College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

Laser Cutting

Green VersaLASER VLS6.6

The Clemson Digital Design Studio is equipped with three laser cutters.  Through a generous grant, we were able to procure two new VersaLaser VLS 6.60 lasers with 60W cartridges which are capable of engraving or cutting material up to 18″x32″.  Architecture and Landscape Architecture students are responsible for bringing their own lens assemblies in. Lens assemblies can be purchased from Abernethy Beck Inc, item code #145-0019-00-C Lens Kit – 1.5 (LG. Optics-Lens, Mirror, Cover, Tool). Ask for Mary and tell her you are from the Clemson School of Architecture. Lens cleaning solution can be bought at this link  http://www.lensclens.com/store/products/lens-clens-no-1/

The laser cutter uses concentrated light to etch patterns or cut 2-dimensional shapes from various non-reflective thin materials like basswood, balsa, cardboard, chipboard, leather, and acrylic.   Essentially, you create a line drawing, and then send it as a print job to the cutter.  The cutter cuts or etches where it sees properly configured lines and dots.

The Digital Design Studio is in  Lee 1 – 264.

You must sign up for time-slots on this website. Go the the home page cusa-dds.net and follow the link labeled sign up. You may sign up for a maximum of 1 consecutive hour, but you may come back later on the same day.  Although you may use a machine if no one is using it, you must give it up if a person who has signed up arrives during their time slot.  Please plan ahead.

Clemson Architecture and Landscape Architecture students can use this resource if they have undergone laser training.  Untrained students are not allowed.  Please contact myself or the current semester’s Graduate Teaching Assistant(s) for training.

DDS Manager:
Brian Leounis (Leounis@clemson.edu)

Click here to sign up for the laser cutters.

How to use the Green and Yellow laser cutters:

  1. Sign up for a time slot as mentioned above.
  2. Create a file on your computer using AutoCAD, Illustrator, or any other 2D method. Set up your file using specific colors that the laser will recognize – Black, Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Magenta, Cyan,Orange - Pure colors only (i.e. Red = 255 red, 0 green, 0 blue).  If you are using AutoCAD, use the OVERKILL command on your lines – the laser will see overlapping lines as individual vectors and try to cut each one separately.  This will not only take longer, but will likely cause smoke issues.  If you are just etching, but the etch has multiple overlapping lines, the laser may cut through instead of etch.
  3. Put it on a thumb drive or email it to yourself. Come to Lee 1-264 and sit at the laser you signed up for.
  4. Log in to Novell using your login ID and password.
  5. A secondary login will appear - if you don’t know this password, contact a TA for training.
  6. While the PC is logging in, open the lid of the laser and place your material on the bed starting in the upper left corner.  Note – the bed assembly can slide around if someone bumps it - make sure the bed is also pushed into the upper left corner.  The material should sit completely flat on the bed.  Use small weights in areas where there will be no cutting if your material bows. There is a focus tolerance of about 1/10″ – a deeper bend or bow will cause the laser to be unfocused which can at minimum lead to edges that are not crisp and sharp or can cause excess smoke and possibly lead to a fire.
  7. Next, install the lens, which you will have to provide.
  8. Remove the 3 screws from the laser holder.  You may wish to place some material (cardboard, paper, etc) under the assembly to catch any dropped screws while you’re doing this.
  9. Examine the lens assembly – you are in charge of keeping the mirror and the lens clean.
  10. Insert the lens assembly into the holder with the lens on the bottom and the angled mirror on top.
  11. Replace the 3 screws. If one falls into the laser chassis, you can open the front door and fish it out. Remember to close the front door.
  12. Retrieve the file you created.
  13. If you have AutoCAD file, open the Template-X-660 file on the desktop in the uper right corner. All other software – you will need to set the lines in your file as pure colors as mentioned above, and skip to step 12.
  14. The template has been set up with graphic representations of the laser's cutting bed. Find the rectangular representation with the scale corresponding to the scale of your project and copy and paste your lines into the rectangle. 
  15. There are two types of working spaces in AutoCAD – model space and paper space. Model space is the tab in which you draw and paper space is the tab in which it is easier to print from. The tabs are located at the bottom of the workspace with the corresponding scale listed.
  16. In Model space, select and move your lines to the appropriate layers. For example, if you want to cut certain lines, select those lines and add them to one of the cut layers. If you want to score, add those lines to one of the score layers.
  17. Plot to the VLS 6.60 printer.
  18. Click Properties.
  19. Click Custom Properties. Software other than AutoCAD may not have this specific choice – your mileage may vary.
  20. Click the Materials Database Tab if you are not already on this page.
  21. Choose your material, then click Defaults in case someone before you has changed the defaults.  The intensity adjustment sliders should be right in the middle at 0% and the vector performance slider should be in the middle at Standard.  Fixture type should be None.
  22. IMPORTANT – Enter the thickness of your material.  This focuses the lens on your material.  You can calculate this by dividing the numerator by the denominator -
    1/16″ wood is 1 divided by 16 or 0.0625 which rounds to 0.063.”
  23. Do not change the intesity or vector performance settings. These are only to be used in the event that standard settings do not work. If you change them without first testing your material, you may damage the lens.
  24. Click the Manual Control tab.
  25. Click Black, then use the drop down box in the upper right to choose Skip.  If you don’t, you will get an AutoDesk Educational Product stamp on your material.
    Other software may not have a similar issue, and this step can be ignored for things like Illustrator.
  26. Click the big red Set button.  If you are etching, you may need to reduce the power setting or increase the speed.  Run tests on scrap material to determine which settings work best for your needs.  You don’t have to print your entire file on scrap – just a line or a box should be sufficient.  Do NOT increase the power or decrease the speed before you have tested your settings on the material.
    Power sets the laser strength, speed changes how fast the laser head moves across the material, and PPI is Pulses Per Inch - the higher the PPI number, the finer the line – this becomes important with acrylics.  There is a relationship between all of these.  Decreasing the power and increasing the speed is the best way to etch material. Increasing the power will help cut through material, but so will increasing the PPI or decreasing the speed.
    Rule of thumb: Run tests first using the materials database as a baseline, then use the lowest power and highest speed to accomplish your goals – you are less likely to damage a lens this way.  
  27. When you are done, click Apply, then OK to close this window, and click OK to close the Plotter Configuration Editor Window.
  28. Make sure Fit to Paper is not checked if scale is important for your project. Preview if you'd like, otherwise click OK.
  29. Now you’ll need to release your print job from the queue.  In the lower left corner of the desktop you will see a little red square icon which will say ULS or Universal Laser Systems Control Panel if you hover over it.  Double-click this.  This will display a representation of the laser cutting bed with measurements, and you can check to see whether your lines will fit on the material.  You can turn the VersaLASER on and off from this console by clicking the power button (not pictured) next to the large “Play/Print” button.
  30. If everything fits, your material is sitting in the laser bed, and you hear the very loud exhaust fan running by the window, press the Print button and keep an eye on your material.  If you see small flames, press pause or open the lid slightly – your power is set too high or your speed is too slow for your material.
    NEVER leave your laser unattended.

