Laser-Cutting Settings for Different Materials | A Beginner's Guide


Mastering Laser-Cutting Settings for Metal Materials

The precision-cutting industry is all about creating intricate designs such as logos or patterns with absolute accuracy from various materials, from metal and wood to fabric. In the past, traditional-cutting techniques often left room for inconsistency or error. Now, thanks to the innovative technology of laser-cutting machines, precision cutting has undergone a massive change for the better.

Laser-cutting has revolutionized the industry by allowing for a more advanced, efficient, and highly detailed way of cutting hard materials like metal. However, did you know that laser cutting works differently on different metal types? Yes, that's right. Tuning the laser beam according to the metal type and thickness is essential to achieving an optimal cut.

We've created a detailed guide to help you navigate the turbulent waters of laser cutting on metal. Keep reading to fine-tune your craft and become a laser-engraving connoisseur. 

How Laser Cutting Works on Different Metal Types

Lasers are like high-powered scissors that can cut through various metals with high precision and speed. The technology behind laser cutting involves using a focused beam of light to melt or vaporize the material, essentially removing it from the path of the laser beam. This process works particularly well on materials with high melting points, like stainless steel, aluminum, and copper. 

The laser's pinpoint accuracy allows users to cut intricate designs and patterns with ease, making it a popular choice in industries like automotive and aerospace. Additionally, laser cutting reduces material waste and produces cleaner cuts than traditional methods, making it a more eco-friendly option. All you need are expert operator skills and proper machine calibration to enjoy a wide range of precision laser-cutting capabilities on any metal type.

Key Parameters: Laser Power, Speed, Frequency, and More

Those who want to cut metal should first determine what type of laser they need. Different machines have different wavelengths. A wavelength determines the precision and depth of material penetration in laser-cutting machines. 

Choose the correct laser depending on the material parameters. CO2 lasers have a longer wavelength and are more suitable for cutting organic materials. Fiber lasers have a shorter wavelength and are better for cutting metals.

Depending on the metal type you cut, you'll also need to ensure the optimal settings of your laser cutter:

  • Laser power determines the cutting ability of the machine. Higher power will result in faster cutting but may also lead to more heat distortion. Lowering this setting is a better option for precise and intricate cuts and delicate tasks such as engraving and etching. 
  • Laser speed refers to how fast the laser beam moves across the material. Lower speed settings are better for thicker materials, as you may need more time to penetrate the dense layers. Higher speed settings are more suitable for thinner materials, as you won't have to deal with extra material along the way. 
  • Laser frequency refers to the number of laser pulses per second. As different materials have different absorption rates of laser energy, adjusting this setting is essential. A higher frequency is suitable for thinner materials, and a lower frequency works better for thicker materials.

By taking time to ensure that the laser cutting parameters are correct for the specific material, you can achieve the best results and prolong the life of your laser-cutting machine.

Optimize Laser Cutting Settings for Common Metal Materials

As there are several optimum parameters to consider, optimizing laser-cutter settings for different types of materials can be a baffling task. The following tips will help you get started:

Carbon Steel: Thickness Considerations and Cutting Speed

If you're looking to cut carbon steel with a laser-cutting machine, consider the thickness of the material you're working with. Laser machines are generally suited for thin- to medium-thicknesses of carbon steel, which translates to around 25mm. If you have thicker steel, it's best to use plasma machines specifically designed to cut through thick and tough materials.

Regarding cutting speed, carbon steel has a high melting point and requires a slower cutting speed to achieve a clean and precise cut without warping or distorting the metal. You will need a higher-frequency laser for this application. Typically, a CO2 laser with a frequency of at least 1,000 watts will get the job done. 

Stainless Steel: Achieving Clean and Precise Cut

When it comes to cutting stainless steel with a laser cutter, you need to set a slower speed than with other materials due to its hardness and strength. Due to its reflective nature, stainless steel also requires a high-frequency setting on the laser-cutting machine to achieve optimal results. This setting allows for a more precise and controlled cut while reducing the likelihood of unwanted reflections and heat damage.

Generally, the recommended speed for cutting stainless steel with a laser cutter is between 10 and 20 mm/s. The frequency should be around 1000 Hz, and the recommended laser power from 1-4 kW, depending on the thickness of the material. 

Aluminum: Navigating Reflectivity and Thermal Conductivity

Aluminum is highly reflective, which means laser beams can bounce off the surface and cause damage to the machine. To prevent this, use a shorter wavelength laser, such as a fiber laser. Such a machine will better penetrate the aluminum surface without causing too much reflection.

Thermal conductivity can also pose a challenge when laser-cutting aluminum. The heat the laser generates can quickly dissipate throughout the material, making it difficult to get a clean cut. To combat this, use a high-powered laser, a power setting of 60-80%, and a speed setting of 10-20 mm/s. 

You may also want to use a cutting gas—such as nitrogen or oxygen—to help create a more uniform cut by blowing away any molten metal. With some practice and suitable fiber laser engraving settings, you'll be well on your way to making precision cuts in aluminum and other materials.

Fine-Tuning Techniques for Specialized Metal Cutting

Here's how to refine your technique of using laser-cutter settings for different materials to get the desired results.

Copper, Brass, and Other Alloys: Addressing Challenges

Brass, copper, and other alloys can be challenging to cut due to their heat conductivity, which can cause melting and deformation at the cut site. To address this issue, laser-cutting machines usually have specialized nozzles or gasses such as nitrogen to assist with cooling. Adjusting these parameters to achieve clean, precise cuts without compromising the metal's structural integrity is essential.

Coated Metals: Adjusting Settings for Consistent Results

High laser-power is necessary for coated metals to penetrate tough coatings and make deeper engravings, but don't go overboard. Running on a high and constant laser power mode can also damage the surface.

Remember to use slower cutting speeds with coated metals to prevent damage to the coating. A higher frequency will also ensure you get cuts with smooth edges. 

From Light Metal Fabrication to Versatile Tube Cutting: Choose the Right OMTech Fiber Cutter

At OMTech, we understand that cutting various metals and materials can be daunting. That's why we introduced the line of FC Models or Fiber Laser Cutters. This line of machines offers exceptional power capacity and customized specifications, catering to the individual needs of every DIYer or professional. 

If you're looking for powerful but affordable performance for light metal-cutting, OMTech's FC-105C might be just what you need. This machine delivers high-quality cutting results on various materials, from aluminum and copper to brass and steel. With a maximum cutting thickness of 12mm and quick set-up time, the FC-105C is ideal for small to medium-sized jobs that require precision and accuracy. 

For a more premium solution, check out OMTech's FC105SAT. This machine can handle a range of metals, including aluminum, stainless steel, and mild steel, with thicknesses ranging from 0.5mm to 25mm. It ensures secure and efficient metal fabrication with a high-power laser source. 

Are you eager to learn more about our range of laser-cutting machines? Explore the laser cutting machines we have on offer and get creative today.