Frequently Asked Questions
What is laser cutting and how does it work? A laser cutter employs a high-powered, computer-controlled beam of light to cut or engrave into flat sheets of material by vaporizing away parts of the surface. The image to be cut is created in a vector-based program, such as Adobe Illustrator or CAD, then programmed into the laser’s computer by an artist or technician using specific settings that determine how deep the laser will penetrate into the surface. The result is a highly precise cut or mark.
Which type of laser cutting machine do you use? We’ve chosen a Universal VLS6.60 CO2 laser cutter for its high degree of precision and accuracy. It’s also made by one of the top manufacturers in the world, so we can always count on our equipment to produce reliable, superior-quality results.
What’s the difference between laser cutting, marking, and engraving? While all three of these processes permanently alter a material, they produce distinct results.
In laser cutting, a high-powered beam burns or vaporizes a complete cut through the material. Laser cutting is used to cut out shapes, which creates dimensional openings in a surface, interlocking pieces, or lattice hinges from bent pieces of flat wood.
Laser engraving uses a higher-powered beam to remove material by burning or vaporizing parts of the surface without going all the way through the material (creating a reverse relief). When the laser cutter engraves, it moves back and forth over the surface like a printer. A variety depths can be achieved, from as fine as scraping off a layer of ink from a piece of paper to 3/8”.
Laser marking uses a low-powered beam to create high-contrast marks on the surface of a material through oxidation. It’s most commonly used for bar codes and other commercial identifiers, but can be used for fine art applications, as well. Laser marking is the one area in which we can work with metals. We can laser mark into anodized aluminum or other metals using the topical product CerMark.
What is laser cutting used for? This form of precision cutting was originally developed for industrial use, especially on metals. But in the past 10 years, it has gained a foothold in the fine arts and design world. It has an incredibly wide range of laser cut art applications, from interactive design to intricately cut or engraved works on paper, woodcuts, or letterpress type, sculptural pieces or components, bookbinding, and other laser cut products. It is also used for architectural models, interior design, fabric laser cutting for fashion and textile design, and more.
How do I know which are the best laser cutting materials? From plastics to wood, cardboard, paper, rubber, fabric, and leather, you’ll be surprised at the number of materials we can use in your custom project. View the complete list of laser-safe materials on our Services page.
Which types of projects do you work on? Our most common requests are from artists working in a variety of mediums, such as mixed media works on paper, artist books and bookbinding, sculpture, woodcuts and etching plates, works by metalsmiths, laser cut fashion fabrics, and architectural models. But we’re open to collaborating with you on an array of creative projects, so even if you don’t see the type you have in mind here, we encourage you to get in touch.
Can I work with you in your studio? Absolutely! We love collaborations, and invite you to schedule an appointment to work with us one on one. We offer half, full-day, and multiday sessions where you can gain hands-on experience as we find the right solution for developing your ideas.
Where are you located? FreeFall Laser is based in North Adams, an arts-minded town in Northern Berkshire County, Massachusetts. We’re right around the corner from MASS MoCA, one of the best-known contemporary art museums in the Northeast.
FreeFall is only an hour’s drive from Northampton, Massachusetts, and Troy, New York, and about three hours’ drive from Boston and New York City. Our area is filled with art galleries, museums, live theatres, dance and music venues, historic homes, and top-notch restaurants and cafes. We think you’ll love it as much as we do. Why not spend a few days and experience the culture of the Berkshires, including Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Tanglewood, Barrington Stage Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and more?
Do you have size limitations for projects? We can work with materials up to 18” x 32”, cut up to 1/4” thick, and engrave objects up to 8” thick.
Why is it better to use a professional laser cutter or laser engraver with a fine arts background rather than a laser technician? While a laser technician is trained to program the laser for consistent results and supervise the cutting process, a fine artist combines the same meticulous attention to detail with a discerning eye and a forward-thinking approach, plus distinctive presentation, experience with a wide range of media, and advice for making your custom project into exactly what you envision.
Which digital file formats do you accept, and how do I submit them to you?We work with Adobe Illustrator vector files. Take a look at the easy-to-follow instructions on our File Setup page for complete guidelines. We also offer design services, if you need help preparing or creating your files.
How long will it take to receive my project? The time a laser cutting or engraving project takes depends on the complexity of the design. Our standard turnaround time is 3 to 5 days for straightforward, laser-ready files, once the materials have been sourced, plus shipping time if you’re not in the local area. For an additional fee, a project can be completed in 1 to 2 days, plus shipping time if you’re not in the local area. For custom projects, we will work with you to meet your deadline.
Do you offer workshops? Sarah offers individual workshops to artists in residence at The Studios at MASS MoCA. Workshops include “Laser Cutting Taster” and “Illustrator for Laser Cutting” for those wanting to learn how laser cutting can be incorporated into their work, and an in-depth weeklong workshop for those interested in learning how to operate the laser cutter. Artists in residence also receive special rates for laser cutting services.
I’m a small business owner/independent artist/independent designer. Can I really afford your services? At FreeFall, it’s not about the overall price, but what you get for it. When you team up with us, you’ll engage the hands-on expertise of our founder, Sarah Pike, who will work directly with you to ensure that your vision is transformed into a reality. You’ll also have the peace of mind of knowing that your project will be handled with the utmost care, for long-lasting results that are guaranteed to start conversations.