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Laser-cut acrylic parts manufactured and delivered same day from just $50

When it comes to plastics, acrylic is the most popular material for laser cutting. Acrylic is not only a visually appealing material, it has many attractive mechanical properties that makes it so popular. Quote your components instantly with our online tool, and choose from a huge range of acrylic styles and thicknesses. With no minimum order quantity, Ponoko can get you the laser cut acrylic parts you need whether it's for prototyping, one off production or a full scale production run.

Acrylic is also known as PMMA or by it’s trade name Plexiglas®. As the trade name suggests, it’s a great replacement for glass due to optical clarity and greater impact resistance than glass. It has good UV stability and weather resistance making it a great choice for outdoor applications.

Ponoko’s range of acrylics for laser cutting projects also includes two tone sheets which offer high contrast engraving, making it perfect for control panels, labels and data plates.

Custom laser cut acrylic parts, delivered same day from $50 for just 1.

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic is a plastic material that is commonly found in numerous applications including industrial equipment, commercial equipment, consumer goods, and domestic environments.

The name “acrylic” refers to the plastic made from acrylate monomers that themselves derive from acrylic acid (propenoic acid) formed by the oxidation of propylene. Acrylic is particularly noted for its high degree of transparency, resistance to both tensile and compressive forces, and elasticity. While acrylic is a generic industry name, several branded versions of acrylic exist with one notable brand being Plexiglass. Different brands will use slightly different chemical compositions to improve the plastics' ability to resist UV, temperature changes, and resist shattering if broken.

Interestingly, the brand Plexiglass was developed in 1933 where German researchers were trying to develop safety glass. A layer of methyl methacrylate was sandwiched between two sheets of glass which would separate itself from the glass, and after exposure to sunlight, the resulting sheet was discovered to be ideal for the job.

With regards to application, acrylic can be found in almost all industries spanning from manufacturing to domestic products. Thanks to the transparency of acrylic, it also finds itself replacing glass as it offers a lower weight, is inherently more safe (i.e. doesn’t shatter), and is easier to machine. Furthermore, acrylic is also found in nail polish, paints, and adhesives thanks to the ability for acrylic to form strong bonds.


Is acrylic an expensive material?

While acrylic itself is expensive, laser-cutting acrylic is by far one of the most cost-effective machining methods.

When considering the price of acrylic, it is essential to also take into consideration its characteristics, ease of machining, and safety advantages compared to other materials such as glass and metal. By far the most important factor to consider with acrylic is that it doesn’t shatter and cause damage in the same way that glass does. This is why transparent acrylic sheets are often used over glass panels in windows and other transparent applications.

Another major advantage offered by acrylic is that it works extremely well with acrylic glues. Such glues (which take advantage of a liquefied acrylic solution), chemically bond two pieces of acrylic together (as opposed to an electrostatic force commonly found in superglue and tape), meaning that two pieces of glues acrylic can be just as strong as a molded piece.

Finally, the speed at which acrylic can be cut using a laser cutter helps to justify the high price of acrylic as it can be machined extremely fast while offering a high degree of precision. Ponoko only stocks engineering-grade materials (including acrylic) that ensure consistent material properties between all parts manufactured. An acrylic part manufactured by Ponoko today will be virtually identical to another part manufactured in a year's time.


What laser technologies are used with acrylic?

Even though numerous laser technologies exist, CO2 is typically the choice of laser for cutting acrylic sheets.

Of all mainstream industrial laser technologies that exist, CO2 lasers are by far the best choice for cutting acrylic. The reason for this comes down to the fact that CO2 lasers are infrared beams (i.e. not visible), and acrylic is good at absorbing this wavelength of light. Therefore, CO2 lasers can efficiently cut acrylic without bleeding the laser light damaging other areas of the acrylic sheet.

LED lasers are a cheaper technology compared to CO2 lasers and as such are found in many desktop laser cutters. While these can cut acrylic, it is generally not advised as such lasers produce visible light which can pass through the acrylic sheet. This makes them very inefficient and cutting which not only slows down the laser cutter, but also reduces the quality of the final cut.

Fibre lasers are some of the industry’s most powerful laser cutters, and are excellent for numerous materials. While fibre can cut plastic, it can be argued that fibre lasers are simply too overpowered for acrylic and thus can cause too much damage to the acrylic sheet as well as waste machine time that could otherwise be used for more appropriate materials (such as sheet metals).

