A General Guide to Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

With the right tools, you can laser cut many grades of stainless steel rapidly and precisely. Laser cutting offers several advantages over traditional approaches. It stops work hardening, applies minimal heat to the metal, and often requires no finishing processes. But cutting stainless steel does demand knowledge, care, and good equipment. This article serves as a guide to laser cutting stainless steel, providing an overview of how to do it correctly.

A General Guide to Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

Definition of Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an iron alloy that can be shaped into sheets, plates, bars, wires, and tubing. Its versatility makes it one of the most popular materials in manufacturing across industries. Compared to other materials like plastic, acrylics, fabric, or wood, stainless steel tends to be more cost-effective, of higher quality, and easier to work with. This is why stainless steel is widely used in products and machines worldwide, from appliances to motor vehicles. 

Laser cutting, first introduced in the 1960s, uses a laser beam to cut edges precisely in different materials. These include thick and thin metals like stainless steel, carbon steel, brass, copper, and virtually every metal used in industrial applications.

Stainless steel parts crafted using laser cutting machines are commonly known as laser cut stainless steel parts. This technology involves using a high-power laser beam to cut stainless steel sheets, resulting in significantly lower production costs than traditional methods.

Reasons Why Laser Cut Stainless Steel

Laser cutting is especially beneficial for stainless steel for several reasons. First, stainless steel is a durable and corrosion-resistant material widely used in architecture, automotive, and aerospace industries. Laser cutting offers a precise and efficient method for shaping and cutting stainless steel, guaranteeing high-quality results.

Furthermore, laser cutting is a non-contact process, which means there is no physical contact with the material, decreasing the risk of contamination or damage. In addition, laser cutting enables the creation of intricate and complicated designs, making it ideal for producing customized stainless steel components or decorative pieces.

Hence, laser metal cutting is ideal for shaping layer nozzles or crafting metal masterpieces.

Reasons Why Laser Cut Stainless Steel

Types of Laser Cuttable Stainless Steel

Laser cutting can be used with different grades of stainless steel depending on specific requirements, applications, and environmental conditions. It is adaptable to various material thicknesses, from thin sheets to thicker plates, and can make precise cuts on brushed, polished, or matte surfaces. This allows engineers and designers to achieve specific aesthetic and functional outcomes.

However, different types of stainless steel are suitable for laser cutting, each offering unique characteristics and applications.

  • Austenitic Stainless Steel, like 304 and 316, is commonly used in laser cutting because of its corrosion resistance and ability to bear extreme temperatures. These types of stainless steel are frequently utilized in architecture, food processing, as well as medical equipment manufacturing.
  • Martensitic Stainless Steel, like the 400 series, comes in high- or low-carbon varieties. It is generally less demanding than austenitic stainless steel and offers lower corrosion resistance. However, due to its lower nickel content, this steel has an advantage in machinability.
  • Ferritic Stainless Steel is part of the 400 series. These materials can be heat-treated and hardened without much effort. Examples include 430 stainless steel, also known as blade steel.

Something Lasers Can Do to Stainless Steel

Laser cutting offers several advantages when working with stainless steel. It avoids distortion and work hardening, produces smooth edges without additional processing, and cuts up to 100 mm in a single pass to fastly process large items.

There are two primary forms of laser marking for stainless steel: laser ablation and laser annealing. Laser ablation vaporizes and removes material, while laser annealing leaves the chromium oxide surface undisturbed and instead anneals or melts the metal underneath. Laser marking results in little to no distortion and staining in the broader heat-affected zone (HAZ), while rapid rotating cutter machining can significantly alter hardness around the cut zone and produce heat distortion and discoloration over more expansive areas.

Laser engraving on stainless steel is possible but can cause discoloration. The process removes some surface oxide layers, similar to laser cutting, but with precise control, which is needed for a high-quality finish.

Laser etching is a controlled process for stainless steel. It involves annealing the subsurface of unoxidized metal without removing the protective oxide layer. The transparent oxide layer allows limited oxygen diffusion, resulting in the metal below getting stained in shades of yellow or brown, depending on the process intensity. This method is also known as laser annealing.

Laser cutting stainless steel is a process that contains several key stages:

  1. Design Creation: The first step involves creating a design that needs to be cut, typically using CAD software to ensure high-precision designs.
  2. Setting Up the Machine: The design is loaded onto the laser cutting machine, and then the machine settings are adjusted on account of the certain requirements of the cut, like the thickness of the steel and the required finish.
  3. Laser Cutting: The laser cutting process commences as the laser accurately and swiftly cuts through the stainless steel following the programmed path.
  4. Part Extraction and Cleaning: After cutting, the finished parts are taken out and cleaned to remove any remaining trash or debris, revealing a clean and precise cut.

Types of Laser Cuttable Stainless Steel

Types of Laser Cutters Being Used for Stainless Steel Cutting

The lasers capable of effectively cutting stainless steel are fiber and CO2 lasers. Here are the pros and cons of each:

Fiber Laser Cutters

Fiber laser cutting generates beams typically half the diameter of a CO2 laser’s cutter ”dot”, resulting in approximately quadruple the effective power for the same laser output energy.


