Laser cutting is basically a very precise way of cutting a design from a material using a design file to guide a laser cutting head. The laser has its own brain to know how to move the laser cutter head, but it relies on a computer to tell it where to move. Using your cut and engrave lines in Adobe Illustrator, Coreldraw or whatever you choose to design in, the laser head traces your design and out pops your design!
If you can imagine a very very thin "jet of fire" shooting from a nozzle, that's pretty much what you've got with a laser cutter. LASER actually is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It's a focused beam of invisible radiation directed towards the material you're cutting. But we'll pretend it's just a "jet of fire" as it's much easier to understand!
There are three main types of lasers used in the industry: CO2 lasers, Nd and Nd-YAG. At mekkit we use CO2 machines - these produce a beam which is capable of cutting organic materials. The CO2 refers to the gas inside the laser tube, which produces a specific wavelength of radiation. Different gases mean different wavelengths, which cut different materials.
Occasionally people mistake the red dot on a laser cutter as the actual cutting beam. In fact, this is an additional and more importantly, visible laser beam which is introduced alongside the cutting beam. Permanently on and safe to the naked eye, it allows the laser operator to view where the laser beam will cut, in order to align material. Once all safety mechanisms are activated and the operator presses "Start", the laser head moves around the cutting platform and the high powered laser beam is switched on and off rapidly at up to 5000Hz, to perform the laser-engraving or laser-cutting as outlined in the CAD file.
The laser cuts by melting, burning or vaporizing your material. You can get a really fine level of cutting detail on a wide variety of materials. Bear in mind that CO2 lasers can’t cut metals but they can bond materials (Cermark / Thermark) to metals to produce a sort of "raised engraving" effect which is surprisingly attractive.