Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lasering In a Material World: Cardboard

Cardboard Stacked Vase Laser 101 Header-1

This is part of series of blogs I will be posting on materials suitable for laser cutting and engraving. This time we look at how cardboard stacks-up to your laser designs. 


Cardboard is a broad term used to describe extra heavy paper, which is often layered, or corrugated, for extra strength and durability. It is most often used as packaging for transporting products. It is also a cheap, easy to find, material we can utilize to great effect with a laser cutter.

Cardboard PropertiesCardboard

Origins: Cardboard can be made of paper, recycled paper, paper pulp or even straw.

Corrugated & Non-Corrugated: Cardboard can be a single sheet, or stacked sheets, of flat material (non-corrugated) or it can contain “s-curve flutes” (corrugated) designed to reduce weight and add strength. Corrugation can be doubled or tripled for extra durability.

S-Curve Flutes: A flute is the curved cardboard layer, between two flat layers, seen when looking at corrugated cardboard from the side. Flutes can be of different sizes and designs for various effects. Smaller flutes make the cardboard lighter but less durable, while larger flutes add weight, strength and thickness.

Cardboard TypesCardboard Stacked Vase Laser 101 halfway

Paperboard: Basically, really thick paper, that cuts easily and remains light and strong.

Solid Boxboard (Solid bleached board): Medium density with a white coated surface that is odorless with a hygienic look.

Corrugated Fiberboard: Typical cardboard box with s-curve flutes. Comes in various thickness and strength.

Carton board: Thin cardboard that is often printed on for packaging common items such as toys or cereal boxes. Carton board is semi water resistant and cuts well.

Cardboard not recommended for laser cutting

Laminated Cardboard: Plastic laminations can be of an unknown chemical composition and should be avoided.

Cardboard Applications

3D Stacking Sculptures: Create spectacular 3D sculptures with design software like Autodesk 123D Maker.

Cosplay and Costumes: Build larger than life costumes with inexpensive cardboard boxes that transform into complex giant robots or vehicles.

Art Projects: Experiment with cardboard art projects before advancing to wood and acrylic.

3D Topography Maps: Implement fantastic 3D wall maps or 3D tactical grid maps for tabletop gaming.  

Lamps & Table Decorations: Discover slotting techniques to build unique lighting and office decor.

Stencils: Design and cut perfect stencils and save a giant library of styles.

Toys: From cardboard houses for paper dolls to geometric blocks for toddlers, cardboard toys are cheap, easy to make and fun for all.

VR Goggles: Build your own custom VR goggles using your cell phone and some cardboard.

Model Train Scenery and Dioramas: Enhance the scenery and create 3D terrain and environments.

Cardboard Considerations


Flutes: Corrugated flutes present an issue for rastering cardboard, as they can be exposed unevenly and look bad.

Highly Flammable: Corrugated cardboard is especially prone to catching fire, as the structure creates air pockets that allows oxygen to penetrate the material.


General Approach

Closely monitoring your job is crucial to quickly eliminate any flames from becoming fires. Be fire conscious and prepared when lasering cardboard. General settings for paper will start with low power and high speed.

Cutting Cardboard

Running two lower power passes on corrugated cardboard is best for output, This way the first pass penetrates the top layer as the second pass goes through the corrugation and bottom layer. This is a precautionary measure as setting one pass with a high power setting to go through the whole piece all at once might flame up.

Engraving Cardboard

Rastering doesn’t work well with corrugated cardboard, unless you like the look of exposed flutes. Non-corrugated cardboard can be rastered normally, but also with limited results

Marking Cardboard

Cardboard marks very well, with Low Power, High Speed settings.

Finishing Tips

3D Stacking: Cardboard is light and tends to shift when constructing 3D objects. Doles can be added in the design stage to help stabilize the assembly process.