Cutting Acrylic Sheet- A Complete Guide
By cutting acrylic sheet, you can transform it into useful products of different shapes and sizes.
However, you can only achieve this if you follow the right procedure and techniques.
In this guide though, I want to take you through the nitty-gritty surrounding cutting acrylic sheet.
I’m hopeful that by the end of it, you’ll understand several aspects of this procedure and its relevance in the acrylic molding process.
Let’s get started right away!
What is Cutting Acrylic Sheet?
Before I even describe
It refers to a transparent thermoplastic homopolymer known for its high impact resistance and strength.
Most people refer to it as plexiglass as its trade name, and it’s more similar to polycarbonate hence making it a perfect alternative to glass.
Now from this description, you can as well tell what cutting acrylic basically involves, can’t you?
Well, cutting acrylic sheet refers to the process of splitting, slicing or piercing the acrylic material to suit the particular application.
It is a popular acrylic fabrication process.
It is a common type of molding process that many people use to create different objects out of this material.
In most instances, the cut acrylic pieces are normally joined to other pieces of acrylic or any other materials to form a substantive object.
As you shall see later on in this guide, this process is quite involving, and you need to be diligent and relatively experience to attain the best results.
Cutting acrylic sheet
Moreover, you also need to have unique cutting tools and equipment when carrying out this process.
But before we get into that, let me first briefly highlight for you the primary types of acrylic sheet available.
Types of Acrylic Sheet
You may see different kinds of objects formed from acrylic material and wonder how many they are.
But this is the thing;
We simply have two major types of this material that you will in most instances encounter.
They have slightly different chemistry, and also when it comes to manufacturing, the process is also seemingly different.
So let me quickly take you through these types and find out more especially about the key differences.
Cast acrylic sheet
It refers to the type of acrylic that is made of a mixture of liquid ingredients in glass molds.
The process of forming cast acrylic is quite labor intensive and expensive, but it yields a stronger and harder homogenous product.
Cast acrylic is available in a wide range of standard as well as custom colors hence making it possible for a variety of applications.
It is more pliable and less likely to bend, melt or even chip even during milling.
Some of the features of cast acrylic include low water absorption, lightweight, rigid, general outstanding resistance to weather among others.
For that reason, it is preferred as a better option for larger installations and structures among others.
Extruded acrylic sheet
It’s the type of acrylic material made from continuous manufacturing production where monomers are heated and fed through barrels for the chemical process to occur.
This manufacturing process hence makes it heterogeneous with wide-ranging properties depending on the direction of extrusion.
Extruded acrylic sheet
Extruded acrylic sheet is somewhat inexpensive and more dimensionally stable in comparison to cast acrylic.
It is also thermoformable, has excellent optical properties, high impact resistance and ideal electrical and UV resistivity.
This type of acrylic sheet also has fewer colors and relatively low thickness tolerance.
Now, as you can see, these two types of acrylic sheets have somehow different properties which set them apart.
What this means is that even cutting either of these requires different approaches based on the several different attributes that each one has.
And speaking of approaches, I want us to discuss a few major methods of cutting the acrylic sheet in the next section.
Methods of Cutting Acrylic Sheet
Well, since this is one of the most critical areas of this guide, it would be prudent to discuss its relevant details.
The essence, in this case, is to enable you to understand how critical these methods are and also how best to undertake each.
So in this section, I’ll describe the common methods of cutting acrylic, tools necessary for each, and precautions to observe when cutting the material.
Furthermore, I shall take you through a step by step process of each method, advantages and also the disadvantages of each approach.
That notwithstanding, I shall be reasonably quick while discussing all these aforementioned elements.
For that matter, let’s get into it right away;
1) Laser cutting
Inevitably, this is one of the most preferred methods of cutting acrylic in the current era.
Laser cutting acrylic involves the use of computer graphic programs and carbon dioxide laser cutting machines.
Laser cutting tip
These computer-controlled programming machines are what determine how and where the interface is integrated into the material.
It is an invention that has been in existence for quite some time now, and it’s getting popularity day by day.
