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Laser Cutting Sheet Metal: Techniques, Materials, and Applications

Author: Yaozu Deng
Published on: 2024-03-09

“Laser cutting transforms metals into intricate designs with exceptional precision and accuracy. It delivers high-quality, smooth finishes that require minimal post-processing making it an interesting process to know about. ’’

This method has become indispensable across manufacturing industries due to its ability to produce complex parts with tight tolerances, incomparable surface finishes, and short turnarounds. Moreover, this advanced cutting method utilizes a high-powered laser beam to precisely cut through sheet metal materials, offering manufacturers a level of fidelity and efficiency that traditional methods simply can’t match. 

This article highlights the important aspects of Laser Cutting Sheet Metal, Laser types suitable for cutting sheet metals, and optimal machining processes. Besides this, we’ll examine merits, and demerits, and discuss essential considerations for this technology. 


What is Laser Cutting Sheet Metal?

Laser cutting sheet metal is a subtractive manufacturing process used to precisely cut and shape sophisticated metal parts. This innovative technique allows manufacturers to employ various types of metals, including steel, aluminum, and stainless steel for the creation of complex patterns, and designs.

Unlike other conventional methods like plasma cutting or waterjet cutting, CNC laser cutting produces minimal heat-affected zones and distortion, ensuring pristine edges and tight tolerances. This makes it ideal for the production of aerospace components, automotive parts, and electronics enclosures.

How Does it work?

Laser Cutting Sheet Metal Process Flow Diagram

It’s important to know how the laser performs the cutting.  let’s break it into a few chunks, It goes like this:

1– The process begins with a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file, which contains the precise dimensions and specifications of the desired component. The most suitable vector CAD file formats are used for instance AI, EPS, SVG, EPS, DXF, etc which are supported by most laser control software.

2- This CAD file is then loaded into a computer-controlled laser-cutting machine, which directs the laser beam onto the surface of the sheet metal.

3- The laser beam, generated by a powerful laser source such as a CO2 or fiber laser, heats the metal to the point of melting, effectively cutting through the material along the programmed path. 

4- Then, this intense heat of the laser beam ensures clean, precise cuts with minimal distortion or thermal damage to the surrounding material.


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What Metals a Laser Beam Can Precisely Cut?

Laser cutting is a versatile process that can be used to cut a wide range of metals with varying thicknesses. Some of the metals commonly cut using laser cutting technology include:

1. Steel

Laser cutting is highly effective for cutting various types of steel, including carbon steel, stainless steel, and alloy steel. It can produce precise cuts in thin to thick steel sheets. Laser cutting is particularly well-suited for cutting stainless steel due to its ability to produce clean, high-quality cuts with minimal heat-affected zones. Stainless steel is commonly used in industries such as food processing, medical devices, and automotive manufacturing, where precision and hygiene are paramount.

2. Aluminum

Aluminum is another popular metal for laser cutting due to its lightweight, corrosion resistance, and versatility. Laser cutting can be used to cut aluminum sheets of different thicknesses, making it suitable for applications such as aerospace components, signage, and architectural elements.

3. Copper

While copper has traditionally been challenging to cut using laser technology due to its high reflectivity and thermal conductivity, advances in laser technology have made it possible to cut copper with precision and efficiency. Laser cutting is commonly used for fabricating copper components in electronics, telecommunications, and electrical industries.

4. Brass

Laser cutting is also suitable for cutting brass, a popular alloy of copper and zinc known for its attractive appearance and corrosion resistance. Brass is commonly used in architectural applications, decorative elements, and musical instruments, where intricate designs and precise cuts are desired.

5. Nickel Alloys

Laser cutting is capable of cutting nickel alloys, such as Inconel and Monel, which are known for their high temperature and corrosion resistance. These alloys are commonly used in aerospace, chemical processing, and marine applications, where they require precise machining and fabrication.


