Universal Laser Cutter

Our Universal laser cutter by Universal Laser Systems can be used to either etch designs into materials or completely cut through them. It does so by concentrating a laser beam and burning through the material. The burning process sometimes creates smoke, however the laser cutter uses a vacuum and compressor working in unison to ensure the internal environment does not remain smoky.

The laser cutter is an extremely dangerous piece of equipment, since it can cause large fires that can burn down buildings and produce toxic gas that can kill, so it should always be used with supervision or proper approval. Certain materials are not compatible with the laser cutter and can damage the $40,000 piece of equipment so please be sure to double check if your material is compatible. You can check for material compatibility below or here and here.

How can I use the Universal Laser Cutter?

I want to use it by myself

You can use the Universal Laser cutter by first contacting the Zahn Center's director Haytham Elhawary at ude.ynuc.yncc|yrawahleh#ude.ynuc.yncc|yrawahleh

You will then be asked to attend a training session where the basics of using the machine will be reviewed. After the training session you will be asked to complete several tasks that will teach you how to use the machine. After fulfilling all the requirements you will be able to schedule a time for using the machine.  

Use under the supervision of a Zahn SuperUser

Schedule an appointment on the machine reservations page.


Tutorials

The following provides some information on how to use the Universal Laser Cutter. Please note that students must be supervised during cutting and all cuts must be monitored at ALL times.

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Making a Cut

  1. First ensure that you will be able to print safely. Do this by clearing all debris from underneath the metal honeycomb platform in the laser cutter. Small scraps that are left down there may start a fire.
  2. Then check that the material you are planning to cut with is allowed. Be sure to view a list of compatible materials here. To view more detailed notes on materials check this source. The materials marked compatible may still start fires if the laser cutter operates at high power levels or slow speed settings, so exercise good judgement. Take all precautions necessary. Using the laser cutter on certain materials can start a fire or release deadly gases into the building, so avoid them.
  3. Turn on the vacuum pump by pressing the green button. (The vacuum extracts smoke or other fumes created when the cutter is in operation)
  4. Turn on the small air compressor and the laser. (The air compressor pumps clean air into the laser cutter to replace the air sucked out by the vacuum)
  5. Open the CorelDRAW software (The shortcut to the software can be found on the top left of the desktop)
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  6. Make a Design. (Alternatively, you can make the design using AutoCAD or other similar software packages and save the file in a .dxf format so that it can be opened with CorelDRAW)
    • Use red lines to cut all the way through material. (Using red lines results in the laser operating at 100% power and 2.1% of its maximum speed. Reduced speeds allow the laser cutter to spend more time cutting or etching one area).
    • Use the paint bucket to fill shapes black if you want to etch those areas. (Black means the laser is at 100% speed and 21% power. )
  7. Then press print. Select PLS6MW as the printer. This should open up the laser cutter interface program: Universal Control Panel (UCP).
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  8. If UCP does not automatically open click the red "UCP" button located on the top left of the desktop.
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  9. You should see your design open in the software.
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  10. Position your design by using the move button, the third red button located on the right panel. You can then move the laser to a desired location on the cut bed to ensure that it will cut properly by selecting the laser head button, the second red button on the right panel. Select the printer head button to correctly orientate the design on the material.
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  11. Then go to the settings button on the bottom right and select the material you will be using. If the material thickness is incorrect simply type in the correct value. Then press apply.
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  12. Switch to Manual Mode and make any necessary adjustments, if you need to. In manual mode you can increase power or decrease the speed to etch more material. When done with adjustments click "OK."
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  13. When you are read to cut click the large green button on the right panel.
  14. The print will start. Users MUST remain in the room and observe the cut until the laser cutting completes. To reiterate, the laser cutter works by burning through material. The objective is to do this safely. If you unexpectedly see flames simply open the lid (the laser cutter will automatically pause) and blow them out or press the pause button on the laser cutter itself and left the fire extinguish itself. There is also a fire extinguisher just to the right of the laser cutter.

