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  1. #1
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    Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    I'm considering setting up a small line to make an electronic product, it will be enclosed in a box made from plastic pieces and I have the usual complement of switches with rectangular cutouts mounted on circuit boards, no very tight tolerances. The main part of the box would be a square clear extruded acrylic tube about 2" across, I believe the endpieces will be opaque acrylic or PVC sheet. I'm looking at one of these "$300" Chinese combo laser engravers/CNC, it's about a 5 watt blue laser (yes I'm taking my chances, at that price it's not a "real tool", if I weren't being "hit" for this on this forum it wouldn't feel normal!) but if I can get through a couple of months with this maybe I can go for something better. First problem is I don't see any kind of "Consumer Reports" that would compare brands and models and steer me away from the most awful of all possible mistakes in selection. But the next part I'm confused about is I'm seeing recommendations that I need to coat the clear acrylic with something opaque so the laser will cut it, is that right? Is a CO2 laser a suitable option or is that too high power? Or do I give up and just use the CNC function? Secondly I will need to put some readily readable nomenclature on the surface, if I use the engraver function what color do I expect the laser to "burn" into the acrylic compared to the plastic color? Is there any good option to use the CNC function and fill it manually? I apologize for my strengths being circuit design not this part, I'd sure like to find a nice textbook on this stuff but I asked the reference department at my local library and they waved the white flag before I even got the question out of my mouth. Thank you in advance for your help!

  2. #2
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    Re: Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    So your thinking of engraving (not cutting thru) acrylic parts with a 5W laser?
    I don’t think 5W isn’t enough power to cut this material. If cutting, then describe how thick, what material and how fast you need to cut. Maybe someone with a 5W laser can comment.
    Btw you shouldn’t laser anything containing PVC.


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  3. #3
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    Re: Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    I was told you can cut about 3mm thick plastic OK with a 5W laser so long as it's opaque and not identically blue. I would like to engrave the control legends on the plastic too but I have no experience with that either. I don't "prefer" that the square tube is clear but that's all I seem to be able to readily get my hands on in that shape. And I guess there's some difference between extruded and cast acrylic? Does PVC melt too easily? Does the engraving color generally come out something close to black or maybe dark brown? I suppose in order to change between cutting and engraving you change focus and/or power level? Sorry I have so little experience with any of this. I also guess a "CO2" laser is an entirely different instrument and not an upgrade path, but like I said for now that ought to be OK.

  4. #4
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    Re: Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    PVC is a no no for the laser. Caustic fumes to breath and rust the laser

  5. #5
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    Re: Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    My experience is with CO2 and not high power laser diodes. I haven’t seen color matter when cutting acrylics. The best would be to get someone to take some test cuts.
    Keep in mind that you are burning and melting the material. Sometimes it will burn thru and the melt back together. I would think a health air supply is needed.
    Engrave means you scan back and forth at a high power. For photos and filling in letters. I also call fast vector cuts at low power engrave. Cutting is high power at as fast as it will go yet cut thru.
    One overlooked element is air ventilation. Without it the room is going to smell of burning plastic


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  6. #6
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    Re: Would like some advice on using low-end Chinese engraver

    Dean448, all I know is I've heard if the laser is blue and so is the material, the energy goes right through and there is no cutting, if it's clear there's a problem too. Your CO2 laser's light frequency is below visible so no problem it cuts everything well. I didn't figure on having the time to solve all these mysteries myself, of course I guess I could then write a book and sell it because I don't see one available that covers the majority of these issues. I "get that" this forum is still mostly for "real" machinists (and my hat's off to all of you!) but I'm not trying to operate a shop to make things for other people, I have very modest needs mostly in plastic and I've already pretty much defined the product, I just need the kind of help I would have expected to get from a tool manufacturer if he weren't located ten time zones away speaking an inscrutable languager and selling mostly on price not service.

  7. #7
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    Re: Would like some advise on using low-end Chinese engraver

    The only folks playing around with diode lasers are hobbyist and I don’t see many on this forum.
    I would contact a CO2 laser supplier and just have them make test cuts. It might not be the cheapest but it’s the quickest to get up and running.

    Also consider that you don’t hear many folks cutting plastic probably due to the ability mold it as needed. Good luck with your project.


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