3D-Printable Laser Cutter

by peter_, published

3D-Printable Laser Cutter by peter_ Sep 18, 2011

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This is the first release of the Boot-strappable Open Laser Cutter project that I've been working on for the past few months. The goal of the project is to construct an open design laser cutter with a large cut area (about 1 meter square), for about 5%-10% of the cost of a commercial system. The design draws heavily from other open laser cutter projects out there (such as the Buildlog 2X Laser Cutter) in using inexpensive aluminum extrusion and optics for most of the structural frame, while here most of the custom parts are 3D printed from ABS.

The printed parts represent about 10 hours of total printing time on a Makerbot or Reprap, and have been designed with the hope that they would be of general utility to anyone printing out a large CNC system -- not just a laser cutter. These include parts such as NEMA17 motor holders that mount onto t-slot, idler brackets, pillow block bushing mounts for motors, idlers, and shafts, and so on.

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Hows does this compare to parts being made out of metal? I have a rep2 and print PLA so would I want to print at 100% in fill? Do the platsic parts flex and not keep accuracy that metal ones would?
People looking at this should consider looking into the LAOS project aswell seeing that they've created a massively inexpensive lasercontroller complete with stepper drivers like we reprapers known as pololu/stepsticks. So the work chain is Inkscape->Visicut->Lasercutter
aaawwesssooomme :D   Good work man! Could you add your build price to the description?

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This is an ongoing project, and still a work in progress -- though it moves beautifully. For more information, please see my posts on the Reprap builders blog:

(part 2, most recent)

(part 1)

File Name



Hows does this compare to parts being made out of metal? I have a rep2 and print PLA so would I want to print at 100% in fill? Do the platsic parts flex and not keep accuracy that metal ones would?
People looking at this should consider looking into the LAOS project aswell seeing that they've created a massively inexpensive lasercontroller complete with stepper drivers like we reprapers known as pololu/stepsticks. So the work chain is Inkscape->Visicut->Lasercutter
aaawwesssooomme :D   Good work man! Could you add your build price to the description?
Have you considered the water cooling often needed to get the heat away from the laser?

This cooling is essential as the laser will get very hot and possibly fail if it is not cooled properly.

Also the red laser that you can use to draw the outside box of your design, with power at zero, to make sure it fits, although with a 1m square this is unlikely! but if the sheet you are cutting is smaller this is essential.

I think that the lasersaur people stick a red laser on the inside of the box and is reflected by the mirror by the laser output (the main beam passes through the mirror) the red laser then follows the optic path and provided an indication where the laser beam is.

Also you need a bed to place the cutting sheet, this is often perforated to allow the laser to pass though, so a wooden base would be needed that has a non flammable coating. As well some laser cutters have a blower at the sharp end where the cutting is to blow away the smoke used when cutting MDF
to prevent fires. This also will need an outlet to the outside.

The sides are also essential to prevent spurious laser reflections from escaping. I have used lasers in the past and know just how dangerous they can be. Laser light is collimated, this means the eye determines that the beam is coming
from infinity and focusses the beam on the back of your eye. and this will burn your retina, so do NOT forget the laser goggles. The laser goggles should be in the parts list!

I have seen that Misumi can provide panels as well, there also needs to be a cover that has an open switch that turns off
the laser if it is opened. And a big red stop switch too to stop the laser if the file is corrupted and the laser goes wild.

The rules for the laser cutter at the london hackspace is that if someone is not watching the laser cutting then the laser is paused and if no one still turns up the laser c
utting is cancelled. There is a very strong possibility of fire when you are laser cutting MDF.

I'm costing up this project with the latest Misumi catalogs at the moment. Will you be providing a build manual eventually? I can probably help you with this as I am a technical writer by trade looking
for work!
How does it handle different height or thickness of surfaces? And how much should all the non printable parts cost?

Also, what program will control it, and will it be adjustable from cutting to surface engraving?
buildlog.net is a great source for folks learning to build their own laser cutters, and should help answer most of your questions :)
Cool! This inspired me to mak my own 3d printable laser cutter,that is easily converted into a 3d printer using the same structure with a few extra parts.
I imagine you could also incorporate this into a powder printer to make a laser sintering printer. If the designs were modular and easily adaptable, one could then have both a laser cutter and a metal object printer for sub $1k. Cue epic Want.

Bravisimi! Take a bow!
that's the idea ;)
"I'd hoped to test it out, but it turns out finding or generating black thermoplastic powder is really, really tricky."

How about laser printer toner powder? Isn't thermoplastic dust one of its main ingredients?
we tried this out with the opensls project, and didn't have much success. i forget the exact composition of laser toner, but it is a good deal carbon black (the pigment), with some amount of something like a thermoplastic polymer in it. we used a 40W laser cutter to try and fuse something a few mm wide and about 10mm long together, without success -- the objects were extremely brittle. We had similar success with powder coatings. While I bet if someone tried hard enough they might be able to come up with some procedure that worked -- sinter extremely slowly with a lot of heat, then move into an oven to bake for a while, or something -- that they might have better success, after our tinkering I am moderately convinced that there likely won't be much success without actual pure thermoplastic build materials (and right now, these are hard to find). Black ideally (for low wattage lasers), but you could probably sinter any thermoplastic with the 40W CO2 laser.
Although i really like this project, why not create a laser cutter cut out by a lasercutter in true RepRap style?
Looks like your belt tension would distort the axis?
if they were super tight it might pull the pillow blocks a teeny bit toward the outside of the machine as they approach the center, but i don't think this would be significant unless they were under a great deal of tension. the distortion right now (which is on the order of about 1-1.5mm) seems to be coming from the weight of the top axis on the bottom one, rather than any tension issues.

industrially you'd likely stick in shaft supports and open bushings to keep things precisely level. i was hoping that the weight of the top axis would be such that one wouldn't need these, but it doesn't look like that's the case. the parts to build such a support should be shipping from misumi
today, so hopefully it'll be very precise a few days after they find their way here.
Why not have a T-slot run parellel underneath the rods on the side, and attach a roller bearing to the carriage that rides on the T-slot? This way, the rod and linear bearing are just a guide, and the T-slot takes the weight.
Funny. I'm working on the exact opposite. A laser-cuttable 3D printer. Or I will as soon as I get the laser cutter up and running. thingsihack.wordpress.com/
About a year ago I posted an early prototype design for an almost entirely laser cut SLS 3D printer to Thingiverse and the Reprap builders blog (over about 10 posts). I set a design goal of under $200 for the entire printer, but I think I might have been quite a bit /under/ that! Most of the success owed to the nontraditional approach to design, and finding ways to make every single thing laser cut except for screws and motors, and a tiny bit of kapton tape. I'd hoped to test it out, but it turns out finding or generating black thermoplastic powder is really, really tricky.

If you're interested, the project is open and some of the files are available at:

entirely laser cut linear CNC axis:


entirely laser cut dual powder bed chamber:


reciprocating laser cutter:

(i'd hoped the under $200 3d printer would also be able to function as a laser cutter for thin black thermoplastic sheets, allowing hybrid 2.5D designs. turns out it works great, if you think a little differently and design a reciprocating laser saw ;) )


best of luck!
Funny. I'm working on the exact opposite. A laser-cuttable 3D printer. Or I will as soon as I get the laser cutter up and running. thingsihack.wordpress.com/
Funny. I'm working on the exact opposite. A laser-cuttable 3D printer. Or I will as soon as I get the laser cutter up and running. thingsihack.wordpress.com/
bart dring of buildlog.net is the expert in open source laser cutters, and has started his own business for selling inexpensive CNC components and controllers surrounding them. you might want to get in touch with him, and see if you can collaborate.
I like your linear rod system. I'm going another route on mine. Hopefully, I'll finish it before the end of the year...I can't believe I've been working on it for 2 years off and on.
thanks chooch! i saw the start of your design on buildlog, and thought it was really neat. are you planning on using some makerslide for yours? (i've been thinking of giving it a try when it's available publicly, it looks great).