By the way, it has become a better alternative for machining which comes a long way to saving money and related manufacturing expenses.
What’s important is laser cutting acrylic material is knowing the best means possible for undertaking the procedure.
Having said that, let’s find out some of the tools and equipment you require for this particular method of acrylic sheet cutting.
Tools and equipment for laser cutting acrylic sheet
In laser cutting, one of the major tools you’ll require is obviously the laser cutting machine.
Now this machine is critical because of the several factors which you must consider before even thinking of using it.
Laser cutting machine
The other equally essential component you’ll need for successful laser cutting acrylic would be compressed or standard air.
This air is vital for focusing it on the cutting area which incidentally enables the laser to operate safely.
You also need an exhaust to accomplish this process satisfactorily.
The exhaust system vitally serves two purposes; avoiding flaming of the sheet and controlling solidification of liquid acrylic.
As you can see, this method is utterly based on technology hence guaranteeing quality results.
Precaution when laser cutting acrylic
Listen, in as much as this method seems promising, you need to realize that there is a need for taking all necessary safety measures.
The reason for this is that it can as well be dangerous and hence causing injuries to your body and damaging the material as well.
For that reason, there are a few safety tips that I want to highlight for you to observe when using this method.
First, you must never operate the laser cutting machine if you have no idea of how it works.
This is risky because you’re posing a danger to yourself and also to the people who’re possibly around you.
Secondly, ensure that you wear all the relevant safety gears.
Remember this process emits harmful gases which you can easily inhale and cause a wide range of ailments and discomfort to your body.
Another thing is that always laser cut acrylic material in a well-ventilated area since the vapors it’ll emit will definitely irritate your respiratory system.
Step by Step process of laser cutting acrylic
Here’s a fact though;
The physics behind attaining a perfect laser cut can be quite daunting. Luckily enough, I want to simplify it by taking you through the step by step process.
But before we even dig deeper into acrylic laser cutting procedure, let me first tell you that there are several elements you need to consider.
And as if that is not enough, it is also necessary to know your exact expectations out of the laser cut.
Some of these expectations would be things such as whether you need the end product to be perfectly flame polished.
You also need to determine if you shall use the end product as a mechanical component and whether the quality of the edge isn’t of great essence.
Such factors among others, are what shall enable you to know the exact procedure and thoroughness you require at every step.
Some of the few elements which also determine the process of laser cutting acrylic include the type of acrylic, brand, laser parameters and laser process set up.
In this case, therefore, I’ll give you a general overview of the procedure that you can choose in case you want to carry out the process.
First, the acrylic material is cut by vaporizing the sheet which is in solid form.
The material then absorbs the laser making it change from solid to liquid and then to gaseous form.
Remember that while at this, you have to ensure that you interject it with the lowest level of chemical degradation.
Obviously, there would be copious amounts of vapor as a result of laser cutting, which incidentally you’ll have to combat.
So the ideal way of curbing this is by having a high quality and sturdy vacuum system to eliminate the vapor.
Also, take note that the vapor emitted in this process is also highly flammable; thus you need to always attend to laser system during the cutting process.
What happens next is that a gentle stream of nitrogen then blows away the vapor away from the cutting section.
At the same time, this gentle stream of air also helps in solidifying the remaining liquid along the cutting section.
Therefore, it leads to the formation of a glossy and smooth-polished finish along the cutting section.
All you need to do is have a reliable pressure regulator on the air assist pump.
Laser cutting acrylic
Well, as you can see even from the description of the process, tools and the methods itself, it is quite evident that it is beneficial in many ways.
Some of these benefits include the following;
i. It is utterly easy to keep the workpiece in the appropriate direction.
ii. Provides a high level of efficiency and produce exact copies of required design replicas
iii. It is precise and saves a considerable amount of work given that it is a process controlled by computer programs
iv. Laser cutting machines use less energy for cutting the acrylic sheets
v. You can use one laser cutting machine to cut several pieces of this material within a short time.
vi. Chances of material deformations are slim since the heated area is somewhat small.
vii. It has minimal frequencies of injuries and accidents given that human intervention isn’t needed.
