How Do CO2 Lasers Work?

Most modern laser cutters use carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers. Not too long ago, access to this technology was prohibitively expensive for all but the best-established manufacturers. Now, prices have come down and even hobbyists can afford to buy a high-quality CO2 laser.

Today’s CO2 lasers are just as technologically complex as their predecessors. Like all lasers, they rely on amplified and concentrated light to cut through materials, but that begs the question, how, exactly, do they do it? Read on to find out.

Laser Beam Production

CO2 lasers run electricity through gas-filled tubes with mirrored ends. To produce light, nitrogen gas in the tube must be stimulated by an electrical current. This current confers energy to the molecules, which collect it and confer it to the CO2 molecules. When the gas in the chamber has more excited particles than non-excited particles, it discharges the energy in the form of photons to create a laser beam.

Light Discharge

CO2 lasers produce infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. Though it doesn’t appear to be bright, the light produced by lasers is much more powerful than that created by a normal lightbulb. The mirrors in the gas tube reflect most of the light, causing the light waves to build in intensity until they are powerful enough to pass through the end that features only a partially reflective mirror.

Once the light leaves the gas tube, it is guided to a mirror outside of the chamber. It then gets routed to a second, then a third mirror to deflect the beam in the right direction. The final mirror in this system is found inside the laser head. It directs the light through a focus lens and onto the material to be cut.

Moving the Laser Head

The laser head is controlled by a computer numerical control (CNC) system. This system allows users to control the direction of movement of the laser beam as it is routed through the focus lens, making it possible to cut lines in materials placed on the working bed. The CNC allows for precise control and impressive speeds.

Power and Wavelength

The wavelength for the average CO2 laser is very long, at around 10.6 micrometres, which is why it’s invisible to the human eye. CO2 lasers are some of the most powerful laser machines around, drawing up to 1,000 W of power. They can cut both organic materials like wood and cloth and inorganic materials, including most metals.

Cutting Materials

Technically, the laser beam itself never comes into contact with the materials on the working bed directly. Instead, it applies intense heat that essentially melts through the materials without burning them. The result is a precise cut that leaves behind a smooth finish on the working material.

Learn More About CO2 Lasers

Want to find more information about CO2 lasers and their wide range of potential applications? Head online to visit a reputable manufacturer like Boss Laser for answers to questions or help with choosing the right machine for any application.