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Approved Materials

The only materials you may use in the Laser Cutters are certain paper products, composite boards, thin wood, and natural fabrics as these are the only materials that cleanly vaporize in the laser beam. 
The ONLY plastic we will cut in these machines is acrylic. 

Common materials used in the lab are:
  • Balsa Wood
  • Bass Wood 
  • Cork
  • Birch Plywood and Hard Woods (NO Tropical woods)
  • Cast Acrylic
  • Mirrored Acrylic 
  • Corrugated Cardboard
  • Matboard / Chipboard / Thin Cardboard 
  • 20 lb Paper
  • Cardstock
  • 100% Cotton
  • 100% Wool
  • Vegetable Tanned Leather
  • Muslin

Please keep in mind the following materials are explicitly forbidden due to health and safety hazards:

NEVER CUT these materials!

  • PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride): 
    • Also known as "vinyl" "pleather" or "artificial leather." Most adhesive vinyl shelf paper (e.g. Con-Tact Paper) also is PVC. Emits HCl and nasty chlorinated compounds when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.
  • Polycarbonate:
    •  Also known as "Lexan." Polycarbonate is also often found as flat, sheet material. The case cover window on the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can also emit flame and chlorine gas when cut, making it a poor choice for laser cutting.
  • HDPE:
    •  "milk bottle" plastic. It melts. It gets gooey. It catches on fire. Don't use it.
  • PolyStyrene Foam:
    •  It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!
  • Polypropylene Foam: 
    • Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.
  • Fiberglass:
    •  The epoxy resin used in fiberglass is bad to cut, the vapor/fumes of the epoxy resin are bad. The fiberglass mat itself, without resin, is safe to cut.
  • Coated Carbon Fiber:
    •  Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying. However, once coated with epoxy it will emit noxious fumes.
  • Silhouette magnet paper (sold by Inventables by example): 
    • it likely contains chlorine. Emits HCl and nasty chlorinated compounds when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.
  • PTFE:
    •  also known as Teflon or any fluorinated polymer it will release nasty fluorinated compounds (bad for you) and sublimate then deposit on the lenses (likely destroying them).
  • Gator foam or FOAM CORE:
    •  gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard paper shell. Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched. And the MSDS sheet says it may produce hydrogen bromide and hydrogen chloride known to degrade the optics and mechanic of the cutter
  • Any other plastic with "Chlor" or "Fluor" in the name, for the same reasons as PVC and PTFE above.
  • ABS: 
    • ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt).\
  • Corian:
    •  Creates a fine grit inside the laser bed and will damage equipment.
  • Nylon:
    •  Ammonia, Hydrogen cyanide
  • Bending Plywood:
    •  Bends into the path of the laser carriage during operation.
  • Tyvek: 
    • Tyvek is polyethylene, which is known to contain formaldehyde.
  • Polyurethane:
    •  Releases Isocyanates, hydrogen cyanide
  • Mylar:
    •  Ammonia, Hydrogen cyanide
  • Formica:
    •  Formaldehyde
  • Acrylic Paint:
    •  Formaldehyde
  • 3form Veria: 
    • 3form veria melts too much during cutting.
  • Acetate:
    •  Creates nauseating odors.
  • Casting Wax
    • Casting wax melts too much during cutting
  • Delrin 100ST NC010:
    •  Formaldehyde, hydrogen fluoride
  • MDF:
    •  Formaldehyde
  • Masonite:
    •  There are concerns regarding what is used to treat the product. Ask Lab Specialist for more information.
  • Tropical Hardwoods: 
    • Tropical hardwoods may contain various toxic compounds that are released when burned.
  • Any Material over 1/4": 
    • Unless given special permission by Lab Specialist only. 

If your material does not clearly state that it is made out of acrylic, you must bring in its MSDS sheet (A document that tells you all the materials or chemicals found in the product). See example below:

Acrylic selection on Blick's website with downloadable MSDS sheets.

Typically, we cannot cleanly cut materials greater than ¼” in thickness. With composite wood and boards, the density of materials can vary greatly, so it is very important to do a test cut, which is embedded in the Template.

You should inform the Operator anytime you are working with tweaking the settings as part of the Triple Check Policy and so that they can help you find the most efficient settings. 
If you have any questions about materials or modeling techniques, please feel free to ask one of the Operators or Fab Lab Managers, but any new material must first be approved by the Lab Specialist ( The Operators cannot always tell you whether or not a material is acceptable--you must ask Lab Specialist!