Laser Cutter/Full Spectrum Laser 40W
- 1 Latest News
- 2 Lasercutter
- 2.1 Safety information and training
- 2.2 Software - Windows - RetinaEngrave
- 2.3 Software - CUPS Driver
- 2.4 Software - OS X Driver - VisiCut
- 2.5 Quirks
- 2.6 Things you can put in the laser cutter
- 2.7 Things you should not put in the laser cutter
- 2.8 Tips
- 2.9 To Do
- 2.10 Cutting power / speeds
- 2.11 Specifications
- 2.12 Photos
- 2.13 Discussion
- 3 Notes
New Lasercutter: Kaitian CM1309SH : 1 Head, 100 watt
- We are working on getting a new Lasercutter in June 2016. Here is more information regarding that project. https://noisebridge.net/wiki/Lasercutter_Kaitian_CM1309
- The laser cutter has needed love for some time. Here is the link to the new repair page: Laser Cutter Repair Page
- Right now we need more vinyl, please donate to Casey.
- Unofficial manual (maintained on this wiki)
- Product Site
- V4 Laser Download Page
- Manual File:FSL 40w Hobby Laser Manual.pdf
- Drivers should be thrown onto Pony and the cutter machine once we get that setup.
- Driver Download
Safety information and training
We should have a bunch of helpful information here on safe operation of the device and who to go to to be trained on its use here.
Here are notes on Laser Cutter Use uploaded on March 9, 2012
- Please speak to one of the people who is experienced with this laser cutter before using it so we can show you where everything is, how to setup the software, how to use it without breaking it, basic safety tips, etc.
- Read the instructions first. Manual
- Never turn the current up above 15 milliamps, that will fry the laser tube quickly. Usually just a few milliamps is more than enough power to do what you want. Using too much power on wood or paper will start a fire. Instead of turning up the power, turn down the speed and/or use multiple passes. Always use the minimum power you can do to the job to prevent unsightly burn marks and extend the life of the laser tube.
- Never operate the laser cutter unattended because sometimes things catch fire. A squirt bottle with water is kept next to the laser to put out small fires. A fire extinguisher is in the corner of the room for larger issues.
- If little flames shoot up off of your material, turn down the power. Little flames can start fires and will fog up the lens, which is difficult to clean.
- It is easy to make the laser head bang against the side or top of the unit. This causes an awful noise and must be very bad for the gears. If the laser cutter makes a banging noise, stop it immediately and reposition the laser head before the next cut, or resize the artwork.
- Do not cut plastics which create hazardous fumes when burned. Acrylic is ok. PVC and vinyl releases the very toxic gas phosgene when heated. As a general rule, chemical resistant plastics should not be put in the laser cutter.
- Be very careful with the silver honeycomb, especially when removing it from the machine to clean little bits of debris off of it. It bends very easily and once bent can not be straightened out completely. It is mostly a cosmetic issue, but pressing your thumb in the wrong place will cause permanent marks.
- Do not laser materials that make an excessive amount of smoke. A little smoke is ok, but a large amount can fog up the lens. If it is making a lot of smoke, use more passes at a lower power.
- When cutting paper, turn down the power to a couple milliamps, or it will catch fire.
- The proper operation of the laser requires you to start your cut with the energy nob set to the minimum setting, never turning it past half... If you turn it past half way... about 10-12mw the laser will die within the first few passes of printing
Software - Windows - RetinaEngrave
Any program can print to the laser cutter, I had success using Inkscape and Gimp. Gimp is not very good for doing vector cuts, a major limitation. Inkscape is not the easiest software to learn but it is not difficult either.
Windows XP or Windows 7
How to install
- Download and install USB drivers
- Download and install RetinaEngrave
- Download and install Direct Print drivers
How to use
- Get an image, any format
- Load the image into The Gimp and make any necessary changes
- Start RetinaEngrave
- Print the image to the Full Spectrum Engineering Driver
- Switch to RetinaEngrave. Set the speed to 75% or less. Press Go.
