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Laser Cutter: Introduction

Trotec LogoThis equipment is available for use at Idea Exchange, Old Post Office, Makerspace.

Laser cutters are great tools to make gifts, interior/exterior signs, ornaments, arts & crafts, trophy plates, badges, architectural models, 3D puzzels, safety signs, and many other things. A laser cutter is a type of CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machine, meaning that it is controlled via a computer. You can use any common design software and then send it to a laser cutter to have it cut or engrave automatically, with just the push of a button. Once a design is sent to a laser cutter, the machine uses a laser beam to cut or etch into the material on the cutting bed.

The following guide will explain the basics of laser cutting and the various software you can use in conjunction with laser cutting.

Rules of Use
  1. You may book a time slot one week in advance in person at the Makerspace desk or by calling the Old Post office.
  2. If you have a specific project in mind and need assistance, please book a tech 1on1 appointment.
  3. The laser cutter is operated by Makerspace staff only.
  4. If you wish to use your own materials you must let staff know what exactly the materials are to be used ahead of time.
  5. Makerspace staff reserves the right to refuse prints that are unlawful or inappropriate.
Costs

The Makerspace stocks a limited inventory of different materials and sells them at cost.

Wood:

  1. Ramboard - $.75/Foot
  2. 12"x12" MDF panels - $3.00 Full sheet $1.50 Half Sheet $.75 1/4 Sheet
  3. 4'x2' 3/16" Sanded Plywood - $20.00 Full Sheet $10.00 Half Sheet $5.00 1/4 Sheet
  4. 12"x24" 1/32" Corkboard Sheets - $2.00 Full Sheet $1.00 Half Sheet $.50 1/4 Sheet
  5. 19" x 30" 1/8" Baltic Birch Plywood - $6.00 Full Sheet $3.00 Half Sheet $1.50 1/4 Sheet

Acrylic:

  1. 1/8" Trolase Colour Acrylic $85.00 Full Sheet $47.50 Half Sheet $21.25 1/4 Sheet
  2. 1/16" Trolase Acrylic $69.00 Full Sheet $34.50 Half Sheet $17.25 1/4 Sheet
  3. 1/32" Trolase Acrylic $56.00 Full Sheet $28.00 Half Sheet $14.00 1/4 Sheet
Reservations

1 week in advance in person or by calling The Old Post Office 226-533-2767 Ext. 623

How to Get Certified

Introductory workshops will be offered in Winter 2018

How to Guide

Our laser cutter is a Trotec Speedy 360. The Dimensions of the Laser Cutter bed are 20" (h) x 32" (w).

Laser cutters are a great all around tool because they can be used to make so many different styles of design; laser cutters are used for anything from cardboard prototypes to rastered artwork. Common laser cutters are primarily used to cut materials like wood, some plastics, and paper and cardboard

C02 laser cutting is done using a gas laser. The gas in question is a carbon dioxide mixture which has been electrically stimulated. C02 laser cutting is most often used on non-metal materials as they have a wavelength of 10.6 micrometres.

Laser Cutting Software

A Laser cutter works very much like your everyday inkjet printer. Laser cutters come with specific drivers that allow them to take what is on the computer, convert it into a format that the laser cutter can read, and then allow the laser cutter to do its job. Many design software packages support laser cutter drivers; it is pretty common among 2D design programs , and some 3D design software can also support laser cutter drivers when dealing with 2D drawings or sketches. Here are a couple you may already be familiar with or may want to try out:

2D Design:

  • CorelDRAW: graphic design software with an extensive number of tools and applications
  • Adobe Illustrator: Powerful graphic design software used to create high quality designs
  • AutoCAD (free for students): Great drawing software, primarily used by engineers and architects to create detailed drawings and product representations
  • Inkscape (free):Free, open source graphic design software

3D Design:

  • Solidworks:Engineering 3D design software with multiple packages for aiding in design for specific applications
  • Autodesk Inventor (free for students): Professional mechanical design software used to create and optimize designed systems
  • Autodesk Fusion (free for students): Cloud-based CAD platform used to help designers through the entire designing, engineering and manufacturing processes

What is a Vector image?

During a cutting operation, the cutting head fires a continuous laser at the material to slice through it. In order to know where to cut, the laser cutter driver reads all of the vector paths in the designed piece. Once you send your file to a laser cutter, only lines that register as hairline or vector graphics with the smallest possible line thickness will be cut by the laser.

The laser, when supplied with the right settings, will cut all the way through your material, so vector cutting is normally used for cutting out the outline of the part as well as any features or holes that you want to cut out of the material.

Rastering/Etching/Engraving

Rastering is a lot different than vector cutting; instead of cutting all the way through the workpiece, the laser will burn off the top layer of the material you are cutting to create two color (and sometimes grayscale) images using the raster effect. In order to raster materials, the laser will usually be set to a lower power than it would when vector cutting material, and instead of shooting down a pulsing beam, it creates fine dots at a selected DPI (dots per inch) so that the laser doesn't really cut all the way through. The DPI directly correlates to the image resolution and affects how fine an image appears, exactly like image resolution on a computer. By adjusting the DPI you can control the laser's effect on the material. Rastering on some materials comes out really clearly, while you may not get exactly what you expected on other materials. Before you raster for the first time, make sure you experiment with the settings until you get the desired effect!

Learn More

Trotec Samples: https://www.troteclaser.com/en-ca/knowledge/do-it-yourself-samples/

To browse a wide variety of community-designed laser cut designs see: https://www.thingiverse.com/