Laser Cutter How-to

These are step by step instructions for how to use the laser cutters at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center. It’s posted here because I used a lot of laser cut parts for the projects in my book while I was a resident there, and from now on ‘beamers and others can use this as a quick reference.

First things first: join the laser@eyebeam.org list. It’s a good place to ask for help or tips, and alert others if something goes wrong. Roddy handles coordinating the laser lens hand-offs, and Marko is the technical person in charge if things go wrong.

24 hours (or more) before:

  1. Use the inventory checkout system to reserve the laser machine AND a lens. Arrange with Roddy to get the lens (usually he’ll just leave it on his desk).
  2. Reserve a time slot on the Equipment Rooms and Machine Reservations Google calendar

Day of: Inspection and Setup

  1. Inspect laser cutter lens. If it’s foggy, clean it with a q-tip and lens solution. If there’s anything else wrong (cracked, spot that won’t wipe away, etc), report to Roddy/Marko.
  2. Inspect laser bed where you lay the material. The bed should be clean and free of debris. If not, clean with rubbing alcohol and/or acetone and paper towels. In my experience, one of these usually works better than the other but one of them always works.
  3. Open the front hatch and make sure there is no debris around the timing belts for the stepper motors. If there is a lot of built up stuff, get the shop vac and vacuum it out.
  4. Turn the machine on – switch is on the right side towards the bottom in the back.
  5. Turn ventilation on – central switch is needed for either machine, then flip the switch for the “little” or “big” laser. You should hear the compressor on the laser itself start, and see the hose to the laser parts ventilation box change shape as as the air flows. You know this is working when you try to open the laser parts ventilation box, you should feel resistance on the door.
  6. Install laser lens in laser carriage and tighten with three thumb screws. If any screws are missing, report to Roddy/Marko.

Day of: Use

  1. Position material at back left corner
  2. Setting the focal length: You have to adjust the distance the laser is from your material, so the lens can focus the laser beam on your material to cut it. If you don’t focus it, you’ll just have a very expensive flashlight moving around.
    • Hit the Z button. This will move the carriage all the way to the back left. Use the up, right, down, left arrows to get the carriage an inch or so out over the material.
    • Use Z measuring tool to position the carriage. Use the up/down arrows by the Z button to get the whole bed to go up and down. For finer control hit the Select button, then the up/down arrows again. The bottom of the carriage should just rest on the lip of the Z measuring tool.
    • Return Z measuring tool to its home
    • Press the Z button again to get the carriage back to home position
  3. Open Corel Draw. You can use any vector drawing software to create vector cut and raster engraving files. I use the free and open source program Inkscape, but Adobe Illustrator works too. Inkscape will save .svg files, which is what you need top open in Corel Draw. Corel will also recognize .ai files from Illustrator.
    • Lines in Corel Draw must have a “hairline” thickness and be solid colors (black, red, blue, etc)
    • Create a small test shape in the corner of your piece, and make it a different color
  4. Get the binder for your machine (460 or 660) to look up material settings
  5. Go to print, select “old laser”, and click on Properties. If you are cutting something, click the button next to the color of your test shape until it says VECT. Make sure all other say SKIP.
  6. Find your material in the binder and change the three settings to match those for a 60W laser in the category you want (i.e. vector cutting). Power is the percentage of full power given to the laser, speed is how fast the laser will travel, and PPI is pulses per inch. Hit the big SET button. Then hit okay.
  7. Press the print button. Don’t worry, the laser cutter won’t start yet, this just sends your file to the laser printer.
  8. Check that the LCD on the laser cutter screen show your file name and the correct power, speed, and PPI settings. It’s a good idea to press the “next file” button to make sure the laser is prepared to cut the most recent file you sent. If this is correct, press start.
  9. Try not to watch the laser cutter cut! The light is very bad for your eyes, even indirectly reflected.
  10. When your piece is done the machine will beep and the carriage will return to home position. It’s a good idea to let the fume extractor suck out some fumes for a few minutes before opening the lid (especially when cutting acrylic).
  11. Admire your work! Lather, rinse, repeat. Make a note of your favorite material settings once you get them to work.

More advanced tips:

  • If you want to cut more than one thing in a specific order, use a different color for each of those things. Then choose VECT for each of those colors. The laser will cut in the order of the colors you see in the properties screen. This is helpful when you’re first working with a new material, you can make 3 or 4 sample circle cuts with different settings to see what will work the best.
  • You can combine the above with raster engraving as well.
  • It’s a good idea to start with the settings in the manual, then adjust in small steps depending on your material thickness.

Day of: Cleanup and turn off

  1. Put your scrap from your cuts in the bottom of the fume box, and your good parts on the top of the fume box. Let them air out for a while before you use them. Keep the fume extraction fans going for 20 minutes to an hour when you’re done.
  2. Turn off the switches for the fume box fan (middle switch) and laser compressor (for either the little or big laser).
  3. Turn off the laser itself
  4. Unscrew the thumb screws from the carriage, remove the lens, and REPLACE THE SCREWS
  5. Clean the lens and mirror with a q-tip and lens cleaner solution, let dry, then return to box
  6. Clean the laser cutter bed with acetone or alcohol to remove any buildup
  7. Return laser cutter lens box to Roddy
  8. That’s it! That should get you started, but let me know if I missed anything.

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People: Dustyn Roberts
Tags: eyebeam