Disadvantages of Laser cutting acrylic
As you know, this procedure also presents some shortcomings albeit a few. So let’s quickly look at some of them here;
i. You must be careful when setting temperature and distance of laser lest it leads to the combustion of the material.
ii. It requires human intervention mainly when repairing and trial runs and if not carefully handled may cause serious burns.
iii. Presents inconsistency in production rate since it’s dependent on the type of acrylic, the thickness of work-piece and nature of laser cutting.
iv. Power consumption and efficiency are dependent on the nature of laser and type of section to cut.
Now that we have seen all the critical aspects of laser cutting acrylic method let us now shift focus and look at scoring.
2) Scoring acrylic
This is the second method that is also popularly used for cutting acrylic material.
In this instance, it basically refers to the industrial process of cutting a groove into a rigid acrylic material.
It is this grove that you use for either breaking the material along the slit be it for painting, decoration or even to act as a guideline for other processes.
Ideally, this method is suitable for acrylic sheets that are thinner than ¼ inch.
Tools needed for scoring acrylic material
Well, in this case, you do not necessarily require a number of tools and equipment per se.
Some of the key tools you’ll need to include a ruler for making a line to cut.
You also need a pencil for marking the cutting edges.
A plastic scoring blade is also essential because you’ll use it for cutting along the line.
And you’d also need a clamp for tightening the material on a flat surface when scoring to prevent it from moving.
Precautions when scoring acrylic material
First, ensure that you wear protective gears. In this case, some of the crucial gears include gloves, goggles, and dust coat.
You also need to ensure that you fasten the clamp accordingly to prevent the material from moving when cutting.
This is necessary since a slip during cutting can lead to injuries either by cutting your finger or the material dropping on your feet.
Step by step scoring acrylic material process
I will be quick here, given that it is just basics;
You need to ensure that you place the acrylic material on a flat surface.
And the flat surface has to be sizeable enough to accommodate the acrylic material.
While at it, understand that flat surface has to be a little bit raised and not the floor.
The essence of a raised surface is that it makes it easy for you to have an edge from where you can break the acrylic.
It is all about marking your line; in this case, you need to start by choosing where precisely you want to cut the material.
What you have to do here is mark the area and then use a ruler to measure and make straight lines.
If need be, you can decide to mark the line using an ordinary pencil, permanent marker or even a grease pencil, whichever works for you.
This involves scoring the line in the acrylic using the acrylic blade.
At this step, it’s helpful to use a ruler as a guide and then running a plastic scoring blade along the cutting blade.
While at it you need to ensure that you’re trying to make a continuous line by applying gentle but even pressure.
Pull the blade towards your direction along the line.
It is also necessary to ensure that you get a straight line on the first round since it guides your subsequent lines.
Deepen the cut using scoring blade by running it over the line several times until it produces a substantial edge.
After doing the same flip it over and make a line along the backside which follows the line on the other side.
Score it severally as well.
Now break the acrylic sheet by placing the line you’ve scored directly along the edge of the table.
Now, this is why it is advisable to have a somewhat raised flat surface and not the ground or floor.
Meanwhile, ensure that you have clamped the sheet to the table and break it at the scored line by pressing it the outer edge downwards in a quick motion.
You can as well wrap your hand around one edge then apply your body weight to push it down.
Advantages of Scoring Acrylic cutting
i. Very easy and straightforward to use and cut the acrylic sheet.
ii. Does not require complicated tools and equipment
iii. Does not need through knowledge to execute
iv. You can it use it at home for DIY projects
Disadvantages of Scoring Acrylic Cutting
i. Comparatively challenging to attain the exact precision.
ii. Consumes a lot of your time and energy
iii. Difficult to establish the smooth and flame polished finish
Sawing Acrylic Sheet Cutting Method
Straight to the point;
This method is arguably the most common one given that it is quite easy to find sawing blades.
It is the process of splitting or slicing an acrylic material by placing the toothed cutting tool against and forcefully moving it forth and less-forcefully back.
This process of moving it back and forth has to be continuous to enable you to attain the results.