To ensure the highest quality of our laser-cut acrylic parts, Ponoko is home to many different laser cutting stations all utilising different technologies. Each machine is configured to pair perfectly with a select list of materials most appropriate for that setup. As such, each and every laser-cut acrylic part not only conforms to our strict standards, but also provides the best quality edge finishing while maximising cost-efficiency and speed of production.


What applications can laser-cut acrylic be used for?

Acrylic is an extremely popular material and is found in numerous applications including structural components, optical parts, consumer electronics, and artistic pieces.

One common use for laser-cut transparent acrylic is in light-pipes found in consumer electronics. Surface mount LEDs on a PCB that need to get their light to the edge of an enclosure can utilize acrylic light guides that act like a fibre optic cable and reflect the light from the LED to the edge.

Enclosures for electronics devices can also be manufactured from laser-cut acrylic sheets. As laser cutters produce 2D designs, engineers have two options for creating an enclosure; either explode the 3D shape into 2D parts that fit together, or slice the design into stacked layers. This can be ideal for prototyping enclosures without having to pay for expensive 3D additive processes such as injection molding.

Acrylic sheets can also be used in place of glass where transparency is required. Such examples include fish tanks, chemical containers, windows, and screen protectors. If engraved, acrylic sheets can have light shine on their side which causes the engraving to light up, and this is highly popular in commercial advertisement displays and stands.


What advantages does laser cutting acrylic present?

Laser-cutting acrylic presents numerous challenges compared to other manufacturing techniques including increased manufacturing speed, lack of tooling costs, and ability to cut any 2D shape.

One of the biggest benefits of laser cutting machines is that they are not specialized for any specific designs, but instead, consist of two-axis controls with a variable power laser head. Once connected to a computer (or CNC controller), a laser cutter can be fed numeric code commands to cut the outline of any 2D shape without the need for any special machine setup, configuration, or customisation. The moment a laser cutter is finished cutting out one shape, it can immediately start with another totally different shape.

Another major benefit to using laser cutters with acrylic sheets is that laser cutters use a laser beam to vaporise the acrylic, and as such apply no mechanical force to the acrylic part. This not only allows for delicate parts to be machined, but it also allows for parts to be cut out in their entirety without the need for tabs or breakouts. As such, laser-cut acrylic parts can be true to their source design.

At the same time, the lack of mechanical forces on the part being cut reduces warpage that is otherwise found when using CNC mills, saws, or routers. The lack of a tool also sees virtually no wear down on the laser cutter during use, and this helps to drive the cost of laser cutting down.

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Ponoko provides over 80 different plastics and acrylic materials specially engineered for laser cutting.

Choosing a material that is laser safe and conforming to a list of requirements is a challenge which is why we have a specially curated list of over 200+ engineered materials. Our range of acrylic includes variations in color and thickness, and all these materials can be compared during the quotation stage for pricing, tensile strength, density, and conductivity. Furthermore, all of our laser-cut acrylic is available in any quantity whether it’s just a one-off part, or ten thousand for a production run.

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How thick can laser-cut acrylic parts be?

Ponoko offers laser-cut acrylic parts with thicknesses of up to 0.2mm.

The maximum thickness of acrylic sheets on a laser cutter isn’t a function of the acrylic itself, but of laser kerf. A perfect laser beam would never diverge as it leaves the light source meaning that the width of the beam, no matter how far from the source, would always be the same. However, real laser beams diverge with distance, and as the cutting power of a laser beam is a function of the delivered energy per unit area, a wider beam results in a lower power cutting capability.

At the same time, a wider beam also results in a wider cut, and this results in the underside of a part having a wider cut width than the top side. This divergence is what is known as laser kerf, and is only a notable issue with thick parts (typically those exceeding a few mm in thickness). The reason why laser kerf can be problematic is that the edges will not be square (relative to the top and bottom surfaces), and this can affect the accuracy of the final part as well as making it difficult to mount onto other parts.

To minimize laser kerf, Ponoko limits the maximum thickness of all sheets so that laser kerf is never more than 0.2mm. This helps to ensure that customer products conform to our strict accuracy and precision rules while also ensuring that customer parts are virtually identical. However, customers who require specific thicknesses and materials can submit their own stock to Ponoko for cutting.


What disadvantages does laser cutting acrylic present?

Even though laser cutting acrylic presents engineers with numerous advantages, it does introduce some challenges mainly regarding the inability to natively produce 3D shapes.

