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Acrylic Cutter – How to Cut Acrylic

Picture of Hironori Kondo
by Hironori Kondo
Aug 23, 2019
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Acrylic is an inexpensive and versatile material used for anything from props to canopies. Spice up your home projects and learn how to cut acrylic!

How to Cut Acrylic What Is Acrylic?

An acrylic chair.
An acrylic chair. (Source: interludehome.com)

Acrylic, also known as PMMA, plexiglass, and Perspex, is a clear plastic often used where glass is too heavy, shatters too easily, or costs too much. You’ll find it in the likes of fish tanks, aircraft canopies, and artwork.

To make use of acrylic, however, you’ll likely need to cut it — and that’s where things can get tricky. Acrylic chips and melts more easily than the wood and metal most people are used to, so different cutting methods, tools, and tips apply. 

In this article, we present three ways to get it done, from quick-n-dirty, DIY tricks to professional-grade solutions. 

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How to Cut Acrylic Method #1: Scoring and Breaking

Scoring (1) and breaking (2) acrylic.
Scoring (1) and breaking (2) acrylic. (Source: makezine.com)

This is, by far, the easiest method for cutting acrylic. It’s quick, inexpensive, and great for straight lines (but not much else). 

What you’ll need:

Safety:

In general, play close attention to whatever you’re doing with or around sharp objects. That includes the  scoring blade and edges of acrylic sheets. To be on the safe side, wear proper eye protection.

Steps:

  1. Secure the acrylic sheet to a stable surface, and then the straight edge to the sheet along the cutting line.
  2. Using the scoring tool, score along the cutting line, aided by the straight edge. If necessary, repeat over the same line a few times to ensure a sufficiently deep score.
  3. Place the scored line at the edge of the table. Apply quick, downwards pressure to the part of the sheet hanging off the table to snap it along the score. 

It’s as simple as that! 

With this method, you can very quickly split acrylic sheets into manageable, workable sizes. You can’t cut curves, but for straight lines, it’s hard to go wrong by scoring and breaking.

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How to Cut Acrylic Method #2: Sawing

Hand-sawing acrylic with a metal-cutting hacksaw (note the fine saw teeth!)
Hand-sawing acrylic with a metal-cutting hacksaw (note the fine saw teeth!) (Source: creativityhero.com)

If you’re looking for a little more flexibility when cutting acrylic, consider sawing. This will open up possibilities for curved, thicker, and longer cuts. 

What you’ll need:

If you can’t find a dedicated acrylic or plastic saw, any metal-cutting blade with fine tooth profiles (i.e. more saw teeth) should also work, but your mileage may vary. Typical woodworking blades will just chip and crack acrylic, making them unsuitable.

Power tools like a jigsaw or circular saw may also work, assuming the tooth profile is, once again, fine. Look for “zero kerf” (blade teeth flush to the body of the blade) and “triple-chip” (a specific teeth design) blades.

Safety:

Once again, always exercise caution around sharp objects. Eye protection is always a good idea, as is ear protection if you’re using a power tool.

Steps:

  1. Apply painter’s tape along the cutting line to mitigate chipping.
  2. Let the saw do the work. Going too fast will cause the freshly-cut acrylic to melt and weld to itself, leaving it as one solid piece. Needless to say, that’s not optimal for cutting.

With the right tools and a little experience, you can nail acrylic sawing. The hardest part will be finding the proper blades and cutting speeds, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to rip through large sheets and cut out flowing curves.

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How to Cut Acrylic Method #3: Laser Cutting

Intricate designs laser-cut in acrylic, difficult with any other method of cutting.
Intricate designs laser-cut in acrylic, difficult with any other method of cutting. (Source: vr-laser.com.au)

For the ultimate acrylic-cutting experience, turn to laser cutting. This will give you the finest precision and realize the most intricate details. As we have a dedicated guide to laser-cutting acrylic, the following is just a quick rundown of what to expect.

What you’ll need:

Safety:

This time around, you’ll be wanting proper laser safety glasses. Apart from that, you’ll generally want to make sure you have a set up appropriate for laser cutting, including proper cooling and ventilation.

Steps:

  1. Acquire access to a laser cutter. This may be from home, work, a friend, a makerspace, or a laser-cutting service. If you need to operate the cutter, ensure that you’re familiar with how to use it and appropriate safety. 
  2. Prepare your file to cut. Usually, this will be in a vector format, which is sent to the laser cutter’s software to turn into cutting instructions.
  3. Send the file off to the printer. Most likely, this will involve tweaking some laser settings. Start with manufacturer-provided settings, as every laser is different, and ensure that the acrylic sheet is large enough for the cut.

Laser-cutting takes more design work and can be more costly than the other methods on this list, but the results speak for themselves. If you need clean, precise, and intricate cuts, this will give you what you need.

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How to Cut Acrylic That's It!

Acrylic artwork, taking advantage of the material's transparency.
Acrylic artwork, taking advantage of the material's transparency. (Source: news.illinois.edu)

With that, you have three methods for cutting acrylic, from quick to intricate, DIY to professional. There are different times and places for each, so pick your method based on the cutting task at hand and resources available. If a quick-n-dirty straight cut is all you need, scoring and breaking will suffice. If you need thin, intricate pieces, you’ll want the laser cutter.

To see how acrylic can be used, check out our guide to making a laser-engraved acrylic sign. If you’re having trouble picking a laser cutter, we’ve broken down the best machines. Finally, for more details on laser-cutting acrylic, refer to our dedicated guide.

Happy making!

Feature image source: plasticsheetsshop.co.uk

License: The text of "Acrylic Cutter – How to Cut Acrylic" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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