it's funny how long some of this work takes. i'd planned on putting the entire machine together in less than a month, and most of it was put together and moving in a month or two -- so that's not too bad. i think iterating through the printed parts to find ones that worked really well for the op
tics took a little more time than i'd expected, but still far less time having a 3D printer in the design loop than it otherwise would have. i remember one day sitting at the hackerspace impatiently watching the laser cutter cut out a design for the OpenSLS project that i'd designed earlier that af
ternoon... and then suddenly realizing that my frequent use of 3D printers and laser cutters had turned me into someone who believed creating some fantastic machine from napkin to physical, moving, working machine in only an afternoon was an unreasonable amount of time.

i hope you finish your mach
ine soon! the finishing bits for this one are on their way from misumi, and so i'm hopeful that it'll be complete with a fancy table and lid in a few more weeks. i still have to settle on some inexpensive open 270° bushings in pillow blocks to swap out for the 360° ones currently on the 12mm shaf
ts, which should allow the shaft to be supported from the bottom and have the entire 2m optical path very accurately aligned.
No, not using makerslide, yet... I'm trying some other extrusions that cost about $8 for all the axis. I fear though it may not work, but at $8 it's worth a try. However, I have some other projects that will be using the makerslides.

I've been focusing on finishing my cnc router for the past few months, so the laser cutter kind of fell behind, but once my router is done I can start working on the laser cutter again. I've been slowly buying parts when I have surplus money to spend.

It's analogous to when we had to wait minute
s for pictures to download. We get used to things happening so quickly now. I always try to go do something else while a machine is building/cutting to keep from becoming impatient. I bet even if we had something like a star trek replicator the seconds it take to materialize something would seem ver
y long after awhile.

I hope so too, just bought the power supply today. I still need the optics.

On another note, I think this system could be easily adapted to create an SLS machine and a laser soldering machine. Can't wait to tinker with it!
i've secretly been planning a machine with interchangeable heads of a similar design to this laser cutter, where it could automatically use an extruder, drill, solder paste dispenser, pick and place tool, and so forth, each in turn. something like an old pen plotter where it'd swap out the pens, except here the pens would each be different tool heads. i don't think there's anything technical preventing it, i think we just have to want to build it. :) (and, have the time, of course. my postdoc keeps me very busy! but maybe in another life i'd have a wealthy patron :) ).
Peter_ your not the only one working on a automatic tool changer :) Expect big things in the next few months :D
This is really cool. I am really interested in the laser. I saw one of your responses saying it was Chinese from ebay. Is it self-contained? Does it need water cooling, gas source, fancy high voltage connectors or stuff like that? Are the laser mirrors built-in to the tube or do you need mount and align those externally?

I have to ask: when will it be possible to make a printable 40W CO2 laser tube? Never? Soon? What are the limiting factors? Making it airtight? Thermal stability? Size?

The only laser I know of that is even close to printable is a nitrogen T.E.A. laser like this one
but it is not strong enough for cutting. It might work for UV curing polymer resins...

Great Work!
thanks matt! i always look forward to seeing your work on here too! (especially that printable motor, that was pretty wild!)

the CO2 laser is self contained in that it's not one of the ones that needs a gas source. (my postdoc supervisor used one of those on his thesis, and said you could tweak the mixture to get more power, and such, which sounds fun though). it has pretty much all of the above -- fancy high voltage
connectors, water cooling (it generates way more heat than i expected), and the lasing mirrors are all baked into the glass -- the proper mirror at the back, and the half silvered one at the front. the laser and power supply were each about $100 from love-happyshopping, with about another $100 to s
hip them. i also picked up some fancy enclosed overrated CO2 goggles (almost like the ones Dr. Horrible wears) for something like $50-$100.

that's a /really/ neat idea -- printing a laser -- and one i'd expect from you. i think there would be a bunch of limiting factors -- making it airtight, th
en pumping out the air and replacing it with CO2 (at a lower atmospheric pressure) seems a real tricky one. it's not clear how you'd attach a vacuum pump, then seal the pump port after pumping/charging the CO2. it would also definitely have to be cooled, but it's certainly possible that by printing
with something like thermoplastic, you'd immediately melt the chamber regardless of how much cooling. still, maybe you'd be able to approach this with something like SLS with a glass material, though even then it's not clear how you'd get the mirrors and electrodes in there with an air tight seal.

