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These Paper Cuts Feel Good

Laser Cutting Paper – How to Get Started

Picture of Lorenzo Vannozzi
by Lorenzo Vannozzi
Sep 11, 2018

Imagine being able to produce amazingly detailed and precise paper cutouts at a low cost. In this article, we introduce the basics of laser cutting, why this technique is adapt at cutting paper, and some tips and online services for laser cutting paper.

A Brief Introduction to Laser Cutting

The "unlimited" potential of lasers.
The "unlimited" potential of lasers. Source: XKCD.com

A laser cutting machine works by focusing a laser beam at a single wavelength at a material. When focused, the light rapidly raises the temperature of the material at such high levels that it starts to melt or vaporize. The laser cutting head moves over the material following the specific 2D trajectory given by a design created in graphic software. The result is that the material is cut into the desired shapes.

Many parameters are used to control the cutting process. Examples include laser power, laser speed, laser tip height, and dots per inch (dpi), which affects laser resolution. These depend on the beam characteristics, the required cutting rate, the composition and thickness of the material to be cut, and the desired cut edge quality.

Not all materials respond equally to laser cutting, since they also reflect or transmit light by varying degrees. Processing some materials may lead to the production of dangerous gases or dust in addition to inconsistent shapes. Particularly tricky materials include leather, some polymers (e.g. Teflon) and any materials containing halogens.

Laser Cutting Paper

A layered laser-cut card.
A layered laser-cut card. Source: LaserCuttingShapes.com

Recently, a new laser cutting art has arisen: laser cutting paper.

Paper represents one of the most suitable materials for laser cutting. That’s because it quickly evaporates during cutting, making it easy to process. The laser cutting technique applied to paper combines high precision and speed, especially useful for the mass production of complex geometries.

The ability to create delicate and intricate patterns with lasers has opened up the world of paper arts even further. The long list of objects benefitting from fanciful designs includes greeting cards, paper packaging, businesses cards, and picture books. Moreover, different kinds of paper may be used, for example fine paper (coated and uncoated), hand-made paper, and corrugated board.

While alternatives to laser cutting paper exist, like blanking, piercing, or turret punching. However, several advantages make this process more convenient, such as mass production at high speed detailed precision cuts. Materials can be cut, as well as engraved for obtaining amazing results.

Tips for Laser Cutting Paper

How to not fail at laser cutting.
How to not fail at laser cutting. Source: Hackaday

With infinite types of paper and cardboard available, it’s important to know the properties of the material being used. Laser cutting paper can be tricky because the edges are effectively burned by the laser beam. Thus, the user must tune the cutting machine parameters carefully.

Here are some useful tips for laser cutting paper:

  • Even though laser cutting machines generally have a high resolution (more than 0.01″), it’s still limited by the paper or the material being laser cut. Thus, the cutting lines should not be too close.
  • Ensure that the paper is lying completely flat on the cutting plate.
  • The cutting plate should be clean to avoid undesired effects.
  • The resolution depends on the final application. For “normal” engraving jobs, 500 dpi represents an optimal resolution. For cutting, 1000 dpi is the best option.

Laser Cutting Paper Services

Image of: Laser Cutting Paper Services
Source: PaperShapers.co.uk

There are many different ways to have a design laser cut in paper. And one of the simplest solutions is to use online service providers.

The service proposed by Laser Cutting Shapes aims to satisfy customers with affordable costs and precise and detailed works. The normal laser cutting services includes converting the customer’s sketch into a laser cutting file. However, they also offer design expertise and skills in order to satisfy the specific needs of the customer.

Apart from paper cutting, the company also offers paper engraving, which is especially useful for business cards or invitations. The minimum order size is $120.00 (1 hr) plus $75.00 for file setup (one-time fee per drawing).

Another service provider is PaperShapers. With over 25 years of experience, the company offers a complete range of paper cutting services with state-of-the-art technology. The list includes laser cutting paper products, die cutting, and ram punching. 

A final example of an online service provider is online retailr Pololu. They offer pricing as low as $25, with no setup fees and discounted rates for larger orders.

All online service providers follow these general steps for paper laser-cutting:

  1. The drawing files are prepared.
  2. The files are sent to the cutting company for a quote.
  3. The desired components are ordered.
  4. The paper is cut.
  5. The finished products are sent to your address.

License: The text of "Laser Cutting Paper – How to Get Started" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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