As customers push for ever more complex shapes and faster turnaround on the labels and other cut parts they order, screen shops have begun relying on sophisticated laser cutting systems to meet their clients
By Bill Knotts
Recently, several leading screenprinting companies have added the latest generation of laser cutting technology to their finishing departments and have gained considerable competitive advantages by doing so. Is laser cutting appropriate for your screen printing and/or digital printing operation? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about laser cutting systems that will help you determine whether the technology is a good fit for your company.
What is laser cutting, and how does it work?
Laser cutting systems (Figure 1) use high-powered lasers to vaporize materials in their beam path (Figure 2). Because cutaway areas are vaporized, these systems eliminate the hand labor or complicated extraction methods otherwise needed for weeding small scraps from cut material. In screen-printing applications, the types of lasers that are commonly used are CO2 lasers. The cutting action is achieved by powering on and off of the laser beam and directing it to the proper location as defined by the artwork.
Laser cutting systems come in two basic designs—gantry systems and galvo (galvanometer) systems. Gantry systems are very much like the XY plotters that many screen printers use for prototyping and short-run printing. They physically direct the laser beam, which is perpendicular to the material being cut, across the surface of the substrate. Gantry systems are inherently slow, just like other XY plotters, but are a good fit for some very-wide-format jobs that require laser cutting.
Galvo systems are generally a much better option for screen-printing applications. Galvo systems make minute adjustments in mirror angles to reposition the laser beam in different directions, as the artwork requires. Unlike gantry systems, galvo systems are relatively quick (i.e., as fast as 100 ft/min for simple, straight cuts on many substrates) and are used beyond prototyping for full production work.
Why is laser cutting called digital die cutting?
Laser cutting systems are tool-free. They take any vector-based digital image and import it into their operating software to set up a job. Top-end laser cutting systems can complete set up from these imported digital images in just a few minutes.
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