How does laser cutting work

We will show you how laser cutting works and which materials you can cut with a laser.

A common technique, laser cutting is used often nowadays to cut many different materials. The laser provides huge advantages over other techniques, such as high precision, speed and flexibility. Below, you will find an indepth explanation for how laser cutting works and which materials it can be used on.


Laser cutting explained technically

Laser cutting is a thermal separation process. When the laser beam touches the surface of the material, it heats it up to the point that it melts or vaporizes. Cutting is when the beam completely goes through the material at a point. The laser system travels along the specified path and cuts the material as it goes. Depending on the usage, it may be beneficial to also use process gases.

More information on the technicalities of laser cutting can be found in our video.

HOW DOES LASER CUTTING WORK? HERE'S A SIMPLE EXPLANATION OF THE BASICS

Learn more about the process of laser cutting in this video

The advantages of a laser when cutting

These are the main advantages of using a laser to cut materials:

   

Suited to many different materials

The only technology that can cut such a large amount of organic and synthetic materials.

No post processing is necessary

Laser cutting is a technique that renders it unnecessary to perform any post-processing in most cases. It can even seal the edges of certain textiles, like synthetics or carpets, so that there are no frayed edges. This saves you from having to do post-processing procedures such as mechanical sealing or sanding, depending on which material is being worked on.

High precision

The resultant kerf is only a tiny amount bigger than the laser beam itself. This allows you to cut very fine shapes of any kind. Additionally, integrated camera (JobControl Vision) can read registration marks on the material and automatically fix its cutting path accordingly—even if the original template is out of alignment, turned or otherwise distorted.

Lack of tool wear

Laser cutting machines are not affected by wear. Things like the tool heads do not become dull from regular use. This property saves costs over the long run.

Laser cutting, plasma cutting, mechanical cutting - cutting procedures in comparison

A common method to cut steel, stainless steel and aluminum is plasma cutting, a thermal fusion process. Compared to laser cutting, plasma cutting has many disadvantages such as lower cut quality, high energy use, more dust and noise emissions. However, when it comes to cutting any electrically conductive material, it is usually better to go with plasma cutting due to its versatility.

Naturally, every processing method has its own pros and cons depending on the material and usage, such as cutting many samples at once within the same stack. Lasers, however, have clear advantages when compared to mechanical chip removal cutting methods. To name a few: lasers use non-contact processing, have less setup costs, less contamination and higher versatility.

What materials can be cut with the laser?

The versatility of materials that can be processed is one of the great advantages of the laser.
You can see the range of possibilities for yourself from the following table.

Plastic 

Miscellanious

Metal

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Wood Metal foils up to 0.5mm
Acrylic/PMMA, i.e. Plexiglas® Polyimide (PI) Paper (white)  
Rubber Polyoxymethylene (POM) -i.e. Delrin® Paper (colored)  
Polyamide (PA) Polypropylene (PP) Food  
Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) Polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) Leather  
Polycarbonate (PC) Polystyrene (PS) Fabric  
Polyethylene (PE) Polyurethane (PUR) Cardboard  
Polyester (PES) Foam (PVC free) Cork  

Trotec product recommendation for laser cutting:

Discover SP laser cutting machines

Laser Cutters - SP Series

SP series: CO2 laser cutter for large-format materials.

Product Details

Other laser applications: Marking and engraving

Alongside cutting, Trotec laser machines can also be used for marking and engraving.
Read below about the different laser processing methods: