Guide to Glass Laser Cutting
Learn more about laser cutting with glass and its different applications.
Glass laser cutting is a technology that uses a high-powered laser beam to cut or engrave glass materials. Its accuracy, effectiveness, and adaptability have helped it gain popularity over the past few years. While cutting with a laser is typically associated with materials like metal and plastic, it can also be used to cut glass. Yes, laser cutting can be done on glass, but only with a particular kind of laser and under certain conditions. High-power CO2 lasers up to 30 W are remarkably effective for cutting glass.
These lasers emit a high-energy beam that can be focused on the glass surface, creating a clean and precise cut. For the creation of intricate designs for decorative items like glass sculptures, trophies, and awards, glass laser cutting is commonly used. Additionally, it is employed in the production of precision parts for the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries. The ability of laser cutting to produce precise cuts and engravings on glass has made it a necessary tool for many contemporary glass fabricators. Figure 1 below is an example of glass laser cutting:
Example of glass laser cutting.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/SeventyFour
This article will define glass, the kinds of glass, the glass laser cutting process, and the types of lasers for laser cutting glass.
Glass is a hard, brittle, and transparent solid material made by melting sand, soda ash, and limestone at a high temperature. It is employed in many different products, including windows, lenses, mirrors, containers, and fibers. Glass is a versatile material that can be molded, painted, and coated to serve a variety of functions. It is a key component of modern industry and technology due to its hardness, chemical resistance, and electrical insulation. Glass has a long history that dates back thousands of years when sand was first melted in a furnace to create it. The ability to produce glass in large quantities and a variety of shapes was made possible by the development of glass blowing in the first century BC. The quality and variety of glass products significantly improved as the modern glass industry grew in the 19th century. Glass is a material that permeates every aspect of our lives today, from the windows in our homes to the screens on our smartphones.
There are numerous varieties of glass, and each has special qualities and traits that make it appropriate for a variety of applications. Stained glass is a type of glass created by mixing metallic salts with molten glass to create vivid colors and intricate patterns. Stained glass is frequently used in artwork and religious structures. Borosilicate glass is renowned for its superior chemical resistance and high refractive index. It is quite often used in laboratory equipment and kitchenware due to its durability and heat resistance. Aluminosilicate glass is a special kind of glass with high strength and toughness that contains silicon oxide and aluminum oxide. It is utilized in products like smartphones and touchscreens that need to be impact and scratch resistant. A pure type of glass made from silicon dioxide is called silica glass, also referred to as fused quartz. It is employed in high-temperature applications like lamps and furnace tubes due to its high thermal stability. Fused silica glass is another type of silica glass made by melting and then quickly cooling silica powder. It is utilized in precision optics, including lenses and mirrors, because of its high purity and homogeneity.
In the process of laser cutting, materials like glass are cut or engraved using a powerful laser. The steps below must be followed to laser cut a piece of glass:
- Select a piece of glass for cutting, making sure it will fit inside your laser cutter.
- Create a DXF file for your laser cutter software using the design you want to cut or engrave. If you have a 3D model, you may need to convert it to a DXF format.
- Put on personal protective gear, such as goggles and gloves.
- Place the glass on the laser platform and turn on the ventilation system, usually a fan in the laser machine.
- Load the DXF file into the laser cutter and set the cutting parameters, such as power and speed.
- Start the laser cutting process, making sure to monitor the machine while it is running. After the cutting process is complete, the edges of the glass may be sharp, so you will need to sand them to make them safe to handle.
Several tools can be used to cut glass, including diamond-tipped cutters, glass cutters, and laser cutters. Diamond-tipped cutters are often used to score the glass before it is divided along the scored line by a careful snap. However, these methods require a high level of skill and precision to achieve good results. Laser cutting, on the other hand, is a more modern and precise way of cutting glass. CO2 lasers, in particular, are often used to cut or engrave glass.
