LASER Q&A

What is the air assist option and when should it be used?

The air assist option (standard on most popular laser engravers) directs a stream of compressed air or gas onto your material, primarily to aid with the cutting process – it can be used for engraving as well but generally is not as it tends to dirty the material surface more than when if not used.

There are a number of different styles of air assist, the two most common being either a ‘cone style’ that directs the compressed air perpendicular to the material and directly down into the cut or a ‘tube style’ which directs the air down and at an angle towards the rear of the machine.

There is also an air curtain design where the compressed air is pumped out from the bottom of the X-axis gantry through small holes creating an air curtain effect across the width of the work area. Each type has its own advantages – with the cone style it minimises residue left on the surface and provides a cleaner finish particularly on wood, and because the cone covers the bottom of the lens it also provides some additional protection.

The downside with the cones is that you must use compressed air 100% of the time – even during engraving – otherwise you can damage your lens. Plus you only have limited clearance between the bottom of the cone and the material during cutting/engraving so if your material is not flat or if a part tips up during cutting there is a higher risk of it crashing or it can be difficult to engrave into recessed areas.

With the tube style it provides extra clearance for engraving and cutting uneven material or in recessed areas and it provides easy access to inspect and clean your lens without having to remove any parts. There is also no need to use air assist during engraving which provides cleaner results on the majority of engraving applications.

What’s the difference between a plotter laser and a galvo laser?

Galvo lasers are available with either CO2 or fiber laser sources and the primary difference is the way the beam is directed from the laser source onto the material.

With plotter lasers the beam is directed over the work area via X and Y axes using a series of fixed mirrors, whereas with galvo lasers the beam is directed by only 2 small but very fast moving mirrors. Each have their advantages depending on the application.

Plotter lasers offer much larger work areas, they can cut thick materials with straight edges and starting prices are typically more affordable than galvos.

Galvo lasers are generally restricted to smaller work areas up to approximately 300mm x 300mm but they offer far superior marking speeds (sometimes up to 75x faster than plotters), finer control of laser marking parameters to achieve a wider variety of results, the ability to deep engrave metals (fiber laser only) and much more flexibility when it comes to automation and integration.

What is the difference between cast acrylic and extruded acrylic?

Acrylic comes in two forms: Cast and Extruded.

Cast acrylic is used for almost all engraving purposes because when it is engraved it produces a white, frosty look that makes for a nice contrast against the clear material whereas extruded acrylic remains clear when engraved.

For this very reason extruded acrylic is ideal if you are only going to vector cut. The material has a lower melting point, which produces an almost flame-finished edge when cut with the laser, much easier than compared to cast acrylic.

Why would I need a galvo laser?

Galvo lasers are available in both CO2 or fiber laser configurations and their primary advantage is that they offer far superior marking speeds when compared to plotter lasers.

If you need to engrave medium to high volumes then a galvo may be the perfect solution for you.

Let’s look at a real-life example – we needed to mark 12 tags at a time; with a plotter laser it took 10 minutes whereas on a galvo in only took 4 minutes, which is a time-saving of 60%!

Say you ran this job for a full day the plotter would produce a maximum of only 48 cycles (12 tags each cycle) whereas the galvo would produce 120 cycles meaning for this specific example the galvo is 150% more productive.

 

To look at it another way, if it takes 8 hours to complete the work on a plotter laser, it would only take 3.2 hours on a galvo, leaving you with an extra 4.8 hours in the day to produce other jobs, generating more income.

Apart from speed, another thing to consider is if you already have a CO2 plotter laser and want to start doing some direct metal marking then a small galvo fiber laser may be the most affordable option for you – the Lotus Laser Micro Meta is a full-featured desktop galvo laser and is available from as little as $147+gst per week – click here to learn more

What is the difference between a raster image and vector image?

A raster image is made up of small pixels; common examples of raster images are jpegs, bitmaps, photographs, scanned documents, images you copy and paste from a website, etc. You may have noticed that some images have a rough or fuzzy pixelated edge – this is a tell-tale sign of a raster image. Ideally you want to work with high resolution raster images which have lots of small pixels to make up a detailed smooth image rather than one with larger pixels and rough edges. There is also a limit to how much you can enlarge a raster image because of the limited number of pixels and it is not possible to easily modify their colours. Raster images can be used to engrave but you cannot use them to cut – in order to cut you need point to point lines for the laser to follow, commonly referred to as vector lines.