As laser cutters operate in 2D, it is physically impossible for a laser cutter to create native 3D objects. For this reason, engineers needing to create 3D shapes will need to either consider different manufacturing methods or utilize 2D manufacturing techniques to create 3D objects.

One such method for creating 3D shapes is to splice the design into many different 2D slices that can be individually cut and then stacked. This is especially useful for creating enclosures that have sides with few complex features. Another method for creating 3D shapes is to explode the shape into individual 2D faces that can then be put together to create the object. A third method for creating 3D shapes is to take advantage of living hinges that can allow a 2D sheet of acrylic to flex.

Another challenge faced by acrylic is that the material is not able to cope with extended temperature with a melting point of 160˚C. This prevents acrylic from being used in harsh environments, especially when considering that acrylic undergoes plastic deformation at temperatures above 70˚C.


How fast are laser cutters when cutting acrylic parts?

Compared to other manufacturing methods, laser cutters are by far one of the fastest methods for production of acrylic parts, especially for prototyping and small batch production.

CNC milling is one method in which acrylic parts can be manufactured, and while CNC milling offers high precision and accuracy, it comes at the cost of being extremely slow and expensive. Furthermore, CNC milling requires the use of consumables including router bits and engravers which all carry an additional expense. To increase the life of these tools, CNC mills will often operate at reduced feed rates, but this increases the time taken to manufacture parts.

In contrast, laser cutters can operate at full speed when manufacturing acrylic parts as there are no tools used nor are there consumables that get worn down. Furthermore, laser cutters can dynamically adjust their speed and laser power output which gives operators the ability to choose between high-speed low energy or low-speed high energy.

Additionally, laser cutters apply no mechanical force to parts being processed meaning that parts do not need to be clamped down and can be fully cut out. This also helps to decrease manufacturing time as parts do not need to be further processed once cut by the laser cutter.

Finally, the lack of tools and consumables also means that laser cutters don't require tool changes. This also helps to reduce the amount of servicing and downtime faced by the laser cutter which in turn increases the productivity of the machine.

But to truly demonstrate just how fast laser cutting acrylic is, customers in the Oakland Bay Area can receive their parts the very same day of placing an order (so long as the part is ordered before 11AM), and customers in the mainland US can receive their parts the next day. This allows for design iterations to be shrunk down from weeks to just days, and as such can save enormous amounts of engineering time.


Can acrylic be engraved?

Absolutely! Acrylic fully supports laser engraving and can be used for numerous applications including signs, user information, and graphics.

While acrylic can be laser engraved, the final engraving is not completely visible if the acrylic is transparent. This is due to the fact that engraved transparent acrylic has a white cloudy appearance, and the contrast between the transparent bulk material and the engraving is low.

However, one major advantage of laser-engraved acrylic is that light shining into the side of the acrylic sheet will light up engraved areas only due to total internal refraction. This can make the engraved areas appear to hover in the air while giving off its own light (whose color matches the source light).

At the same time, engraved areas in acrylic can also be filled with ink to make them stand out. This is especially useful for designs requiring different colors, and the use of transparent acrylic helps to drive attention towards the design.

Engraving acrylic is incredibly easy to do thanks to the fact that it is done during the same machine cycle as laser cutting. This not only means that parts can be left in the same machine for both cutting and engraving, but the engraving is perfectly positioned relative to the part (no need for additional alignment stages). Finally, the ability to cut and engrave in the same machine cycle also helps to lower costs making engraving an ideal manufacturing process to use when getting acrylic parts laser cut.

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How well does acrylic operate in direct sunlight?

The ability of acrylic to resist deformation under sunlight greatly depends on the quality of the acrylic, the chemical composition of the acrylic, and the nature of the sunlight.

While acrylic is a generic name, the quality of acrylic greatly varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. The name acrylic specifically relates to the polymer used, but it doesn’t include additives that help provide additional features to the acrylic. For example, additives can be used to strengthen bonds between molecules, and this can help create impact-resistant acrylics. Stabilizers can also be added to acrylic to help improve its resistance to extreme environments including UV exposure and long-term heat.

American-made acrylic brands such as Plexiglass have been designed to withstand direct sunlight, and as such is often the prime choice by engineers planning to create parts needing to be used outdoors. Cheaper brands will likely avoid the use of numerous additives due to the increased expense which can give poorer qualities to parts made from these materials.