Types of Lasers for Sheet Metal Laser Cutting

When it comes to laser cutting sheet metal, most manufacturers prefer CO2, Crystal, and Fiber Lasers due to their advanced cutting features. Let’s discuss each type in detail;

1- CO2 Lasers

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Lasers operate via electrical discharge through a gas mixture containing carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium. They produce visible light in the far-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

CO2 Laser

Furthermore, CO₂ lasers are suited for cutting non-metallic materials like wood, paper, polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), and other acrylic plastics. Additionally, they can process thin sheets of aluminum and non-ferrous metals.

In addition to their versatility, high-powered CO2 lasers can handle thicker metals, reaching up to several centimeters. However, they are less suitable for highly reflective metals, such as brass and copper, though newer CO2 lasers with enhanced oxygen content can somewhat overcome this limitation.

2- Fiber Lasers

Fiber lasers utilize optical fibers filled with dopants (such as neodymium) to amplify light. They offer excellent beam quality and high intensity, allowing for faster cutting rates and smaller kerf widths.

Fiber Laser 

Moreover, fiber lasers are ideal for cutting various materials, including metals, non-metals, and alloys. Even though they can handle thin metals but are least efficient for thicker materials beyond approximately 20 millimeters.

Additionally, more expensive models can cut up to 6 kilowatts, enabling them to handle thicker materials. Their superior performance in these conditions makes them excel in cutting highly reflective metals, such as brass and copper. Besides cutting, they are ideal for other operations like annealing and laser engraving.

3- Crystal Lasers

Crystal lasers, also known as solid-state lasers. The most common crystal materials used in crystal lasers include; neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd: YAG), neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride (Nd: YLF), and erbium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Er: YAG). These Lasers utilize crystals to create beams. 

They provide high output power and energy efficiency, making them suitable for cutting, welding, and engraving materials such as metals, ceramics, and plastics. Additionally, crystal lasers can operate at different wavelengths, allowing for precise control over the laser beam’s characteristics and absorption properties in the material being processed. 

Furthermore, crystal lasers are compact, reliable, and have a long lifespan, making them a popular choice for industrial and scientific applications where stability and performance are crucial.


Techniques for Laser Cutting Sheet Metal

Several techniques are employed for laser cutting sheet metal, each offering unique advantages and applications. Some of the most common techniques include:

Sheet Metal Laser Cutting

1. Laser Beam Fusion Cutting

In this process, the laser beam heats the material to its melting point, and a high-pressure gas, typically oxygen or nitrogen, blows away the molten material to create the cut. 

Fusion cutting is versatile and suitable for a wide range of metals, including steel, aluminum, and stainless steel. Moreover, its ability to cut complex shapes and intricate patterns with ease makes it suitable for various industrial applications.

2. Laser Beam Flame Cutting

Flame cutting, also known as reactive cutting, is a variation of fusion cutting used for thick sheet metal. It is most suitable for cutting carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum among other metals. In this technique, oxygen is used as the assist gas, and the laser beam reacts with the metal to create an exothermic reaction, producing intense heat that melts the material.

3. Laser Beam Sublimation Cutting

Sublimation cutting is a process used primarily for cutting thermally sensitive materials, such as certain plastics and polymers. In sublimation cutting, the laser beam heats the material directly to its vaporization point, bypassing the liquid phase. Therefore, it results in clean, precise cuts with minimal heat-affected zones and is suitable for materials that are sensitive to melting or burning. 


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10 Useful Tips For Laser Cutting Sheet Metal

Here are the 10 useful tips to consider for cutting metal sheets through laser which will help you make your process smooth and error-free;

  • Use vector-based designs for precise control over cut paths and shapes. 
  • Keep designs simple to optimize cutting efficiency and minimize production time.
  • Maintain proper clearances between features to ensure clean, accurate cuts.
  • Choose materials compatible with laser cutting processes in terms of thickness and composition. 
  • Specify cut paths, etching areas, and engravings clearly within the design file.
  • Consider material thickness variations when designing your parts.
  • Implement tab and slot connections for precise alignment and assembly.
  • Optimize nesting layouts to maximize material utilization and minimize waste.
  • Include ventilation holes or relief cuts for enclosed structures to prevent trapped air or gases.
  • Provide clear file formatting guidelines to ensure compatibility with the laser-cutting machine.