Tools needed for the Acrylic sheet cutting method
Obviously, you require a sawing blade, but it has to be designed for acrylic sheet specifically.
So this means that it has to have high tooth count to increase chances of getting cleaner cuts.
Saw for cutting acrylic
You’ll also require a permanent marker, or greased pencil for marking the surface, masking tape and a jigsaw, table or circular saw.
Precautions when sawing an acrylic sheet
You must ensure that that you know the basics for operating the jig saw machine by setting all its parameters accordingly.
Also, make sure that the sawing blade is somewhat sharp to help in making the process faster with a smoother finish.
Wear all the relevant protective gears including gloves, masks, and goggles among others.
Step by step process of sawing acrylic material
Place the sheet on a flat-raised ground.
You need to ensure that you get enough space to enable you to break the cut sheet from a raised ground.
And I still reiterate that you use a blade designed for plexiglass and has more tooth count to reduce chances of getting rough cuts.
Mark the cut. It is necessary first of all mark to need to cut using a permanent marker.
You can the straight cut line using a table saw, or circular saw and jig saw for cutting curves.
Now place a masking tape over your cut line to make it possible for you to get a cleaner edge with a jigsaw.
For a straight line, push the acrylic through the table saw.
This is important especially when you want to get a straight line.
While at it, begin at one edge of what you earlier on marked by pushing the acrylic through the saw at a consistent pace.
At the same time, you must ensure that you keep your fingers out of the way of the saw.
Also, do not move quickly since it can create a rougher edge.
Also, going too slowly can melt the plastic.
For a curved line, use a jigsaw by setting up the acrylic glass on two beams to allow you to cut through it using a jigsaw.
Do this by putting the jigsaw from the outer edge of the in the direction towards your body along the line you marked.
This, of course, enables you to keep a constant eye on the blade and the line.
If you get stuck at the angle, pull the jigsaw out the way you came and ensure that you also cut from the other edge.
Advantages of Sawing as an acrylic cutting method
i. Provides great option for everyone regardless of your experience
ii. You can cut several acrylic sheets concurrently by stacking them
iii. The cutting process is short and straightforward
iv. It uses relatively available and affordable tools
v. It is easy to attain a precise and clear finish using this method
vi. It allows you to cut the material in a straight or curved line
Disadvantages of sawing as an acrylic cutting method
i. Requires blade with more teeth and closely spaced lest you run the risk of chipping your material.
ii. You must get precise dimensions lest you get improper finishing with other pieces.
iii. It can be a costly mistake if you incorrectly cut the acrylic material.
3) Sanding Acrylic
It is the final method of cutting acrylic sheet that we want to discuss here.
Primarily, it refers to the process of cutting acrylic material by using a sander and moving it rapidly along the edges of the sheet.
It is also quite a demanding task hence the need for making sure that you use all means possible to attain ideal results.
Apparently, this method is used explicitly as a sequential approach for sawing and scoring methods.
Tools needed for Sanding acrylic sheet
You require a sander, which is basically a power tool for smoothing the surface by abrasion.
You also need sandpaper, a metal file, and a buffing machine.
Precaution when sanding acrylic sheet
Well, you should take note of the fact that in most cases here, you’ll be using power tools such as a sander and buffering machine.
Therefore, you need to be extremely familiar with operating these machines so as not to harm yourself or damage the sheet.
Make sure that the working area is well ventilated to prevent you from inhaling the dust from the sanding process.
You also need to wear respective protective gears accordingly.
Step by Step sanding acrylic sheet process
Prepare your working space
Once you have the acrylic sheet to sand, you can always ensure that the working space is sufficient enough for the task.
Then you can choose to place your sheet on a flat but raised surface.
Filing down sharp burrs with metallic file by checking for any large chunks the sawing or scoring method might have left behind.
In this case, the metal will enable you to smoothen all these chunks out and make them even with the edge of your cut.
Sand the edge using 180-grit waterproof sandpaper on a sanding block by applying water to the sandpaper.
It is advisable to use enough water that would make the sandpaper thoroughly wet and then sand down the edge.
