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 project and schedule availability. Since I focus on custom projects instead of on-demand laser cutting expect a minimum of 2-week turn around time for smaller projects. Contact me sooner rather than later to insure that we can work together to meet your deadline.
Do you offer RUSH services? RUSH services are offered for an additional fee, schedule permitting.
What is considered RUSH? RUSH depends on the size and complexity of the project, and the desired turn around time. For example, a small job needed in 1-2 days is considered RUSH, as is a large 6-week project needed in 3 - 4 weeks.
Do you offer workshops? Yes, I love giving visiting artists workshops and lectures at colleges, universities, makerspaces, and residency centers. For individual workshops at my studio I offer half, full-day, and multi-day private Studio Sessions where you can gain hands-on experience as we find the right solution for developing your ideas. Have a group of people interested in coming to my studio for a laser cutting workshop? Contact me about creating a custom workshop including accommodations.
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.