Hampden ideaLAB Laser Cutter FAQ

What can I do with a laser cutter?

The laser cutter can, as the name implies, cut and etch a variety of materials with laser precision. This is used in a variety of commercial applications, such as wooden sign making and decoration, jewelry making, custom box/case design, water bottle or glass etching, and many more. For hobbyists it has been used to make short-run game pieces, electronics enclosures, artistic sculptures, and more. While the basic idea is simple, here are some applications that showcase just a few possibilities.

What materials can I use in the laser cutter?

The most commonly cut laser materials are:

  • ¼” interior grade Baltic Birch plywood

  • ⅛” cast acrylic sheets

  • ⅛”-¼” cardboard

The laser is also frequently used to etch materials. It can etch all of the above, and can only etch, not cut, the following:

  • Glass

  • Ceramic

  • Coated anodized aluminum and stainless steel

The laser is a very flexible tool and can be used to cut a variety of other materials as well, such as:

  • Polyester fabric

  • Leather

  • Most wood ⅛” or less

  • Some soft woods ¼” or less

  • Food items

The following materials should never be put in the laser. Certain materials can create toxic fumes if exposed to high temperature, dangerously reflect the focused laser, pose a high risk of combustion, and other risks. If you don’t know exactly what your material is, it can not go in the laser.

  • Polyvinyl Carbonate (PVC)

  • Polycarbonate

  • Foam board

  • Highly reflective or uncoated metal and plastics

  • MDF > ⅛” (etching excepted)

  • Any material > ¼” (etching excepted)

How big can my materials be?

The bed of the laser cutter can hold material up to 24" by 15", though the area the laser can reach is slightly smaller than that. If you need to cut down your material, we do have saws and clamps available in the lab for use.

Our laser does allow for pass-through, meaning you can cut materials that are 24" wide by as long as you need, but prepping those cuts requires some extra planning. Please talk to staff far ahead of the time you'd like to have your job done if you are interested in a pass-through cut.

Can I etch round things, like bottles or glasses?

Yes! Our cutter has a rotary attachment which allows for etching of glass bottles, champagne flutes, coated anodized aluminum water bottles, ceramic mugs, and other materials. The maximum size is 11" tall and 3.5" diameter (small handles excluded).

How long can I use the laser cutter? How many times per day?

The laser is available on a first-come, first-serve basis during open lab. Staff will operate the laser and assist with your designs and materials. We limit individual sessions to one hour. Luckily, the laser operates very quickly and your job is likely to take much less than an hour. If you need to redesign your piece we ask that you allow customers ready to cut to proceed. Depending on the daily queue you may use the laser more than once.

Is the laser dangerous?

Not if used properly. All appropriate safety measures are in place in the ideaLAB, including ventilation of smoke/fumes; air assist to prevent combustion; laser-treated enclosure; water cooled laser tube. As long as only acceptable materials are used in the laser, the laser is a very safe, creative, and powerful tool.

Do you charge to use the laser? Do you provide any materials to use on the laser?

We do not charge to use the laser or any other tool in the ideaLAB. We can provide a small amount of cardboard per customer per day and staff can help you select materials for larger projects.

What software should I use to make a design for the laser?

You'll want an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) file of your design - while there are a lot of programs that can save things as an SVG, we recommend using Inkscape, a free and open-source vector editing program comparable to Adobe Illustrator. There are also many online tools that can convert a raster (JPG, PNG, TIF, etc.) image into an SVG file, or you could use this useful Inkscape tutorial for tracing images. Please stop by any of our open lab hours if you'd like to learn more or have us check your design.