How to Laser Cutting Paper: the Ultimate Guide

OMTech Laser
·
05.July.2024

Cutting, engraving, creating fold lines, or designing three-dimensional effects, whether it's for a personal creation or to showcase a story using paper, the OMTech laser engraver can do it for you!

With laser processing, paper engraving also becomes priceless!

Currently, laser engraving and cutting technology is the most cost-effective alternative to hand-cutting and die-cutting: considerably faster and safer! At the same time, the artistic effect is taken to the next level!

Which Laser Cutter is Best for Paper?

OMTech K40 CO2 laser cutter is the preferred choice for paper cutting and engraving for several reasons:

OMTech K40 CO2 laser cutter wavelengths are readily absorbed by paper, making them more suitable for cutting paper.

To cut paper with a laser cutter, you'll need to make sure the software is compatible with design programs such as LightBurn and RDWorks, both of which OMTech has adapted.

Additionally, the machine features a cutting area of 8" x 12", which accommodates standard paper sizes. Even if your workpiece is larger, the machine's front and back pass-through doors allow you to move the workpiece through the machine for continuous processing. This flexibility ensures that larger projects can still be handled efficiently.

Prioritize safety features such as certifications, enclosed cutting areas, and fire detection systems to ensure safe operation when working with combustible paper, and OMTech enclosed cutting system reduces the risk of accidents.

Optimizing Techniques and Tips for Paper Engraving

Low Laser Power and High-Speed Required

When working with delicate materials like paper, it is crucial to use relatively low laser power (between 5% to 20% power) and high speeds (typically between 100 to 500 mm/s). This prevents burning through the paper and ensures clean, precise engravings.

DPI and PPI Settings for Paper Engraving

DPI, or dots per inch, is typically used to indicate the hardware resolution of a scanner, expressing the number of pixels or print dots per inch of length. For materials like paper where fine detail is not crucial, a lower DPI setting of around 300-400 DPI is often sufficient to avoid excessive burning and maintain the paper's integrity. 

On the other hand, PPI, or pulses per inch, in the context of laser engraving, relates to the number of laser pulses applied per inch of material. Unlike the digital image file's resolution, PPI in laser settings determines how densely the laser pulses are fired as the machine moves. A lower PPI value, typically between 200 to 400 PPI, is recommended for engraving paper. This setting prevents excessive burning and reduces the risk of scorching, ensuring a clearer and more precise engraving outcome.

Multiple Passes May Be Needed

Using multiple passes, especially for delicate materials, can achieve the desired engraving depth without damaging the paper. This approach provides better control over the engraving process.

Pre-Treating Paper Can Help

Applying a dilute lemon juice solution and letting the paper dry before engraving can help increase the marking visibility on regular paper.

Use Specialty Laser Marking Papers

Specialty laser marking papers are designed specifically for laser engraving and cutting. These papers tend to produce better and more consistent results compared to regular papers. 

Test Cuts

Always perform test cuts on a small section of the paper to adjust the settings before engraving the entire design. Experimenting with different power, speed, and PPI combinations helps achieve the desired engraving effect without damaging the paper.

How to laser cut paper without burning

Focus Adjustment

Make sure the laser beam is accurately focused on the surface of the paper. A well-focused beam helps produce precise cuts while minimizing heat dispersion. Use a focus gauge tool or build a focus ramp to get this right.

Air Assist

Use an air assist feature if available on your laser cutter. Air assist blows a stream of air across the cutting area, helping to dissipate heat and reduce the chance of burning. This also prevents discoloration from vaporized particles settling back on the paper.

Vector Cutting vs. Raster Engraving

When cutting paper, consider using vector cutting (line cutting) instead of raster engraving (area filling) whenever possible. Vector cutting involves following a defined path to cut shapes, which is typically more efficient and generates less heat compared to raster engraving.

Quality Paper Selection

Choose high-quality paper materials specifically designed for laser cutting. These papers are often more resilient to heat and provide cleaner cutting edges. Avoid using thin or overly textured papers that may be more susceptible to burning or scorching during laser cutting.

Use Honeycomb Bed

Cut paper on a honeycomb platform instead of a solid bed. This allows smoke and vapor to vent below, preventing backside burning.

Adjust Settings for Corners

Reduce power or increase speed around corners and intricate areas. As the laser slows for corners, it can cause burning if the power is too high.

What paper can be laser cut?

Cardstock

Cardstock is a sturdy and thick paper that comes in various weights and finishes. It is ideal for intricate designs, greeting cards, invitations, and paper crafting projects.

