As laser cutters become more common on the market, the range of possible uses grows ever larger. Hobby lasers are finding their way into many domestic workshops, small business fabrication shops, and both high school and college classrooms. Lasers are used for precision cutting and engraving, die cutting, and pattern cutting applications on a wide variety of materials.
Three types of lasers are most commonly found on the commercial market: CO2 lasers, Neodymium (Nd) and Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (Nd/YAG) lasers. Each has specific applications depending upon the material serving as the substrate. CO2 lasers, the most common type, are used for most cutting, boring, scribing and engraving tasks. Nd lasers are used mainly for boring applications with high-energy pulses and low speed cycling. Nd/YAG lasers are used for more powerful applications requiring high-energy pulses such as deep boring, flash trimming and engraving on thick materials.
Acrylics are among the easiest of materials to cut with a laser. However, they are also the easiest material to ruin by a mis-set laser. When cutting into acrylic sheet or a cylinder, careful setting of cutting speed, output power, and gas flow will ensure a clean, quality cut every time. Wood, by contrast, needs high process speeds to make a good cut with the laser, otherwise the edges will burn. Applying compressed air can help control temperatures by blowing it directly onto the wood as the laser cuts its pattern.
CO2 lasers are the type most often used for cutting stainless steel and therefore the most powerful rigs are found in metal fabrication shops. Various thicknesses of steel require high-powered lasers be purchased for these type of industrial operations, and are often the most expensive models of this type. However, the domestic or small business operation does not require such rigs and the models available to these clients are fairly reasonably priced. They are sufficient for most usages, even for the cutting of plate steel although longer dwell times will be required with a lower powered unit, of course. They are also ideal for glass etching, cutting nearly every type of material, pattern-cutting, precision carving, and engraving rubber stamps and signs as well as cutting inlays. Cutting and engraving are greatly facilitated by the use of computer design and graphics programs and a control application that can run on any PC to drive the laser, guaranteeing absolute accuracy with each project.