Laser cutters are machines used to cut into materials precisely, creating shapes, designs, and patterns. Lasers achieve this by focusing a thin laser beam onto materials to burn, melt, or vaporize them into desired shapes.
Do laser cutters emit radiation? Yes, laser cutters do emit radiation, but the quantity depends on different types of machines. Most lasers emit radiation in the form of light, while others produce infrared and ultraviolet radiation invisible to the human eye. Laser radiation mainly affects the outer parts of the body, like the eyes and the skin.
Laser cutters radiation
Laser cutters produce optical radiation that comes from high-energy light beams used to cut through materials. The wavelength of visible optic radiation is between 400 and 780 nanometers. The visibility of this kind of radiation makes it less dangerous as one can avoid looking straight at the beam.
Ultraviolet and infrared lasers produce invisible radiation, which is more dangerous to the human eye because one does not realize exposure. Invisible radiation makes it impossible for someone to invoke a defense reaction that prevents damage to the eye or other parts of the body.
Eye protection goggles block out any direct, scattered, and diffused light from passing through. The lens used to manufacture laser eye wear contains special dyes and chemicals that enable them to filter out the light. Some laser eye protection goggles are dark and not so easy to see through them but it is a small price to pay for guaranteed eye safety.
Classification of lasers
Class 1 and 1 M – The lasers in this class are considered safe unless viewed with optical aids that enhance them. Magnifiers, telescopes, and binoculars enhance the level of danger when using these lasers.
- Class 2 and 2M – The hazard level of this class intensifies when viewed with optical aids and when viewed for a longer time.
- Class 3R – This hazard of this class of lasers is dependent on the power and area of the beam. The hazard level will also increase when stared at directly and without eye protection. Using optical aid also increases the danger.
- Class 3B – For this class, a direct beam will cause immediate skin damage, while a direct view will also cause eye damage.
- Class 4 – This class of lasers will cause immediate skin and eye damage from exposure to a direct or reflected beam. Prolonged exposure to a surface may also cause a fire.
Precautions When Using Laser Cutters
Laser cutters, as are all machines, can pose a risk to operators and people nearby. The following precautions should be undertaken to ensure that laser cutters don’t cause harm to anyone.
- Do not tamper with any safety features of the system. Below you will find a link to a article I wrote on the Safety Precautions when using a laser cutter.
- Do not use flammable materials. Below you will find a link to a article I wrote on the the best materials for laser engraving.
- Do not leave a running laser cutter unattended
- A working fire extinguisher should always be available
Caution: Some laser materials are highly flammable. You should, therefore, keep a close eye during the cutting process to avoid accidents. Always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher handy for any sudden flare ups. We use the First Alert Professional Fire Extinguisher in our workshop. More information can be found here.
- Don’t look directly at a laser beam without eye protection safety googles. Below you will find a link to an article I wrote on Laser Engraving eye protection.
- Do not cut unapproved materials
There are some materials that are just not meant to be used with a laser cutter/ engraver. Here is a list of materials to avoid with the reasons why
|Reason to avoid engraving / cutting it|
|PVC will emit Chlorine gas when laser cut or laser engraved. This toxic gas can ruin the optics and motion control system of the laser engraver, In fact, engraving or cutting PVC is a sure way of voiding the warranty of your laser engraver|
|Lexan not only cuts poorly but it also catches on fire very easily. The window of the laser engraving machine is usually made from Polycarbonate because it does a very good job of attracting infrared radiation., which is the frequency of light the engraver uses when cutting and engraving materials. This makes the laser cutter quite ineffective in cutting Polycarbonate materials|
|ABS melts upon exposure to a laser beam instead of vaporizing, which would be the ideal reaction needed for laser engraving. Instead of leaving a crisp image, ABS will melt and leave a gooey deposit on the surface.|
|HDPE melts and catches on fire pretty easily upon exposure to a laser beam.|
|Polystyrene. Only very thin pieces can be laser cut but for the most part, polystyrene catches on fire and melts when exposed to a laser beam|
|Fiberglass is made from two materials; glass and epoxy resin. The best method of marking glass is etching while epoxy resin can emit toxic fumes upon laser engraving. These two reasons make fiberglass a bad choice for a laser engraving material|
|Polypropylene melts and catches on fire easily and then the melted material continues to burn thereby forming pebble-like drips that harden on the surface|
|Coated carbon fiber emits noxious fumes. Additionally, carbon fiber can be cut albeit with some fraying but this is not the case when it is coated.|
- The premises should be well ventilated. You can ventilate your workspace by installing a good exhaust fan. Below you will find a link to a article that I wrote on laser engraver exhaust fan options.
Even though laser cutters emit radiation, experts have proven that they pose a low risk to operators as the radiation is minimal. Taking preventive measures and following set guidelines for laser cutters ensures that operators avoid unnecessary radiation exposure from these machines.