. This Program is much like Adobe Illustrator.

  1. First set up the page parameters. To do this go to File>Document Setup>Page Setup>Get Page Size From Printer.
  2. The image cam now be Placed/Imported via file format AI or SVG.
  3. The Upper Left corner of the page is considered origin or 0,0 in the digital world. On the laser bed this point in the 0cm mark on the top ruler, not the corner.
  4. All lines to be cut/vector are to be in hairline width, this is necessary to achieve proper effect and efficiency.
  5. Areas to be etched/raster are to be filled.
Note: lines/fills that are not visible will be read by the printer.

How To Begin Printing

In the print settings one tells the printer how to interpret the image

  1. Once the image is the way one wants it one must go to File>Print
  2. After this is done the Print menu will come up to adjust the laser one must Click on Properties
  3. There are several things that can be adjusted including Mode Setting, D.P.I., Position Mode, and Pen (Most Important).

Mode Setting: Print>Properties>Option Tab
Black and White
Manual Color Fill (On Sample)
3D Mode
Stamp Mode

Typically for cutting and etching Black and White mode is used. Manual Color Fill is used when different etching depths are needed or when one object must be cut before another. 3D Mode and Stamp mode have not been tested yet.

D.P.I. (Dots Per Inch): Print>Properties>Option
1000 (On Sample)

D.P.I. can have an influence on the appearance of etching having a more rugged/white look at the lowest end and a more finished/polished look at the higher end.

Position Mode: Print>Properties>Advance Tab
Without Home

Home is the default being the Upper Left of the page on the computer and the 0cm mark on the ruler of the machine. Relative is used for a custom starting point. When Relative is selected one can place the laser over the material where they please making that point the starting point(Upper Left) for the laser to begin. Without Home and Center have not yet been used.

Pen: Print>Properties>Pen Tab
P.P.I. (Pulses Per Inch)

The Pen properties are where one tells the printer what to do by adjusting the three settings of Speed, Power, and P.P.I.. The adjustment of these three factors can cancel each other out, for this reason we usually leave the power setting at 100%. To adjust cut depth etch and etch depth the speed is changed according to colors. For instance if one is cutting ¼ in. acrylic black is etch at 25% speed and red is cut at .5% speed while the power remains at 100% for both. The only time more than two colors are needed is when the user wants different etch heights, like on the side of the sample pieces. P.P.I. defaults at 500 but it is recommended that one use over 1000 for plastic materials.

Rotary Axis

Instructions for the use and setup of the rotary axis can be found in the binder marked LASER in the Digital Fabrication Lab. In addition to those here is some helpful information.

  • Jigs have been created for the correct placement of the axis
  • The easiest way to use the axis is in Without Home mode
  • An arrow is marked on top of the rotary on the left side near the rubber stop to indicate the center of the axis
  • If your object is small make sure the lens housing is not able to touch the axis housing when it moves (it moves farther than the width of your graphic). If it has a possibility of touching you will have to change the lens to our 4 inch one. Ask for help if this must be done.
  • The Axis turns Clockwise (i.e. etching your graphic from right to left)
  • Before etching the piece with your final settings line everything up then remove it, here’s why. Press the start button>the rotational axis will spin quickly initially then slow down and begin the etching process (thus corrupting your original start point and intended etch area)>hit stop> line up your start point without resending your job> hit start again and it should start etching right away this time I have no idea why it does this, but it happens.

Page made by Justin Grulke