Custom laser cutting, engraving, & machining

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does Charm City Laser do? [+]
    Charm City Laser provides a laser cutting and engraving service for designers, hobbyists, scientists and engineers, and others who need custom cut or engraved items. We use a CO2 laser to cut, engrave, and machine a wide range of materials including wood, paper, acrylic, certain plastics, tiles, fabric, and leather. Send us your design and specify your materials, and we will do the rest.
  2. What's the difference between laser cutting, engraving, and machining? [+]
    All three processes use a laser to modify materials.

    Laser Cutting is just what it sounds like. A powerful laser cuts a material into predefined shapes.

    Laser Engraving uses the laser to engrave or etch designs into the surface of the material. Typically this is used to engrave images, photographs, or other greyscale designs onto a surface. Laser engraving removes or "burns" a thin layer from the surface of the material to create contrasting tones on the surface.

    Laser Machining is a variation on engraving in which the the laser carves the material to make 3D features in the surface based on an image, photograph, or design. Here, the laser vaporizes material from the top surface based on the greyscale values in the image, removing more material in darker regions and less in lighter regions.
  3. What kinds of things can you make? [+]
    We can cut, engrave, or machine any number of items.

    The list is long: Architectural Models, Corporate Gifts, Desk Sets and Accessories, Electronic Gadgets, Glassware, Key Chains, Mobile Phones, Nameplates, Notary Seals, Photo Albums, Promotional Items, Sporting Goods, Clothes, Awards, Custom Cabinets, Decorative Tiles, Furniture, Gunstocks, Laptop Covers, MP3 Players, Name Badges, Picture Frames, Plastic Signage, Rubber Stamps, Fabric, Toys, and Wood Signage.

    If you have a design you want cut or engraved, check with us -- odds are we can help.
  4. Can I see examples of laser cut or engraved materials? [+]
    The images above and on the home page are laser cut and/or engraved. In the slideshow above, the Aztec calendar is engraved cork, the "scallops" are machined wood, the "channels" are machined acrylic, and the fractal tree is engraved pine. We are putting together a gallery of more laser-cut and engraved objects. It will be posted soon.
  5. What kind of laser do you use? [+]
    We have a 35W CO2 laser with a beam diameter of 0.003". It can hold material up to 24"x18" and 8.5" tall.
  6. Can I visit Charm City Laser? I'd like to watch the laser cut and engrave my project. [+]
    Of course! We'd be happy to meet you. You may visit Charm City Laser to drop-off materials, pick-up completed work, or to discuss your project (by appointment only).
  1. What materials can you laser cut and/or engrave? [+]
    The chart below lists the materials we can cut or engrave.
    Stacks Image 7
  2. What materials can't you laser cut or engrave? [+]
    We do not work with vinyl materials (vinyl, PVC, etc) or teflon because they produce toxic fumes when hit with the laser..
  3. What is the size limit on materials? [+]
    The largest size piece that fits in our laser system is the limit. Our system can hold material up to 24"x18" and 8.5" tall. We typically cut materials that are up to 1/4" thick. Thicker materials may require more than one pass with the laser to cut through, but we do not cut anything greater than 3/4" thick.
  4. What materials do you have in stock? [+]
    We often have acrylic and some wood pieces in stock. For your project, we can use you materials (you may bring them in or send them to us), or we can source them for you from our preferred vendors. Contact us for more information.
  5. Can I send Charm City Laser my pieces to cut/engrave? [+]
    Yes, you can. Please send at least 10% more than required in your design so we may test and calibrate our system for your specific materials for best results. We will return all unused pieces when the order is complete.

    When shipping flat materials to us, make sure they are packed well so they do not warp in transit. If they are warped, we will not be able to focus the laser reliably on the pieces.

    Label each piece with a note specifying what it is for. For example: the black 1/8" acrylic sheet is for the tire cutouts, and the blue acrylic sheet is for the formula 1 car frame.

    Charm City Laser is not responsible for items damaged or lost in shipment. We recommend insuring your shipment.

    Send your materials to Charm City Laser, 3500 Boston St. Suite 318, MS-71, Baltimore, MD 21224, and include your name, invoice number, and contact information INSIDE the package.
  1. How do I submit a design to Charm City Laser? [+]
    Use our online Estimate Request form to submit your design file and include as much information about your design as possible. We will respond within one business day.

