Laserable Materials


by Louie Alvarez

Although this is a comprehensive list of the wide variety of materials that a CO2 laser system can work with it is by no means a complete list. With experimentation you’ll find that there are many other, alternative materials that work just fine with a CO2 laser system. This will simply give you a guideline of materials that are known to work well.

What materials have the highest perceived value?

Materials that can command the highest dollar figure:

  1. Black Marble
  2. Glass
  3. Black Granite
  4. Acrylic
  5. Wood
  6. Anodized Aluminum
  7. Powder coated and painted metals

What materials can be processed by CO2 laser?

Virtually any material except unprocessed metals (see below) and substances that are too heat sensitive, such as foam. Other than that the materials a CO2 laser system can etch into and/or vector cut are nearly limitless. Here is a brief list of materials that have been proven to work well (experiment and you may come up with more, many more)

  • Acrylic
  • Anodized Aluminum
  • Carbide
  • Ceramic Substrates
  • Cloth
  • Coated Metals
  • Composites
  • Delrin
  • Fabrics
  • Fiberglass
  • Foam
  • Glass
  • Kevlar
  • Laminated Plastics
  • Leather
  • Marble
  • Masonite
  • Matte Board
  • Melamine
  • Mylar
  • Nylon
  • Paper
  • Painted Metals
  • Plastics
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polyester
  • Pressboard
  • Rubber
  • Silicon
  • Stone
  • Styrene
  • Veneer
  • Wood

Can all CO2 laser systems raster engrave and vector cut?

YES! From the smallest laser to the largest laser and all the size laser systems in between. All laser systems have the ability to raster engrave (almost any material, see list above) in addition to vector cut some materials (wood, acrylic, plastic & paper products). So if you have a laser system that isn’t able to engrave or cut, chances are the manufacturer has disabled that function.

Can all laser systems engrave or cut unprocessed (non-anodized) metal?

NO. Unfortunately without HIGH wattage units (400+ watts) no CO2 laser will engrave into metal and until you reach 800+ watts and use thin metals cutting is not possible either. CO2 lasers use a wave frequency that allows the lasering of virtually any material (we in the industry tend to call these organic materials) with the exception of raw metals. Only processed metals, such as, anodized, coated or painted metals can be engraved by CO2 lasers.

For raw metals there is a method which to allows a CO2 laser system to “add” an image to various metals. Apparently after a lengthy court battle, the settlement outcome gave the winning company the intellectual property to this material who now provides it to their primary distributors; Cerdec and Thermark, who in turn provide it to numerous dealers. This is a solution that when used according to the manufacturer guidelines generates a chemical reaction which crystallizes their “paste” permanently to the metal. This is the only time a CO2 laser is adding a mark to materials and it essentially creates solid black engraved image on uncoated raw metals. This procedure when done correctly is extremely durable and under testing has withstood military lubricants, salt water spray, high heat. abrasion tests, even outer space elements exposure. Very tough stuff indeed.

  • To date marks have been made on:
  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Chromed Steel
  • Copper
  • Lead-coated Steel
  • Stainless Steel
  • Tin
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten Carbide
  • The solution is also expected to work on:
  • Carbide
  • Gold
  • Niobium
  • Palladium
  • Pewter
  • Platinum
  • Silver
  • Tantalum

What is the maximum acrylic thickness than can be cut through?

Depending on the laser system and wattage up to one (1) inch thick. A 30 watt tube is still a 30 watt tube regardless of what machine it is installed into. That said NOT all laser systems are created equal. Dependent upon their driver (how advanced is it?), their motors (servo vs. stepper), their wattage (12 watts or 120 watts), the lens used (a 4″ lens is necessary to cut through very thick material) and how well can they control their motion system speed (1% increments only vs. percentage of 1% increments). Following are examples of what various wattage lasers can or should cut through in a single pass successfully.

  • 12 watts … 1/4″ (quarter inch) thick acrylic
  • 30 watts … 1/2″ (half inch) thick acrylic
  • 50 watts … 3/4″ (three quarter inch) thick acrylic
  • 100 watts … 1″ (one inch) thick acrylic

NOTE: if your laser system isn’t able to cut at or near these acrylic thicknesses based on the wattage match as I have listed here then inquire into the manufacturer of your laser system as to why? Do they have newer more advance drivers available for your system? Do they no longer support your laser system through upgrades and finally do they even have the ability or desire to develop the ability? That will say a lot about your manufacturer and your particular system.

Can the laser systems laser ADA/Braille signage/letters?

YES! It is possible to laser out ADA/Braille signage/letters. A company based out of the Midwest has patented a technology that enables this process. It is quite expensive, but if you conduct quite a bit of ADA/Braille signage/letters then the investment is well worth it and greatly expands the capabilities of all laser systems.

Can all laser systems do 3-D and rubber stamp engraving?

NO, not all. Some laser manufacturers include this ability as a standard component in their drivers, while others offer it as an upgrade, while others simply don’t have the ability. Look for drivers from laser manufacturers that are regularly updated, that have functions built in you desire or especially need, i.e., Rubber stamp/seal engraving, 3D engraving, raster engraving, vector cutting.

Just because you may own or are considering a desktop model vs. a large 3’x4′ model your capabilities should NOT be limited other than power and size. Software wise you should be able to do anything in a desktop model from any manufacturer that their larger laser systems are capable of, with the exception of course being power and size.

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