In this article, we will jump into the creative world of laser cutting and explore an array of laser-cutting ideas for small business owners and hobbyist crafters alike.
Ten years ago, I started this blog with the primary goal of promoting my shadow puppets, which I intended to cut by hand. Crazy, right?
Paper-cutting by hand may have been a viable business in 4th-century China, where it first began, but the labour involved wouldn’t make for an affordable product in 21st-century Canada.
Fortunately, around the time I was grappling with the idea of a shop, paper-cutting machines gained popularity, and I got one. At the time, it seemed like a worthwhile investment, but they were just barely capable of doing what we wanted them to do, and we wore them out quickly. It was clear – they weren’t ideal.
We considered the idea of a laser cutter on several occasions. It seemed like it may be a game-changer for us. That’s why when xTool offered us the chance to review their laser cutter, we welcomed the opportunity with open arms.
About xTool Laser Cutters
You may recognize the creators behind these laser cutters from their other venture, Makeblock, which is known for its popular programmable robots for kids. In 2020, xTool ventured into the world of laser cutters and quickly established a range of models to suit various needs and skill levels.
Their D1 line is great for beginners and hobbyists. These open-frame diode laser cutters are basic but versatile, able to cut a wide range of materials: paper, felt, leather, and plywood. They can also do metal engraving. I can’t help but wish these were around ten years ago – they would have been a dream come true for us back when we were starting.
The S1 line, also featuring diode laser cutters, steps it up a notch. These machines come equipped with all the fancy features you could ask for: a closed-box design for enhanced safety, a larger working area, faster speeds, and the ability to cut thicker materials. It’s the sort of upgrade that makes the crafting process safer and more efficient.
Finally, their P2 line of CO2 laser cutters have plenty of power to cut thicker wood, felt, paper, cardboard, and leather! Acrylic is notoriously difficult to cut, but the xTool P2 makes for a capable acrylic laser cutter. In addition, it has a large work area and dual 16MP AI cameras, allowing for precise design and cutting of large projects. Our laser cutter is from the P2 line, so more on those below.
In just a few years, xTool became one of the most popular laser makers on the market, and as I have started hanging out in laser-cutting groups, looking for projects to try, I can see why. The xTool laser cutters offer the best balance between affordability and quality.
In addition, the company is great for listening to its customers and offering new features and upgrades. For instance, over the next month, in response to multiple requests from their community, they are having a trade-in promotion where people who already have an open-frame laser cutter can get a coupon for $500 to upgrade to an enclosed machine.
First Impressions on xTool P2
When we first looked into laser cutters back in 2015, reviews often mentioned their lack of user-friendliness, with complicated assembly requirements and finicky interfaces. Before getting a P2, I didn’t realise how much laser cutters had improved since then.
Unboxing the xTool P2 was a delightful surprise. Not only does it arrive fully assembled, but it boasts a sleek and stylish design. Its slate-gray finish and rounded corners make it fit right into our home office. The lid has a large window, giving us a first-row seat watching the laser cutter work. A safe seat – as the window is tinted and the fumes vent outside.
xTool is about to start producing a white version of P2, which should appeal to those looking for a lighter, more airy aesthetic.
Setting up the P2 laser cutter turned out to be ridiculously easy. All we needed to do was to fill the coolant reservoir.
Another important part of the setup was the venting system. The P2 has a built-in ventilation fan and a flexible hose to direct fumes outside. We opted for an in-line fan to boost fume removal. For those without access to a window or the ability to install a vent through a wall, xTool also sells a filtration unit.
…And that was it! All that remained was to connect the laser cutter to the computer and launch the proprietary software. In about two hours, which included a fair bit of time spent admiring the new machine and studying the instructions, we were ready for our first project.
The xTool P2 is awesome right out of the box, but several optional upgrades cater to specific needs. The work area of the xTool P2 laser cutter is already very generous (600x305mm/23.6×12″), but if you pair it with the automatic conveyor feeder, it can be increased to cut much larger materials (up to 2.4m/8′ long) While the normal configuration can accommodate materials up to 68mm/2.7″ thick, adding a riser base expands its capabilities to accommodate even thicker objects, up to 213mm/8.4″.
How to Cut Designs on an xTool Laser
Surely, I thought, it would take some time to prepare the files for cutting! I was concerned that the program might require specific formats like vector graphics, potentially necessitating a complete overhaul of our existing shadow puppet designs to make them compatible with the new laser cutter.