Now you can move to finer and finer sandpaper as a way of refining the edge ending up possibly with 600-grit sandpaper.
While at it you need to ensure that you purchase sandpaper that is designed for acrylic material.
Buff the edge by attaching a buffing edge to your buffing machine.
Nonetheless, you first need to rub the buffer with a polishing compound then buff down the edge until when it is smooth and shiny.
If you do not have a buffing edge, you can as well still use finer sandpaper.
This is the step that apparently refines the edge.
However, you should understand that it is not ideally necessary per se.
Advantages of sanding acrylic sheet
i. It enables you to get finest and flame-polished finish
ii. Gives you the ability to determine the appropriate finish which you require to attain
iii. Uses relatively simple tools to operate
iv. Does not necessarily require thorough knowledge to execute
Disadvantages of sanding acrylic sheet
i. Somewhat hectic given that it is utterly manual
ii. Requires extreme concentration to lest you over-sand and damage the edges.
Well, as you can see, these are the essential methods to use when it comes to cutting acrylic sheet.
Incidentally, all these methods are approached differently and but at the end of the day; you get your cut material for a particular application.
And talking of application, in the next section, I want us now to look at some of the common ones where cut acrylic sheets are used.
Applications of Cut Acrylic Sheets
The truth of the matter is that the applications of cut acrylic materials are quite several.
And since we cannot discuss all of them in this guide, I will select a few but common ones that often come across.
Cutting acrylic sheet applications
· Building and construction
Nowadays, most buildings are defying the logic of physics hence need strong and durable materials.
In most cases, many people prefer a material that is clear and also has a molecular weight thus making acrylic sheets a better option.
This material provides building and construction contractors several options for their designs.
· Commercial and structural glazing
The fact that acrylic material is naturally strong makes it an ideal choice for structural glazing.
It comes in handy for creating weather and storm-resistant windows, durable skylights as well as clear rooms.
To fit the material appropriately on a given space, you need to cut it well.
· Displays and point of sales
Nowadays, most of the displays in several retails, and high-end commercial apartments are made of cut and well-designed acrylic sheets.
This material gives your point of sale shelving an upgraded look hence making the products in your store attractive.
Most of the lighted signs are made using acrylic material.
They provide the best signage that also makes it easy for your target audience/market to identify with your establishment.
· The exhibition, trade shows, and convention displays
Well, the truth is that the overall design is what makes the trade show booth to stand out.
And given that you can easily cut, mold and bend acrylic material it becomes easy to use it in making an appealing and durable display.
And since acrylic material is sturdy, it means that your display will stand out and up under the rigorous circuit of tradeshows.
· Picture frame
Most of the residential home use well-designed acrylic picture frames for their several portraits.
The material is clear, stronger and durable hence making it an ideal choice for many people to use it as picture frames.
· Wall shelves
Most of the shelves that we have in modern buildings are made of acrylic material.
And before you install them, of course, you have to cut it to fit the dimensions of the room.
The good thing is that they are comparatively easy to install and also give a better alternative to glass.
· Home improvement projects
You can use cut acrylic material for a wide range of DIY home improvement projects.
For instance, home furniture including coffee table, kitchen décor, bed frames, and kitchen cabinets among others.
All you need to do in such cases is finding the right measurements and get the right tools for the task, and you’ll be good to go.
· Submarine windows
Acrylic possess water-resistant features hence ideal for making submarine windows.
The clarity of this material is also a plus and allows visitors and explorers to look around the wonders of the aquatic nature.
One of the sensible precautionary measure when riding bikes, motorcycles, and when playing other games is wearing helmets.
Now you can’t just wear any type of helmet and think that your safety is guaranteed.
Helmets made of acrylic material enable you to stay safer since they are lightweight and also durable.
So as you can see in this guide, several aspects revolve around cutting acrylic material.
I know that since you have read this article, you’re now able to execute several projects by cutting this material appropriately.
As I conclude, I’m hopeful that you have also learned quite a lot of information which possibly you weren’t aware of.
But in case of any suggestion, inquiry, addition or concern, feel free to leave your comment below.
I will surely get back to you.
Just let me know what you think!