Monday, June 25, 2018

Lasering In a Material World: Leather

Leather Strips

This is part of series of blogs I will be posting on materials suitable for laser cutting and engraving. This time we look at leather.


Tanning is a process in which animal hides are transformed into leather, which is tough and resistant to the elements and great for clothing. Cutting, rastering and marking quality leather works very well with a laser cutter.

Leather PropertiesTribal Skull Project 1-1

Origins: Leather is derived from the hide of animals, particularly cattle, though other animal hides can be used including deer, sheep, pigs and even some reptiles.

High Tensile Strength: leather is difficult to tear or puncture.

Elastic & Plastic Qualities: Leather can stretch and then retain its new shape.

Resistant: Due to the tanning and surface finishing processes, leather is easy to clean and both water and fire resistant (although it can flame under a laser).

Grain: Leather has a natural grain and surface that can be purchased for different appearances and effects. Typical grains include full grain, top grain, corrected grain and split (a process that produces suede).

Finishes: Leather can also be finished or unprocessed. Finishes include aniline, semi-aniline and pigmented leather.

Leather Types Good For LasersleatherCommon Laser Cut Leathers

Cowhide: Widely used for clothing, furniture and leather goods. Durable, easy to care for and widely available in different colors and thickness.

Lambskin: Soft and velvety, lightweight.

Pigskin: Lightweight and silky, with distinctive natural patterns.

Deerskin: Rare, unless you are a hunter.

Chamois (“Shammy”): Made from sheepskin, this material is thin, soft and cloth-like.  

Suede (includes Napped): Processed to create a thin, soft fibrous surface, popular with jackets and other clothing. Includes buffed top grain leathers, such as Nubuck.


Leather not recommended for laser cutting

Synthetic Leather (vinyl): Some synthetic leathers contain PVC and are banned.


Leather Applications

Wallets: Cut your pattern and engrave unique designs to create unlimited styles.

Scrapbook Covers: Add a durable cover with a personal engraving.

Bracelets: Create original designs that can be easily replicated and produced.  

Costumes: Rule the cosplay scene or create the perfect Halloween costume.

Armor Replicas: Create leather bracers, archery gear, movie props and more.

Purses: Customize the design and add engraving for a one-of-a-kind style.

Belts: Belts cut and engrave nicely for a complete line of styles and patterns.

Shoes: Like belts and purses, shoes offer laser users new and endless design and personalization options.  

Arts and Crafts: Kids love to craft their own fashion accessories and personalized gifts for friends.

Leather Gear Enhancements: There are thousands of leather products (jackets, shoes, handbags, etc.) that can be customized, personalized and awesomized with rastering.


Leather Considerations

Low Contrast: Leather’s natural qualities don’t create great contrast.

Fibrous: Leather can be very fibrous, which can cause difficulty when attempting a clean cut on thin material. For leather, thicker, high-quality material is suggested for its denser fiber construction.

Material Thickness: For leather, thicker, high-quality material is suggested for its denser fiber construction.

Watch for Flames: Leather also can create flames, so monitor your leather cutting closely.

Temporary Odor: Since most leather comes from animal hides, they will produce an unpleasant, but harmless, odor. This smell will disappear.


General Approach

Thick, good quality leather will work best for both cutting and engraving. If the leather as a fibrous side and a buffed side, place into the laser cutter with the buffed side up.

Cutting Leather

Thick, dense leather cuts very well. Thinner material, particularly suede or leather with exposed top fibers tends to catch fire under a laser. Watch your settings and monitor your cutting at all times.

Engraving Leather

Like with fabric, rastering leather can weaken the material. This is especially true for leathers with pigmented leather. Deep engravings on thick leather work best. Also note that photo engraving is not going to show any contrast. For example, rastering an eagle on a motorcycle jacket will mark as the same color and be nearly invisible.

Marking Leather

Same considerations as rastering. One suggestion is to do a very light mark, which will not hurt the material but will eventually rub off.

Leather Finishing Tips

Preserving: Leather will lose its natural moisture over time and exposure to the elements.There are many commercial oils that are made to preserve leather and retain its sheen and durability.  

Stain Protection: Suede tends to stain, but there are clear coat sprays you can purchase to add a layer of stain resistance.

Laser SettingsMaterial_BANNER

Your power, speed and other laser settings are going to vary depending on what kind of stone your are marking. 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. You can download our Material Test and log book at our Laser 101 website.



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