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Need clarity on the safety issues with lasers.

WllmRiver

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Hello, everyone.

I do some artwork with paper sculpture and paper cutting and since there are some things I can't do easily with a dremmel power tool, scalpels, and exacto knives I'm thinking of adding a laser to my box of tools. It would have to be strong enough to burn through stock paper and perhaps some thin metals too. I can't seem to find a consensus online on what mW would be required to do this.

I'm also concerned with safety. Is it feasible to even use a laser for up to fifteen minutes to a half hour at a time? Even with protective goggles? In a lit room? I would have to keep my eyes on where the laser beam meets the subject (paper or metal) to aim it where I need to burn. Can I even watch the laser point this way safely, or would doing that for stretches at a time damage my retinas? Would it be possible to aim the laser point onto the subject at a weaker strength and then turn up the power to burn through the subject in short controlled bursts? I haven't seen that feature described for any laser I've seen online.

In addition to protecting my vision, is there a risk from UV radiation to the skin (ie: skin cancer) through prolonged use of a laser this way?

I'm not an engineer or a laser hobbiest, and I'm on the fence about using a laser for a tool. I just want to be cautious. I appreciate any advice out there. Thank you.
 

Tmack

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Fr a laser to be able to perform these tasks safety would go out the window. For thin metals your talking about a 40w c02 laser or something close ( for the sticklers)

I think another tool would serve you much better than a laser. Maybe a torch.

White paper also poses a problem. Because of whites reflective properties , light is not ideal for cutting it.

And the length of time you need to run it is yet another problem. Unless your using a lab unit, which doesn't allow for the maneuverability needed for artwork.

Usually if its not a common tool of your trade, there is usually good reason.

Good luck though. Sounds like interesting stuff. I'm a fan of different styles of art and exploring different techniques.
 
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Tmack basically said it all.
Lasers aren't exactly the most efficient thing out there, and neither will they provide you with the most cutting power for price. Actually, the thing that'd fit that description best is a pair of scissors.

Laser engraving and laser cutting tools are sold, but those will of course cost you. I doubt you'd be able to build one of your own, unless you're willing enough to spend on it, tho if that were true straight out buying one would be the best option.
 

WllmRiver

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I've seen the expensive engraving laser units - big bulky units that look like printers. So then it isn't feasible to use a laser (say for example a 100 mW to 500mW green laser) like you would use a pen or a brush at all?

And about the safety issues: Am I right about thinking that using a laser like I described before would be destructive or at least risky to the retina's, even with goggles?
 
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So, clearly, thin metals and white paper are out. What about the OP's question with regards to darker papers and safety?

My m140 with 3 element burns into cardboard very fast from a few feet away. It seems with practice, I could cut certainly cut paper with accuracy. I'm pretty sure it would leave burn marks. I know it's not efficient, but the OP isn't asking about efficiency.
 
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ChaosLord

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As for the safety part, as long as you have a good pair of laser safety glasses, and you are careful when handling, your eyes would be fine. When it comes to lasers and eyes, any permanent damage is done in nanoseconds. Looking at the dot w/goggles for several min is not any different than just a few seconds.

No, you don't have to worry about cancer or UV exposure, unless you are using a UV laser. Any light source in the visible range, laser or not, is non ionizing. Only ionizing radiation poses exposure risk.

As others have stated, metal is out. As for paper, cardboard, and some plastics, many lasers may work. White paper would require 1W or more due to reflection. Off white would require less, however if the papers color is close to the WL of the laser, you'll have the same problem as white.

If you want to try this, I wouldn't recommend green. Something like my single mode blue at 235mW, or a 405nm at 200-400mW would easily burn through paper.

You still would either have to get a custom build to run it longer than 1 min safely, or cut very slowly giving the laser time to cool.
 

WllmRiver

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Thank you, everyone. This has been helpful. I'll look into acquiring a blue laser like Chaos Lord suggested for starters and go from there. I just wanted to be sure it would have the strength to burn through the paper easily. If I have to work in 1 minutes increments and allow the laser to cool, that's all right. Now I know it's possible to experiment with some new techniques safely.

Again, thank you.
 

WizardG

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I saw a utube video of a very nice setup to do what Wllm is talking about (for paper, not metal). It was a 445 build in a airbrush form factor with a low power mode for aiming. Here's the link: Homemade LASER PEN cutting, engraving, burning ... - YouTube When the button on top of the 'brush' was pressed it engaged the 445 laser at full power and it seemed from the video to work just fine on white paper. For really fine detailed work (laser scrimshaw?) I think I'd go with a higher power 405 diode in this type of build.
 
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Tmack

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The 405 would definitely give you a smaller point of focus since its a single mode diode. I'm very curios to see some of your work!! Any pictures to share?

I create laser art everyday almost, if you consider writing Japanese characters with a 3w 445 art haha :D. With the scorched edge they turn out very neat looking. But this is with cardboard, not white paper. Even the reflections off the white paper make it hard to see the pattern your trying to burn.

I thought your artwork strictly included metal in its design, which is why I tried to lead you in another direction. Although I still believe the desired effect could be achieved in an easier manner. ( maybe not as fun though ) :)

When you decide on a laser setup to go with and creat something, please share it with the forum. I'm sure the guys would love to see some laser art.
 
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I'm a noobie, so let one of of the seasoned guys verify this. One other eye damage risk you need to look out for is the material you cut fluorescing brightly at a frequency different than your laser safety glasses are designed to protect against.

If you end up finding yourself wanting to do extended cutting, I imagine you could use remote liquid cooling. You would need a heat sink with cooling passages for liquid, couple thin flexible tubes, a water pump, and a small tank to hold a cooled liquid.
 

Tmack

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Like I was saying above a lab unit that is tec cooled would be able to run for long periods, but that would sacrifice maneuverability with all that bulk.

Ton run the amount of time needed to make the precision cuts for artwork is a tough task for a handheld, but the op said that a rest time is not problem.
I have handhelds with over 5 min duty cycles. Granted they are quite large, but still better than trying to be dexterous with a lab laser . I also built a 1.5w pen the size of a sharpie. That would make short work of any paper, and has a side momentary switch allowing you to hold it like a pencil,but it has a 30second duty cycle. But 30sec on 30sec off, would actually be pretty realistic for artwork. 30sec to make the cut, and 30sec or more to plan the next cut or rearrange the piece to get in position for the next cut.

The host is going to play a huge factor with this laser for duty cycle, battery life. And if your sitting at a table , you could also power the handheld from a constant power supply instead of batteries. So many variations, just depends on the exact length of time you need to make each cut. Do you perform this work in one area, or always have access to power, if your going to use constant power instead of batteries. We would really need more info to better help you.
( I still think there's a better tool though).How about a micro torch????? however, if a laser is what your set on, I'm all for helping :)
 
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