Laser cutting glass is becoming a much more popular option for creating unique shapes and designs on glass. Previously, most glass-cutting methods were done by hand, creating a high chance for mistakes or damage to the glass. Now, we have a much better option with lasers — but how exactly does it work, and is it worth it?
Cutting glass with a laser is a great option because it can handle complexity and precision. It’s also easy to do once you get the hang of the laser’s settings. Simply create a design in a supported format and then transfer it to the laser cutter, which will do the rest of the work.
Let’s take a closer look at how to cut glass with a laser. We’ll consider the different types of lasers, how to create a design, the advantages of laser cutting, and what you can use it for.
Can You Use a Laser to Cut Glass?
There are many different ways to cut glass, including everything from using a bottle clamp or a glass cutter to more innovative methods.
Recently, using a laser to cut glass has become increasingly popular as more and more people see the benefits and efficiency that come with using this method.
With many of the other methods, cracks can happen along the edge of this brittle material — and they then have to be quickly corrected and sealed. Laser cutting does this on its own.
The only issue is access to the equipment that’s used for laser-cutting glass — but if you can get your hands on it, it’s a viable option that works well.
What’s the Best Type of Glass for Laser Cutting?
There are various types of glass, including:
- Soda-lime glass
- Safety glass
- Stained glass
- Lead glass
- Transparent aluminum glass
- Fused silica glass
Most of these can be cut using a laser. The only exception to the rule is safety glass. Because it’s specifically built to react well to certain high temperatures and perform in a different way than other glass, lasers simply don’t work well on it.
However, for a typical laser, soda-lime glass — which is most commonly used — works fine. It has the lowest melting point, which means it’s easier for the laser to cut through.
While it’s possible to use this method on the other types of glass, they may require more specialty equipment.
It’s always important to check what kind of glass you’re working with before going ahead with the laser; otherwise, it might not do so well with the laser — or, in the worst case scenario, it could break entirely.
What’s the Best Type of Laser to Use?
There are two types of lasers generally used to cut glass. Although others exist, these are the two at the forefront, and the others are best for light engravings (or tasks other than cutting).
The first is a continuous-wave laser. It delivers energy constantly while cutting, making for a very smooth process.
The second is a pulsed laser, which allows higher energy to be achieved because it sends pulse waves down to the glass rather than making a continuous cut.
Pulsed lasers generally work better and tend to be more expensive than continuous-wave lasers but, when it comes to deciding which to use, there are a few important considerations.
What to Consider When Choosing a Laser
Before you decide if you need to find the more expensive pulsed laser or if you can make do with a continuous-wave laser, there are a few things to think about:
- The thickness of the glass and if you need to cut all the way through it
- How precise the cut needs to be and how complicated the design is
- If you can afford to break the glass — and if you’re going to do a test first
There are other types of lasers available, but the pulsed and continuous-wave lasers are the best options for cutting through glass.
For thicker glass or a cut that doesn’t need to be as precise/if you can afford damage, then you can get away with using a continuous-wave laser and pay a slightly cheaper price.
If you need to get the design right on the first try or it’s a particularly complex design on thin glass, it’s better to shell out the money for a pulsed-wave laser.
How to Create a Laser Cut Design
The first thing you’ll want to do is check which format your laser supports so that you can export a design in the same format (or convert file to the right one). You can then create your own design or go online and look for free laser cut designs, which many people are kind enough to provide for free.
If the design you want is very specific or individual, you’ll likely have to make your own.
Look for a program that supports the same file type as your laser cutter. These may include:
- Adobe Illustrator
- Autodesk Fusion
- Laser CAD
How to Laser Cut Glass
Once you have your design and are ready to proceed, there are a few more steps to take before going ahead with your laser cutting.
Perform a Test Cut
To determine the proper settings to use on your laser cutter, you’ll likely have to perform a test cut. This involves checking out the best settings you think you should use and then giving it a try on a piece of scrap glass that’s large enough.
Many people skip this step as they consider it to be a waste of material, but it’s actually critical for getting the design right and very difficult to do without — unless you’ve used that laser cutter on the same glass before and already established the settings.
Cut the Glass
You can then go ahead and cut the glass. It’s a good idea to use an air assist, which cools down the edges of the glass as you go. If the glass gets too hot, it can cause the edges to fracture and the glass to splinter, which may make the design look off — or, worse, break the glass entirely.
What Are the Pros of Laser Cutting Glass vs. Other Engraving Methods?
Laser cutting has become very popular for good reason. It’s a great method that works well in minimizing mistakes and creating great designs.
You don’t have to make contact with the glass when using a laser cutter. This means there’s less of a chance of cracking or the glass becoming damaged in the process.
This is also why it helps to use an air assist, a great feature to use in conjunction with the laser to make the process as smooth as possible.
The automated process of the laser cutter — once a design is loaded in and the settings are good to go — means that human error can be ruled out at this stage.
Other cutting methods are much more involved and you have to stay very highly concentrated or you may find that a mistake is made and the glass is then ruined.
The laser cutter has high precision. This is especially handy for businesses who want to make all of their products have the same high quality.
The Laser Is Thin
Although there’s always a chance of the edges cracking, the thin laser means that any damage won’t spread too far. This means it can be easy to fix even if damage does happen.
It Doesn’t Require High Ability
Those using the laser cutter don’t need to have extreme artistic or technical abilities to create an amazing product. As long as they can load the file into the laser cutter and fix the settings, then they should be able to carry out the process without mistakes.
It Can Deal With Complexity
When using methods that have more human involvement, it’s best to keep the designs and patterns pretty basic. This minimizes the risk of error and ensures it’s actually doable, since we’re only capable of so much.
A laser cutter doesn’t have this problem. It can handle designs that are extremely complex, creating some truly amazing pieces of art.
What Are Some Potential Uses for Laser Cut Glass?
If you’re wondering what to use laser cut glass for, there are many situations in which it can be helpful.
Engraved glasses often have complex or precise designs on them, and some people even want personalized designs on their glasses.
Laser cutters can carry out these designs efficiently, meaning lots of glasses can be produced without an issue and the design can look exactly as the artist intended.
Stained glass has been around for many years and, although it’s beautiful, it’s been an arduous process to create. No longer!
You can laser cut different pieces and colors of glass and then put them together to create the stained glass effect.
Whether it’s for a window, a lampshade, or something else, it’s hard to deny that laser cutters are now the best option for stained glass.
Engraved Alcohol Bottles
Whether you’re looking to engrave a wine bottle, a whisky bottle, or something else entirely, laser cutters can do the trick. Some manufacturers offer personalized bottles for a higher price, and this allows them to manufacture and distribute them effectively.
Others will offer special bottles at anniversaries and for other occasions, and laser cutters allow them to create this design and see it through, keeping the quality consistent on every bottle.
Engraved vases are another lovely personalized option that makes a great gift. Keychains and coasters are other examples. They can be personalized, or manufacturers can create different elegant designs and sell them.
Awards and Plaques
Having an award or plaque displayed in your house can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, whether it’s from your workplace or an organization that you did something special for. Often, these awards and glass plaques will have been created using a laser cutter.
It keeps the thin and elegant lettering precise, and it allows for quick customization as more and more awards are given out.
The Final Word
Overall, laser cutters are a relatively recent tool for cutting glass, with the usage starting to gain traction in the 1970s. However, there’s a reason it’s become popular so fast.
This method offers precise cutting that human hands can’t achieve. And not only can lasers deal with complexity, but they also reduce the risk of faults and damage to the glass.