Laser cuttering foamcore?


Well-Known Member

I was just wondering if anyone knew about laser cutting foambcore, foamboard, gatorfoam....

I believe it's foamed polystyrene.

I can make adjustments so it just cuts but I'm wondering if there is any toxic risk to persons or equipment.

Any solid MSDS sheets out there?


Nice to see someone else doing this. I have been having Gatorboard laser-cut for years, but I've only known one other person who used it to make models. I highly recommend people do *not* use foamcore as it is both fragile and not stable for long-term use. In my opinion, it is not suitable for modelmaking. It is most useful for making mock-ups and anything else that would be of a temporary nature only.

As for hazards, I can't help there, but my vendor has never reported any problems. Gatorboard has a foam core, likely rigid polyurethane. The paper surface is impregnated with resin for strength and durability. It is an excellent material for modelmaking due to its rigidity and dimensional stability.

I did notice that the foam core of 1/2 inch Gatorboard melts back quite a bit when cut with the laser. This can make the resulting parts more fragile. On the other hand, 3/16 stock cuts very well with the laser and the resulting parts are most excellent.
In my experience using a laser cutter on foamcore results in the foam melting a bit more than the paper, so you get a concave groove on the edge, but dimensionally it will be accurate at the paper.

I agree with others that it is no good for making permanent models. It's fine for mock-ups but other than that it's kinda garbage stuff, and yeah, bad for the environment, but we do plenty of stuff in model making that's bad for the environment. Still, you can try to cut back where you can.
Apparently cutting foamcore/polystyrene is a bit dangerous as it gives off fumes. But with proper ventilation again it's ok.
I just wanted to chime in real quick as laser cutting and engraving is one of my regular mundane jobs.
I've been working with my CO2 laser machine for going on 6 years now, so the advice I give is for CO2 lasers- I don't know anything about YAGs.
be very very careful when cutting any type of foam or anything that has a pvc or abs type chemical base.

1- you are going to get a LOT of really toxic fumes.
2- you will need to thoroughly clean out all of the lenses and mirrors inside of the cutting table after every job with those kinds of materials. The fumes that the material gives off actually carry a lot of small particles that have a really high oxidation factor and it will ruin your lenses and mirrors if you don't clean them off.
3- you will have a noticeable amount of melting or charring that you will have to work on tweaking your laser power to fix.
OH and to be honest, most material vendors have no idea which materials work well and which you should stay away from when working with a laser.
I'll chime in with my words of caution too. Slightly off topic, since polyurethane foam isn't used in foam-core, but I was going to use a hot wire cutter to chop up some chunks of polyurethane foam, that is, until I delved a bit deeper into the MSDS and found out there's a 50 degree (F) window between melting and burning. At which point, cyanide is given off...
Foam core cuts easily with a mat knife, why would you want to laser it? Urethane boards are toxic and flammable- DON'T put heat to it- besides routers, CNC's do great on them.
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