- Get an image, any format
- Start Inkscape and create a new A4 Landscape document
- Drag the image icon from Winows Explorer into the new document
- Select all. Go to the Path menu and select Trace Bitmap
- Print the image. Select the printer "Full Spectrum Engineering Driver"
- Switch to RetinaEngrave. Select the Vector tab.
- Set the speed on the right hand side. Press Go.
Software - CUPS Driver
Amir Hassan and Marius Kintel are working on open source laser cutter drivers through the CUPS interface. Primarily they're working on getting it operational with an Epilog cutter, but would like to expand past that soon. ctrl-cut
Software - OS X Driver - VisiCut
A possible OS X driver for our laser cutter. https://amedeo.informatik.rwth-aachen.de/groups/visicut/
- Vector fonts with lots of curves can take a long time for RetinaEngrave to process before it starts cutting. For instance, a single 5 letter word in Arial takes only 3 seconds to start in raster but 30 seconds to start in vector. The same word in the Pokimon font takes just 5 seconds to start.
- If your PC is connected to the laser cutter with the usb cable, and you have the RetinaEngrave software and drivers installed, and you still can't get the machine to acknowledge you (e.g. you try to press the "jog" buttons and the laser head doesn't move) try these things:
- There is a button between the "jog right" and "jog left" button. It shifts between UNLOCK and LOCK. Togge it and try again!
- There is a big red emergency stop button on top of the laser cutter. It might be pressed down, which means the machine won't work. Twist the button to unpress it.
- It is easy to make the laser head bang against the side or top of the unit. Don't let it do that.
- If you are doing a raster engrave, you can not set the speed too high. Here is some artwork on paper, raster engrave, 250 dpi 85% speed: . Here is the same image at 71% speed: 
At 500 dpi, 75% speed was too much. 72% was also too fast. I also saw the problem at 250 dpi 71% and 1000 dpi 65%. Full spectrum engineering said on Feb 25 that this problem is caused by the belt being too tight. 
- You don't need to watch the laser every single second, but you should at least stay in the little room while it's on and keep a general eye on it. Why? Because if you're using something burnable, there's a chance it can catch fire. Which is bad.
- Turn off the machine when not in use. The air pump gets hot if left on for long periods. It is not quite hot enough to cause a problem, but it will last longer if it is not always on, and turning it off will keep dust from accumulating inside the laser unnecessarily.
Things you can put in the laser cutter
- Paper (cardstock could have additives that should not go in the cutter, test a sample)
- Acrylic and several other plastics
- Wood (careful of fire, treated wood could have additives)
- Many other fabrics (not moleskin books because they can have high chlorine content)
- Cell phones (check for chlorine in the plastic)
- Laptops (check for chlorine in the plastic)
- Anodized/coated metal
- "Speedy-cut" rubber
Things you should not put in the laser cutter
WARNING: Because many plastics are dangerous to cut, it is important to know what kind you are planning to use. Make has a How-To for identifying unknown plastics with a simple process.
|PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)/vinyl/pleather/artificial leather/Moleskine notebooks||Emits pure chlorine gas when cut!||Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.|
|Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan||Cut very poorly, discolor, catch fire||Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting.|
|ABS||Emits cyanide gas and tends to melt||ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt).|
|HDPE/milk bottle plastic||Catches fire and melts||It melts. It gets gooey. Don't use it.|
|PolyStyrene Foam||Catches fire||It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!|
|PolyPropylene Foam||Catches fire||Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.|
|Fiberglass||Emits fumes||It's a mix of two materials that cant' be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)|
|Coated Carbon Fiber||Emits noxious fumes||A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying - but not when coated.|
|Any powder||the compressed air will blow it away|
|Gasoline or other liquids|
- Before putting your material into the laser cutter, test your image on paper. If you don't test on paper first you will ruin a lot of the material you are cutting. Once it looks good on paper you can place your material on the paper so you know it is positioned properly, and refocus if the material is thick.
