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Laser Cutting or Water Jetting: Which Is Right for Your Acrylic Project?

Acrylic is a versatile and durable material that has many uses in a wide range of industries. The process of transforming the information in a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional product involves the use of digital cutting techniques.

Two of the most common techniques that are used in custom fabrication facilities today are laser cutting and water jetting. Each cutting process has its own unique set of benefits, making each better suited to some projects.

Compare the two techniques before submitting your acrylic project for fabrication so that you can select the digital cutting technique that will produce the results you are looking for.

Cut Depth

One of the primary differences between laser cutting and water jetting is the depth of the cuts each technique can produce. Laser cutting offers greater control over cut depth, which gives laser cutting a wider range of use.

You can utilize laser cutting to completely slice through your acrylic materials, or you can adjust the cut depth to create a more shallow design. Laser cutting gives you the ability to engrave your acrylic components by cutting shallow lines from a digital file.

Water jetting cannot offer control over cut depth, so it's best to use water jetting only for projects that contain clean cuts within the digital file.

Part Integrity

Part integrity is another consideration that must be made before you choose between laser cutting and water jetting for your acrylic project. Laser cutting relies on intense heat to translate your two-dimensional design into three-dimensional acrylic. This heat allows for very clean cut edges, but can create scorch marks along the walls of each cut.

If you need your finished acrylic part to be clear and free from any charring or burns, water jetting is a better option.

Water jetting utilizes a high-pressure stream of water to cut through raw acrylic. No heat is involved, protecting the part against visible discoloration. The drawback of using water jetting is that the force of the water pressure could cause smaller parts to warp or become deformed.

Be sure that you are factoring part integrity into the equation when choosing between laser cutting and water jetting for your acrylic fabrication projects.

Material Restrictions

Both laser cutting and water jetting can cut through acrylic with ease, but there are some material limitations that set the two cutting techniques apart. The primary difference lies in the thickness of the acrylic that each cutting technique can handle.

Laser cutting is better suited to acrylic or metal materials that are up to 20 mm thick. Water jetting is capable of handling acrylic that is much thicker. Materials ranging from 0.010 inch acrylic all the way to 10 inch thick stainless steel can successfully be processed using water jetting.

If you know the thickness of your base material, you can select the cutting technique that will offer the most consistent results to improve the quality and performance of your acrylic parts.

Both laser cutting and water jetting can be valuable tools in custom acrylic fabrication. Each offers specific benefits that can make one or the other a better option for your acrylic project. You are better equipped to make the right decision when you understand the differences between laser cutting and water jetting.

Laser cutting offers a high level of precision and the ability to control cut depth, while water jetting can cut through thick acrylic and has virtually no material restrictions. Contact MGM Plastics to learn more about the differences between laser cutting and water jetting. We can help you invest in the cutting technique that will maximize the aesthetic, performance, and durability of your acrylic products over time.


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