The "My First Laser" thread

I have to admit that I’m intimidated by the skills and experience voiced in these forums. The “don’t cut this material or you will harm your laser (or die)” advice is especially appreciated but also a warning for me as a first-time laser owner.

Getting started seems straight forward - stick to the barcoded materials available from GF and learn from the design files available for download - but I would love to to hear how you all started building your personal knowledge base about safety, materials and techniques.

Rather than ranging far and wide in this thread, I want to ask what seem to be the two core questions for using the GF. (If you think there are other core questions that a first timer needs to know the answers to, please suggest them.)

  • What specific steps do you use to determine that a material is safe to cut?
  • How do you determine the correct settings for a specific material?

What specific steps do you use to determine that a material is safe to cut?
Look up the MSDS on it.

How do you determine the correct settings for a specific material?
If it has not been tested by the GF team, you will have to do your own testing.
Start with low power and work your way up, doing single line cut tests.
You could make a small “Material test” file that has different settings. Ex: 10 lines, each one step. up 10% power.
and expand on that as needed. But keep in mind that you will have thousands of settings to pick from, So fine tuning is a art in it self.

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Just an FYI for those of us who don’t know that acronym: MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. In other words its the technical document that commercial material suppliers have detailing the (potential) health effects of exposure to chemicals and how to use the material safely.

If you are using a found man-made object (lets say an LP record, because its been discussed here before), then you want to google the heck out of it before putting it into your GF.

Even natural objects may be dangerous. There’s been a bit of discussion about wool felt, which apparently produces cyanide if burned in large oxygen reduction environments. Yikes!


The answer to each question essentially boils down to: Google it.

Lasers have been around a long time, so most questions you have are answered.

Just be sure that you look for information specific to a 40W CO2 laser when you are trying to find speed/power settings for material. And understand that anything you find is only a reference point to start from.

For what speed/power, the absolute best option is to have some scrap of the material and run a test using your laser. Having a file specifically for testing various power/speed combinations on unknown materials is highly advisable. Even when you have values you looked up online, those tell you what can work, but testing for yourself can tell you what works the way you want it to.

Safety of materials wise is far easier, since if something is dangerous, it doesn’t matter what type or power of laser you have, it is just flat out dangerous. Fortunately while you look up a material that is new to you, you will almost always find a dozen more materials you never heard of (especially if it turns out yours is dangerous, then you will have tons of comments about alternatives, either alternate materials to use in laser, or alternate fabrication methods for the material that cannot laser)


I agree with everyone’s input above.

I’ve seen this grid around, which I think would be great for testing material. It should be fairly straight forward to make a template for this.


Love it!
I would also add a few circles so one can get an idea of best settings for curves
Many times, the “power-up” spot can be better adjusted if you are not placing it on a corner.

Nice! And maybe also an open, not filled, shape to gauge “line work.” Edit: oops, I see that’s what @spike suggested.

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We’re all on the same page :smile:

This template looks promising:


Thanks @jacobturner and to all who have responded to this thread. I’m so new to this that I don’t yet have the vocabulary to do a decent search on Google.

You have started me in the right direction - focus on the 40W CO2 info, look for info on power and speed for particular materials, and as @spike and @AuntiMame mentioned, look up the Material Safety Data Sheet on things I am interested in cutting.

Are there other core concepts that you would suggest doing some reading on?

Do you have a good understanding of CAM/CAD software? It will become your best friend very soon.
I learned in Rhino3d a long time ago.

@spike has suggested CAM/CAD software - which I know nothing about and can’t comment on. And if you are a true beginner I suppose learning that might be as easy (or hard) as learning anything else. But don’t forget that you can use “simpler” 2D image software like Photoshop or Illustrator. If the hefty $ attached to Adobe’s puts you off, there are open source alternatives: GIMP and Inkscape respectively.

I taught myself, and almost exclusively use, Illustrator. So I’m going to be using it for most of my designing. I’ve never been entirely been comfy with Photoshop, so using GIMP isn’t a hardship for me – though there are people here who seem to loathe with the heat of a thousand white hot stars. This post discusses some software to try.

@polarbrainfreeze has put up some youtube videos of his process of making a box with a laser cutter. It includes using SketchUp to make the CAD Drawings. This should give you a general idea of the design process.
Also there is a good thread on vocabulary that should bring you up to speed on some of the basic terms.

Adding one more link. This has some great resources in it.

All the basics are pretty much covered- MSDS, google, and test cuts! To add on to the test cut topic, I plan on having a whole samples display board with basic starter settings for each material I try- a setting for cutting and a setting for medium engraving. That way everything is super visible and easy to access! Then I’ll just store the more in-depth templates like @joe showed in a box somewhere haha.

As far as core concepts, playing around in software will be your best bet, but also check to see if you have any makerspaces in your neighborhood! They offer demos and workshops and just a whole group of great people to talk to.
My very first laser cutter project at school involved making a “waffle-cut” structure- see the picture below (not my project just a google image!)- which allowed us to think both about form and joinery. Also a great way to start learning about laser kerf!


It never gets any love, but Corel Painter is more moderately priced than Photoshop and does a lot of the same things. It’s more art based with a lot fewer photo editing features, but it’s a really nice program.

+1 on this. A local Makerspace not only has the tools generally speaking but they also have people who can do amazing things with them. And folks are always happy to help out someone new or who has an interesting thing they’re trying to make.

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Good suggestion. I have a PrintrBot Simple and have been building for it for a while. I did wonder if a slicer was going to be needed. I do a little reading on that front.

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@joe Thanks for these links. This is exactly the stuff I am trying to find.

@steph_ @jamesdhatch Great idea to head to the local makerspace. We have two and I haven’t been. This is a great excuse to engage with the local folks.

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