Laser cutting acrylic

Acrylic is one of the most widely used plastic resins in the industrial sector. This name generally refers to polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), a polymer developed in Germany in the 1930s and best known for its trade name Plexiglass.

Since its discovery, PMMA has become a cheaper and lighter substitute for glass due to its transparency, lightness and strength.

Thick acrylic sheeting

Moreover, its excellent workability makes plexiglass sheetings an excellent material for a wide variety of applications. Cutting acrylic sheets through laser processing is easy, not only for cutting shapes on a flat surface but also for the machining of 3D objects.

This versatility is also made possible by digital fabrication methods, in which laser cutting plays a prominent role. Indeed, among the different methods for processing acrylic, laser cut and engrave is perhaps the best.

Compared to mechanical methods, the laser performs the processing through a non-contact process. This is a great advantage, as the lack of mechanical contact increases cutting speeds and efficiency of the process, and the risk of damaging the material is greatly reduced.

Sheets of multi-colour acrylic (pmma)

The advantages, however, don’t stop there. Laser technology makes possible certain processes that mechanical methods cannot. For example, machining can be performed inside a block of material simply by varying the focal length of the laser lens and thus focusing the laser inside the material rather than simply on its surface.

Best laser for cutting acrylic

But of the various types of laser, which is the best laser cutter for acrylic? Definitely the CO2 laser.

But how do you cut acrylic panels? Carbon dioxide laser sources produce a laser beam at a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers, which is in the infrared region. Acrylic plastics absorb this wavelength, which means that a CO2 laser beam, when it encounters a PMMA surface, interacts with it, discharging all its energy onto the work surface.

The laser energy then turns into heat, a heat so intense that it instantly vaporizes the material. On acrylic, this process takes place very efficiently because most of the energy of the laser beam becomes heat absorbed by the material.

Coloured sheets of acrylic (PMMA)

The reason for this lies in the chemical structure of the material itself. PMMA is mainly composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Those atoms interact well with the laser light at the wavelength of the CO2 laser. Indeed, of all the most common plastics used industrially, acrylic gets the best cutting results.

So much so that laser applications on acrylic don't just stop at cutting. Acrylic polymers are also the main component of many industrial paints. For some years now, the CO2 laser has been used in the laser paint removal process.

Need a laser cutting system for acrylic?

Laser cutting on acrylic is one of the most popular applications of the CO2 laser. The cutting results are optimal and guarantee effectiveness and efficiency in all situations. At El.En., we have a long experience in setting up systems for acrylic processing. If you are interested an application with acrylic, contact us and we will be happy to help you find the best solution for your needs.