Laser Cutter Zone

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Laser Cutter Zone
Coordinator: Rich Dominelli, Sam Bonfante
Equipment List: [ Laser Cutter Equipment
Zone Assistants: Josh Webb, Norbert St. Pierre


This zone provides access to a laser cutter capable of cutting thin woods and plastics, and etching on many more materials. It includes software for image development and editing, software for controlling the laser cutter, and a laser cutter machine.

Access to the laser cutter is typically on a first-come, first-served basis. However, you can reserve a time slot using this form.

Link to Wiki

Zone Orientation: Rules and Safety

The intent of the zone orientation is to familiarize new members with the capabilities, safety rules, and operational procedures of the Laser Cutter. It is not intended to provide detailed instruction on how to use the equipment. Those who are confident in their abilities to use the equipment may use it after completing the orientation. Those who are not should seek the assistance of the Zone Coordinator, other CoG members, or should enroll in an instructional class offered by the CoG.

General Safety

  1. Review of Lock Out/Tag Out Board and Process
    1. Apply outlet lock to main power cord. Only Zone Coordinators and Facilities Specialist have keys to remove and will do so when equipment is safe.
  2. Risk of fire. Do not leave laser cutter unattended during operation. In the event of a fire:
    1. Hit Emergency Stop button.
    2. If just smoke is present, leave lid closed and see if it stops.
    3. For small smoldering, use water spray bottle.
    4. For visible flame, use a fire extinguisher.
  3. Risk of eye and bodily injury from laser. Do not open hood or place hands in laser bay during operation. Do not disable the door safety switch.
    1. Use only approved materials. PVC and Kevlar are absolutely forbidden due to poisonous off-gasses. Metal is prohibited due to the weak laser.
    2. Refer to reference materials for proper settings.

General “Be Excellent to Each Other” Knowledge

  1. Communication is important to keeping this community space functioning. Report any problems or comments to,, or on the whiteboard.
  2. Do not tamper with or turn off air compressor system; it should run when the machine is running. Do not operate machine if air compressor is not functioning properly.
    1. The stream of compressed air keeps the lens clean and prevents fires from forming.
  3. Do not impede the path of the laser (through the 3 mirrors).
  4. Use care around the mirrors and laser lens. Scratches or other damage can render the machine useless.
    1. Lens is only accessible if nozzle is taken apart.
  5. Clean up more debris than you have made.
    1. Sweep and wipe out dust and particles from in the machine.
    2. Discard all scraps.

About the Laser Cutter

  1. How it works
    1. Laser generated in the laser tube, bounces off 3 mirrors (show location), contacts the material.
    2. Ruida control panel. Many resources online for operation specifics.
  2. Variables
    1. The materials library in Lightburn contains the typical speed and power settings for various materials.
    2. Always perform a test cut/etch before your final output. Laser tube degradation, differences in material manufacture processes, tolerances, etc can cause these values to change.
  3. Materials
    1. See chart of materials in binder for approved materials.
    2. A great overview of prohibited and allowed materials:
    3. Very Good
      1. Acrylic
        1. No grain structure. Many colors available (though black is tricky)
      2. Solid woods
    4. Very Bad
      1. Vynal and PVC will emit chlorine gas. Damages machine and lungs.
      2. Polycarbonate will melt.
      3. Luan plywood - two layers of veneer, glued composite in the middle. Glue does not cut well.
    5. Don’t know the details of your material?
      1. Get the SDS (Safety Data Sheet) from the manufacturer. It will break down the details of what components are in the material.
      2. If it’s not obvious what it is made out of, send it to the Zone Coordinator for help.

General Process for Operating the Laser Cutter

Detailed instruction of hands-on operation and laser cutting theory is covered in Laser Cutting 101. For those with prior laser cutting experience, this covers specific processes unique to our machine.

  1. Create your drawing
    1. Use any program that can output a DXF (Corel Draw, Inkscape, CAD programs, etc) or AI (Illustrator) Lightburn also supports SVG (Inkscape and many others).
    2. Other file formats may or may not work. Also even supported formats sometimes do not import fully.
    3. This machine has Corel Draw and Inkscape installed.
  2. Import drawing into Lightburn or RD Works.
    1. RDWorks
      1. Free software that comes with most lasercutters with Ruida controllers.
      2. A June 2018 Windows 10 update has caused some issues. This program does not always communicate with the laser.
      3. Can download on your own computer, and work on files at home.
    2. Lightburn
      1. New program, released November 2017.  
      2. Very similar to RDWorks. New features are slowly being added.
      3. Much more user-friendly interface. Detailed use instructions available on
      4. License required. The CoG has a discount code for members who want to purchase their own.
      5. Supports automatic dithering of photos
  3. Set up your cut file.
    1. Green Dot is where the laser "job origin" is. This tells you where to place your material on the bed.
    2. Adjust Layer Settings
      1. Set Mode
        1. Scan (Engraving): Low power, High speed. Will fill in outlined drawings.
        2. Cut: Low Power, High Speed for outlines. High Power, Low Speed for cutting.
        3. Scan and Cut (Light Burn) filled in, then do a cut pass around the outside of the image for cleaner lines
        4. Image (Light Burn) Supports Dithering
      2. Set Speed. See recommended settings in material library.
      3. Power. See recommended settings in material library.
        1. Power is in percent.
          1. Power is measured in percent. Laser power output is in watts, and adjustment laser is not linear. Testing has been done to show that 0% - 50% is the optimal power setting for this laser.
          2. Anything above 50% will not improve print or cutting capability, and will damage the laser over time.
  4. Verify Laser Power switch is OFF before opening the cover.
  5. Verify wall power switch is on. Exhaust fan in ceiling is always on.
  6. Verify both Emergency Stop switches are twisted out.  
  7. Turn on main power switch.
    1. Laser will automatically adjust to its “home” position.
  8. Set the Focus.
    1. See Operating Instructions.
    2. For thicker material, may want the material a little higher so focal point is in the middle of the material
    3. For engraving, may want the material a little lower to adjust accuracy of etch.
  9. Turn on Laser On switch.
  10. Turn Air Compressor/Chiller switch on.
    1. Chiller will beep several times until correct water flow rate is established.
    2. Chiller keeps laser tube cool, and prolongs its life.
    3. Air compressor keeps lens clean, pushes cut material away, and prevents fires.
    4. Check compressed air is flowing by placing a pieces of paper under the head.
  11. General clean-up procedure
    1. Remove all materials from laser cutter
    2. Discard all scrap materials. Don’t save anything less than 1’x1’.
    3. Delete unneeded files from the computer.
  12. Resources & Tips
    1. For best results, place your material on the back left corner of the bed. Accuracy of the laser decreases as the length from the tube increases.
    2. List of acceptable and unacceptable materials:
    3. Playlist of videos on how to use RD Works and laser cutters:
  13. Troubleshooting
    1. "Frame Slop" error.
      1. Laser is going to go out of bounds. Reset zero point.
  14. FAQ

Reference Information and Resources

Light Burn

Light Burn Software has a great set of videos for learning the ins and outs of their software.

Basic documentation can be found here

RD Works

RD Works Manual

Thunder Laser RD Works Tutorial

Material Resources

Piedmont Plastics - Local Supplier -

EStreet Plastics - Decent prices large selection -