Ponoko only stocks the highest grade of acrylic stock to ensure that customer parts are reliable, engineered to a high-degree of precision and quality, and exhibit minimal variation between identical parts. With a precision part quality record of 99.3% and having manufactured over 2 million parts for 33,000+ customers, you can be sure that your next customer laser-cut acrylic part will satisfy the toughest engineering demands.


How durable are laser-cut acrylic parts?

Acrylic is a highly durable material which is why it is so popular with engineers, but the quality of the acrylic greatly affects its overall performance and quality.

The durability of an acrylic part depends on numerous features including the size of the part, the thickness of the sheet, internal stresses, features on the perimeter, and the ambient temperature. Furthermore, the quality of the plastic will also greatly affect the performance such that cheaper materials will have lower impact-resistance, chemical-resistance, and UV-resistance.

However, even cheaper plastics can last a long time if kept in ideal environments. If properly maintained, it is expected that acrylic parts can last for up to 50 years, and this has been tested from parts manufactured decades ago. But when considered that environments greatly change, it is expected that the average life of an acrylic part will be around 30 years.

To demonstrate the quality of our laser-cut acrylic parts, customers get an automatic 365-day guarantee that will provide a free replacement on parts that do not meet our strict quality guidelines.


Can acrylic be laser cut at home?

It is definitely possible to laser cut acrylic parts at home using cheap off-the-shelf laser cutters, but the ability to produce precision parts safely is unlikely considering that a CO2 laser is required.

Small CO2 lasers do exist (such as the K40) that can provide basic laser cutting capabilities, but while these machines are cheap to obtain, they come with numerous issues. Almost all machines (at least the ones costing less than $10K) do not come with all the needed components to create an effective laser cutting setup, and this requires additional expertise.

Even if the expertise is on hand, such a machine can be bulky and requires to be installed safely in an area that has adequate fire protection. Cheaper machines rarely come with any fire detection systems, and are likely to suffer from poor build quality which runs the risk of exposing the laser beam to those nearby.

Furthermore, such laser setups are extremely challenging to configure as the beam needs to be correctly positioned. Configuring a laser cutter is a magnitude more difficult than configuring a CNC or 3D printer as laser beams require perfectly aligned optics to hit their target correctly. This configuration will need to be properly maintained overtime, and frequent cutting will see optics become dirty and residue build up on sensitive components, all of which can start fires.

Finally, if such a setup isn’t being used daily, then it presents itself as an uneconomical option for engineers. The high cost of such machines combined with the time needed to configure and maintain can introduce numerous headaches during the prototyping stage.

By the time a laser cutter is ready for operation, an engineer in the Oakland Bay Area could have placed their order, had it manufactured, and then receive it that same very day. In a week, an engineer might be lucky to get 3 good cuts out of the machine (after spending many hours), while an engineer using Ponoko services would have gotten through 7 design iterations with parts manufactured on industry-quality laser cutters offering excellent precision and accuracy.


Is laser-cut acrylic suitable for mass production?

Laser-cutting acrylic is excellent for prototypes and small production runs, but those looking to really take their project to the next level (with parts in the tens of thousands), may want to explore dedicated manufacturing alternatives.

One of the major benefits of laser cutters is that they are two-axis machines with numeric control, and this means they can be programmed to manufacture any 2D shape. As such, they can switch from making one design to another without any machine configuration or adaptation (unlike most manufacturing methods), and this makes laser cutters ideal for custom parts.

At the same time, laser cutters are also very fast, and this allows them to also be used in small production runs (going up to 10,000 is ideal for laser cutters). But for those wanting to manufacture tens of thousands of acrylic parts, there may be benefits to using other processes such as injection molding and casting.

Creating a mould for injection molding is extremely expensive (complex molds can be $100K), but once manufactured, it can turn out complex 3D parts in a matter of seconds. If left to operate in repeat over the course of a day, a plastic injection molding machine is capable of producing thousands of parts (the injection process can be anywhere between 2 seconds to 2 minutes). Considering that a mould can last into the millions of production cycles, the mould cost becomes irrelevant, but only if used en masse.

However, injection molded parts do not support engraving, and as such a mass produced part would still need to be moved to an engraving step (something which laser is ideal for, even in mass production). This can make laser cutting extremely competitive when producing thousands of parts as the laser cutting processes can also engrave.

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*Same day delivery (or money back) is available for orders using a limited selection of materials, placed by 11am PT Monday - Friday, for 1-100 parts to Bay Area USA locations. Same day shipping (or money back) available to USA & worldwide locations.