Skip to content
laser cut prototype
Lee K. HouseJun 6, 20243 min read

Laser Cut or Digital Knife Prototyping?

You’re sitting at your desk, staring at different prototyping services. A tiny voice in your head is crying, “But how do I know which one is better to use?!”

When building a custom design, it can be challenging to recognize the best approach for each step of the process. However, you won’t know how to proceed without an accurate prototype.

At Strouse, we choose the prototyping method based on the specific needs of each project. 

If you’re stuck between digital knife cutting and laser cutting prototyping, don’t worry. Today, we’ll teach you the key differences so you can find precise samples that fit the scope of your project. 

What is Laser Cut Prototyping?

Converters use laser cut prototyping to build rapid part mock-ups for material and design development. Although lasers can be used in full-scale production, prototyping refers to smaller sample runs of a handful to a few hundred parts. 

Strouse uses a CO2 laser to create samples without purchasing a die cut tool

Characteristics of laser prototyping:

  • Pressure sensitive is possible (allows you to make more complex designs, including tabs, multilevel parts, and other unique features)
  • May result in crispy, burnt, or otherwise charred edges depending on the material
  • You cannot cut foils on a CO2 laser

What is Digital Knife Prototyping?

Digital knife prototyping uses an oscillating blade to cut programmed patterns and create varied designs. Like laser cutting, this prototyping method does not require the purchase of hard tooling and is, therefore, ideal for testing out designs. 

Characteristics of digital knife prototyping:

  • It might be more difficult to make registered cuts OR cut pressure-sensitive 
  • Material under an inch of thickness 
  • Foil is OK 👍
  • Generally cleaner cuts

Laser Cut vs. Digital Knife Samples 

Now that we’ve discussed each option, here are some differences you might want to consider before choosing a prototyping method. 

1. QUALITY OF EDGES

Depending on the material, laser cuts can produce poor-quality edges with charring and debris, or melt it, causing the material to fuse to the liner. Digital knife cuts are typically cleaner, making them ideal for certain projects. 

2. PROTOTYPING COST

Based on our experience, laser cutting can be the more expensive option for your prototypes due to the cost of production and the expertise required. However, this may depend on the company you’re working with and the complexity of your design. 

3. MATERIAL THICKNESS

Although you can laser cut thicker materials, they might require multiple passes of the laser, which could be inefficient for time. 

For example, cutting a half-inch foam could result in crispy edges and multiple laser passes, whereas it’s a relatively simple cut to make through flash cutting.

Digital knife cutting is limited by the material's thickness and durometer (hardness). Digitally cutting thicker polycarbonate will wear down and eventually break your blade over time. Ideally, you’d want to keep your materials under an inch of thickness for a digital knife

4. ABILITY TO CUT FOIL

Unfortunately, metal's reflective properties make it unsuitable for a CO2 laser, so your converter may suggest prototyping with a digital knife. 

5. SIZE AND SCALE OF DESIGN

Your part dimensions could affect the prototyping method depending on your converter's capabilities. For instance, the primary sampling laser we use at Strouse can handle designs within 2x3ft, while the digital knife can handle 5x5ft.

Building the Right Process For You

Building samples is one of the standard early stages of project development, but each company’s prototyping process varies depending on their current progress and budget. 

If you want to try laser cutting or digital knife prototyping, consider contacting us for a project consultation. Our engineers can help you prove out different designs using the method that best suits your project.

For more information on what we do and the processes we cover, feel free to check out our Learning Center for more details. 

avatar

Lee K. House

Copywriter & Content Creator for Strouse. Lee graduated from the University of Alabama in the Spring of 2022 with a double major in English and Spanish.

RELATED ARTICLES