Laser Cutting Acrylic
Acrylic presents a beautiful sophisticated appearance, and is very affordable. Acrylic is used in applications that require a high gloss, colorful or clear, scratch resistant surface. Lucite, Perspex, and Plexiglass are the more common trade names.
Acrylic is one of the most popular materials that can be cut or engraved by CO2 laser. Due to its thermoplastic properties, acrylic can be shaped and cut for a wide range of applications. Laser can make intricate and smooth cuts that a router tool can’t. Brilliant pigment colors are often formulated into acrylic. Laser cutting of colored acrylic eliminates the need for afterward painting, which decreases overall production costs. Meanwhile, laser marking or engraving clear acrylic (Plexiglass) that been painted can offer a unique effect.
There are two types of acrylic, i.e., cast and extruded, which differ in the way of manufacturing, and CO2 laser processing. Laser processing of cast acrylic produces a cool frosted or whitening effect with an overall high quality finish. Cast acrylic sheets are typically colored and engraved with low power laser. Cast sheets have as much as a 30% thickness variance from one sheet to the other. Extruded acrylic has limited color selection (clear, opal and black), but laser cutting can produce cleaner extruded acrylic than cast acrylic. Laser can vaporize extruded acrylic more easily, leaving a smooth, glass-like, and flame polished edge. Extruded acrylic is also cheaper than cast one. Cast is harder to flame polish and you'll notice a slightly rougher edge. But, cast has that nice white contrast when engraved, whereas laser engraving will make an extruded acrylic grey.
Laser cutting acrylic can produce flare, so be sure to stay near laser during work. If you get a flare up during cutting especially thick acrylic where more power is needed, you can mask both sides of the acrylic cut area with transfer tape (paper mask) that has been slightly dampened. Alternatively applying liquid dish soap instead of tape can help prevent smoke and residue damage. When you're done you simply rinse and repeat. Acrylic often comes with a protective paper mask that should be removed before processing, since it cannot be processed with laser, and will outgas hazardous fumes. NOTE: Do not use vinyl mask since the laser will trigger a thermal process that will emit hydrochloric acid and toxic fumes.
Some acrylic applications include: illuminated or clear signs, acrylic letters, architectural models with acrylic, acrylic advertising displays, outdoor or indoor signs, acrylic award trophies and plaques, and acrylic home decor pieces, among others.
Once the acrylic sheet is set up on a honeycomb table for laser processing, the result will be a finished edges that appear as if they were flame polished, and there is no need for post processing clean up. You can also request laser cut acrylic samples, or send your acrylic for test at our site.