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Laser Cutter vs. 3D Printer

At a recent conference, Jim Merrel mentioned that he bought a laser cutter rather than a 3D printer for his STEM lab at LabRats in San Diego. When asked why, he responded you can produce things faster on a laser cutter. Laser cutters can reduce "print times" to minutes, not hours.

Here are some resources to give you an idea of what a laser cutter can do and how to use it.

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How to Get Started With Laser Cutting

Laser Cutters are great tools that can be used to create simple boxs, sengrave detailed graphics into wood, or build complex three-dimensional objects.

This beginners guide explains the basics of how a laser cutter works, shows examples of things that can be made and how to create designs for laser cutting or engraving. It covers what material can be used and the steps needed.

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6 Ways to Use a Laser Cutter in Education

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a laser cutter is its versatility. Because a laser cutter's power allows it to cut through a wide range of materials, it's one of the most versatile pieces of fabrication equipment a school can have.

This post looks at 6 uses: appliqués & fabric cutting, graphic imaging, packaging development, school branding/personalization, signage, and woodworking.

3D Model to 2D Vector

Joel Hall goes thru the steps needed to convert a 3D file (STL or OBJ) using Slicer for Fusion 360. When done, you have a set of 2D slices that can be passed on a laser cutter.

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Slicer for Fusion 360

Slicer for Fusion 360 seems to be the recommended tool for turning digital 3D models (.stl or .obj) into 2D patterns for your laser cutter. It also creates instructions and interactive 3D visualizations to help build the item.

Slicer can be used as standalone program or as an add-in for Fusion 360. It allows you to apply various slicing techniques to your model and create 2D plans in EPS, DXF or PDF formats for use with your Laser cutter or CNC machine.

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Laser Cutting with Slicer for Fusion 360

This tutorial from Sculpteo shows the different ways you can slice your 3D model, creating everything from a solid 3D looking model using stacked slices to interlocked slices, curves, radial slices and even folded panels, giving your "print" a solid skin.

Part of a wider rang of tutorials covering all areas of laser cutting and engraving.

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Laser Cutter Projects

Looking for some ideas of what you can do with a laser cutter? How about anything from a clock to a "doughnut lamp" to a winter scene.

Laser Cutter Requirements

Make sure your laser cutter has a lid and the laser beam is completely enclosed. Lasers powerful enough to cut thru cardboard can damage eyesight. Much easier to close a lid than hope everyone in the area is wearing laser rated safety goggles.

Have a good venting system with a fan or blower. Someone is eventually going to cut something they shouldn't or use the wrong settings. Having the laser vented to the outside or into a good filter box will keep minor errors minor.

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Laser Cutter Safety and Operation

Having written safety instructions for all your Maker gear is important. It's especially important for a laser cutter. While safe in normal use, you are dealing with lasers, smoke and fumes.

Here's an example safety sheet for a Full Spectrum desktop laser cutter. It gives you an idea of the areas to cover and what safety materials you should have on-hand.

Cardboard sources

Cardboard is an inexpensive medium for use with laser cutters. Check with your local appliance stores. Most will be glad to let you take some off their hands. If you're lucky, the may even deliver it to your school.

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