ideaLAB Laser Cutting and Engraving

We've made some changes to the way we offer laser cutting and engraving!

We're excited to let you (yes, you!) get more hands-on with the lasers and run your job yourself. Use of the laser is by reservation - please drop in or call the branch to reserve time. You will need a Denver Public Library card to make a reservation in advance. The maximum time you can reserve is two hours. We ask that people only make one reservation per week so as many people as possible can use the printers. Please read the full Laser Cutter and Engraver Policy below for details. We also have an FAQ below that for general questions about lasers.

The Hampden and Sam Gary ideaLABS have Dremel LC40 lasers. Visit one of those branches to learn more. Please note: the laser previously available at the Hampden ideaLAB is not currently available for use.

Denver Public Library ideaLAB Laser Cutter and Engraver Policies

As the ideaLBs reopen, the use of tools may look somewhat different than in the past. One of the big changes we’re making is to give customers more of a hands-on experience using the Dremel LC40 laser cutter.

In order to help you use the laser cutter successfully (and safely), we ask that you read through the following policies:

  • All customers must have a completed safety waiver on file (you can do it when you come in) and complete an in-person orientation before using the laser for the first time. It would also be helpful to read through the Dremel Laser Cutter Basics before your first visit.
  • During the in-person orientation, a staff member will have you load and prepare a sample file and then send it to the machine. We'll be showing you the basics and getting you ready to run your own jobs.
  • Please plan for this in-person orientation to take up to 30 minutes of your reservation time. This orientation only needs to be completed once, and in future reservations you will have the chance to use your full two hours.
  • If it seems like you're not able to operate the laser by yourself yet, we'll keep checking in with you or suggest alternatives like bringing in a parent or guardian if you're younger.
  • Use of the laser is by reservation only.  For the present, a reservation gives you the right to use the laser cutter for two hours, once per week. We ask that families and groups not make multiple or back-to-back reservations under different accounts - that makes it much harder for other people to get access to the laser.
  • Please know that if you don't show up within 10 minutes of your reservation time, the system will automatically cancel it.
  • If the laser is broken when you have a reservation, we'll do our best to let you know ahead of time, but sometimes that may not be possible.
  • You must check in with ideaLAB staff before using the machines so you can get the material you're using approved by lab staff and get the laser cutter toolkit. We want to make sure everyone is safe and that you're comfortable with the equipment.
  • Unfortunately we're not able to provide materials - though we usually have some cardboard if you just want to try an idea out. Outside of that, you must bring your own materials.
  • The following materials are the only materials which can be used in the laser cutter in the ideaLABs. Please bring proof of purchase or some other documentation of what the material is. If there's any doubts about whether something is safe, we can't put it in the laser. Using an unapproved material in the laser will result in immediate loss of laser cutter access, because you've put everyone in the library in danger. While the laser can cut through wood up to a 1/4" thick, it takes multiple passes. We recommend only cutting material up to 1/8" thick in order to complete your job within the reservation window.
    • Wood
      • Basswood, birch and walnut plywood, untreated (engrave / cut up to 1/4")
      • Cork (engrave only)
      • Maple, solid, untreated (engrave / cut up to 1/8")
      • Oak, solid, untreated (engrave / cut up to 1/8")
      • Walnut, solid, untreated (engrave / cut up to 1/8")
    • Paper
      • Cardboard (engrave / cut up to 1/4")
      • Mat board (engrave / cut up to 1/4")
      • Paper (engrave / cut)
    • Fabric
      • 100% Cotton fabric (engrave / cut)
      • Denim fabric (engrave / cut)
      • Felt, wool (cut only)
    • Plastic
      • Acrylic (engrave / cut up to 1/4")
  • We'll give you some basic troubleshooting tips, but please do not attempt any troubleshooting which involves opening up or disassembling any part of the laser, water pump, or filter. Doing so will result in loss of privileges to use the machine. Please let us know if a problem pops up and we'll help!
  • Things happen. Occasionally gantries won't home, beds will get scorched, and minor disasters will occur - these are understandable, part of the process of learning how to use the laser, and will not affect your ability to reserve and use the machines. If you do something intentionally dangerous or that we've asked you not to do - using unapproved materials, removing parts from the machines, etc. - you will lose your privilege to use the machines.
  • Set-up and clean-up time is part of your 2 hour reservation, so please plan accordingly! Please complete your laser jobs at least 10 minutes before the session ends so you have time to clean up your materials and station. Jobs can not be left running overnight or past the end of your 2 hour reservation.

Laser Cutting and Engraving 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.

So what can't I put in the laser?

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)

Always check in with staff about your project, and they can help provide guidance on materials and what is possible on each machine.

How big can my materials be?

The bed of the laser cutter can hold material 20 inches by 12 inches, though the area the laser can reach is slightly smaller than that. Pass-through cuts are not possible on this laser cutter.

If you need to cut down your material, we do have saws and clamps available in the lab for use.

Can I etch round things, like bottles or glasses?

Not on the lasers currently available, no.

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

The laser cutter can also etch JPGS, PNGs, and PDFs. The software has some quirks, so please speak to a staff member about your project and the end result you want so that we can best assess which file type to use for your project.