How to Turn My 3d Printer into a Laser Cutter
Although the initial demand for 3D printers started out high in the industrial world, with companies making use of them for the creation of prototypes, these printers have since been modified and purchased by individuals for their personal use.
Being the owner of a 3D printer not only allows you to explore your creativity in design with limitless bounds and in diverse manners but there are also other possibilities you’re most likely to have access to, one of which is the cost-effectiveness of conversion.
Do you know your 3D printer can be turned into a laser cutter? As impractical as it might seem, this is indeed one of the many possibilities your 3D printer is capable of. With little trouble and no experience needed, you can easily turn your 3D printer into a laser cutter as the motion system of these printers far exceeds the requirements for laser cutting.
Since 3D printing often goes hand in hand with laser cutting, it is only clever that you find a way for the former to also serve the latter’s purpose which is the very purpose of this article.
What Is a Laser Cutter and Why Do You Need It?
As a creative designer working with several complex prototypes, there are times when you come across materials that need to be shaped in a certain way or form, and sometimes you might even wish to etch designs or logos on said materials, but your conventional drills just won’t cut it (pun intended).
This is where laser cutters come in; not only can they be used for the creation of cheap, quick prototypes, they also help bring your digital designs into the physical world. By projecting an extremely concentrated beam through a lens and towards the material you’re working with, laser cutters effectively cut down the material and help perfect your design.
Just like any other digital fabrication technology, laser cutters come in different types and power ranges which determines the type of material and thickness it can cut through and its outcome. However, materials such as wood, acrylic, cardboard, paper, leather, etc, are primarily cut by common laser cutters.
What Is a 3D Printer?
3D printers are used in the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file and you can easily produce complex shapes with lesser materials unlike the traditional methods of manufacturing objects.
Industries all over the world have since adopted the method of 3D printing as it makes the manufacturing process easier and more cost-effective. Some of the diverse products that 3D printing has been applied by industries in the manufacturing aspect of their field include consumer products (footwear, furniture, design, etc), dental products, movie props, industrial products (manufacturing tools, prototypes, functional end-use parts, etc), prosthetics, and so on.
Industries ranging from manufacturing, aviation, and automotive make use of the 3D printer to create prototypes or even spare parts because it is a cheaper way to go and they don’t have to purchase expensive tools for building these materials.
What Is the Difference Between a 3D printer and a Laser Cutter?
Although both are digital fabrication machines, materials created by a 3D printer are done from scratch and can be irregular while laser cutters can effectively smoothen out materials to your desired outcomes and cut out patterns and designs on your materials.
A laser cutter not only increases the production power of your machine but also helps expand your work field as a 3D printer user since they complement well with the printer and can even be built with its structure.
Types of Laser Technology
The two main types of laser technologies for the use of desktop fabrication are CO2 and diode, with each of them carrying a different power range and limited to certain kinds of materials.
- CO2: These kinds of lasers are mostly used in industries because of how powerful they are and capable enough in cutting certain materials including some metals. However, the CO2 laser machines are large and make use of delicate and expensive hardware such as CO2 tubes, mirrors, and lenses.
- Diode: Compared to the CO2 lasers, the diode lasers do not have as much power and are limited to cutting thin sheets of balsa and plywood. They are also more suitable for engraving or etching designs on materials. The machines are lightweight and the hardware is relatively cheap since they are mostly composed of a single small module.
How to Turn Your 3D Printer to a Laser Cutter
The following steps to turning your 3D printer into a laser cutter are easy and economical in the pursuit of creating even better designs. It is an especially clever choice since the laser machine can always be converted back to a 3D printer or can even serve as a dual-purpose machine if you keep all the 3D printer parts attached.
Depending on the kit you purchase for your setup, the process of conversion might vary a bit from others but each laser cutters built from 3D printers basically follow similar steps in the end, and below are these steps:
- STEP 1
The first thing to do if you intend to create a laser cutter from your 3D printer is to purchase a laser module that meets all your requirements in terms of functionality and laser power. Since the demand for diode laser modules has increased in the market, you are likely to get one easily.
Alongside features like an adjustable focal length, and air assist, that the laser module comes with, manufacturers also provide a list of materials that the laser can engrave or cut and this is something you should ask for so as to buy the laser module best suitable to your needs.
The air assist feature in a laser module is especially an added advantage as it performs the task of blowing away loose particles and smoke generated from laser engraving and cutting at an impressive speed. This will help prevent discoloration around the engraved areas, producing a cleaner outcome, and also increase your laser power with the absence of smoke obstructing your laser’s path.
- STEP 2
The second step in this process is the wiring of your laser module to your 3D printer and while some can be wired directly into the 3D printer’s control board, others need a 12 V power input for a smooth setup.
As for laser modules that can be attached directly, there is a requirement of a variable-power output by the part-cooling fan on a 3D printer for the controlling of its speed. This is the port that can power and control the laser and without it, your setup will be flawed.
Lasers that require a 12 V power input however are set up through a separate driver board which can both be powered from the 3D printer’s PSU unit or an external power supply and then connecting the printer via the fan port.
- STEP 3
The final step is the installation and mounting of your laser module which will lead to major hardware changes on your 3D printer. Before the attachment is properly done, be sure to find adaptations that will fit in well with your laser module and 3D printer.
Once this has been successfully carried out, you can now start to cut and engrave your materials. You can also always convert the laser machine back to your 3D printer.
During this process, be sure to have handy your protective gloves and safety goggles specific to the laser’s wavelength so as to be protected from the dangers associated with working on a laser.
Things to Consider Before Turning Your 3D Printer into a Laser Cutter
- Type of Laser: It is very important to consider the type of laser machine you are aiming for, this is because lasers like C02 can be really difficult to create from 3D printers as they have a more complicated mirror system and delicate tubes.
- Type of Material: Since it is advisable to stick to creating a diode laser from your 3D printer, you should also consider the type of material you intend to work with before making the change, as diode lasers can only cut materials like paper, cardboard, and 3 to 5 mm thick balsa and plywood.
- Risks/Hazards: When working with lasers, there are always hazards to be cautious of as combustion products harmful to your health are released during laser operations. Safety measures should be engaged at all times when working with lasers.
In conclusion, broadening your design capacity by taking the cost-effective way of turning your 3D printer into a laser cutter is a process that requires careful consideration and detailed attention.
A lot of thought must be put into it before making your final decision of converting your printer, and also purchasing the right kit for the setup of your laser cutter. You can also always refer to the laser manufacturer’s documentation for better instructions on the proper wiring required.
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