  • Fiber lasers are able to process materials more quickly and with greater precision because of their narrower beam.
  • The operating costs of fiber lasers are lower due to their electrical efficiency, which is 4 to 6 times better than CO2 devices, and their solid-state construction.


  • When using fiber lasers for cutting, using a higher amount of nitrogen shielding gas is necessary.

CO2 Laser Cutters

CO2 laser cutting typically produces a 600-µm wide cutter beam. These lasers can achieve much higher power levels compared to fiber lasers, although modern fiber lasers are catching up in this aspect.


  • CO2 lasers are more suitable for making less precise cuts on thicker parts.
  • The cost of equipment’s capital expenditure (CAPEX) is significantly lower than that of fiber laser machines.


  • The operating expenses (OPEX) per unit length are higher for CO2 lasers than for fiber lasers.

Working Process of Laser Cutting Machines

Laser cutting machines efficiently utilize the heat from a laser beam to cut various materials without requiring different tools to create cut edges. Instead, laser cutting machines only need to adjust the laser’s parameters to change the cutting process. For instance, adjustments can be made to metal or other materials’ thickness and complex contours.

The laser is directed by mirrors or optical fibers, with specifications determined before cutting. This implies minimal human involvement compared to traditional cutting processes for stainless steel and other metals. Consequently, laser cutting machines lower costs and deliver higher quality, irrespective of the eventual use of the cut stainless steel or other materials.

The Cutting Process

During laser cutting, a computer-controlled machine follows programmed instructions to create intricate shapes and designs accurately. Assistance gases, such as nitrogen or oxygen, blow away molten metal and debris from the cut area. The laser’s speed as it moves across the material affects both cutting quality and processing time.

Executing the Cutting

The cutting process starts by loading the design file into the laser cutting machine’s software. The machine then utilizes a laser beam to accurately cut the surface of the stainless steel material based on the design requirements. The laser beam is concentrated on a focal point, causing the stainless steel to melt and vaporize as it moves along the cutting path.

The cutting speed and power of the laser beam are carefully controlled to ensure a precise and clean cut. The process is automated and highly efficient, enabling the creation of intricate shapes and designs while minimizing material waste.

Monitoring and Adjusting the Parameters

Monitoring and adjusting various parameters throughout the process is vital to ensure optimal cutting results. These parameters include:

  1. Laser Power: The laser beam’s power determines its ability to melt or vaporize stainless steel, allowing precise control over the cut’s depth.
  2. Cutting Speed:  The speed of the laser moving across the material impacts both the quality of the cut and the time it takes to process. Finding the right balance is important to ensuring precise cuts without sacrificing efficiency.
  3. Assist Gas Pressure: Oxygen or inert gas, such as nitrogen, is commonly employed as an assist gas during laser cutting and engraving. Managing the cutting gas pressure helps blow away molten metal and debris, ensuring a cleaner cutting and engraving process.
  4. Focus Position: Proper alignment of the laser beam focus ensures precise engraving and cutting. Correct adjustment of this parameter results in a narrow kerf width.
  5. Material Thickness: Cutting stainless steel of different thicknesses requires adjusting cutting parameters for the best results. Thicker materials may need slower speeds and higher power settings, while thinner materials may require faster speeds and lower power settings.

By carefully monitoring and adjusting these parameters, laser cutting machines can make precise cuts on stainless steel without causing much deformation or leaving markings.

Post-Processing after Cutting

After laser cutting stainless steel, following up with post-processing steps is essential to ensure optimal results. Here are some best practices for post-processing.

Inspecting the Cut Quality

  • Thoroughly inspect the high-quality stainless steel after laser cutting, etching, annealing, and nitrogen cutting to assess the cut’s quality.
  • Look for any slag or burrs that may be present on the edges after laser etching, laser metal cutting, or laser engraving machine processes.
  • If precision is essential, use deburring tools or sanding to achieve the desired edge smoothness.

Cleaning and Finishing

  • Remove trash or rough edges from the laser-cut metal for a smooth finish.
  • Remove any residue from the assisting gases to guarantee a clean final product.
  • Consider using auxiliary gas when laser engraving and cutting with a fiber laser to reduce contamination and enhance results.
  • Proper handling and storage of the cut stainless steel pieces is crucial. The pieces should be handled carefully to prevent damage or distortion and stored in a suitable environment to avoid contamination or corrosion.

Working Process of Laser Cutting Machines

Applications of Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

Laser cutting for stainless steel is used in a wide range of industries. Some of these include:

  1. Automotive manufacturing
  2. Aerospace industry
  3. Medical device manufacturing
  4. Jewelry making
  5. Food and beverage equipment production
  6. Construction and architecture

These industries use laser cutting to create stainless steel parts and components precisely, efficiently, and versatilely.

