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Laser Cutting Paper Without Burning [2023]

Laser Cutting Paper Without Burning [2023]

Laser Cutting Paper Without Burning [2023]

The most common question when it comes to laser cutting paper is this- "How can you laser cut paper without burning it?"

Good process control and optimal parameters are the answers for laser cutting paper with no edge burns.

In this article, I have discussed the process of laser cutting paper in detail, along with common challenges and ways to overcome those challenges.

Laser Cutting Paper - How to?

Laser cutter works by using a high-energy laser beam that burns, melts, and vaporizes the material.

When laser cutting paper, the paper absorbs the energy from the laser beam and vaporizes almost instantly.

However, the ability to catch fire almost instantly can result in overburning of paper. So, how to use a laser cutter to perform clean cuts on paper?

Performing a few test runs and maintaining good process control is necessary to attain a quality cut in paper with no or minimal burns.

There are various steps in the process of laser cutting paper, and each step needs to be regulated to achieve good-quality cuts.

Step 1: Prepare the Design

Preparing the design in LightBurn
Preparing the design in LightBurn

The process of achieving a good quality laser cut starts with a good design.

It also defines the sequence in which the design elements are to be cut by the laser.

The width of all the elements of the design should be greater than the thickness of the paper to maintain the structural integrity of the cut part.

When laser cutting intricate designs, the sequence of cuts should be set in such a way that the innermost pattern of the design is always cut first. 

This is because once a part is cut it falls down to the work table and making further cuts on the piece that falls down is not feasible.

Step 2: Set Optimal Parameters

After preparing the design, the next step in the laser cutting process is to set the optimal parameters.

ParameterValue
Power10 - 15 W
Cutting speed6 ips (150mm/sec) for general cuts
1.2 ips (30mm/sec) for intricate cuts
Air assistLow-pressure
Exhaust systemRecommended

Recommended parameters for laser cutting paper

1. Set Optimal Power

The power of a laser cutter determines the ability of the laser to cut through the material.

Paper is generally a low-density thin material that does not require a high-power laser to cut through.

Using high laser power to cut paper will result in burnt edges, and since the paper is a flammable material, it can even cause fire hazards.

A low-powered CO2 or diode laser with a power rating of around 10-15 W is recommended for cutting or engraving paper.

However, the cuts made in the paper by a CO2 laser cutter have superior quality to those produced by a diode laser.

While diode lasers can cut white paper, they do not produce the best results for engraving.

So, for engraving projects, it is preferable to use colored craft paper instead of white paper.

2. Calibrate the Cutting Speed

Paper, low-density material that can be laser cut easily, does not require extensive heat to be cut or engraved by a laser.

Longer dwelling time can result in overheating the paper leading to charring and overburning of the edges.

Therefore, a high cutting speed is recommended when laser cutting paper to keep the dwelling time to a minimum.

However, when cutting intricate designs, the laser head constantly changes its direction, limiting the maximum speed that the laser head can achieve.

Due to this, the dwelling time increases and results in overburning of the edges even after setting the optimal parameters.

The solution is to perform intricate cuts at a lower power setting.

For general cutting projects, I was able to cut craft paper with my 20W diode laser at 3000 mm/min and 100% power.

However, for intricate cuts, a lower power setting would be preferable.

3. Set Laser Focus

Focal length adjustment plays a vital role in getting a clean and precise laser cut.

For cutting paper, it is advised to set precise focus with the smallest spot size to minimize the kerf width and achieve perfect cuts.

A defocused laser will overburn the paper and can also cause fire.

4. Adjust Air Assist

When laser cutting paper, the air assist helps to keep the cutting area's temperature in control.

However, high air pressure can blow the paper away and lead to inaccurate cuts.

Therefore, it is preferable to maintain low air assist pressure that keeps the cuts clean without blowing the paper away.

Step 3: Perform Test Runs

Paper laser cut on COMGO Z1
Paper laser cut test on COMGO Z1

The optimal parameters for laser cutting paper depend upon the laser cutter and the type of paper to be cut.

These parameters vary from one setup to another and require a few test runs to set them right.

The optimal parameters discussed in this article are more like guidelines that you can follow to find the best settings for your setup.

To perform the test runs for finding the optimal settings of general and precision cuts, it is recommended to cut 0.8" and 0.3" squares respectively.

Step 4: Execute The Process

Optimal parameters for cutting craft paper
Optimal parameters for cutting craft paper

After performing the test runs and finding the optimal parameters, you can begin the process.

Although the process of laser cutting paper is very safe, it is recommended to follow the laser safety protocols and wear safety glasses when executing the process.

Furthermore, paper is a flammable material, making it necessary to keep an eye on the process to avoid fire hazards.

Laser Cutting Corrugated Cardboard

1mm thick cardboard cut on TwoTrees TS2
1mm thick cardboard cut on TwoTrees TS2

Corrugated cardboard is generally thicker than other paper types and is difficult to process under a laser.

The difficulty in laser cutting corrugated cardboard does not mainly arise due to its thickness but due to its construction.

It consists of multiple layers stacked on top of the other, and each layer consists of a fluted or corrugated sheet between two linear sheets. 

When laser cutting corrugated sheets, the smoke generated by the burning of the paper is entrapped in the corrugated layers below.

The smoke disperses the laser beam and lowers its ability to penetrate through the cardboard.

Using higher power increases the penetration ability of the laser, thereby overcoming the loss of laser energy by dispersion.

It is advised to use strong air assist when laser cutting corrugated cardboard to blow the smoke away and prevent the risk of fire under high laser power.

Laser Cutting and Engraving Other Materials

Check out these guides on laser cutting some popular materials.

MaterialLink to Guide
AcrylicLaser Cutting and Engraving Acrylic
AluminumLaser Cutting and Engraving Aluminum
LeatherLaser Cutting and Engraving Leather
PlasticLaser Cutting and Engraving Plastic
PolypropyleneLaser cutting polypropylene
BrassLaser Engraving Brass
FabricLaser Cutting Fabric
FoamLaser Cutting Foam
PlywoodLaser Cutting Plywood
GlassLaser Cutting Glass
VinylLaser Cutting Vinyl
FoodLaser Engraving Food

Laser Cutting Guides for other Materials

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can you laser engrave a photograph on paper?

Yes, you can laser engrave a photograph on paper. Using a low-powered laser at high speed is recommended to engrave a photograph on paper. However, raster engraving on very thin paper like copy paper can result in warping of the paper due to excessive burning. Therefore it is recommended to use cardstock or bond paper for laser engraving photographs.

Can you perform vector engraving on paper?

Yes, you can perform vector engraving on paper. However, it is necessary to maintain good process control as the paper is a soft material, and even a slight change in parameters can result in a through cut.

Can you laser cut a stack of paper?

Yes, you can laser cut a stack of paper.
Laser cutting a stack of paper is similar to cutting a thick sheet of paper that requires higher laser power. However, using a high laser power will result in edge burns, and the smoke trapped between the layers of paper will stain the sheets. Furthermore, using high power on a stack of paper can cause fire and therefore needs to be monitored.

About John Abraham

Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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John Abraham

Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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