Hi, I’m Alan Ware.

Some of you may know me as the 3D printing guy. Which I suppose at this point is fair. However, I come to you today to not to talk about 3D printing, but instead to talk about the true workhorse of any makerspace – the laser cutter! If you’re unfamiliar with the laser cutting, check out this video.

Making is officially a thing now and people are comfortable identifying themselves as makers.In my opinion, it’s always been a thing, but who am I to argue with trends. We live in a time of rapid change, where new technologies and better access to existing technologies upend the way we work and create. Maker spaces and co-working is all the rage these days. Although, I would like to remind you all, that we at Hacker Lab have been around for quite some time now… Along with that, 3D printing has captured a lot of attention and excitement, but everyone who really knows what’s up, knows the laser cutter is where it’s at. Let’s talk about why.

1. It’s easy to get started on the Laser Cutter.

Laser cutting is a good place to start for any skill level. You have a variety of materials available to use, getting started doesn’t take an insane amount of technical know-how, materials runs pretty cheap, and the machine cuts really fast. Before you know it, you’re a maker.

So if you watched the video above, you know that the laser cutter creates objects by using a high powered laser to cut through varying materials. Wood, acrylic, cardboard, fabric, and leather are a few if the materials you can use, giving a good number of options. However, be warned, there are materials that are not suited for laser cutters, usually because of noxious or otherwise dangerous gases, released when burning certain materials. So always remember to use suitable material!

2. The Laser Cutter uses common 2D digital files.

The digital file used to create a laser cut part is most often some type of 2D vector graphic file. SVG, DXF, and AI are common formats. Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDraw, and AutoCAD are common programs that can be used to create digital files for use with the machine.

In these programs, you’re essentially using the mouse to draw lines, arcs, and curves that will represent the paths the laser will travel over your material. If you really wanted to you could scan a drawing and laser cut that, but we’ll leave that explanation for another time…

3. Prototyping with the Laser Cutter saves time and money!

As with most manufacturing methods, the time and cost is always dependent on what you’re making and how big it is. The bigger it is, the more time it’s going to take to build. But for smaller pieces, there are a wide range of possible designs that could be produced in under 10 minutes. You’re really only limited by your creativity and patience.

As you get more familiar with laser cutting being able to think flexibly will expand your horizons and capabilities with the machine. For example, while you are limited to only cutting out flat shapes, you could cut pieces that fit together to create a 3-dimensional object! Think about small balsa wood airplanes or a 2D dinosaur skeleton. In my opinion, individuals often limit themselves when thinking about laser cutting. Finger joints are a possibility, as well as cutting out a pattern in a rigid material (i.e. wood) that allows the finished piece to flex a bit.

While 3D printing gets a lot of the press, laser cutting is a low-cost, quick, and approachable entry vector into making. The software is approachable and available, beginning materials are not expensive, and the time it takes to get a finished product is pretty fast. If you can think flexibly, you’ll probably be able to kick out that prototype quicker than you think. So give the Laser Cutter a shot!


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