The Joy of Laser Cutting is a project by Alda Escareño. 

This work is licensed under a 

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Glossary

Acrylic

 

A commonly used plastic for laser cutting that comes in many different thicknesses and colours. Also known by the brand names Plexiglas, Acrylite, Lucite, and Perspex.

 
 
 
Adobe Illustrator

 

Is a program that is used to make vector illustrations. This software allows you to build images from scratch or transform jpgs into editable vector shapes. Illustrator is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud. You can learn more about Adobe Illustrator here.

 

This guide was developed using Adobe Illustrator Creative Cloud 2017, please keep in mind that different versions of illustrator may have slightly different layout and functionality.

Artboard

 

The artboard is the working document area in which you develop your work in Illustrator. You can set up the size of the artboard when opening up a new file or by clicking on the artboard editor, which will allow you to resize manually or enter in the dimensions of the arboard you are looking to set up.

 
 
CAD/CAM

 

CAD stands for computer-aided design and refers to the use of computers and software for design and design documentation. 

CAM stands for computer-aided manufacturing. CAM software uses the designs developed in CAD software to generate tool paths for CNC machining.

Calipers

 

Are a tool used for measuring the distance between two exterior or interior surfaces.  In the case of prototyping and laser cutting you want to work with either Vernier, Digital or Dial Calipers. These all function in the same way, and differ only in how they indicate the measurement taken.

 
 
CNC

 

CNC stands for Computer Numeric Control. While often used as a shorthand, CNC is the system of mechanical processes that translates digital inputs into movement in 3d space. You can find CNC systems in mills, lathes, water jet cutters and laser cutters.

Kerf

Kerf is the space created on either side of the laser beam. Because laser cutting is a heat based process, some material vaporizes during cutting. If you are working on something that needs to be of a very specific size, it is important to take into consideration how the laser's kerf will affect the final result.

The exact size of the laser kerf depends on many variables, including:

•The material you are cutting

•The thickness of the material you are cutting through

•The wear of the gantry that moves the laser head around

•The power of the laser you are cutting with

•The strength of the air assist

•The direction of the woodgrain, if you are cutting wood

If you are working with a laser cutting service, they can usually provide you with kerf size that you can use when prepping your artwork.

One way to find out what the kerf is on a laser cutter with a given material is to cut a 1" square and measure the actual resulting square and negative space left by the square.

 

It is also worth mentioning that laser cutters will cut materials at a very slight angle- wider at the top and narrower towards the bottom. This is generally not very noticeable, but can affect some applications particularly when working with thicker material.

The material test guide can be a useful tool when working with a new material or laser cutter. It includes a 1” notch that you can measure with a set of calipers to quickly test the kerf.

Linear Engraving

 

Linear engraving is a process by which a laser cutter runs cut lines at a low power. This results in very fine lines engraved on the surface of a material. The process of linear engraving is much faster than rastering. In some cases, running rastering as linear engraving can help reduce the time and cost of a job. Linear engraving is indicated with a black line.

 
 
 
Makerspace

 

A makerspace is a community shop that has a wide range of tools and machines that members and students can use to work on personal projects.  Makerspaces are staffed with knowledgeable makers that run classes and assist new members by teaching them to work with the available equipment and by answering questions they may have. These spaces are meant to facilitate opportunities for members to make and prototype with equipment and tools that are not easily accessed elsewhere. Makerspaces might exist as stand-alone entities, as informal associations between colleagues, as part of larger organizations, schools or libraries. There are also a few franchise style makerspaces that have locations all around the world: FabLabs, TechShop.

Plywood

 

Plywood is an engineered wood that consists of thin layers of wood stacked on top of each other. Each layer has the wood grain running at 45 or 90 degrees to the layers below and above it. This stacking results in a material that is more resistant to changes in humidity than solid hardwoods. Plywoods come in a variety of thicknesses, strengths and finishes. Plywood, especially Baltic Birch Plywood, can be a very reliable material to use when laser cutting. When looking for plywood keep in mind that there are plywoods that are designed for many different applications, and some construction or marine-grade plywoods have glues and finished that are not suitable for laser cutting. These tend to result in a very burnt and unevenly cut edge.

Rastering

 

Rastering is a process in which a laser cutter burns away the surface of a given material. When rastering, the laser travels the entire width of the image and moves its way either down or up, line by line. This process can be quite slow depending on the size of the over-all design. Rastering is often indicated by a grey or black fill.

 
 
RP

 

RP is a short-hand for Rapid Prototyping: the practice of using equipment including laser cutters, 3D printers and CNC Mills, amoung other equipment, to quickly develop models or functional prototypes as part of a design process. Shops that include this equipment are sometimes referred to as RP centres or labs.

Vector

 

A vector illustration is an image that depends on a series of commands rather than a collection of pixels. Vector illustrations can be re-sized and edited without losing image quality. Vector illustrations are interpreted by laser cutters as instructions for cutting and engraving.