Material Utilization Tips For Laser Cutting

Posted by Jaclyn Baldwin on

Material Utilization Tips For Laser Cutting

It's what we all love to hate.


Every maker, DIY’er and Makerspace faces the same dilemma when it comes to scrap.

  • How do I minimize scrap over the course of a project?
  • What do I do with the inevitable scrap at the end?

It all begins with planning. Know your dimensions and quantities. Whether you use pen and paper, AutoCad, CorelDraw, or any number of other programs, map out everything you need before that first cut.

MakerStock Laser Cutting Do’s:

  • Nest objects within cut outs. Use an otherwise “scrap” piece for smaller parts.
  • With repeating patterns, share the vector (cut) lines. If you’re cutting square objects, each edge can share the same cut line as the next object.
  • Rotate objects to find the best fit. Think Tetris.
  • Select the smallest size sheet that will complete the job. Visit the scrap bin or shelf!

Use straight lines to your advantage. The more the laser has to travel, the more wear it induces. If you can cut two objects with one pass, you speed up job completion time as well.

Tessellate, or nest, your patterns if possible. This method of using patterned shapes that has no gaps will increase overall material utilization with less waste.

MakerStock Laser Cutting Don’ts:

  • Cut one piece from the center of the material.
  • Scrap large sheets of material with plenty of life left in them.
  • Select a size larger than necessary to complete the project.

Where possible, avoid space between objects. If objects do not share a vector line, know your laser tolerance for the optimal spacing of cuts on your material.

Don’t be afraid to rotate your images or change the orientation of your designs. Sometimes linear and repeating is not the optimal use of material if it creates too much white space.

Final Thoughts

As you begin new projects, you will inevitably need to use new sheets of material. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Use recyclable, inexpensive materials for testing. Think chipboard or corrugated sheets. Most schools, libraries and makers have access to corrugated recycling as a matter of course.
  • Scale down your model wherever possible to use scrap pieces already at your disposal.
  • Map out how many test pieces you may need to run, and as you set up your laser, move from right to left on your sheet, cutting on the unused portions of the material.

We know our savvy makers and students have their own tips and tricks and we want to hear from you!

  • What do you do with your scrap?
  • How do you reduce waste in your workship?
  • What have you created working just from offcut materials?
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  • Use laser masking paper to cover your material and high speed/low power the first time you run something to test layout. Use just enough power to mark the masking, but not go through. You’ll catch a myriad of misspellings, overlaps, missing lines, all kinds of things that waste precious stock.

    Tim Riley on

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