- When engraving raster images, they go much faster if you use a lower DPI. The lowest setting is 250 DPI and that is enough for most things. Use higher DPI only with high resolution images and with materials that show the difference.
- Build a table and shelves for the laser and laser materials
- Collect images that are good to use with the laser cutter
Cutting power / speeds
- Typing paper - 100% speed, 3 milliamps
- 2mm acrylic - 25% speed, 8 milliamps
- 5/8ths inch acrylic - 1% speed, 12 milliamps, 2 passes
- Plastic with metalic coating - 5 - 7 milliamps rastor, 3 ma vector
- Linen - 70% speed, 4 milliamps, 1 pass
- 1/8″ plywood: Regulate the current to just a pinch under 15mA and use 3 Passes / 18.75% Speed / 100% power. The reduced speed (25% to 18.75% – a 25% reduction) seems to account for the needed power, while the reduced number of passes (also a 25% and thus proportional reduction) reduces the excess char that is produced by the laser. (figured out by elijah at noisebridge)
- "Speedy-cut" rubber - Raster: 15% speed, 3 milliamps, 1 pass.
- 1/16 inch basswood, to cut through: 34% speed, 14% power (of 15 milliamps max set on machine), 7 passes
- basswood to etch: 20% speed, 10% power (of 15 milliamps max set on machine), 1 pass
- Maximum material size: 13" x 16"
- Maximum engravable area: 9.5" x 14.5"
- Maximum material thickness: 2.75"
- CO2 Laser Wavelength: 10.6um
- Maximum Laser Power: 40W
Notes on Using the Laser Cutter
These notes written Friday, March 9, 2012 by Tony (email@example.com), adapted from demos / classes given by the famous Robert Rayce (firstname.lastname@example.org).
First, have your art ready. There is currently only one laser cutter at Noisebridge and it is sometimes in high demand. It can take a great deal of time to print a single image on the Laser Cutter, particularly at the High (1000dpi) setting. Email your art or image files to yourself so that you can download them to the Laser Cutter computer. Most all image formats are usable – JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIF, etc. I typically use TIF files since they are higher resolution, print quality files, whereas JPEG and GIF are less so.
The computer currently attached to the Noisebridge Laser Cutter seems to save files as MAYA type by default. The program GIMP2/GNU can be used to edit those images as necessary (it's among the desktop icons). Open your art / image files with Retina Engrave (that's the Laser Cutter software program – also on the desktop). If they don't look right you can try adjusting the settings as detailed below, or else re-open them with GIMP2 or similar image editing program (Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark, etc.) to adjust before proceeding with laser cutting.
In Retina Engrave (RE), click on File > Open at the top left to select & open your art files. They'll most likely be in Documents > Downloads unless you saved them to the Desktop or another specific directory. Be sure to change the “Type of File” to “All Files” because the default file search is .XPS, and the directory window will only show files with that extension. (This is how it was at the time these notes were taken, anyway.)
RE automatically changes color art to black & white (this is not printing, it's engraving) and resizes the image to conform to an existing template. The file size you see on screen will not necessarily be the size of the printed image. You can zoom in or out on the image to see it in greater or less detail using the Zoom buttons on the upper left. (Rayce says not to use these – they don't work. It seems to me that they work for viewing on the screen, but don't affect the final print, which will be of the entire image.) You should already know the size from working with it in your image program previously. The maximum printable area that the NB Laser Cutter can accommodate is 9.5” high by 15” wide. It is advisable to keep your image slightly smaller than the maximum: a safe threshold for maximum image size is 8.5” or 9 “ high and no more than 14” wide.
There are two main Laser Cutter settings, depending on the type of image or engraving you're making: Raster (lighter, for general etching & engraving of images) and Vector (deeper cutting, more heavy duty - makes a stencil). They are the inverse of each other. The parts Raster etches away are the parts left by the Vector, and vice versa. (Unless I misunderstand this....)
