The rise in popularity of laser cut clothing and accessories have shown that laser cutters aren’t just for manufacturing with hard materials such as wood and plastics. Laser cutting, and 3D printing have given fashion designers plenty of opportunities to create new techniques and trends, and there’s no chance of that stopping any time soon. More and more young, and wannabe designers have access to laser cutters via maker spaces in schools and communities, which means the only limits are their imaginations – and of course, what materials the laser cutter can process.
How easy is it to set up a clothing and accessories business?
Setting up a business that specialises in clothing and accessories is easier than it ever has been. Buying bulk from manufacturers is easy, and finding clothing manufacturers to create your designs is simple, and with services like print on demand, you don’t even need to have your own equipment – you just have to be able to design. You can even use retail models such as drop shipping that you don’t even have to buy inventory up-front, so you can expand and supplement your offering quickly and easily, without investing cash.
But setting up a business that specialises in laser cut clothing and accessories, and allows you to create your own designs is a completely different ball game. In addition to having the skillset that is required to create clothing, as well as the ability to use design software and use the laser cutter, you need access to a laser cutter, and that requires funds.
Many budding entrepreneurs have access to maker spaces, and if not, there are specialist on-request laser cutting services, which allow people to trial their products and ideas before they go all in and invest in the equipment they need. Whichever way you look at it, the major challenge though is the upfront cost, whether you work with a specialist service in the first instance, or go straight in and buy a laser cutter yourself.
For small accessories such as jewellery – especially if you’re laser engraving or working with softer materials, you may be able to do everything you need to with a budget laser cutter. But chances are, as your business grows and diversifies, you’ll need a desktop laser cutter that can do more, and if you want to be able to create larger pieces, you’ll want a platform laser cutter.
Are laser cutting businesses profitable?
Absolutely they are. However, like every business, there are a lot of things that can determine quite how profitable they can be, and it depends on you, your team, and how you manage your operations. However, once you own your laser cutter, you can keep costs relatively minimal by buying only the materials that you need to create one of each design. Then, when you receive your orders, you can buy the materials required, and then build up your stock gradually, rather than investing in huge amounts of materials that you might not end up using if the demand for your products isn’t as high as you anticipated.
Making sure that your business is profitable is simple, you just need to use the formula: Total revenue – Total expenses = Profit.
The big mistake that many first-time business owners make is under estimating how large their expenses actually are when they are pricing their items. When you’re creating a product, the main expense is the raw materials you’re using, and then on top of that, you need to factor in the utility bills for the premises – especially electricity – as well as the time you spend designing, sourcing materials, and creating the products, so you can pay yourself. But these aren’t the only expenses you’ll need to think about. If you employ other staff for your business, they are an expense, as are bills such as insurance, business rates, and so on. And that’s before we even think about adding on postage, if you’re sending the order to the customer by post or courier. You can charge that to the customer separately, of course, but some customers prefer to order where they see postage included, or ‘free’, even though most will realise that the price includes their postage.
How profitable your business can be will depend upon a number of factors, but if you plan carefully, make your designs perfectly suited to your target customer, and price them so you’re getting the right profit margin on each product you sell – then you can definitely make a profit from your laser cutting business.
What can you use a laser cutter for in a clothing and accessories business?
If you’re already in the clothing and accessories industry, you’ve almost certainly got ideas floating around your head for how you’d use your laser cutter! But there is no end to the potential that your laser cutter holds. There are loads of different things that you might find your laser cutter useful for when you’re creating clothing and accessories, but these are a few of the ones you’ll find most useful:
- Creating patterns
- Cutting fabrics
- For creating prototype pieces
- To create bespoke, one-off custom pieces
- For high volume production
- Laser engraving including stonewashing effects
- Cutting harder materials such as acrylic and stones for jewellery, bags, and so on
- Distortion of fabrics
Depending on how you want to diversify your clothing and accessories business, you might find that you need to use your laser cutter in different ways, and with different materials than you’re used to.
How accurate is laser cutting?
