Public Laser Cutters for DIY use

Have you ever wanted to make your own stencil or have an image to be etched onto wood or glass? You can finally create all those projects at your library! and for FREE! The HCPL Maker Central at Admin and the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library, as well as many other Harris County Public Library Locations have a Laser Cutter available for public use.

Find all locations and orientations to get started with a Laser Cutter here

The Laser cutter is a versatile tool for cutting on thin materials such as paper to create beautiful stencils but it can also etch an image or picture onto slightly thicker material such as wood or glass. We've helped create lots of different projects with the Laser Cutter, from customized pie dishes to wedding invitations to personalized gifts for a family reunion. Your imagination is the limit with this great tool! 

Best of all the library does not charge for use of the machine and provides orientation and expert knowledge from our Maker Lab Staff.

So what is Laser Cutting?

The laser cutter in the Jocelyn H. Lee Innovation Lab uses a 40W CO2 laser tube to generate an invisible beam capable of etching a variety of materials and cutting through wood and acrylic plastic up to ¼” thick. It has a working area of 12 x 20 inches. The laser is capable of etching a variety of bitmap images (BMP, JPG, PNG, etc.) and uses vector files (SVG, AI, PDF, etc.) for cutting and etching intricate line-art designs.

What Materials Can I Use?

  • Natural Wood
  • Natural Fabric
  • Paper
  • Uncoated Cardboard
  • Tile, Stone & Glass
  • Acrylic Plastic
  • Birch Craft Plywood
  • Natural Leather

Other materials are subject to Staff approval. PVC and chloride-containing materials are prohibited. Materials or job settings which produce excessive smoke, odor or flames will be restricted. Prepared samples of some of these materials are available in the Lab to provide example settings for the laser cutter. A limited selection of plywood and acrylic is available for purchase from the Friends of Freeman Bookstore.

Software for Etching and Cutting

Most programs can be used to print in raster mode. The Innovation Lab at Freeman uses Inkscape (free) for creating and editing vector files. Many CAD programs also generate vector files. 123D Design (free) and Autodesk Inventor are both available in the Innovation Lab. Adobe Creative Suite products (Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator) can be used to create vector files and edit bitmap images for rastering. 

Wanna get started on your own project?

Laser Cutting & Etching service are first required to take an orientation prior to printing. The orientation is a quick 1 hour class that gives you the in and outs of using and making files to print from the laser cutter. After the orientation, patrons are able to schedule a time with staff to begin printing by themselves. You can sign up for the orientation here or contact Maker Central or a HCPL Innovation Lab for available times or if you have more questions.

Feeling inspired? Watch the second part of our Maker Series featuring HCPL Library Maker and Local Houston Artist Sneha Bhavsar to see how she's used the our laser cutter to create her intricate art

Visit our original Innovation Lab: