Cutting vinyl sticker sheets

qa

#1

I’m fairly new to this crazy laser-powered world, so forgive me if this is a silly question, but I was wondering if the Glowforge would be sensitive enough to be capable of cutting shapes in vinyl sticker paper (or, say, Avery Label sheets, for example) without going completely through the backing paper?

For simple shapes and designs, it would be fine to just burn straight through - backing and all … but for some more complex designs, I could see you wanting to cut only the sticker shape out, but keeping the entire design in tact on the backing paper. Is that a pipe dream?

Thanks!


QOTD from Glowforge: What Proofgrade materials do you want?
#2

Not a pipe dream at all! Aside from pure power sensitivity, there are lots of tricks we can play to encourage the backing piece to hold together. That being said, every sticker sheet is going to be a little different, and factors like how thick the backing sheet is will make a huge difference. Soon we’re going to start testing laser applications like this that really push the precision of the technology.

One important thing: While many materials are safe to laser (especially with an enclosed air filter), vinyl is the big one to avoid.


#3

Don’t cut vinyl sheets, pvc, or “contact paper”. These materials emit chlorine gas (among other things) and will harm you, your laser’s lens and many other things. ALWAYS look up the msds for materials you plan on cutting–just because the device has an air filter, doesn’t mean you should cut everything with it. Another example of a material you may not want to cut is plywood. Many people cut plywood, and this is fine, but the glue contains–and emits–formaldehyde. I’ve also found it doesn’t cut that well, since the glue tends to melt and refract the laser. Better you use solid hardwood boards like poplar as these are not hard to find at big box stores.

Anyway, sorry about the long-winded answer… In summary, you can cut certain label sheets out, you should NEVER cut vinyl just be very careful and look up what you are cutting before you do!


#4

Along these lines, I’d definitely want to be able to line up preprinted work with the glowforge to do all kinds of embellishments. I don’t know if it could do something like project cut lines before cutting either onto the surface being cut or use the camera to show that projection on a computer screen. Stickers would be one kind of thing to cut, but I’d be more interested in being able to do more precise shapes. For instance, engraving very thin strips of materials that aren’t on larger sheets.


#5

For reference, I’m linking to a list of things we prohibit from being cut on our laser system. Top of the list is anything chlorinated, including vinyl sheets, for the reasons already stated above. It releases toxic fumes that will corrode the metal parts inside your laser cutter and can severely damage your lungs.


#6

Is there not a vinyl type material out there that is safe for cutting? I know at my work we are always being offered new product lines to test or try out that are meant to be laser cut. I think it would be well worth looking into.


#7

I’ve heard people talking about Mylar being a suitable replacement for vinyl when it comes to stencils, but is there a readily-available material that would work to replace vinyl for other applications, like bumper stickers? Would Mylar work for those, too?


#8

Mylar isn’t so good for bumper stickers - for one thing is isn’t nearly as flexible as vinyl, and for another it rarely comes with adhesive backing.

Other than some specialty reflective and retroreflective films, I haven’t seen much adhesive film that wasn’t vinyl.

For stencils (face paint, airbrush, decorative) you want 0.003 or 0.005 mylar (dura-lar at the art store). That can be cut on laser cutters and most hobby paper/vinyl cutters (Silhouette, Cricut, etc.).


#9

So vinyl is bad. Ok. What if I vent the machine (or do all the cutting outdoors), will the vapors in the machine be ‘whisked away’ by the interior fans (keeping the laser from harm)?? Or would it still damage the optics.

How quickly could it damage those optics, and what do they cost to replace (is there a replaceable lens, or are we talking whole new laser)… Could I get away with cutting something 1, 2, 10, 50 times and still have a working laser? Or will i kill it the first time.

What kind of actual harm would I expect from vapors inside the machine? Would it fog or deform the optics?


#10

Found this interesting:
http://www.engravingetc.org/archive/lmessages.php?msg=130.1

Particularly:

It generates severely oxidizing gasses that first attack the rubber-like components and the lenses/mirrors. Does a lot of mischief with metals and bearings also.