A vector image is not made up of pixels but instead is made up of (vector) lines; common vector file formats are .cdr, .ai, .dxf, .eps, .pdf. Objects/designs made up of these lines can be very easily scaled up or down without having any impact on the edge quality and you have full control over what outline and fill colours you want to apply, giving you greater flexibility in the results you can achieve with your machine. For best results and whenever possible you should always try to use vector images for both engraving and cutting. Note: you cannot simply take a jpg or bmp and save it as a vector format, this doesn’t work – if you want to convert a raster image to vector, you need to follow a process called vectorisation which will create vector lines to separate the colours in your logo instead of using pixels. This process can be done automatically in programs like CorelDraw or Illustrator, or manually if you prefer.

What is the best way to clean my laser optics?

Ensuring your optics are clean will help your laser system perform its best. If smoke, resin, or other contaminants are allowed to accumulate too heavily, they will reduce the available laser power and may cause damage. Dirty optics can also greatly reduce the engraving and cutting quality of your machine so it’s very important to keep them clean. The focus lens and mirror directly above it get exposed to the most about of smoke and residue so these will need to be inspected daily and if they’re dirty then you’ll need to clean them. Any additional accessible mirrors should only need to be inspected every 3-4 weeks and cleaned as required.

To clean an optic if possible first remove it from the machine (if not possible to remove it this can still be done in situ) and blow off any dust and debris using clean compressed air. Then apply a few drops of cleaning solution to flood the optic to help loosen and dissolve any contaminants. Finally, use a wet cotton swab or lint-free tissue to gently wipe the optic clean. Do not ever scrub as this can scratch the optic. The remaining solution should evaporate leaving it perfectly clean and ready to use.

Can you laser cut multiple parts stacked on top of each other?

Yes but it depends on what material you want to cut. This is generally more common when cutting thinner materials such as paper or fabrics. Its very important to have the parts pressed down as flat as possible on top of each other.

For certain materials like white paper or similar you may find that there is some discoloration between the layers after cutting caused by smoke and debris getting trapped during the process.

Is the Laser Marking Solution for metal and glass/ceramics the same?
No, there a different solutions available for each type. It is possible to try to use the metal solution for glass and ceramics but it may provide inconsistent results so for the best results we recommend using the correct solution for the different materials. If using the correct solution on clear glass please note that it may require the use of a 1µm laser (fiber/YAG) for best results. Make sure to check the requirements of the marking solution you are using as they differ.

We recommend MarkSolid Laser Marking Solutions

What is the air assist option and when should it be used?

The air assist option (standard on most popular laser engravers) directs a stream of compressed air or gas onto your material, primarily to aid with the cutting process – it can be used for engraving as well but generally is not as it tends to dirty the material surface more than when if not used.

There are a number of different styles of air assist, the two most common being either a ‘cone style’ that directs the compressed air perpendicular to the material and directly down into the cut or a ‘tube style’ which directs the air down and at an angle towards the rear of the machine. There is also an air curtain design where the compressed air is pumped out from the bottom of the X-axis gantry through small holes creating an air curtain effect across the width of the work area. Each type has its own advantages – with the cone style it minimises residue left on the surface and provides a cleaner finish particularly on wood, and because the cone covers the bottom of the lens it also provides some additional protection.

The downside with the cones is that you must use compressed air 100% of the time – even during engraving – otherwise you can damage your lens. Plus you only have limited clearance between the bottom of the cone and the material during cutting/engraving so if your material is not flat or if a part tips up during cutting there is a higher risk of it crashing or it can be difficult to engrave into recessed areas. With the tube style it provides extra clearance for engraving and cutting uneven material or in recessed areas and it provides easy access to inspect and clean your lens without having to remove any parts. There is also no need to use air assist during engraving which provides cleaner results on the majority of engraving applications.

What’s the difference between a plotter laser and a galvo laser?

Galvo lasers are available with either CO2 or fiber laser sources and the primary difference is the way the beam is directed from the laser source onto the material. With plotter lasers the beam is directed over the work area via X and Y axes using a series of fixed mirrors, whereas with galvo lasers the beam is directed by only 2 small but very fast moving mirrors.