What are the Advantages of Sheet Metal Laser Cutting?

Let’s evaluate some of the merits of laser cutting in sheet metal fabrication;

  • Laser cutting provides exceptionally precise cuts, enabling the creation of complex geometries and intricate details.
  • Laser cutting machines programmed with CAD/CAM software consistently produce identical parts, making them ideal for bulk orders where uniformity is critical.
  • Laser cutting is a fast process, capable of cutting complex shapes and thick materials quickly.
  • Modern laser-cutting machines are highly automated, reducing the need for manual labor and improving productivity.
  • Laser-cut edges are generally smoother and require less post-processing, leading to shorter production cycles and lower costs.


What are the Disadvantages of Sheet Metal Laser Cutting?

Let’s figure out some of the demerits of laser cutting in metal fabrication;

  • Laser cutting machines have limitations on the thickness of materials they can cut effectively, typically up to 15-20 mm on average, making them less suitable for cutting thick metals.
  • Laser cutting can produce toxic gases and fumes, especially when working with materials like plastics, posing health risks to operators and requiring proper ventilation systems.
  • Laser cutting requires a significant amount of energy, leading to higher operational costs and environmental impact due to increased electricity consumption.
  • The upfront costs of procuring a laser-cutting machine are high, making it a substantial investment for businesses. Additionally, maintenance and ancillary costs can further add to the overall expenses.
  • Laser cutting is only suitable for some metals; some materials, like copper and aluminum, may need to be more effectively cut using this method due to their reflective properties or melting points.


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Laser Cutting Sheet Metal Services at Prolean

Sheet metal laser cutting requires high power lasers, and efficient safety measures to ensure quality in product design. And it results in high initial costs. However, outsourcing to the right professionals can be a good option for satisfactory results.

At Pro-lean we follow ISO 9001:2015 standards and provide high-quality sheet metal fabrication services from custom production to manufacturing. With our technical and skilled team of professionals, we prioritize attention to detail for enhanced product design and performance with minimum lead time.

CNC Laser Cutting Service

Whether your project demands intricate designs, tight tolerances, or large-scale production, our advanced Laser cutting services are precisely crafted to fulfill your distinctive needs. We ensure premium quality and outcomes with every iteration. So, feel free to send us your design and get an instant quote!

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Summing Up

Laser-cutting sheet metal has become the most fascinating manufacturing technique that offers exceptional efficiency, and versatility for fabricating intricate metal components. Furthermore, the useful tips aforementioned help you make your laser cutting project more efficient.

Moreover, laser cutting is a highly adaptable process that can be used to cut a wide range of sheet metals with various thicknesses, from thin foils and films to thick plates. This flexibility makes it suitable for a diverse range of applications across industries, including automotive manufacturing, aerospace engineering, electronics production, and more.



Q1. What are the main differences between CO2 and fiber lasers for sheet metal cutting?

CO2 lasers are better suited for thicker materials and offer versatility across various materials. In comparison, fiber lasers provide higher speed and efficiency for thinner materials, especially metals like stainless steel and aluminum.

Q2. What materials can be cut using laser cutting for sheet metal fabrication?

Laser cutting can handle a wide range of materials, including mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and titanium. It’s incredibly versatile and precise, making it ideal for intricate designs and accurate cuts.

Q3- Is there any alternative method for sheet metal cutting than Laser?

Certainly, there are numerous other methods that you can consider for fabricating metals. Below are alternatives you can choose for your manufacturing requirements.



1- Metal-Interface. (2023). Oxygen or Nitrogen Gas for Laser Cutting in 6 points! Metal Interface. Retrieved From: https://www.metal-interface.com/articles-news/t/technical-report-laser-cutting/oxygen-or-nitrogen-gas-laser-cutting-6-points

2- Naresh, K. N., & Khatak, P. (2022). Laser cutting technique: A literature review. Materials Today: Proceedings, 56, 2484–2489. 



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