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Laser cutting: How it works

See how laser cutting works and what materials can be cut with a laser

Laser cutting is a common process used for processing a variety of materials. The high accuracy, speed and versatility of laser technology are big advantages when using a laser cutting process. This guide offers an explanation of how laser cutting works and which materials are suitable for processing. 

Laser cutting: The technical side

Laser cutting is a type of thermal separation process. The laser beam hits the surface of the material and heats it so strongly that it melts or completely vaporises. Once the laser beam has completely penetrated the material at one point, the actual laser cutting process begins. The laser system follows the selected geometry and separates the material in the process. Depending on the application, the use of process gases can positively influence the finished results.

Other details about the technical procedure used in laser cutting can be seen in our video.

Speedy 400 laser cutting acrylic

The basics: How does laser cutting work

Learn more about the process of laser cutting in this video

The advantages of a laser when cutting

Listed below are four of the main reasons to use laser cutting for material processing:

Suitable for many type of materials No other technology can cut so many different types of organic and non-organic materials.
No post processing is necessary As laser cutting is a separation process, no post-processing is necessary in many cases. The edges of textiles are sealed  during laser cutting, so that no unravelling occurs. This saves post-processing procedures, such as mechanical sealing or sanding, depending on the type of material being processed.
High accuracy The resulting kerf is barely larger than the laser beam itself. This makes it possible to cut very fine geometries of any shape. In addition, an integrated camera system (JobControl Vision) can read registration marks and automatically compensate for the laser cutting path - even if the original template is out of alignment, turned or distorted.
No tool wear
As laser cutting is a contactless process, the beam is not subject to wear unlike other technologies, an example of which would be a tool head becoming dull. This helps to keep processing costs down.

A comparison of cutting procedures: Laser cutting, plasma cutting and mechanical cutting

Plasma cutting is a thermal fusion cutting process that is frequently used to cut steel, stainless steel and aluminium. Compared to a laser, plasma cutting offers lower cut quality and higher energy consumption alongside increased dust creation and noise emissions. Plasma cutting is however the technology of choice for cutting any electrically conductive material. This is thanks to its flexibility in this process.

However, compared to mechanical chip removal cutting processes, laser cutting technology often has advantages over the material.Contactless processing, reduced setup costs, lower contamination and flexibility for processing are just a few of the benefits.

The ideal cutting method varies between materials and applications, as every processing method has advantages. 

Laser cutting: What materials can be processed?

The wide range of materials suitable for processing is one of the biggest advantages of laser cutting technology. The table below lists the suitable materials:




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

Trotec product recommendation for laser cutting:

Discover SP laser cutters

Laser Cutters - SP Series

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

Product Details

Other applications: Laser marking, laser engraving and laser cutting

Trotec's portfolio of laser machines aren't just for laser cutting. The Speedy series of laser engravers are ideal for both laser cutting and laser engraving applications, while the SpeedMarker and ProMarker marking lasers are ideal for industrial laser marking applications. Learn more about processing methods:

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