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Laser Cutting, Etching, and Scoring: Safety

Learn how to use the Glowforge laser cutters in the lab.

Laser Safety Precautions

fire extinguisher and first aid kit near sink

  • Only use laser-safe materials
  • Make sure the area is ventilated properly
  • Know where to find a fire extinguisher in case of emergency
  • Keep the space around the laser cutter clear
  • Clean the machine of any leftover bits 

Dangerous Materials!

Read each description to see the limitations of each material. If you have an item and you are not 100% sure of its composition, ask the innovation lab staff to help determine the product's materials. 

vinyl records

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

PVC emits pure chlorine gas which will ruin the optics and metal of the machine. Ex: Many apparel items, waterproofed textiles, vinyl, pleather, artificial leather, and more.

packing peanuts

Polystyrene and Polypropylene foam

Both of these types of foam will melt and most likely catch fire in the machine. Examples: reusable plastic food containers, Styrofoam products, and pharmacy prescription bottles.

lego bricks

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

ABS tends to melt instead of vaporize, which also increases the chances of it starting a fire. Examples of products made with ABS: toys, printers, kitchen utensils, musical instruments (records/plastic clarinets).



Fiberglass is made with glass and epoxy, neither of which can be cut with an average laser cutter. The epoxy in fiberglass will emit toxic fumes. Examples of fiberglass: slip resistance surfaces, protection for boats/docks, automobile parts.

reusable plastic bottle

High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE will melt and catch fire with the laser, as it is also a type of plastic. Examples of HDPE: plastic grocery bags, shampoo bottles, milk jugs, flower pots.


Thick polycarbonate (>1mm)

Polycarbonate is a fire risk but also cuts poorly. Thick polycarbonate is considered anything that is more than 1 millimeter. For reference, a CD is 1.2mm. Examples of Polycarbonate: greenhouse panels, auto parts, CDs/DVDs, safety eyewear.

motorcycle helmet

Coated carbon fiber

Carbon fiber can be used in a laser cutter unless it is coated. Most coated carbon fiber contains resin, which emits toxic fumes. Examples of coated carbon fiber: hockey sticks, tennis rackets, motorcycle helmets, carbon fiber bikes.

flakey tree bark

Coniferous and oily woods

Coniferous woods are safe to cut but cut extremely poorly due to having soft and hard areas which cut differently. Resinous or oily woods are likely to catch fire. Examples of coniferous/oily woods: pine, spruce, teak.

glass and stone

Stone and glass

It's important to note that laser cutters are only unable to cut stone and glass. Glass can be etched but not cut with the typical laser cutter. Certain types of stone can be engraved.