Ponoko

Laser cutting metal is not quite the same as cutting plastics and the other materials we offer. These FAQs include tips and tricks that will help you design and make successfully using metal.

What are the main differences between cutting metal and cutting other materials?

There are two main differences:

What’s different about cutting metal What you need to do
The laser cuts to the side of the line instead of cutting on the line. You need to leave a gap between parts to allow this to happen. The gap between paths needs to be at least the thickness of the material. For instance, with 0.9mm steel there would need to be a 0.9mm minimum gap between paths.
The laser pierces the material before it starts cutting. You need to leave space for the laser to ‘cut in’. This space needs to be at least the thickness of the material wide. If you were using 0.9mm you need to leave 0.9mm of ‘spare’ material on one side of any line that is to be cut by the laser so the machine can pierce and cut in.

Cutting metal is more technical than cutting plastics and woods, over time we'll be working hard to remove that difference.

Can I combine cutting lines?

It’s not a good idea. In the making guide, we suggest combining or minimizing cutting lines to reduce laser cutting time and therefore cost. This works for most materials, but with metal parts will just fall out or skew and cause all sorts of problems.

Separating metal pieces

The design on the left will cut out of, say, plastic or wood as two parts. If you want to make the same two parts out of metal, you need to draw them as shown on the right. This is because you need to leave spare material on one side of the line for piercing and cutting.

Is there anything I should watch out for when designing corners and holes?

Yes. The laser beam has a noticeable diameter to it so all ‘internal’ corners have a radius of 0.5mm (0.02 inch). This means, for example, if you want to cut a triangular hole each of the corners will have a radius and will look slightly rounded. A 1mm (0.04 inch) square hole looks like a 1mm circle. To be on the safe side, the diameter of a hole should be no less than the material thickness.

Rounded corners

Extremely acute angles (generally less than 10o) also pose problems as this is, in effect, the same as having two cutting paths too close together.

Can the laser handle intricate designs made out of metal?

No. Metal doesn’t laser cut very well once it gets hot so any parts with too much detail are likely to turn out poorly. When the metal gets too hot it can splatter damaging the (rather expensive) machine. That’s why we sometimes have to reject metal parts with too much detail.

Can I cut really small pieces out of metal?

Yes. One of the benefits of laser-cutting metal is that you can cut very small pieces and they will hold together. The downside is that small pieces are easily lost. This is because the bed of the metal laser cutter has gaps about 70mm square (~3 inches) between the supports the material rests on while it is being cut. To get around this, the laser cutter ‘tags’ small objects so that they don’t fall through the laser bed and get lost and/or damaged. (See the diagram for an example.) This means objects will still be attached to the waste material when you receive them – all you need to do is twist them to pop them out. There will be a small amount of material left where the ‘tag’ was which you can remove with a metal file.

Tagged metal piece

Some pieces are too small to keep. Small waste pieces will fall through the bed and not be included in your package. If you are concerned about which parts will be delivered, please send us a PDF showing the pieces you want to keep.

Can I engrave or etch the surface?

No, at present you can only cut metals.

Do coupons apply to metals?

No, coupons are not applied to metals.


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