Etching

The Universal laser cutter can perform etching or engraving with ease. To do this, in CorellDRAW, select the objects that you want to etch and then select black from the color panel to make them black. Make sure that you are using RGB colors and NOT CMYK colors. After making the objects that you want to etch black, proceed to make what you want to cut out red (if applicable). Then send your file to print, follow steps 7-14 above to complete your etch.


Materials that can and cannot be cut

Some materials can be cut with the laser cutter whereas some materials can only be etched because of the strength and composition of the material.

Some materials can neither be cut nor etched because of the fumes that are produced as a result of the ionization due to the laser. YOU MUST NOT CUT THESE MATERIALS OR RISK DEATH. These materials often have chlorine in them and, as a result, produce chlorine gas if laser cut.

Materials that can be cut:

  • Acrylic
  • Wood (non-resinous/non-oily)
  • Fabric (Denim, satin, silk, suede, vinyl, twill, nylon, Kevlar®, polyester and more)
  • Leather
  • Natural Materials (Bone, mother of pearl, seashell and more)
  • Paper
  • Mylar
  • Polypropylene
  • Nylon
  • Rubber (Latex, neoprene, silicone and more)
  • Stone (Ceramic, marble, concrete, Masonite®, brick, Corian®, granite, tile and more)
  • Cork

Glass that can be etched:

  • Untreated glass
  • Plexiglass

Metals that can be marked:

  • Brass
  • Anodized Aluminum
  • Carbide
  • Coated Metals
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Nickel
  • Pewter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Steel
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten

Materials that cannot be cut:

  • Any material containing chlorine
  • Lexan (polycarbonate)
  • PVC
  • Vinyl
  • Fiberglass
  • Coated Carbon fiber
  • Glass (no full cut; etch only)
  • PCB
  • ABS
  • HDPE
  • PolyStyrene Foam
  • PolyPropylene Foam
  • Any rubber containing chlorine
  • Anything held together by epoxy

FAQ

How do I etch into a material?

You can etch into a material by changing its color in CorelDRAW. By default black defines objects that are to be etched whereas red defines objects that are to be cut. To etch simply make the object you want to be etched, black.

How do I know if my material is compatible with the laser cutter?

You can determine if your material is compatible by going through the list of materials here and here. If you are still unsure contact a Zahn Center staff member.

How do I stop or pause the laser cutter?

In the Universal Control Panel (UCP) program that runs the laser cutter there is a pause button on screen to the right of the play button. Simply click on the pause button on screen to pause a cut. You can resume the cut but either clicking the pause button again or the play button.

As an alternative, there is a pause button located on the front of the laser cutter itself. Simply press the pause button to pause the cut. To resume the cut press the pause button again.

The material just caught fire what do I do!?

Don't panic. Quickly press the pause button either on the front of the laser cutter of on the UCP program and about 2-3 seconds to see if the fire extinguishes itself. If not, open the top of the laser cutter (this turns off the laser) and blow out the fire.

In the event that the fire becomes large utilize the fire extinguisher and spray the base of the fire until it extinguishes. If the fire becomes larger immediately exit the room, close the door behind you, and pull the fire alarm.

Why did my cut catch fire?

There are several reasons why the cut caught fire.

  1. The material was not compatible with the laser cutter. See here and here for compatible materials and materials that you should never cut.
  2. There was plastic or coating over your material. Many times when materials are purchased, like Plexiglas, they come with a plastic coating over them, which prevents scratches. These plastic coatings should be fully removed and all glue residue should be cleaned off before cutting. Any glue residue or remaining plastic can catch fire.
  3. There was some debris or dust on your material. Many times dust on materials or small pieces of debris on your material can catch fire. To avoid this make sure your material is clean and dry.

Support

I just changed the laser but UCP does not recognize the laser

To solve this problem close UCP, save your CorelDRAW file and close CorelDRAW. Then turn off the laser cutter and wait 10-20 seconds. Then turn the laser cutter back on, be sure that the exhaust fan is also on, then open CorelDRAW and your file and resend it to print. UCP should open and the correct laser should appear. If this does not work contact a Zahn Center staff member.

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