CD Jewel Cases?

Anyone know if it’s safe to laser old CD jewel cases?

I’m cleaning out our storage room (making room for a more permanent home for the glowforge), and found a trove of these useless empty cases. Our local recycling program won’t take them, and sending them towards the dump feels icky.

So… are they safe to cut, engrave, etc without toxifying my house?

Did you google to see what sort of plastic they’re made from?

Looks like mostly Polystyrene? I’d them google “is it safe to laser polystyrene”, thusly:

Short answer is “I wouldn’t.”

(btw the first thing I did was google “cd case plastic type”, took a couple of skims to find the answer, but that’s a good first first step. :slight_smile: )

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Polystyrene foam will flame up and melt. The solid transparent polystyrene used for jewel cases should be safe for etching at low power. Cutting may be a mess.

I haven’t done jewel cases, but I have etched a couple of dollar store pencil sharpeners made of the same material. The etch is okay but not spectacular by any means. The plastic forms tiny bubbles where the laser hits, so it’s not a super-clean look.

TL;DR: It can work in a limited sense, but it may not be worth the effort.


Yeah, I tried googling it.

Googling is a good first step, but often you’re relying on incomplete or incorrect info, unless you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole of research.

There are a lot of (super helpful) content experts in this community that might have experience in this area, so I figured I’d try skipping (or at least delaying) reinventing the wheel, and circle back to more research if necessary.

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Yeah it’s tricky to google this, because there are lots of different types CD cases. My super light amount of research seemed to indicate that they (mean the standard kinda brittle full height jewel cases that were super popular) are often polystyrene, is that what you found too? There are also very slim one, opaque ones, colored transparent ones, ones that look more like DVD cases (and are obviously made of different material), paper sleeves… CD case design had several life cycles.

If I remember correctly, generally speaking, polystyrene is a mess to laser, but I don’t think it’s ultimately hazardous if you’re careful? Like I’ve heard “melty and flamey”, but that is probably caveated with “if you’re hitting it hard”.

Definitely google a bit more on polystyrene laser safety, my half-baked memories aren’t to be 100% trusted here… but If it’s not outright chloriney I’d say it would be safe to try a light engrave at least, and see what you get? If I were trying it I might do it over a piece of waste material so that if it DOES melt, you don’t get melted plastic in your tray honeycomb.

If you give it a whirl, please post results, I’m curious! Good luck, and as with any new material, keep an eye on it in case it decides to get feisty.


FWIW, I just checked my Polymer Chemistry text and confirmed that there is no chlorine in polystyrene. It’s just carbon and hydrogen, with a benzene ring hanging off the side of each unit (that gives it its stiffness). I can’t warrant that there isn’t other crap in any particular commercial formulation, of course, or tell you what your CD cases are actually made of without a lab.


cd cases is HIPS, or high impact polystyrene, more specifically they are made or crystal styrene, which has no rubber. same crap that the disposable cups on airplanes are made (Don’t know why Jerry seinfeld never exploited that one).
safe to laser, but will melt if too powerful or too slow. you might get raised edges.


This is also a good test to start out with:

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