A laser die cutting machine uses light instead of hard tooling and hard steel blades. As a result, your materials are going to react differently, and the by-product from the runs (smoke, particulates) require different installation requirements and ventilation.
We’ve already touched on what you should consider when choosing a laser die cutting vs. a rotary die cutting machine. Now let’s detail seven important items that are required in terms of safety, maintenance and ongoing operation with a laser die cutting machine.
1. Climate Control
A climate-controlled environment with low humidity is best for optimum laser stability. Lasers like to stay in an ambient temperature, because unlike metal tooling, the laser has some high-tech components inside the laser cavity that are more sensitivity to heat.
For example, we installed a laser in a small, enclosed room (30’x30’) with the chiller for the laser also inside the room. Within an hour the room warmed up to 95 degrees, and the laser sporadically shut down. (We subsequently moved the chiller outside the room, which solved the problem.)
We installed a similar system in a much more open facility where the ambient temperature can reach over 100 degrees during the summer, and the system is performing without failures.
Laser operation can become intermittent in temperatures above 100 degrees and catastrophic when the cooling fluid temperature is at or below the dew point of the air. The environment of the room should determine where the equipment will go (we’ll touch on that next), and what types of ventilation or humidity controls will be required for proper functionality.
2. Space/Utility Requirements
Laser machines typically utilize an external air-water chiller, which will have to be placed near the machine. The chiller unit will throw heat into the surrounding area, so you’ll need to consider exhausting hot air out of the building; hard-piping the plumbing for the unit; proper-sized water lines; and appropriate clearance around the chiller for functionality stability.
For slug collection, a laser machine may also require a slug collection drum. You’ll need ducting from the machine to the drum; from the drum to the blower; and from the blower to the outside. If the exhaust run to the outside is quite long, an additional assist blower may be needed.
3. Height Requirements?
The height of a typical die cutting laser machine is approximately 10 feet. Ample height is not only required for installation, but also for ongoing service and maintenance
Lasers do not last forever. To ensure they have a long service life, yearly preventative maintenance is required. This requires ample space to access the laser components. The optimal height is about 4 feet above the top of the machine, otherwise it’s extremely difficult for a technician to maneuver and use equipment on the machine.
4. Preventative Maintenance
We touched on the need for an annual preventative maintenance (PM) program. An effective PM should include, at the minimum:
- Fluid changeover and filter replacement
- Pneumatic filter replacement
- Optic train inspection
- Cleaning, and alignment
- Laser health inspection
Your OEM will typically conduct the maintenance. If you’re bidding on a machine, be sure to learn about each vendor’s respective maintenance program.
5. Laser Safety Officer
Lasers follow a classification system to indicate the level of potential hazard. Class 1 levels of radiation are not considered hazardous.
Many laser converting machines use a Class 4 laser that is guarded and interlocked to achieve Class 1 rating. They are self-contained, and no personal protective equipment is required. Operators don’t need safety glasses or special clothing.
OSHA doesn’t require a safety officer for systems with a Class 1 system, but to be on the safe side, designate one team member to understand the risks and educate the rest of the employees on the risks of laser operation. For example, if a safety officer were to spot a panel that wasn’t closed properly, they can report it to the OEM for maintenance.
6. Proficiency in CAD
Lasers rely on a CAD-based interface for the generation and manipulation of the artwork. You’ll need someone proficient in CAD to create the drawing, and then you can program it into the software for the laser die cutting machine. (Your OEM can help if you need assistance.)
7. Process Development
Laser die cutting is a completely different animal than conventional die cutting. For example, metal tooling works well with poly substrates, which means you can use materials with greater thickness. But with lasers, you are burning materials and the heat isn’t expelled.
More rigid materials are required so the web isn’t distorted. It requires a mind shift and materials change: Lasers like paper instead of polys, so you’ll need to revise your specs and your approach.
We’ll be detailing tips on how to use your laser die cutting machine for faster cutting, ideal cut widths, ideal materials and other best practices in an upcoming post. Be sure to subscribe to our blog in the box in the right-hand column to receive the post.
The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”
While Wright was referring to the permanence of buildings, the same can be said for an industrial laser die cutting machine within your facility. Only proper planning and consideration of the differences between laser and conventional die cutting machines will ensure effective long-term performance.
best die cutting machines
If you need a die cutting machine for scrapbooking, engraving, papercrafting, lettering, or stenciling, there are many different machines that may suit your needs.
Some die cutting machines are ready-to-use out of the box, so you can get right to crafting. Others are digital machines that may require some learning and experimenting but can yield great designs.
It’s important to know what you will use your die cutting machine for, and how you intend to use it. Not all machines are compatible with the same dies, and not all machines are capable of things like piercing or engraving.
At Best Reviews, we strive to provide comprehensive information so you can make informed purchases. This guide will help you find the best die cutting machine, no matter what your hobbies are.
What can die cutting machines do?
For hobby crafts, a die cutting machine is a valuable and versatile tool with many different uses. Some of these include:
Engraving glass or wood surfaces
Cutting through fabric
Making shapes out of icing sheets
Drawing and lettering with a pen instead of a blade
Not all die cutting machines offer the same capabilities. Make sure you know what you plan to use your machine for to make the best decision when purchasing a die cutting machine.
Traditional or digital?
