How to Identify an unknown material

I work at a classic car restoration shop and one of the jobs we do is cut a bunch of different inserts that go over gauge bezels. Most of them are a fake wood grain pattern that is made by 3M. I have tried to find product sheets for it but no one will give me one and I can’t find it online. I’m hopping someone knows where to look because 3M must have them out there somewhere. The bigger problem is another material we cut which we call Camera Case due to it’s use on old camera bodies. The factory producing it went under and we got the last of the stock. I would love to be able to cut it with the laser but I have know idea what the hell it is.

I think the camera case stuff is possibly cellulose composite or something similar, but i could be totally wrong. If it is, it’s similar to what composition dolls are made of, which is a mixture of resin, saw dust, paper, and wood flour. I seem to remember someone saying that but I don’t know if I’m remembering right. Maybe check an antique camera forum?

If it is 3M 1080 vinyl dash wrap, that stuff is PVC and is “no go” for laser cutting due to the corrosive HCl acid fumes it creates. Eats the insides of the laser cutter and is bad for you to breathe.

Search the forum or the internet/YouTube for “Burn Test”. It is a way to test plastics for Chlorides that are harmful. It uses a bit of sacrificial material, Fire, and copper wire.

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3M has a SDS (safety data sheet) library at However, the one 1080 sheet that I pulled up said something like the item is sold as an article and is not expected to be used in any way that releases chemicals covered by OSHA such and such number and that was basically it. Which isn’t very useful for people like us who want to burn it on purpose.


Markwal beat me to it, but somewhere 3M with have an SDS for pretty much everything they make. Finding it on their website is another issue.

I’m not familiar with 3M’s entire line, but they do make a lot of tapes that people then apply to their product. This can lead to people thinking it is a 3M product as the back of the tape has 3M printed everywhere on it. As you’re in the business of knowing who makes what for car restoration I’m sure you’re right and it is a 3M product, but it’s a useful thing for the lurkers to be aware of.

I have some interesting news on the 3M front. Turns out the product we use is intended as a wall covering to be used by architecture people and designers. They have a few different lines to choose from including this one which could be awesome because it says right on the site that its an alternative to pvc and does not contain any polyvinyl chloride or phthalates.
HOWEVER they also make another kind which it says right on the main page is %100 vinyl and unfortunately that is the line we use.


3M is a weird company because of a really good thing they do. They mostly hire chemical engineers to do basic day to day needs, but a perk of the job is that if you have some crazy idea you have access to try it out on time not a part of your assignment, and support/control for every step of your project where success gets you an equity partnership of/and a new division of 3M that you must support the same thing for others.

The result is this branching tree that in general follows a logic as the new branches evolve from what the older branches were doing as that is where the new ideas usually start, but occasionally the successful new idea has little relation to the old and may be closer to what some distant branch is doing.

When I was dealing with them pre-pc-computer you might get routed to the main source (in my case urethane foams) but there could be a product in one of those odd offshoots that even they would not know about until the call went out from them with the list of requirements.

I suppose that computer systems have made that much better, but I have always loved their means of empowering their people even if produced a fair level of anarchy and would really wish more companies would evolve those values.