PVC, (poly vinyl chloride), is the culprit. The non-vinyl materials, (polyesters that handle like vinyl) are fine.

The chlorine in the material is nasty in its gas form and when compounded with other materials. (Just think of the most innocuous chlorine compound, NaCL, table salt, eating away at the metals and you have the beginnings of understanding.)

And:

The whole PVC thing is way overblown
Vector cutting sign vinyl is mickey mouse compared to rastering large areas of it or cutting thick PVC. PVC release chlorine and/or Hydrogen chloride gas which is nasty and combines with the moisture in air to make HCL acid (hydrochloric acid is the stuff used in pools to balance the PH) It is a lung and skin irritant. It produces Dioxins as well , also nasty.
If you do enough of it continuously , it will eventually generate enough hcl and attack the metal parts of the laser and corrode them. The amount of Hydrogen chloride produced cutting a bit of PVC sign vinyl now and then is hardly worth mentioning and the chlorine is far less than a std chlorinated pool releases hourly. If your pex or other stuff you cut has a plastic covering and you cut thru that , you are most likely cutting PVC anyway. 3m make a range of polyester laser friendly vinyls. We raster and laser cut them extensively for sandblasting and acid etching resists. The colours are limited and prices are high compared to bog standard sign vinyl however.
I know someone that uses a laser with a scrubber unit to detoxify the exhaust that cuts vinyl on a continuous basis , his platforms last a yr to a yr and a 1/2 and then they dump em and scavenge all the useable parts like the tube , PS , motherboard etc and just order a new motion system. Its an application that cant be done with a vinyl cutter which is actually a better and far cheaper way to cut pvc sign vinyl than a laser which leaves a lousy edge on the vinyl and often remelts the stuff together or doesnt kiss cut well. The real reason to use a laser is for rastering fine detail a vinyl cutter could not hope to cut or any mortal user hope to weed if it could be cut. There are plenty of other materials even more hazardous and nasty to cut , like nylon (produces hydrocyanic acid gas , same as death chamber stuff) or teflon (produces phosgene , nerve gas)

And this seems useful as a vinyl alternative

3m make a range of polyester laser friendly vinyls. We raster and laser cut them extensively for sandblasting and acid etching resists. The colours are limited and prices are high compared to bog standard sign vinyl however.


#11

I cut vinyl stickers using a Silhouette Cameo paper cutter and it works great. Good to know about the dangers of cutting the same material with a laser.


#12

Yes, that’s why I have an Sizzix Eclip to cut vinyl… And the Sizzix was only $ 175.


#13

I also cut vinyl with a Silhouette Cameo. It’s not a bad investment at all.


#14

I just ordered a Silhouette Cameo. The workflow for vinyl cutting should be almost the same as laser cutting with the GlowForge. I’ll have a maker trifecta with my 3D printer, vinyl cutter, and the GlowForge when it arrives.


#15

If you have Illustrator you can get the Silhouette Connect plug-in for it (This is what I do). Then you can use the same app between the Glowforge & the Cameo. Handy if you are making multi-part/materials between the two machines.


#16

I spent all my money on the equipment so Illustrator is a bit out of my price range. I’m using Inkscape these days. :slight_smile:


#17

My Silhouette Curio (not Cameo as I said earlier) arrived a couple days ago. Unboxed it last night and hope to experiment with it this weekend. It’s filling a gap between my CNC router, larger vinyl printer/cutter, and Glowforge. I’m particularly interested in the embossing and stippling features of the Cameo.


#18

Stippling? Did you get the Cameo or the Curio? The Cameo does not do stippling only the Curio.

(To double check I opened Silhouette Studio with the Cameo connected and the Curio unplugged)


#19

Thanks for the correction. Yes, I got the Curio.


#20

Ah okay! I was going to say, “Holy crap did that update/add that?!”