The two primary types of die cutting machines are manual/electronic and digital. While digital machines are generally smaller and more versatile, they are also more expensive, and they may be more difficult to use out of the box.
Traditional manual die cutting machines use dies – metal blades in various shapes – and are usually hand-powered with a lever. These tend to be easy to use, right after unpacking. If you have dies in desired designs and a material of your choice, all you need to do is select your die and material, place them between the cutting plates, insert them into the machine, and turn the lever.
The “sandwich” is the combination of the platform of the machine, your chosen material and die, and the cutting mat that keeps the material and die from sliding around as they pass through the rollers.
Electronic die cutting machines automatically run your dies and materials through the machine, so you don’t need to turn a lever.
Manual and electronic models are a good option for those just getting started, and they don’t require an internet or computer connection. For cutting fabric, traditional die cutting machines tend to perform better than digital machines.
Digital die cutting machines cut materials without dies. Instead, a moving blade cuts a limitless number of shapes and designs. These designs (often called “templates”) can be input through either a computer program or with a compatible cartridge.
Cartridge-based machines can be a good option for beginners since the cartridge system is straightforward–simply plug in the cartridge and select the design you would like to cut. Each cartridge can hold several designs or fonts. In some respects, the cartridge system is similar to the classic die system.
Software-based machines require a computer program to select designs. Designs can either be downloaded or created through the program. This option gives you the most flexibility, particularly if you are comfortable making your own designs through a program. With software-based machines comes a more challenging learning curve, however.
Some machines have a hybrid design that can cut using cartridges or software. Digital die cutting machines can cut more intricate designs and may be capable of engraving, drawing, or cutting along certain colors.
Features to consider
Though die cutting machines can accomplish a wide variety of crafting tasks, not all of them offer the same functions. Understanding the features and styles of die cutting machines will help you make the most informed purchase.
Digital die cutting machines tend to have a smaller footprint on the table, since their designs tend to be thin and long, as opposed to the square style of traditional die cutting machines. You may already know whether you want a digital or traditional die cutting machine, but if size is a major factor, you should consider a slim, digital model.
Most machines work with material in the range of 12 to 15 inches, though some may have smaller or larger ranges. Make sure your machine is the right size for the projects you intend to work on.
When it comes to lifespan, manual machines tend to win this race. On a well-built model, the lever and rollers are unlikely to stop working. Otherwise, the only components to worry about breaking are the dies, and those are replaceable.
Digital die cutting machines use extra-sharp blades that can last quite a while if used properly. However, it is possible to chip a blade. Replacement blades cost between $6 and $50. These often come in packs, and the price depends on the type of blade and its intended use.
The biggest factors in durability are proper use and material type, as different materials will wear down dies and blades at different rates.
You probably already know what materials you plan to cut with your machine, but you should consider other materials you may want to work with and whether the machine you select is capable of cutting those materials.
Drawing, piercing, engraving, embossing, and cut-by-color are all extra features that some machines offer. If you know that all you need is a machine that cuts where you tell it to, a straightforward machine without extra features may be the most cost-effective option for you.
However, if you would like the option to do more than cut materials, consider a machine with additional features and capabilities.
Die cutting machines range greatly in price depending on size, style, and features.
You can get a capable beginner machine for $25 to $125. Manual and electronic die cutting machines are usually the cheapest option, particularly with smaller models.
Mid-range models run from $125 to $300. In this group you’ll find traditional and digital die cutting machines that will meet the needs of most hobby crafters.
If you’re comfortable with die cutting machines and need something powerful and versatile, you’ll want to look at machines in the range of $300 to $1,000 and up.Tips
Steel-rule dies are heavier and sharper than standard thin metal dies, making them the best choice for cutting through fabric or other thick materials.
For the cleanest possible cut, you need the right amount of pressure. Though some traditional machines have adjustable rollers, in some cases you will need spacer plates to achieve the proper pressure when working with thinner materials. Alternatively, you can create a shim with a few layers of paper or cardstock. This is usually not a concern with digital models.
You can increase the lifespan of die cutting mats by avoiding cutting in the same area each time. Also, use both sides of the mat, rotating it regularly.
Consider the extra cost of dies, cartridges, or template files when purchasing a die cutting machine. No machine is a one-and-done purchase. You’ll undoubtedly need more materials and replacement parts over time.
Not all machines are compatible with dies made by other manufacturers. Always make sure the dies you put in your machine are compatible to avoid damaging your machine, cutting poorly, or voiding the warranty.
Q. How difficult is it to set up a software-based machine?
A. This will vary depending on the machine and your computer. If your die cutting machine is compatible with your computer, it can be as simple as installing the software and connecting your machine to the computer. Different programs may be more or less advanced, and your own familiarity with computers is another factor that will determine how quickly you can start crafting.
Q. How much do online templates cost to download?
A. This depends on the brand and software you are using. Some software programs grant access to libraries of thousands of free designs, and they may allow for users to upload and download designs for free. Other programs will have online stores where templates can be downloaded for anywhere from $0.99 to $50. Templates can be downloaded individually or in sets.
Q. Are die cutting machines safe for children to use?
A. Whether you buy a traditional or a digital die cutting machine, there will be blades involved. It’s best to supervise younger children when they use your die cutting machine. However, there are some models designed specifically for children that are safe for users as young as six years old.