But my worries were unfounded.
xTool Creative Space, xTool’s proprietary software, is versatile, supporting all common file formats, including JPEG, PNG, SVG, and more. The user interface is intuitive, making a smooth transition for anyone familiar with graphic design software.
Within just three hours of unpacking the xTool P2, we had already cut out our first set of shadow puppets. We tested it on the thickest paper we had available – a substantial 110 lb cardstock, far heftier than the 85 lb limit of our previous paper-cutting machine. The results were astounding. The speed and precision of the tool P2 transformed our shadow puppets, giving them a quality we had never achieved before.
Designing new templates is just as straightforward. I usually use Procreate on the iPad for drawing, so that’s where I created the templates for our first projects. But I could have just as easily used Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or any other drawing program. Scanning traditional artwork could work, too! xTool Creative Space is adept at analyzing and preparing these designs for laser cutting.
Moreover, for those seeking even more advanced capabilities, xTool laser cutters are also compatible with Lightburn – a software widely acclaimed and recommended by laser-cutting professionals.
Who Could Use a Laser Cutter?
The greatest advantage of owning a laser cutter is that it opens a gateway to many creative entrepreneurial possibilities. For hobby crafters and small business owners alike, this machine enables the realization of projects once limited to industrial-grade equipment.
Introducing a laser cutter for our shadow puppet shop has been a game-changer in terms of efficiency, quality, and productivity. Not only can I now produce shadow puppets from thicker, more durable paper, but I can also use entirely different materials like plywood or acrylic.
In a symbolic gesture, I cut my first shadow puppets ever, the Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, from plywood. They still have the same amount of details, but they are now a lot sturdier!
Bulk orders, a rather daunting task before, have become significantly more manageable. In the past, we considered reaching out to gift shops in our area to see if they would like to sell locally-made shadow puppets. However, the sets were time-consuming to cut, so we couldn’t offer a good bulk discount. Now we work efficiently enough to consider this possibility.
The possibilities don’t end there either. Think about the ease of creating promotional materials! Engraved coffee mugs, charcuterie boards with wood-burned logos, and personalized Christmas ornaments will be a piece of cake to make.
The laser cutter also offers the possibility of starting a new side business. Maybe even a couple? Since we got it, my 11-year-old homeschooler started brainstorming ideas for an Etsy shop. I hope he carries it through; it would be the ultimate learning experience for a pre-teen or teen kid! For a start, he made himself a personalized cutting board.
I can also see plenty of potential for laser cutters in educational settings. They would be a valuable asset for teachers, allowing them to produce multiple copies of teaching materials and enabling student creativity and project-making. And let’s not overlook the potential for creating fundraising projects!
What Can You Make with a Laser Cutter?
Of course, the best ideas will be the ones you come up with yourself, but let’s take a look at some laser-cutting ideas to spark your imagination.
10 Laser Cutting Project Ideas for Home
- Decorative Wall Art: Create stunning wall pieces with intricate designs cut or engraved into wood, acrylic, or metal.
- Stylish House Number Signs: Make signs with your family’s name or house number in an expressive style that compliments your house.
- Custom Clocks: Design clocks with unique faces made from acrylic or wood.
- Engraved Photo Frames: Transform ordinary frames into memorable keepsakes by engraving them with special dates, names, or messages.
- Decorative Boxes, Vases, and Candle Holders: Craft an array of decorative items that are as functional as they are beautiful.
- Shelves and Key Holders: Create practical yet stylish shelves and key holders to organize spaces with a personalized touch.
- Wall Signs: Produce signs for kids’ rooms, to welcome guests, or with motivational quotes – for your home or as thoughtful gifts.
- Thematic Bookends: Design bookends that not only hold books in place but also add a thematic charm to bookshelves.
- Personalized Coasters: Make coasters from materials like wood, acrylic, or slate, embellished with family names, monograms, sports logos, or designs.
- Seasonal Decorations: Craft unique decorations for holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, adding a festive touch to your home.
The beauty of these projects lies in their potential to become personalized gifts as well. Imagine being able to craft an endless array of fun, custom presents for all your friends and relatives.
For instance, after trying the laser cutter with our shadow puppets, my second project was this Totoro ornament for a friend.
During the holiday season, inspired by the ease with which that first ornament came out, I made more of them to send to relatives and friends. I love giving presents, so it was a dream come true to be able to whip up several presents over a few hours.
As we got more adventurous, we experimented with cork and created personalized trivets. We have a lot of mushrooms and moss growing in the woods around our yard, so this seemed like a suitable wreath for our family.
