Selecting and Procuring Material for the Laser Cutter

Policies  Selecting materials    Generating a DXF file    Loading a file onto the laser cutter    Laser cutting a part Power and Speed settings

IDeATe stocks some of the more commonly used materials for course and student projects. Sheet materials are generally pre-cut to approximately the following sizes: 1’x1′, 2’x2′, and 2’x4′.  IDeATe students can purchase the following materials from the IDeATe Lending Desk, Hunt A29. Some courses have special materials on reserve.

Acrylic sheets are mostly stocked in 3mm (1/8-inch) thickness. Some 6mm (1/4-inch) and 1.5mm (1/16-inch) are available. Acrylic colors include:

  • Amber Tint
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Clear, anti-glare (1.5mm only)
  • Clear
  • Green
  • Green Glass – Edge Tint
  • Red
  • Red Tin
  • Smoke Tint
  • White
  • White, Translucent
  • Yellow
  • Yellow Tint

Cardboard, 30-inch by 40-inch by 5/32-inch.


Various Plywoods:

  • 12-inch by 12-inch by 1/8-inch birch ply
  • ask for availability of other plywoods

Various Fiberboards – ask for availability.

Chipboard – medium weight, 12-inch by 12-inch by 1/16-inch

Some material cannot be used on the laser cutter because 1) the laser isn’t powerful enough to cut through it, 2) it is flammable, or 3) it produces dangerous off-gasses.

Approved materials: acrylic, mirrored acrylic, cardboard, mat board, hardboard, chipboard, museum board, polystyrene, YUPO synthetic paper, MDF (engineered wood), bass wood, plywood, Delrin

Textiles: Good: Felt, rayon, tightly woven cotton, wool, most natural materials; OK: loose weaves, knotted material; Forbidden: flammable synthetics (test a small swatch over the sink), vinyl, metallic/reflective materials, neoprene, any material with chlorine. Ask an IDeATe helper if you are unsure.

Forbidden materials: ABS plastic, mirrored glass (the backing contains mercury), Lexan plastics, polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), foam core, any materials containing chloride or vinyl (e.g. PVC), and wood thicker than 1/4″ (6mm).

Danger! Chlorine: Do not cut any materials that contain chlorine; they can produce chlorine gas when heated. If you are unsure of the chemical composition of your material, you can check the Material Safety  Data Sheets on the EH&S website. If you have a questions about a material that you would like to cut, please ask a staff member!

Metals: Our laser cutters are incapable of cutting steel, brass, copper, and other metals.

You can also buy material from the CMU Bookstore, McMaster Carr, Amazon, or a hardware store; however, you are responsible for making sure that the material is on the approved list.

Note: The Bookstore sells both acrylic and PETG.  They look similar, but are quite different chemically. Read the paper label on the plastic to be sure you have acrylic, not PETG.


  • Painted or glued materials must be completely dry before laser cutting
  • Two high speed cutting passes on low power produce better results for low-melting point plastics and for some types of paper
  • Fabric must be cut to size before laser cutting (max = 47″x35″)
  • Due to the focal properties of the laser lenses, materials must be at most 3/8″ (9.5mm) thick
  • Hint: Save good material by testing your settings on a scrap area!

If you are unsure if your material is OK, ask! Only you can prevent laser cutter fires.