    If you need to submit more than one file, use a compression utility such as WinZip to compress all your files into one zipped file. Contact us if you need help with this.
  2. Can you recommend design software? [+]
    We can work with files made from common commercial design software such as Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator, Canvas, or open source programs such as Inkscape and GIMP, among others. The main thing is that the software supports vector line art and raster images (such as jpeg or tiff images).
  3. How should I prepare my art for cutting or engraving? [+]
    Designs that require cutting must be vector artwork. Designs that include engraving may be vector art, raster images, or a combination of both. Please follow the following guidelines when preparing your design.

    • Use Layers: We recommend using the layers feature of design programs for your artwork. Place all cut lines in one layer (you can name it "Cutting"), and all artwork to be engraved in another layer (named "Engraving"). Explanatory text should be placed in its own layer ("Text"). You can download template files here.
    • Cut lines: Cut lines should be placed in the Cutting layer. All cut lines should be 100% black with hairline (less than 0.003 inches) thickness.
    • Engraving: Artwork to be engraved should be placed in the Engraving layer. The artwork can be vector art or images or a combination of both. Art in the engraving layer should be greyscale.
    • Fonts and text: Make sure to covert all text to curves (use "Convert to Curves" in CorelDraw). This ensures that your text will appear the way you expect. Otherwise, if we do not have the fonts you use in your design, our software will substitute a default system font.
  4. What file types do you accept? [+]
    We prefer Corel Draw (.CDR) files, but we can work with others such as DXF, DWG, AI, and SVG files as well. You can download template files here. Common image formats such as TIFF, JPEG, and PNG, are acceptable for art to be engraved. If you have art in another kind of file, please contact us. Odds are we can convert it for you.
  5. Can I send you a drawing? [+]
    Yes, you can, but we will have to charge you for the time to convert your drawing into a format appropriate for the laser.
  1. What happens after I submit my design? [+]
    Actually, before you submit your design, you should contact us to discuss your project. We may be able to suggest design and material considerations that best take advantage of the laser's capabilities and improve the final product.

    Once we have your project submission, the production phase begins. Our production process has 6 steps.
    1. Estimate
    2. Artwork/pre-production
    3. Proof page(s) confirmation
    4. Payment
    5. Production
    6. Delivery

    First, we generate an estimate for your project.

    Then, once you give Charm City Laser the go-ahead, we will perform any necessary artwork or designing and email you a proofs page showing any changes to your design that were necessary.

    We will also send you a PayPal invoice for the project. We will not begin work until you confirm the proofs page and the invoice is paid.

    Charm City Laser will produce your design.

    When the project is complete, we will send you the finished pieces, or you may pick them up at our facility in person. Depending on the physical size of the order, we will ship USPS or UPS.
  2. What is your turn around time? [+]
    This depends on the complexity of the design and the size and number of pieces. In general, once we have the design and required materials, most jobs can be completed within 3-5 days.
  3. My design requires assembly. Will you assemble my project? [+]
    No. Assembly of your project is up to you.
  4. What if I am unhappy with the finished product? [+]
    We do our best in pre-production consultations to ensure your design and materials are well-suited for laser cutting and engraving. If the finished product is not to specifications in your confirmed proof page(s), we will replace it free of charge or refund your payment (less artwork and material charges).
Pricing, payment, and shipping
  1. How much does this cost? [+]
    We charge $1.50 per minute of laser time and $60/hr for design work. We have a $25 charge for setup for all projects in addition to materials, artwork, handling, and shipping costs. Projects that require special jigs, extra care or labor (many delicate pieces for example) may incur additional charges.
  2. How do I pay you? [+]
    Charm City Laser will email you a PayPal invoice prior to production. You may pay the invoice using a PayPal account or a credit card. If you are local, then you may stop by and pay in person.
  3. What is your refund policy? [+]
    Because we focus on custom projects, we do not offer refunds for finished products that meet the specifications in the proof page(s). If the finished product is not to specifications in your confirmed proof page(s), at our discretion we will replace it free of charge or refund your payment (less artwork and material charges).
  4. How do you ship my finished products? [+]
    We use USPS Priority Mail and/or UPS to ship finished products. If you have special shipping requirements, please note them in the estimate request form.
More information
  1. Help! I don't see my question here. [+]
    If your question isn't answered here, please send it to us through our contact page. We'll answer it within a day.
  2. How can I contact you directly? [+]
    You can contact us through our contact form, here. We'll get back to you right away. You may also call us at 443-579-5868 to discuss your project.