Laser Cutting vs Plasma Cutting. Here at IMH, we offer both laser cutting and plasma cutting. Thus, we often hear the question, “Which type of cutting should I use to produce my components—laser or plasma?” But the answer isn’t cut and dry.

Before we delve into which method might be best for a project, let’s first take a step back and look at how each of these techniques works.

What is laser cutting?

Laser cutting was created in the 1960s as a way to cut holes in diamond dies. Since that time, laser cutting has expanded beyond industrial manufacturing. This thermal cutting process utilizes a computer-directed focused beam of light, along with oxygen, nitrogen, and compressed air, to burn, melt, vaporize, or blow away the material being cut. Because of laser cutting’s precision, this process is ideal for parts that require tight tolerances.

What is plasma cutting?

Plasma cutting was developed in the 1950s as an alternative for flame cutting. Plasma torches blow inert gas out of a nozzle at a high rate. Simultaneously, an electrical arc is passed through the gas, changing the state of the gas to plasma, an electrically conductive ionized gas. The resulting plasma is hot enough to melt metal, which is blown away from the cut.

Laser cutting vs plasma cutting

General differences between these CNC technologies are:

  • Plasma is closer to the nozzle than laser (z-axis)
  • CO2 lasers utilize light; plasma uses gas with an electrical arc
  • Plasma is limited to cutting; lasers cut, engrave, and weld

“Which type of cutting should I use?”

Laser cutting might be best used for:

  • Parts with tight tolerance specifications or precise cuts
  • Cutting thin (.003”) to medium thickness (1”-1.5”)

Plasma cutting might be ideal for:

  • Parts with highly-reflective metals which are not possible for lasers
  • Cutting thicker materials (up to 2-3”)
  • Parts with simple shapes without intricate notching or many cutouts

Obviously, IMH evaluates cutting methods on a case-by-case basis. Contact us today to discuss your specifications and needs. We’ll gladly help you determine whether laser cutting or plasma cutting would be the best method for your next project.