Each have their advantages depending on the application. Plotter lasers offer much larger work areas, they can cut thick materials with straight edges and starting prices are typically more affordable than galvos. Galvo lasers are generally restricted to smaller work areas up to approximately 300mm x 300mm but they offer far superior marking speeds (sometimes up to 75x faster than plotters),  finer control of laser marking parameters to achieve a wider variety of results, the ability to deep engrave metals (fiber laser only) and much more flexibility when it comes to automation and integration.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABS ENGRAVING PLASTIC AND ACRYLIC BASED ENGRAVING PLASTICS?
ABS is typically used to make engraving plastics suitable for rotary engraving machines and does not work particularly well with laser engravers. It may provide ok engraving results but will discolour and smell when laser cut. ABS is also cheaper and is not suitable for outdoor use. In comparison laser engraving plastics are acrylic based and provide clean engraving and cutting results for both laser and rotary machines. Acrylic based materials are more expensive and are UV/weather stable so they can be used for outdoor applications. To learn more about the different types of materials available click here
HOW DO I GET A MARK ON BARE METAL PLATES WITH MY CO2 LASER?
Commonly used materials like stainless steel and aluminium can be best marked with a CO2 laser by utilising one of the many different metal marking solutions available today to achieve a near permanent, high contrasting black mark. It is critical that the stainless steel or aluminium is raw and has no coating (make sure it doesn’t have a clear coat) and that the surface is clean and free from oils and grease before you apply a thin coat of the marking solution. Use a slow-to-medium speed and high power for best results when laser engraving. You will need to use a slower speed for aluminium. We recommend MarkSolid 114 Aerosol.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO REMOVE SMOKE RESIDUE AFTER LASER ENGRAVING?

If engraving wood you have a couple of options:

(1) If the wood has been sealed/lacquered you should be able to remove most or all of the residues with a damp cloth, however, if the wood is raw you may need to use some fine sandpaper to remove the residue – we recommend having some 220 grit sandpaper on hand in case you ever need it

(2) Alternatively, you can be proactive and use a light to medium tack masking paper first and then engrave it into the wood, allowing the residue to settle on the mark instead of your part. Then after the job simply remove the mask to reveal your perfectly clean engraved design

For materials other than wood

(1) You can try using Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) to clean away any leftover residue

(2) Another tip is to use the Bottom-Up engraving feature found in your print driver (a standard feature on Epilog Lasers). In standard top-down engraving, there can be a large amount of engraving debris generated and as that debris is pulled towards the exhaust ports at the rear of the machine, some of it will collect in the areas that have just been engraved. The Bottom-Up function reduces the amount of smoke and residue so that it is not dragged across freshly engraved marks. This feature is particularly useful for two-ply engraving plastics where you are engraving through a colour like red/blue/green into white underneath.

Regardless of the material you are engraving it is also a critical factor to make sure you have sufficient extraction otherwise the smoke and residue will hang around and settle on your material instead of being immediately sucked away after engraving

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH DPI SETTING TO USE?
As a general rule you will want to use a mid-to-high dpi for engraving text or other items with fine details, and a lower dpi for photographs or large block-style objects. Again this is a general rule and you should experiment with the different settings to understand the different results you can achieve. The higher the dpi the more dots the laser will mark (basically more details) however this also increases the overall marking time. A lower dpi will provide for faster marking times but is not suitable for all jobs. One thing to keep in mind is that the lower the dpi you use the more laser power will be required in order to achieve the same depth/darkness of mark.
I HAVE A MAC, CAN I USE IT TO RUN MY LASER?

Yes, but there are some caveats. If you are lucky enough to own an Epilog Fusion M2 Laser then these come with a dedicated Mac driver which can run your laser directly from your Mac computer without the need for any additional programs. If your machine does not provide a dedicated Mac driver then you still have a couple of options;

(1) Boot Camp for Mac – after loading Windows on to your Mac you then have the ability to choose between running Windows or Mac OS when you first boot up.