Use the Trim button to crop the image, getting rid of white space or other empty areas of the image not necessary for the final product.
Adjust the Speed as you desire – Rayce says slower speed and less intensity is generally advisable for higher quality.
Threshold is like Contrast. Play around with it until your image looks the best to you.
Clicking Invert will make a photo-negative of your image: white areas turned to black and vice versa, as in Gimp and other image editing programs.
Be careful with the Quality setting as this will affect the time it takes to Laser Cut your image. High (1000dpi) can take a very long time – the better part of an hour to engrave a single large image. You would use this setting for intricate artwork, small text, anything where fine detail & clarity are key. Medium (500dpi) will work for average images, and Low (250dpi) ought to be fine for simpler artwork such as logos consisting of large letters, basic geometric shapes, that sort of thing.
Alan thinks that anything over 250 DPI is just wasting time and does not add to the quality or precision of the final piece.
The Jog controls on the upper right in the RE display control the movement of the cutter. They are like the Spacebar, Return, and Arrow keys on a keyboard, with the cutter being like the cursor on a computer screen. It's OK to use the Jog functions when the Laser Cutter lid is open, but don't ever activate the laser at such a time, or you can hurt yourself. This is a laser, and it cuts.
Open the lid of the Laser Cutter and place a piece of paper or other disposable material on the honeycomb platform for testing. Always leave a margin of at least one inch on the left side of the platform, otherwise the Laser Cutter can go offline or damage itself – you'll hear a loud ugly noise if this happens, warning you.
Now look at the knobs and controls on the right hand top of the Laser Cutter. The Current Regulator is the one you will use most during cutting. The Ampere Meter measures the current. It should never go above 15 millamps; doing so is equivalent to going “into the red” when recording music, and in this case, you don't want to be Iggy & the Stooges. Prior to printing, test by simultaneously pressing both the green buttons below the Ampere Meter and Current Regulator knob. The current won't engage unless both are pressed at the same time. Once engaged, the Ampere Meter should automatically jump up to a point between 0 and 15 millamps; this is the amount you should try to keep it at during cutting. It varies somewhat from image to image. Pay attention and adjust the Current Regulator as necessary during cutting, trying to stick close to the indicated level – 5 millamps is a typical amount.
Whenever you switch substrates (the material you engrave on, whether it be paper, mat board, plexiglass, wood, or anything else), it is necessary to focus the laser using the [ name of square-shaped metal thing ] and focus lever beneath the Laser Cutter. This lever lowers the cutting platform when turned to the Left, raises it when turned to the Right.
Be sure to check with Rayce or another knowledgeable Noisebridger if you aren't sure that a particular material is safe to print on. We want to use materials that are ROHS compliant - i.e. environmentally safe. Some materials can contain toxic compounds like lead, halogen, etc that should not be used in this way. There should be crates or bins near the Laser Cutter, very obvious to the eye, containing paper, wood, plastic and other scrap materials ready for use with the Laser Cutter. More technical info on this topic is available.
Attend the Laser Cutter during use to ensure safety - it's possible for the laser to ignite materials and cause a fire!
Be sure to do a test print, if not several, when you are first acquainting yourself with the use of the Laser Cutter. Play around with the Current Regulator knob during cutting, turning it all the way to the left in order to reduce cutting to zero (no mark on the surface of your printing substrate), then increasing it by turning to the right (but not past 15 millamps!) for maximum penetration. If you are printing on a single sheet of paper or other thin substrate, the high current level will cut straight through, creating a stencil type image.
On the computer screen, in the Retina Engrave window, use Go and Cancel to start or stop the Laser Cutter.
The section below is in progress / draft form:
You can create etched images from which to make prints, if you have a flatbed roller press. Coat the etched image with ink, scrape off excess, leaving the etched areas filled with ink which will then be printed (via the force applied by the print rollers) onto printmaking paper or other material of your choice. This is similar to the process used for linoleum block printing, copper plate etching, and other traditional printmaking techniques.