Laser cut clear acrylic letter 'E'

Types of Acrylic

Before beginning to experiment with acrylic in your laser, it's important to understand the different types of this substrate. There are actually two types of acrylics suitable for use with the laser: cast and extruded.

Cast acrylic sheets are made from a liquid acrylic that is poured into molds that can be set into various shapes and sizes. This is the type of acrylic used for most of the awards you see on the market. Cast acrylic is ideal for engraving because it turns a frosty white color when engraved. Cast acrylic can be cut with a laser, but it will not result in flame-polished edges. This acrylic material is better suited for engraving.

The other type of acrylic is known as extruded acrylic, which is a very popular cutting material. Extruded acrylic is formed through a higher-volume manufacturing technique, so it is typically less expensive than cast, and it reacts very differently with the laser beam. Extruded acrylic will cut cleanly and smoothly and will have a flame-polished edge when laser cut. But when it is engraved, instead of a frosted look you will have a clear engraving.

Laser Cutting Acrylic

To achieve the best results when cutting extruded acrylic, you'll want to elevate the material so that it's not touching the cutting table. This will greatly reduce backside reflection and the occurrence of grid marks on the material after being laser cut.

Epilog's Pin Table is the perfect accessory to help you get those perfect cuts on extruded acrylic. This handy device allows you to raise and support your acrylic for better cutting edge quality. The Pin Table incorporates movable pins that can be placed anywhere along the table's grid of one inch (25.4 mm) spaced holes. The acrylic is raised and supported in locations where the laser will not be cutting, which is what helps eliminate backside reflection. The Pin Table also allows you to place pins to support small or intricate parts that would normally fall out of the cutting pattern.

How thick of acrylic can you cut?

This will depend on the wattage of your laser cutter.

A 30 or 40-watt Epilog system will cut through up to one-quarter inch of acrylic. As you increase in wattage, you will be able to increase the thickness you can work with. A 50 or 60-watt machine will allow you to cut through closer to 3/8" of acrylic, and a 75 or 120-watt system will allow you to cut closer to 1/2" or possibly 3/4" with two passes.

Laser Cutting Speeds

Cutting acrylic is usually best achieved with relatively slow speed and high power. This cutting process allows the laser beam to melt the edges of the acrylic and essentially produce a flame-polished edge.

Today, there are a several acrylic manufacturers who produce a variety of both cast and extruded acrylics that feature different colors, textures, and patterns. With so much variety, it's no wonder acrylic is a very popular material to laser cut and engrave.

Laser Engraving Acrylic

For the most part, laser users engrave acrylic on the back side to produce a look-through effect from the front. You’ll see this often on acrylic awards.

Acrylic sheets typically come with a protective adhesive film on the front and back to prevent it from getting scratched. We recommend removing the protective adhesive paper from the back of the acrylic before engraving, and leaving the protective cover layer on the front to prevent scratching while handling the material. Don’t forget to reverse or mirror your artwork before sending the job to the laser since you’ll be engraving the back side.

Acrylics generally engrave well at a high speed and low power. It doesn’t take much laser power to mark the acrylic, and if your power is too high you’ll notice some distortion in the material.

Interested in a laser machine for cutting acrylic?

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Who are some of the main acrylic suppliers?

You can acquire cast and extruded acrylic from a number of materials suppliers. Here are a few common sources:

Find more materials suppliers in our Industry Links listings.

General Laser Processing Tips for Acrylic

2) Make sure to choose the right type of acrylic for your application. Remember, cast acrylic is better for engraving, while extruded acrylic is better suited for laser cutting.

3) Elevate the acrylic - using Epilog's Pin Table or other supports - to eliminate backside reflection.

What types of acrylic projects can you make?

Acrylic is a durable and practical material for laser processing. The variety of colors and textures make this material ideal for all kinds of things:

  • Point of purchase signage
  • Directional signage
  • Earrings/pendants/buttons
  • Containers/boxes
  • Cake/cupcake toppers
  • Custom awards
  • Holiday ornaments
  • And much more!
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