  31. If you have to adjust your power/speed/PPI settings, you can do it right from this console. Just click the settings button in the lower right, make your changes, click Set, Apply, OK, then resend it by clicking the Play/Print button.
  32. After your job has finished, let it sit 20 seconds or so as the fan sucks the smoke out.
  33. Check the lens regularly if you cut a lot of lines or have seen a lot of smoke. Smoke is bad for the lens, as it can settle and stick to the lens which will cause it to break. If you see cloudyness, black deposits, or anything other than a perfectly transparent lens and mirror, use the lens cleaner and qtips to remove it. Polish it a bit to remove streaks.
    DO NOT PRESS HARD ON THE LENS. If a borrowed lens breaks or is otherwise made unusable, a replacement is close to $300.
  34. Don’t forget to log out when you are finished.
    Remove all scraps and clean your area, recycling if possible - any material left lying around is subject to disposal, even if you put your name on it – this is not your studio.

Materials

YES: Basswood, balsa, cardboard, chipboard, leather.  Plexiglas or acrylic is OK but does smell bad.  Paper will burn very easily, so it is not recommended unless you use very low power settings and fast speed.  You MUST run quick tests with simple lines when using paper to determine the proper settings.

NO:  Foamcore, Lexan, PVC, treated plywood, MDF or anything that can produce toxic fumes when burned .
Glass, mirrors, metal, coins, foil, some metallic paints, or anything that can reflect the laser.

Tips & Tricks

  • If no lines show up in the print preview, it is likely that they are on the wrong layers or have the wrong colors assigned to them.
  • If the print head moves as if it is printing but there is no laser, check the lens for smoke deposits.  If it is clean or you just inserted it, check the top lid or the front drop down door.  You may need to open and close them to reset the safety interlock switch which turns off the laser.
  • If a flame up occurs, press Pause or open the lid slightly to kill the laser. In case of fire or excessive smoke, turn off the power instead of lifting the lid. You may need to adjust your settings to stop it from recurring.
  • The laser will cut each line as it sees it, even if you don’t.  Use OVERKILL in AutoCAD to get rid of redundant lines.
  • The laser has a “blade” width which you will have to consider when designing your file.
  • Do not cut any element smaller than about 1/32” or it will burn or deform.  Example: window mullions
  • Acrylic will melt when cut with the laser cutter and sometimes sticks to the bed depending on your design. To prevent your project sticking to the honeycomb bed, you can place pennies under the material to hold it off the bed.  Place pennies where there will not be any cutting, and ensure the material sits flat and does not bend.  Make sure you include the penny thickness when focusing the laser but don’t set it to cut through that extra thickness!
  • Do not expect to use all of your material – the laser cutter has margins like other printers.  When creating your drawing, allow about a 3/32” to 1/4” margin or offset (vs. the overall laser bed size) to make sure all of your drawing is completely cut.
  • On the other hand, don’t waste material either.  Group your objects closely together or use smaller sheets so that part of the material can be reused at a future date.
  • When plotting, do NOT use “Fit to paper” if accurate scale is important.
  • Change objects that have thickness to reduce cutting time.  Examples: solid hatching, lines with thick line weights or text.
  • Text can be converted to polylines using the txtexp command or clicking Express, Text, Explode Text.  However, once this is done, the text cannot be edited like normal text.
  • Use the Preview function – if you don’t see it in the preview, neither will the printer.
  • Thin materials like chipboard or any material that does not lay flat may require taping to the honeycomb bed to remove bends which will affect the laser’s focus.  Light materials like paper or vellum must be taped down due to the machine’s vibrations.
  • The time it takes to cut/score your material will depend on how complex your model is, and especially how many lines there are.
  • Let your material sit in the laser cutter for 20 seconds or so after it finishes before you open the lid – there are still fumes.
  • Beware of linetypes applied at a small scale not visible on screen at normal zoom – they will slow your job way down.
  • If you see excess smoke, your material may be out of focus, or your settings need tweaking.
  • Corrugated cardboard can become very sharp when cut with the laser cutter.  BE CAREFUL.

Most importantly, keep an eye on the smoke levels and check the lens often for cloudiness or particles.  Clean it when necessary.

If there are problems with the equipment, tell an assistant.  They are not psychic and won’t know there’s a problem unless you tell them.
No overnight use allowed – be mindful of their hours, which vary.