Saturday, July 14, 2012

About Laser Cutting/Engraving

A few months ago, I posted on YouTube a video about the laser cutting process and how awesome it is to laser cut leather:

Since then, we've been getting a lot of emails and messages on Etsy from people looking for advice and information about laser cutters/engravers. So, I've written up this blog post to try and answer any and all questions as best as I can. 

1. What kind of laser cutter do you use? 

Laser cutter, epilog (Helix 60 Watt) 

2. How much did the machine cost? 
We didn't buy one. Currently we purchase day passes to TechShop in San Francisco ($25 for past members, $50 if you haven't been a member), and reserve the use of the Epilog Laser Cutter for 2 hours. This is much less expensive than buying a new laser cutter. High quality laser cutters can cost around $15,000. 

3. How can I use the laser cutter at my local TechShop? 
First you need to take the introductory and safety class ($60). You can find a list of upcoming classes to TechShop by visiting their website, clicking "Classes" on the left menu, selecting your nearest TechShop location, and then clicking on "Laser Cutter." This will pull up a calender displaying all upcoming laser cutting classes. Once you've taken the intro and safety class, you can call your local TechShop to reserve up to 2 hours per day, 6 hours per week on a machine.  

4. What settings do you use to cut through your leather? 
It should first be noted that the machines at TechShop SF aren't brand new, and are used frequently. So, the settings they recommend on the list of acceptable materials are a little off. You should always bring scrap material so that you can test the settings. It also should be noted that I typically don't do etching on my leather so these settings are for cutting out leather only. 

For 4 ounce leather: Speed 47, Power 98, Frequency 512, DPI 600 
For 8 ounce leather: Speed 40, Power 98, Frequency 518, DPI 600 

If you aren't sure if the laser has cut all the way through, just have it pass through again. You'll know the laser has passed all the way through the leather when it shines very bright, or when the leather starts to curl up around the edges that have been cut.  

5. I'm interested in cutting out X material with the laser! 
If you have your own machine then BE VERY CAREFUL experimenting with other materials. I know that lasers typically handle leather, acrylic, matte board, cardboard, paper, wood, chocolate, seaweed, (off the top of my head) very well... however certain metals and glass just will not work and can even break the machine. If you are using a laser cutter at TechShop, they have a list of materials that are absolutely not allowed. Always ask a staff member to get a material approved if it is not on the pre-approved list.  

6. How does the leather turn out when it is laser cut? 
As you can see in the video above, the laser does leave burn marks (the black lines), and it gets SUPER smelly. Hey, it's burned animal flesh after all, to put it bluntly. The burn marks can easily be painted over, and in some cases just rinsed away. Lightly washing the leather in warm water will combat the smell as well. After my second visit to TechShop, the smell didn't bother me too badly. It smells like funky burnt toast mixed with campfire and BBQ.  

Worth it? 

The cuts are incredibly even and don't leave any messy "fuzzies" behind. As I mentioned in the video, lasers can achieve precision that you just cannot do by hand. check out the center of this mask, just above the nose bridge. Those pieces would surely not even be attached if cut out by hand. It also saves a lot of painful labor and stress on your hands, arms, and back!

[a mask we sold at the Berkeley Pagan Festival 2012]

Hope that was helpful! Any further questions, just ask them and I'll try to include them in this FAQ. Happy crafting!


  1. Laser Cutting : You may have found the cheapest supplier but it's important to ensure they have the correct quality policies in place prior to you placing the work. Ask the supplier to provide you with some product samples or place them on a months trial so you can ascertain the quality of their product.

    1. ... I'm not sure what you're talking about with this "cheapest supplier" stuff

  2. laser cutting machine priceThis post is so informative and makes a very nice image on the topic in my mind. It is the first time I visit your blog, but I was extremely impressed. Keep posting as I am gonna come to read it everyday!

  3. This would be such an interesting environment! So you can cut out any design that you make on the computer? That would be perfect! I'm thinking about getting a plastic laser cutter.

  4. very useful blog.thanks for posting.