Trying new materials comes with new challenges. The software comes with recommended settings for a range of common materials, and you can generate custom test grids for dialling in the power and speed to cut or engrave different materials, but it still took us three trivets before we got it perfect. The first was slightly burned; the second was too light; the third was perfect for the black parts, but some thinner lines needed were hard to see, so I edited my design. It was a great learning experience, though!
Now, with the technique figured out, I can make personalized trivets for all my friends who want one. When creating the design, I left it without the text so I could easily change the name and the date in xTool Creative Tools later.
10 Laser Cutting Ideas for Small Businesses
After making a few things for yourself and as gifts, it becomes obvious how easy it would be to make multiple of them to sell. You can offer any of the projects above, either creating complete designs or leaving room for personalization. However, the potential for laser-cut products extends far beyond home-related items. For instance, you can offer:
- Tiny Jewelry: Design and create delicate pieces of jewelry from wood or acrylic.
- Keychains or Pet Tags: Offer personalized keychains or pet tags with names, contact details, or other information.
- Wooden Toys: Produce wooden puzzles, build castles and doll houses, or make toy animals.
- Travel Mugs or Water Bottles: Engrave travel mugs or water bottles with names, logos, or motivational quotes.
- Greeting Cards: Create greeting cards with beautiful cut-out designs for various occasions, adding a unique touch to special moments.
- Personalized Wedding and Party Decor: Provide a full package to weddings and parties by creating personalized invitations, place cards, table numbers, and decorative items.
- Felt Crafts: Use the laser cutter for making felt toys and crafts, perfect for children’s educational materials, as decorative items, or DIY kits.
- Leather Products: Create stylish leather goods such as pouches, belts, wristbands, and more, with the option for custom engraving.
- Custom Awards, Plaques, and Trophies: Offer tailor-made awards for schools, clubs, and sports teams, adding a personal touch to recognition and achievements.
- Promotional Products with Your Business Logos: Effortlessly brand cutting boards, mugs, and many other promotional items with your business logo for effective marketing.
You can create your own designs or start a small business offering laser cutting services locally for items brought in by customers.
In some cases, a laser cutter can do part of the job for you, while you can put it together into a complete project. For instance, I was amazed at how good the xTool P2 was at cutting felt! Considering that we used the lowest power on our P2 for cutting felt, I bet the D1 and S1 xTool laser cutters could also do it effortlessly.
Check out the lace or the little smile of this fox we made! It wouldn’t have been possible for us to cut these details by hand.
Instead of finished toys, you can also make sewing kits for children. I’d like to make a kit for my daughter with tiny stitching holes so that she would find it less frustrating to sew it together.
Last, we wanted to try doing an acrylic project. Cutting clear acrylic is notoriously difficult, but our xTool P2 did a great job of it!
For this last project, I employed the help of our cats. Ever since we brought Ginko home, I wanted to make him a tag in the shape of a ginkgo leaf, which he is named after. Now, he’s finally got one. I thought it might bother him, but the acrylic is light and silent, and he didn’t mind when I tried it on him.
On the other hand, our Kimi was not named after a tree (her name means “you” in Japanese, a nod to Terry Pratchett’s novel and Granny Weatherwax’s cat), so she got a more generic tag.
After all, microchipping is great, but there is nothing simpler than a tag. We discovered this firsthand when a small dog wandered into our isolated farmyard. The dog had a tag with a phone number, and it proved the easiest thing to reunite her with her owner.
…And if they lose these tags (as cats tend to), it will be easy to make several! With easy customization of the name and the phone number, it can be another laser-cutting idea for a small business – or a favour you do for your friends.
Final Thoughts on the xTool P2 laser cutter
As our xTool P2 is the first I’ve ever tried, I cannot compare it to any other laser cutters. But I can compare it to NOT having a laser cutter, and I don’t think I would want to go without one in the future.
Have you ever bought something that you were excited about but were worried about how much you would actually use it? I remember feeling that way when I got my first Instant Pot back in 2013, and I don’t think a day has passed that I haven’t used it. Our laser cutter is like that – the ideas for using it are piling up faster than we can make them.
Of course, most people cook, and only some people craft. But if you are an enthusiastic crafter, like me and my husband, a laser cutter is a great investment in efficiency, creativity, and endless possibilities, whether for business, education, or personal projects.
Take a look around the xTool website: they have a large selection of laser cutters for a variety of purposes!