These lasers can produce intricate shapes and designs with extreme precision because they use a focused beam of light to cut through the glass. The risk of chipping or cracking the glass is reduced when cutting glass with a CO2 laser because the laser does not come into contact with the material. Additionally, it enables more creativity in terms of shapes and patterns that can be produced. However, to use a laser cutter properly and safely, specialized tools and training are needed. For more information, see our guide on the Types of Laser Cutters.
One of three techniques—laser cutting, laser engraving, or laser etching—can be used to cut glass with a laser. With laser cutting, the glass is cut along a predetermined path by a laser beam that is tightly focused. This is accomplished by melting the glass along the cut path with the laser after heating it to its melting point. It is possible to create intricate shapes or designs in glass with the help of a variety of different lasers, such as CO2 and fiber lasers. On the other hand, laser engraving entails using a laser to carve a pattern or design into the surface of the glass.
A permanent mark or pattern is created by using the laser beam to remove a small amount of material from the surface of the glass. Glass awards and trophies can be personalized or decorated with the laser engraving process. Last but not least, laser etching entails illuminating the surface of the glass with a laser to produce a 3D relief image or design. This is accomplished by carefully removing material from the glass with the laser to produce a textured or raised surface. Laser etching, which can be carried out with a variety of laser types, is useful for producing distinctive and aesthetically pleasing glass designs.
It is important to adhere to certain safety regulations to prevent injuries or equipment damage when cutting glass, especially when using a laser. These safety guidelines are listed below:
- Wear Optical Density (OD) Eye Protection: Specifically, use OD protection that blocks the laser wavelength you are using. This type of protective eyewear prevents the laser from damaging your eyes and helps you avoid exposure to potentially harmful laser radiation.
- Don't Look Directly Into the Laser Light: Laser light can be extremely bright, and looking directly into the beam can cause eye damage. Instead, use a viewing system or camera to monitor the laser-cutting process.
- Provide Adequate Ventilation for the Laser: Laser cutting produces fumes and particles that can be hazardous to your health, so it's important to ensure there is adequate ventilation in the workspace.
- Use Appropriate Gloves When Handling Glass: Glass edges can be very sharp, so it's important to wear protective gloves when handling glass to avoid injury.
For more information, see our guide on Laser Cutting Rules.
Yes, glass can be cut using a range of methods: from more conventional ones like scoring and breaking to more sophisticated ones like laser cutting and water-jet cutting. Glass cutting, however, can be difficult and must be done carefully to prevent breaking or shattering the glass.
Both continuous-wave and pulsed lasers can be successfully applied to the cutting of glass. The steady stream of laser energy emitted by continuous-wave lasers (CW lasers) can be used to cut through delicate or thin materials like glass. These lasers are usually applied for precise cutting tasks requiring sharp edges and small heat-affected zones.
Conversely, pulsed lasers produce brief bursts of laser energy that can be used to sever tougher or dense materials like glass. Pulsed lasers can be used to make precise cuts in even the thickest glass and are typically used in industrial cutting applications when speed and power are priorities. In the end, the particular application, the thickness, and the kind of glass being cut will determine the kind of laser cutting technique that is suitable for cutting glass. The choice of laser cutting technique will also be influenced by elements like the desired cutting speed, precision, and finish.
A wavelength in the infrared region of light, generally around 10,600 nm, is suitable for using a laser to cut glass. CO2 lasers are normally used for laser-cutting applications due to their high power and capacity to pierce a variety of materials, including glass. These lasers typically emit light at this wavelength. Glass can be quickly and precisely cut with CO2 lasers thanks to their high power and narrow wavelength, which prevents them from overheating or harming the surrounding material. Depending on the application and desired outcomes, other laser types, such as fiber lasers and pulsed lasers, may also be used to cut glass.
This article presented glass laser cutting, explained what it is, and discussed everything you need to know about the process. To learn more about glass laser cutting, contact a Xometry representative.
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