Leather is a luxurious material that can be laser cut or engraved to produce intricate patterns, but if you are struggling to get a clear cut, then you are not alone.
Laser cutting or engraving leather can be challenging due to its ability to resist heat, produce smoke, and sometimes warp during the process.
This article will provide an overview of laser cutting leather, including important insights for beginners.
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Laser Cutting Leather- The Basics
Leather is a tough material with good heat resistance and, therefore, requires a high-energy laser to make a clean cut.
A CO2 laser with a power rating of over 40W is recommended for cutting leather because of its ability to perform through cuts in a single pass with minimum edge burns.
However, you can also use a 10W diode laser to make cuts in thin pieces of leather in multiple passes.
Laser cutters show the best results for cutting and engraving natural leathers like full-grain leather, top-grain leather, etc.
While natural leather shows the best results, synthetic leathers are relatively easier to laser cut, but can be prone to melting and charring under high laser power.
Moreover, it is not recommended to laser cut synthetic leathers that contain vinyl or PVC content.
Laser Cutting Leather- How To
Step 1: Create the design
When preparing the design for laser cutting leather, always make sure that all the design elements are equal to or larger than the thickness of the leather being used.
This ensures structural integrity and prevents the workpiece from tearing under its own weight.
Apart from cutting, you can also use a laser to score the leather and crease it.
While you can score it by using low laser power, I personally prefer to use the Perforation mode in Lightburn for scoring the leather.
Another important aspect of laser cutting leather is to nest the design. Nesting means to arrange the design elements in such as way that minimizes material wastage.
In Lightburn, you can select the design elements to be nested, navigate to the "Arrange" toolbar and select "Nest Selected". Lightburn will export the design to an online tool and nest the design.
Step 2: Perform Test Runs
While working with an expensive material like leather, it is highly recommended that you perform test runs and identify the optimal parameters for your setup.
Each type of leather will vary from the other significantly, making it important to perform test runs even before working with a new type of leather.
Apart from that, when working with a large cut design, you can also perform a test run on a cheaper material to make sure the design is cut as per your requirement.
This test run will also help you to understand the layout and adjust the position of your workpiece for minimum wastage.
Step 3: Set the Optimal Parameters
1. Adjust Laser Power and Speed
Laser cutting leather gives the best results when using high laser power and moderately low cutting speed with multiple passes.
I personally got the best results at 100% power and 900 mm/min cutting speed with my 10W diode laser.
In contrast, with a 55W CO2 laser, you can make a clean cut at 100% power and 30 mm/sec in a single pass.
For engraving, you can use a 10W diode laser at 100% power and 6000 mm/min engraving speed.
2. Adjust Laser Focus
For laser cutting leather, it is always advised to set the precise laser focus to make a clean cut.
If your application requires cutting a thick piece of leather, then it is advised to perform multiple passes and adjust the laser focus after each pass to account for the increased depth.
Apart from that, make sure to clean the lens after each project, as laser cutting leather produces heavy smoke, which can accumulate on the focusing lens and affect the laser focus.
3. Calibrate your Air Assist
While it is strongly recommended to use high-pressure air assist during laser cutting, it might not be ideal for laser-cutting leather.
Using high-pressure air assist forces the smoke onto the surface of the leather and produces smoke stains.
Therefore, it is advised to use a low air assist pressure that prevents the smoke from accumulating on the focusing lens while allowing the smoke to escape the cutting area easily.
Step 4: Make the Cut
After performing the test runs and setting the ideal parameters, cut the leather sheet in the most economical size that fits in the work area of your laser cutter.
Make sure that the leather sheet is lying flat on the work area and start the cutting process.
The best way to keep leather flat on the work bed is to use pins or magnets on a honeycomb bed.
In some cases, there might be some burnt edges after finishing the cutting process, and you can either remove the burnt edges of the cut or leave them to add contrast to your leather item.
Tricks to Improve the Quality of Cut
Fix masking tape or use transfer paper on the surface of the leather to be cut and minimize the smudges caused by the smoke.
Turning over the material to perform the laser cutting from the back will also help to attain a cleaner finish on the leather.
Other than following the proper guide and reducing the edge burns to a minimum, wiping the workpiece with soapy water will help to clean off the smudges from the surface.
Laser Cutting and Engraving other Materials
Check out these guides on laser cutting some popular materials.
|Link to Guide
|Laser Cutting Paper
|Laser Cutting and Engraving Acrylic
|Laser Cutting and Engraving Aluminum
|Laser Cutting and Engraving Leather
|Laser Cutting and Engraving Plastic
|Laser cutting polypropylene
|Laser Engraving Brass
|Laser Cutting Felt
|Laser Cutting Fabric
|Laser Cutting Foam
|Laser Cutting Plywood
|Laser Cutting Glass
|Laser Etching and Engraving Glass
|Laser Cutting Wood
|Wood Laser Engraving
|Laser Engraving Granite
|Laser Cutting Vinyl
|Laser Engraving Food
Laser Cutting Guides for other Materials
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Which leather is best suitable for laser cutting?
All natural leathers and some synthetic leathers, like suede, are suitable for laser cutting as they don't produce any harmful fumes during the process. Whereas synthetic leathers that contain some type of vinyl or PVC produce toxic fumes that are harmful to your health and can also damage the machine.
So, it is always recommended to ensure that the material does not contain any vinyl or PVC content.
Can a diode laser be used to cut leather?
Yes, a diode laser can be used to cut leather.
Although diode lasers are usually low-power lasers that are suitable for engraving on leather, you can also use them to cut a thin sheet of leather in multiple passes.
Does engraving affect the strength of leather?
Yes, engraving leather reduces the strength of leather. Engraving a raster image on leather removes a layer from it, which weakens the material. Thus, it is recommended to perform engraving on thick leather whose durability won't be significantly affected by engraving.
Which leather is best suitable for laser engraving?
LaserLeather is the best suitable leather for laser engraving. It is a type of synthetic leather that is made specifically for laser cutting and engraving. It usually consists of two different colored layers with one layer on top of the other. When engraving LaserLeather, the top layer is removed and the bottom layer is exposed, which adds beautiful color contrast to the design.