Taking all safety measures before using a laser machine is crucial. Laser beams can damage the retina, so wear glasses designed to protect your eyes from laser beams.

The OMTech Polar has an integrated ventilation and filtration system. An easy-to-install exhaust fan keeps the air flowing. It does this by removing gases and debris from the work area. Ensure good air circulation in your workspace for further safety.

Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby and never leave the machine unattended.

Setting Up the Machine

Connect the OMTech laser to your computer with the USB cable. Place the frame or material into the engraving machine, ensuring it is securely positioned. Use the panoramic camera to align the design perfectly.

  • Speed: For wooden picture frames, a speed setting typically between 1000 to 3000 mm/s is common. Adjust the speed based on the intricacy of the design and desired engraving quality.
  • Power: The power setting usually ranges from 20% to 60%, depending on the density and hardness of the wood. Begin with a lower power setting and slowly increase it until you reach the desired engraving depth without burning the wood.
  • Number of Passes: Begin with a single pass to test the engraving on a scrap piece of wood. If the engraving is too shallow, increase the number of passes until you reach the desired depth. Generally, to 3 passes are sufficient for most wooden picture frames.

Engraving Designs

Follow the instructions to engrave your design onto the frame. The OMTech Polar’s high-speed engraving and precision laser ensure professional results.

Finishing Touches

Paperboard

Paperboard is thicker and more rigid than regular paper, making it suitable for packaging, prototypes, and signage. It can be laser cut to create custom boxes, displays, and promotional materials.

Chipboard

Chipboard is a kind of paperboard manufactured from recycled paper materials. It is commonly used for creating durable stencils, puzzles, book covers, and structural components.

Kraft Paper

Kraft paper is a durable, natural brown paper with a rustic look. It is frequently used for eco-friendly packaging, labels, tags, and decorative elements.

Construction Paper

Construction paper is a colorful and lightweight paper often used in educational and art projects. It can be laser cut to create shapes, letters, and designs for classroom activities and craft projects.

Specialty Papers

Specialty papers such as metallic, translucent, or textured papers can also be laser-cut for unique effects. These papers are popular for creating elegant invitations, business cards, and decorative items. Brands such as Trotec's LaserPaper and Gravotech's laser paper are specifically designed for laser cutting and engraving.

FAQs about Laser Engraving Paper

Can paper be laser engraved?

Yes, it is possible to laser engrave regular paper using a laser engraving machine. However, pre-treating regular paper can also improve its laser engraving performance.

Can you laser engrave scratch paper?

Yes, it is possible to laser engrave on scratch paper using a laser engraving or cutting machine. Here are the key points about laser engraving scratch paper:

Scratch paper has a plastic-like coating that can be engraved by the laser to reveal the contrasting colors underneath.

After engraving, a quick brushing may be required to remove any debris from the coating for a clean engraved image.

Can you laser engrave paper business cards?

Yes. You can use a CO2 laser engraver to engrave paper business cards.

  1. Laser engraving allows the creation of intricate designs, patterns, text, or logos on paper business cards with high precision.
  2. The laser removes the top layer of the paper, revealing a contrasting color underneath to create the engraved effect.
  3. Thicker paper stocks like 22pt (350gsm) kraft paper or 18pt (350gsm) textured paper are recommended for better engraving results on business cards.
  4. Proper laser settings like low power (around 10-20%) and high speed are crucial to avoid burning or discoloration of the paper.
  5. Besides engraving, laser cutting can be used to create unique shapes and designs for business cards.
  6. Laser-engraved business cards offer a premium, customized look and can include intricate patterns, logos, or even QR codes engraved on the surface.

What is black laser engraving marking paper?

Black laser engraving marking paper is designed for laser applications with a black top coating on white paper. It efficiently absorbs laser energy, aiding in engraving on glass, ceramics, and more. The paper creates high-contrast markings without material removal. 

Markings stay consistent in color from all angles due to nanostructures. Available in black, blue, and reddish-brown for colored markings. 

This paper simplifies transferring dark, clear designs onto surfaces like glass via laser engraving, ensuring high visibility on hard-to-mark materials.

Conclusion

Laser engraving and cutting on paper provide limitless opportunities for creativity and precision. By understanding the optimal settings, choosing the right materials, and utilizing specialty papers, you can achieve professional and intricate designs without damaging the paper. 

Please remember to perform test cuts, experiment with different settings, and take advantage of pre-treatment techniques to enhance your results. Whether you're crafting personalized items or professional-grade products, mastering the use of a paper laser engraving machine will open up new avenues for your projects.

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