that nitrogen laser is really neat, and i've heard about them before, but not in the context of printing. having an open-atmosphere nitrogen laser would skirt around many of the above problems, and might actually be possible with some creative design. i'm sure if anyone could do it, it'd be yo
u! i'll expect it on thingiverse next week ;)

i'm pricing out some inexpensive open bearings and the aluminum extrusion for the lid, and with some luck this open laser cutter will be aligned and running wonderfully with the CO2 laser before long. then perhaps laser cutting some nitrogen lasers?
that might be a bit easier, sandwiching a few cut pieces?
I wonder if lightbulb or vacuum tube manufacturing techniques would adapt. Form the chamber with a neck on a side. Mount the chamber in a circular holder and position the chamber on a roller bearing cradle. Attach the neck to the vacuum source and pull the vacuum. Then apply heat to a region of the neck by torch while rolling the chamber and slightly pulling the neck to collapse the walls and seal the chamber. Trim off the waste end of the neck.

To add the step of filling with CO2 or N2, form the chamber with two necks - 180 degrees opposite each other. While the chamber is still connected to the vacuum source, bleed the gas in via the other neck. I think I've seen a formula somewhere for how many volumes to exchange to reach a given pu
rity. Then melt/seal both tubes. For an elegant solution, make the tubes coaxial and attached to one side of the chamber.
Just found a cool design for a do-it-yourself CO2 laser tube:


Also of interest (from the same guy) a video about using an optic made of rock salt, instead of the more common (and much more expensive) zinc-selenide optics:

Forgive me if I'm confused about my vapor densities, but couldn't you print a laser with two valves, pump c02 in one side and bleed the air out the other until you're venting c02, then cap the venting side and pressurize to whatever level is required?
it's certainly possible, but my intuition says the charging method would be a small issue compared to achieving air tight seals. my guess is that the trickiest part would be first printing something that was air tight with embedded mirrors and electrodes, and also (critically) forming air tight seals/valves on the charging ports. maybe it's actually something that we could do now in some very limited sense with full fill -- print out something like a bottle that's a bunch of full-fill layers thick, suck some of the air out of it, seal it up, and see how long it takes to reinflate? the idea is really interesting to think about, though -- a plastic gas laser.
Looks Amazing. I wasn't able to find a total parts cost anywhere. Is that 5-10% of the cost of an Epilog Zing?
thanks! the current parts cost is about $600 for the structural components, $400 for the laser/power supply, $150 for the optics, and about $300 for the motors/controller/belts/etc. It's my hope with some aluminum side panels (the last major component missing, and that I still have to find an inexpensive source for), the total cost will be less than $2000. Epilog doesn't sell a system with a comparable size to this cutter (about 1m x 1m), but one can pick up a fairly inexpensive Chinese laser cutter for around $1000 on eBay with a comparable size to a small Zing. The beautiful thing is that while commercial cutters tend to increase in price very quickly with size, from the standpoint of building your own the cost of ordering a somewhat larger frame is often very little. (though if you make the design /too/ large, there are other issues that you might have to deal with that increase the cost a bit -- like linear slides that are very accurate over large travel distances, and such).
very nice project! i was thinking of building a laser cutter for some time and this might keep me closer to beginning :)

what kind of belts are these? they look much smoother than the T5 belts... where you got these from and how much do the belts and pulleys cost? I recently had some issues with the T5 belts on my reprap and was thinking of replacing them with something more accurate... thanks, and keep on with this great work!!
peter_ - in reply to elk
thanks elk! these are inexpensive 6mm wide / 2.03mm pitch metric belts and pulleys from stock drive. i think they were about $6 per pulley (the design uses 6), and $8 for the belts (the design uses 3). so far, they've been working great! i'll put the part numbers above in the parts list.