Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lasering In a Material World: Paper

Paper Head Project 1-1

This is part of series of blogs I will be posting on materials suitable for laser cutting and engraving. This time we look at the most delicate material: Paper


The most delicate material you will probably ever attempt to apply a laser to is paper. Surprisingly, even though paper is extremely thin and is very flammable, it works remarkably well with a laser cutter, with the right settings. The best thing about paper is that it is readily available, inexpensive and comes in different colors, smoothness and thickness.

Paper Propertiespaper-571937

Origins: Paper, typically, comes from wood, wood pulp or recycled paper. Bleach is often used to make it white.

Uncoated/Coated: Uncoated paper has no pigment coatings applied and is less smooth and more absorbent than coated paper. Often you can feel a woven texture on uncoated paper. Coated paper has a pigment coating on the surface of the paper to enhance certain properties, such as color, smoothness or image/text sharpness.

Paper Weight: Commercial paper comes with a weight designation (the weight of 500 sheets) that is an indication of its thickness. CO2 lasers can easily handle light, medium and heavy weight paper.

Paper Types Good For LasersLaser cut paper invitation

Copy Paper: A medium weight paper, typically white in color. This is common writing paper often used in printers. It is cheap to purchase and readily available. Great for practicing designs.

Art paper: Thicker and more expensive than copy paper, it can be less smooth than copy paper. It is typically thick enough to see the “grain” of the paper when torn.

Construction Paper: Typical crafts paper for school projects, this paper is less stiff than cardstock and comes in many bright colors. It is typically thick enough to see the “grain” of the paper when torn.

Cardstock: Sitting between paper and cardboard, cardstock is generally stiffer than copy paper. This makes it good for laser cutting greeting cards and for constructing paper 3D objects. Cardstock examples include business cards, postcards and scrapbook paper.

Paper not recommended for laser cutting

Tissue Paper: Typically very thin, tissue paper can be difficult to work with, with a laser cutter as it is easily flames.

Paper Applications

Paper Considerations

Delicate & Highly Flammable: Paper is very thin, which makes it easy to cut, but also easy to burn. Always monitor your laser while it is on.

Inexpensive Options: Most paper tends to be cheap enough we can take the time to hone our laser settings with trial and error.  

Shifting: Paper is very light and can shift in the workbed due to the exhaust fan or the air assist (the laser itself won’t shift paper). To prevent shifting, hold the paper down with small weights or tape.



General Approach

Paper is very delicate, so have lots of extra material for testing and refining your settings. Also, be fire aware and prepared. Hone your settings and dial in your vector current.

Cutting Paper

A CO2 laser affects paper by rapidly evaporating the material into visible smoke. With Air Assist, the smoke is transported away from the material, minimizing potential for burning or burnt edges. Ideally, our results will have clean edges with little discoloration.

Pro Tip! Some edge burn is unavoidable but can be reduced by lowering Current.

Engraving Paper

Paper can be engraved, but results vary. Thicker paper, such as construction paper or cardstock works best, as we are trying to achieve contrast through engraving depth.

Marking Paper

Marking paper should leave very little depth on the paper, and results in a contrasting shade that is light or dark, depending on the paper used.

Vector marking is great for creating stencils on top of projects. By adding a layer of masking tape you can use the vector marks to cut through just the surface of the tape creating a stencil on top of your design. Simply remove the tape where you want to paint This makes painting any project very quick and precise.

Paper Finishing Tips

Preserving: Paper is very delicate after being lasered, which looks awesome but tears easily. Art pieces can be set in picture frames, or set between glass or acrylic.

Lighting: Add back-lighting to really make an impression.

Laser Settings


Your power, speed and other laser settings are going to vary depending on things such as the thickness and density of the paper you are cutting. Even the wattage of your laser and the local environment can affect settings. Because of this, instead of giving arbitrary settings, we recommend doing a materials test on a piece of scrap paper. You can download our Material Test and log book at our Laser 101 website.


If you enjoyed this blog, be sure explore our other laser related offerings such as ebooks, video tutorials and our weekly live shows, all free to Full Spectrum Laser owners and operators.