Burn, baby, burn
The word laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation: big words that basically mean “watch out, this burns!”
A laser can direct a lot of power to a very small area, thereby melting, burning, or even vaporizing the material we are working on (or enemy robots). Based on this principle, laser cutters have been created that are capable of working on a wide range of materials.
There are various kinds of laser cutting machines on the market, which differ in the variety of materials they can work with, their mechanics, their optics, the kind of laser they use, and other factors. The most commonly available laser cutters are based on the excitation of a gas, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2). Besides the optic system, which directs and focuses the infrared light emitted by the laser, an air or gas blast is used to clean the material from the debris generated by the laser cutting process.
On some cutters, the laser is fixed and the material moves, while on others the material stays in place and the laser beam moves. In most designs of this type, the laser tube remains stationary, and a series of movable mirrors convey the laser beam wherever needed. The mirrors move similarly to inkjet printer heads, though on two axes instead of one, so they can cover an entire plane. When you get right down to it, laser cutter is essentially a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, which reads instructions and guides the tool in its operation.
A laser cutter can work with many materials: acrylic, paper and cardboard, wood, felt, fabric, rubber, leather, Plexiglas, and — if the machine is powerful enough — even some kinds of metal. The processing is also different: by adjusting power and focus you can cut the material, score it (for later cutting), or engrave it (by writing or drawing on it).
Another material which can be lasercut is seaweed.
Lasercut nori for design sushi
The title comes from a (not too recent) article about a project commissioned to respark the sale of nori following the tsunami in japan of 2011, which shows how food, art and technology often melt together. The price for such rolls is still a bit high, but maybe things are going to get better. Will this be the future of design sushi restaurants? Read the whole story here.
More info about this technology and how to design for laser cutters can be found in chapter 14.