The Expected Results of Laser Cutting

Laser cutting of stainless steel could be precise and produce clean edges with minimal heat damage when all parameters are optimized. However, a gas-assist setup must keep the laser’s path debris-free to achieve this precision. While the process could improve, specific common faults can be recognized and corrected. These are listed below:

  1. Large, irregular dripping is observed at the lower face on both sides of the cut: The cutter operates at a high temperature. Increase the feed rate, air assist, or raise the focal point for better cooling.
  2. Large, irregular dripping on the lower face, on one side of the cut: Similar issues on both sides are usually caused by a poorly centered air assist nozzle, which results in dripping.
  3. Small Drips at the Lower Edge of the Cut: The focal point is set too low, and/or the feed rate is too high.
  4. Upwards Splashing of Melt is Visible: The feed rate is excessive, and in some instances, the air assist is overly forceful.
  5. Yellow or Brown Staining at the Cut: The nitrogen feed is too low, or the nitrogen has been contaminated with oxygen.

Some Tips to Note When Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

Laser cutting stainless steel requires careful consideration of several aspects to ensure optimal results:

  1. Correct Power Settings: Setting the laser to the correct power level is essential for achieving precise cuts and stopping damage to the material.
  2. Focal Point Position: The position of the focal point can significantly affect the quality of the cut. It’s crucial to adjust it correctly on account of the thickness and type of stainless steel being cut.
  3. Choice of Assist Gas: The choice of oxygen, nitrogen, or air can influence the cut quality, edge condition, and cutting speed.
  4. Material Thickness: The speed and precision of cutting can be influenced by the thickness of the material. Generally, thinner materials allow for faster and more precise cuts than thicker ones.
  5. Laser Cutting Speed: The speed at which the laser cuts the material can affect the quality of the cut. If it’s too slow, the material may be damaged by excessive heat; if it’s too fast, the cut may not be clean.

Advantages of Using a Laser Cutting Machine to Cut Stainless Steel

Here are just a few reasons why laser cutting is superior for cutting all types of materials and metals compared to other methods:

Better Precision 

Laser cutting creates the most minor heat-affected zone compared to other thermal cutting techniques. This means the laser beam can melt stainless steel sheets or other workpieces into specific shapes and make precise cuts according to specifications. The laser head emits the laser beam for all laser motion and position measurements. These specifications can vary widely for materials of different thicknesses, resulting in accurate cuts without compromising speed and quality or incurring additional costs.


One significant advantage of using fiber laser cutters and other modern laser cutters is their speed. These cutters are powered by a motion system that requires no human adjustments during the cutting process. As a result, the laser head adjusts automatically based on the laser cut specifications, allowing for uninterrupted operation 24/7.

Improved Edge Quality of Material 

The precision of a laser cut is unparalleled for cutting stainless steel sheets and some other materials, regardless of the original workpiece’s thickness or quality. As a result, companies can save on poorly fitting or incorrectly manufactured parts and confidently believe every piece crafted with a laser cutter is of the highest quality.

Programming Available 

The primary goal of using a fiber laser cutting machine is usually to achieve precise laser cuts. However, modern lasers can perform other manufacturing processes, such as welding. This versatility streamlines various operations and boosts productivity for manufacturers in all industries.


Laser cutting machines, especially fiber laser cutting machines, are well-known for reliability. Every intricate part of a laser cutter, from the head to the software, requires minimal maintenance or special services to function correctly. As a result, manufacturers can expect high-quality results for every sheet of metal that needs to be laser cut or processed in other ways. This process minimizes downtime, reducing delays and ultimately cutting costs.

Due to the high cutting speeds without interruptions, manufacturers will enjoy increased productivity without extra effort to power their operations.

Alternatives for Laser Cutting Stainless Steel

  • Waterjet Cutting: This method involves using a high-pressure jet or a combination of water and an abrasive substance to cut through materials. It is a versatile process capable of cutting a wide range of materials, but it is slower and more expensive than laser cutting.
  • Plasma Cutting: Plasma cutting uses a high-speed jet of hot plasma to cut through those materials which conduct electricity. It is faster than waterjet and laser cutting for thicker materials but may not offer the same level of precision.
  • Mechanical Cutting (e.g., Shearing, Sawing, Punching): These methods may be less expensive than laser cutting for more straightforward, less precise jobs, but they do not offer the same versatility or precision.

In general, laser cutting offers the optimal combination of speed, accuracy, and flexibility for most stainless steel cutting needs, particularly for thinner materials or intricate designs.


Laser cutting stainless steel offers high precision, speed, and versatility. It’s valuable for industries like automotive, aerospace, and medical. Understanding the process, types of lasers, and materials is crucial. Choosing between CO2 and fiber lasers depends on job requirements. CO2 lasers are cost-effective and more suitable for thicker materials, while fiber lasers are more precise and energy-efficient. Leveraging advanced laser cutting machines can produce superior results in stainless steel cutting.