When it comes to DIY projects, foam is a highly versatile and resilient material. While foam is often not too strong or durable, it does hold its shape well and can work for a wide array of situations.
But, if you’re using a laser cutter, can you laser cut foam?
The short answer is yes; you can laser-cut foam. Many types of foam work for laser cutting and other processes because they don’t emit toxic gases when cut. Certain types of foam are not suitable for laser cutting though.
For example, ceramic foam is too brittle. And you should never laser cut styrofoam because of its flammability and toxicity when burning.
So, if you’re interested in using foam for your next project, read on to find out more about laser cutting this material.
Can You Laser Cut Foam?
Laser cutting is a valuable process for shaping and molding various materials.
Lasers work well on most materials, including metals, plastics, and even organic materials (i.e., fruits and vegetables). That said, because the laser vaporizes the surface, some options are not suited for cutting.
For example, you shouldn’t laser-cut epoxy resin because it will produce toxic vapors.
Fortunately, most types of foam do not have that problem. As we’ll discuss later on, there are quite a few types of foam available for DIY projects.
Keep in mind, thoug, that certain foams are not suited for laser cutting – including ceramic foam. In this case, the ceramic isn’t toxic or dangerous, but it’s too brittle to cut this way. You may wind up creating cracks or uneven edges. Also, Styrofoam should never be cut, as it is flammable and will release excessive styrene gas into the air when burned.
Benefits of Laser Cutting Foam
Although you can cut and shape foam a few different ways, laser cutting offers some distinct advantages, such as:
- Faster Operation – You can finish your pieces in less time than it would take to use a saw or cutting surface.
- No Distortion or Compression – Softer foams can bend while cutting, leading to misshapen pieces. Laser cutting doesn’t have that problem because nothing touches the material. Instead, the laser focuses light onto a tiny section to vaporize the surface.
- More Intricate Designs – If you want to make foam pieces for various projects, a laser cutter gives you more flexibility with your patterns and details.
- Less Residue – Cutting foam the old-fashioned way can create lots of debris. Since the laser vaporizes the foam, you have less to clean up afterward.
Types of Foam Used for DIY Projects
Depending on your project, you’re sure to find a foam suited for your needs. Here’s a rundown of the various types of foam used for DIY situations.
When comparing different foams, you want to pay attention to a few characteristics, such as:
- Open Cell vs. Closed Cell – Open-cell foams allow air to pass through each cell, allowing the material to compress more easily. Closed-cell foams are more rigid.
- Light Reflection – The more light foam can reflect, the less that passes through the material.
- Thermal Conductivity – Some foams can transfer heat easily, meaning they don’t work well as insulation or padding for machinery.
Polyester foam is an open-cell material with low thermal conductivity and high compressibility. Thanks to these properties, polyester foam works well for many applications, such as insulation or padding for fragile items.
Polyester also has high energy absorption, so you don’t have to worry as much about impacts or shocks affecting parts or machinery.
Polyurethane foam actually refers to a class of foam, not a specific type. For example, memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam. This material is highly versatile because manufacturers can control the density, thermal conductivity, and cell structure.
So, you can use this foam for many applications.
Unfortunately, some versions are prone to off-gassing, so you might have to wear a breathing mask and use a vent hood when laser cutting this material.
If you’re looking to cut foam for padding, polyethylene foam works well. This material is non-abrasive (unlike polyester) and can come in thin or thick sheets.
As a closed-cell foam, polyethylene is durable yet flexible. Also, the cells can reduce impacts and vibrations better than open-cell foams.
As with other polyfoam options, polyethylene is naturally mildew and bacteria-resistant.
This material is similar to polyethylene foam because it has closed cells and is pretty dense. EVA foam is also super easy to shape and cut, making it ideal for most projects.
This material holds its shape well, even after compression.
Typically, EVA foam is used in helmets and other safety gear because it reduces impacts and vibrations. Its durability also makes it suitable for cosplay costumes and other similar applications.
As the name suggests, this foam is made from ceramic material, not petroleum like polyfoams. As mentioned, ceramic foam is not suitable for laser cutting because it’s too brittle. However, you can easily anneal or engrave the foam without damaging the cells.
This material is also highly porous and doesn’t come with straight edges. Typically, manufacturers use ceramic foam for electronics insulation because of its low thermal conductivity.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, foam comes in many varieties that can work well for tons of specific applications.
Now that you know you can use a laser cutter on almost all types of foam, you can upgrade your next DIY project.