(2) Parallels for Mac – similar to Boot Camp however with Parallels you can run both Windows and Mac OS simultaneously so you don’t need to reboot each time you want to change between operating systems.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING MORE LASER POWER?
Generally speaking the more laser power you have the faster you can engrave or the thicker you can cut. Keep in mind that not all materials require a lot of power – if you are only engraving materials like anodised aluminium or cast acrylic you do not need much power however if you plan on predominantly using your laser to cut then you’ll need to consider a suitable power depending on your specific application.
WHAT IS THE BEST FREQUENCY/PPI SETTING TO USE WHEN LASER CUTTING DIFFERENT MATERIALS?
Frequency may also be known as PPI or pulses per inch and is a way to control how many times the laser pulses over a given distance during the cutting process. The higher the frequency the more pulses you have and the more they will overlap resulting in a smoother cut, however the downside to this is that the higher the frequency the more heat it creates while cutting which can cause melting or charring on certain materials. The lower the frequency the more the pulses will be spaced out from one another and if you lower it far enough you can even achieve a perforated line. As a rough guide for all acrylic based materials you should use a high-to-max frequency and for all other materials use a setting equal to 30-50% of your max. It’s worth noting that the frequency setting will not have any impact on the speed of your job.
HOW DO I CHOOSE THE MOST SUITABLE FOCUS LENS TO USE ON DIFFERENT JOBS?
CO2 laser systems are typically equipped with a single focal lens as standard – one that is generally good for most engraving and cutting applications. The most common for CO2 lasers is a 2.0” focal lens however additional lenses with different focal lengths can be used to help improve specific applications such as 1.5” and 4.0” lenses.
1.5” Lens – Typically for high-resolution engraving. Recommended for raster engraving above 600 DPI resolutions, for small fonts or fine details. Produces a spot size of around 0.08 to 0.14mm in diameter and provides excellent results when cutting thin materials (less than 1mm)

2.0” Lens – Standard lens on most laser systems. Multipurpose for both engraving and cutting applications, recommended for raster engraving from 300 DPI to 600 DPI resolutions and produces spot size of 0.1 to 0.18mm in diameter.

4.0” Lens – Produces focused beam over longer vertical distance. Specialty lens typically used for engraving within recessed area (bowl or plate) or for cutting thicker materials providing a straighter cut edge.

what is laser marking?

Laser marking involves the marking of work pieces using a laser. The work piece material determines the process and energy requirements.

Almost all materials can be marked with a laser. Laser markings are water-proof, wipe-proof and extremely durable. They can be created quickly, automatically and for individual applications.

Consequently, manufacturers from various industries use flexible and permanent laser marking as their preferred method for marking parts.

Fiber Lasers and CO2 lasers are ideal radiation sources for the majority of laser marking applications.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS:

Epilog Laser

Kern Laser Systems

Lotus Laser

ACSYS Lasertechnik

what is laser engraving?

Unlike other engraving processes, laser engraving is entirely contact-free. The material is fused and vaporised by using only laser light to achieve depth in the chosen material. There is no need to hold the work piece in place during processing.

High-precision 3D laser engraving is a process used especially for filigree texturing and engraving in moulds, dies or coin minting stamps.

A new process in this area is 3D micro engraving. High precision 3D engraving within micrometer range allows the creation of virtually forgery-proof authenticity certificates.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS:

Epilog Laser

Kern Laser Systems

Lotus Laser

ACSYS Lasertechnik

what is laser cutting?

Laser cutting is now more effective and easier than ever before. Due to their compact design and high degree of flexibility, laser cutting systems offer many benefits when compared to other methods.

Whether cutting inlays, signage, labels, templates or high-precision cut parts in a range of materials – we have a variety of systems to suit your needs.

Laser cutting is a thermal separating process that creates complex geometries using a focused laser beam. Laser cutting is able to process different metals, plastics, timber, organic and other materials.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS:

Epilog Laser

Kern Laser Systems

ACSYS Lasertechnik

what is computerised engraving?

Computerised engraving machines utilise different cutting tools, both rotating and non-rotating, to physically scribe, burnish or cut the chosen material to create a permanent mark. It is possible to create both 2D and 3D designs using computerised engraving machines.

The two most common cutters used with these machines are D-bit cutters, which are sharpened like a V and are spun during the engraving process in order to cut and engrave the material, and the other is a diamond tipped cutter, which is dragged along the surface of the material creating a scribe that is commonly used on different metals.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS:

Vision Engravers

what is cnc machining & routing?

Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines are available in many configurations, covering a multitude of machining applications and industries. Turning Centres (CNC Lathes) are predominately used for the processing of round components but also available with dual spindle and multiple axis, with driven tooling allowing additional machining possibilities such as cross drilling, milling and tapping.

Machining Centres (Vertical, Horizontal or Universal) are predominantly used for processing prismatic parts, and combine operations such as drilling, reaming, boring, milling, tapping and thread milling, which are available as 3, 4 or complex 5-axis simultaneous operation.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS:

Vision Engravers

Haas Automation

HOW DO I ORDER CONSUMABLES?

Email consumables@alfexlaser.com.au or call us on 1300 20 15 10 to place your order over the phone. Same day shipping for orders received before 1pm.

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