Laser cutting used to be reserved for haute couture designs. But as consumers began lusting for the technique, and the technology was made more readily available to manufacturers, it’s become commonplace to see laser-cut silk and leather in ready-to-wear runway collections.
WHAT IS LASER CUT?
Laser cutting is a method of manufacturing that uses a laser to cut materials. All of the advantages – extreme accuracy, clean cuts and sealed fabric edges to prevent fraying – make this method of design very popular in the fashion industry. Another benefit is that one method can be used to cut many different materials, like silk, nylon, leather, neoprene, polyester and cotton. Also, the cuts are made without any pressure on the fabric, meaning no part of the cutting process requires anything other than the laser to touch a garment. There are no unintended marks left on the fabric, which is particularly beneficial for delicate fabrics like silk and lace.
HOW DOES LASER WORK?
This is where things get technical. There are three main types of lasers used for laser cutting: the CO2 laser, the neodymium (Nd) laser and the neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd-YAG) laser. For the most part, the CO2 laser is the method of choice when it comes to cutting wearable fabrics. This particular process involves firing a high-energy laser that cuts by melting, burning or vaporizing material.
To accomplish the precise cut, a laser travels through a tube-like device while being reflected by several mirrors. The beam eventually reaches a focal lens, which targets the laser to a single spot on the chosen material for cutting. Adjustments can be made to vary the amount of material that is cut by the laser.
The CO2 laser, the Nd laser and the Nd-YAG laser all generate a concentrated beam of light. That said, differences in these types of lasers make each ideal for certain tasks. The CO2 laser is a gas laser that produces an infrared light. CO2 lasers are easily absorbed by organic material, making it the first choice when it comes to cutting fabrics like leather. Nd and Nd-YAG lasers, on the other hand, are solid-state lasers that rely on a crystal to create the light beam. These high-powered methods are well-suited for engraving, welding, cutting and drilling metals; not exactly haute couture.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Because you appreciate attention to detail and precise cuts in fabric, you fashionista, you. Cutting fabric with a laser allows for extremely accurate cuts without ever touching the fabric, which means that a garment comes out as untainted by a manufacturing process as possible. Laser cutting offers the kind of precision that you’d get if a design were done by hand, but at a much faster pace, making it more practical and also allowing for lower price points.
There’s also the argument that designers who utilize this manufacturing method are less likely to be copied. Why? Well, the intricate designs are hard to reproduce in an exact way. Of course, those who copy can aim to recreate an original pattern or might be inspired by specific cuts, but utilizing laser cuts makes it that much harder for the competition to create an identical pattern.