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Laser cutting acrylic - what machine to use?

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I really like the edge lit acrylic signs I'm seeing here and would like to know what sort of laser cutter can do these. I'd like to be able to cut through 3mm clear cast acrylic, as well as etch it. I've been looking around, reading a lot, and I know the K40 machines are too involved for my hobby use - are there other, maybe simpler laser cutters or other machines that could do what I want?

Update - I bought a 40W C02 laser cutter, fingers are crossed. Thanks for the comments, they helped me make up my mind

I finally got around to engraving some acrylic! It definitely can't cut it, like a K40 can, but I am impressed with the results!

Best of luck with the laser!
PicoPlanetDev

Oh that's great, good detail too! Thanks for letting me know :)
How are you enjoying it, has the learning curve been steep?

(Mine hasn't arrived yet)

I am enjoying it a lot! I also have a scratch-build 3D printer, but sometimes I just fire up the laser to get a 2D job done fast!
For me, the learning curve hasn't been that steep - I've already got 3D CAD under my belt and Inkscape/Corel are pretty easy. But sometimes converting images for raster gets hard - I use Paint.NET for that, normally.

Good luck!

Sorry for the late reply ;-)

Check out the EleksLaser A3-PRO (https://www.banggood.com/EleksMaker-EleksLaser-A3-Pro-Laser-Engraving-Machine-CNC-Laser-Printer-p-1027611.html?rmmds=search&cur_warehouse=CN). I have one and use it regularly for cutting as tough as balsa wood. I can also engrave hardwoods quickly. Here's a 5.5W diode directly compatible with it (https://www.banggood.com/EleksMaker-EL01-5500-445nm-5500mW-Blue-Laser-Module-PWM-Modulation-2_54-3P-DIY-Engraver-p-1287790.html?cur_warehouse=CN). That diode though is pretty expensive, and I ended up modding this diode's (https://www.ebay.com/itm/Engraving-450nm-5000mW-Blue-Buner-Laser-Module-TTL-Analogue-with-Gift-Goggles/142324084244?hash=item21232d2e14:g:eBgAAOSwmGZbK6ae). I have not tested this for acrylic engraving, but it works very well in my case. Since it is a diode laser, it doesn't require any cooling or CO2 tube calibration. I use a box fan to ventilate out a window. Mine came with safety goggles, too. I run my laser using LaserGRBL (http://lasergrbl.com/), not the manufacturer EleksMaker program.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for the detailed reply PicoPlanetDev - just a nanosecond too late - I bought one of those 40W CO2 laser cutters a few minutes ago! I was actually coming here to update my post when your message appeared :)

First I considered adding a laser to my 3D printer for about 2 minutes, then I seriously thought about that EleksLaser A3-PRO but after a good bit of thought decided to go for the laser machine. simply because there's no question they will cut through the acrylic. My fingers are crossed.

Yep! You definitely picked a good machine for that price. I would've chosen it too if I had a larger budget. Hope it goes well for you!

Thanks, I wouldn't go so far as to say I picked a good machine. I did try to get a known K40 but none would deliver to me so my machine is an eBay clone. I've read stuff about them I'd rather forget but nothing that can't be adjusted and/or improved if my interest in laser cutting is more than a passing fancy.
I'm quite excited :)

Most of the CNC add on lasers are diode lasers that use visible light (blue to violet) These will pass through clear acrylic without any effect. The reason that CO2 lasers cut through acrylic is that the CO2 lasers output ultraviolet light to which glass and acrylic are opaque. Also, the diode lasers are 3 to 7 watts of power while the CO2 lasers are usually 40 to 60 watts.

The glowforge is well designed and the original model is about $2,500. You can get a K40 type laser from Ebay for about $400 but it is about 200mm by 300mm usable area which might be small for many purposes. Also cheap CO2 lasers usually come with all of the hassle of exterior cooling plumbing and buckets of distilled water. All of the lasers will require outside venting.

At present I am at the mercy of the local makerspace landscape which is a decent value given how little i laser cut.

Small correction. The CO2 lasers emit infrared light (10,200 nm). Acrylic is opaque to infrared.

I see, yes. I have watched videos where lasers will cut through coloured acrylic but not clear, which was very informative as until then I might have bought a machine that couldn't do what I want. I could do the price of the K40 machines but it just doesn't suit me where I'd be using it.

Thanks for the info, it makes sense and just might make it easier for me to put this notion quietly to bed... big sigh

If you are looking for something that's plug and play and can do what you are looking for check out Glowforge. Keep in mind that convenience comes at a price. You can buy a quite a few k40's for the cost of one of their laser cutters :D

I have a Glowforge Pro and LOVE it -- especially for edge lit signs! Works great with acrylic.

OK....... I went and had a look and then, after I recovered, I've come to say thank you but I don't think so LOL

I don't mind getting my hands dirty but the chilling and extracting and etc that the K40 requires is excessive for what would be occasional use after the initial flurry of excitement wears off. Perhaps if I was going into production, but I'm not thinking that way. A few presents now and again.
I'd had hoped the 3018 cnc/laser combo machines would do it but some reviews say yes and as many say no, so I just don't know but am doubtful... I can't seem to find anything in between these options, maybe there aren't any.

I hope you aren't saying that you will be using the K40 without chilling and extraction! Chilling (well, cooling, anyway) is critical to tube life as well as to keeping the laser output constant during cutting or engraving. Extraction is essential for keeping your mirrors and lens clean.

No! No I'm not saying that :)
My initial reaction to those things was that it would be messy and difficult to manage so I decided against that machine, but after further reading and watching I realise that isn't so. Thanks for the warning though, it is appreciated.