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Masking on Acrylic: What is it and do I need it?

If you’re new (or not) to laser cutting with a Glowforge, xTool, Aeon, or any other laser cutter, you’ve probably come across the term “masking” more than once. But what exactly is masking, and why is it so important? Let’s dive into the details.

What is Masking?

Masking is a protective layer applied to the surface of materials such as acrylic before they are cut or engraved with a laser. This layer can be made from various materials, including paper, plastic, or specialized masking films. In the case of our acrylic sheets, the masking is applied by the manufacturer to protect the surface during shipping and handling.

What is Masking For?

The primary function of masking is to keep the surface of the acrylic clean and free from blemishes and scratches. 

What is Masking Made Of?

Masking materials vary, but common options include paper-based masking tape and plastic films. For our acrylic sheets, we receive them from the manufacturer with clear plastic masking already adhered. This masking protects the acrylic from scratches and other damage during shipping and handling.

Is Masking Laser Safe?

Most commercially available masking materials designed for laser cutting are laser safe. This means they are formulated to withstand the laser’s heat without catching fire or releasing harmful fumes. Since our acrylic comes with laser-safe plastic masking from the manufacturer, you can be assured of its safety during laser cutting.

What If Masking Is Not Adhered Well?

Proper adherence of masking to the acrylic surface is vital. If the masking is not well-adhered, it can peel off during the cutting process, leading to uneven cuts, potential damage to your material or even a fire! It's always best to remove the loose masking before cutting.

Do I Need to Leave Masking On When Cutting?

No, you do not need to leave the top layer of masking on when cutting acrylic. The top of the acrylic will not burn or char without the masking, so you can safely remove it before cutting. This can be particularly advantageous as it saves you the time and effort of removing masking from small, intricate pieces after cutting. However, leaving the masking on the bottom can help protect against any potential burn marks from the laser bed.


Why is Clear Masking Better Than Paper?

Clear masking films offer several advantages over traditional paper masking. Firstly, they provide better visibility, allowing you to see the material and the design more clearly during the cutting process. This can be particularly helpful for intricate projects. Clear films also tend to adhere better and can be more durable, reducing the risk of peeling or shifting during cutting. While paper masking is effective, clear masking films can enhance the overall quality and ease of your laser cutting projects.

Whether you’re using a Glowforge or another laser cutter, understanding when to leave masking on and when to remove it can ensure cleaner cuts, less post-processing, and a more professional finish. Remember, the top layer of masking is not necessary for cutting acrylic as it won’t burn or char. So, next time you set up your laser cutter, make informed decisions about masking—it’s well worth the effort!

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