It depends on which type of laser cutter we’re talking about to get specific about exactly how accurate, but let’s put it in very simple terms: laser cutting is incredibly accurate. Way, way more accurate – and faster – than using manual cutting methods. Generally speaking, most laser cutters are accurate to within a fraction of a millimetre, which is why they are so widely used, and across so many industries where accuracy is essential.
What are the advantages of using laser cutting in a clothing and accessories business?
Many of the advantages of using laser cutting for a clothing and accessories business are the same as the reasons any other businesses use them. We talk about these reasons a lot, and have done in several of our other posts, but let’s do a quick round up of the benefits of using laser cutters:
- Accuracy – as we’ve just mentioned, laser cut items are accurate to within 0.1mm
- Flexibility – laser cutters can create the same design with a number of different materials and thicknesses
- Replicability – creating the same design over and over is easy, you just need the design file
- Speed – laser cutting is quick, especially compared with mechanical methods of cutting
- Automation – this means less chance of errors
- Excellent finishes – which means less need for post-cut processing
- Frictionless cutting – no wear on tools, so less need for scissor sharpening services etc
- Versatility – there’s a huge number of materials that can be used in laser cutting
In a laser cut clothing and accessories business, these advantages are all equally as relevant, and if not more, than they are with any other kind of manufacturing. And once you’ve got past the biggest hurdle of the startup costs, there are so many advantages to owning your laser cutter, from the number of fabrics and other materials that can be cut, to the range of techniques and high quality detailing and finishes that can be achieved, the high working speed, lower costs, and easy reproduction. Not to mention, that working with a laser cut design is always much faster and cheaper for testing concepts such as intricately detailed lace designs, which, even if the final piece is going to be made by hand, allows you to see whether the idea works in reality.
Are there any downsides to using a laser cutter for clothing and accessories?
There aren’t really any downsides to having a laser cutter available in your clothing and accessories design business, but there are a few things to be aware of before you can jump in. Let’s take a look:
The initial investment required is steep, and if you’re going to be reliant on your laser cutter for your business, you can’t rely on a cheap laser cutter from eBay or China. When you buy cheap for a significant item like a laser cutter, it almost always works out to be a false economy, since they tend to be of poorer quality, and end up breaking quickly, even if they work OK in the first place – and then you end up needing to spend on a replacement.
It should go without saying, but a laser cutter isn’t the same thing as a printer – you can’t just rock up start using it without really knowing what you’re doing. There’s plenty of learning involved, including knowing how to use your preferred design software, before you can get the best from it, you need to know which settings will be best, and to ensure you don’t mess up your laser cutter before you even have chance to get going. You also have to know which materials will be OK to use in the laser cutter, and more importantly, which materials are definitely not, because they can seriously damage your laser cutter, so you can avoid any unnecessary expenses, or damage to your health.
You’ll also need to make sure you have a safe setup for your laser cutter. A fume extraction system is necessary in most cases, so you can avoid any potential health hazards from inhaling fumes, and you’ll need personal protective equipment available such as safety goggles, as well as appropriate fire extinguishers and water sprays, just in case.
Finally, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to keep your laser cutter in good working order. Your laser cutter is going to be an integral part of your business, which means that if it stops working, you won’t be able to fulfil your orders – and as you can imagine, cancelling orders is not a good idea for the reputation of your business. Day to day maintenance is easy to do, and should be completed when appropriate, depending on how busy you are and how much your laser cutter is in use, but servicing is a worthwhile investment too. Grab a Hobarts annual service plan, and we can take care of your laser cutter maintenance for you. Having our plan in place means that we’re available to support you if your laser cutter stops working, although most of our clients find they never need our support, because we keep their machines in perfect working order. Should you find you need support, we are able to troubleshoot most issues by phone, but if we do need to visit, we’ll have the parts needed with us, to get you back on track as soon as possible.
What fabrics are suitable for laser cutting?
There are a number of fabrics that can be cut with your laser cutter – we’ve listed some of the most popular ones below to get you started.
- Lenzing Modal®
- Polyamide material
- EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate)
- Fluffy materials (these include ‘teddy bear’ materials, as well as some artificial furs)
Many of these are suited to laser engraving too – which we’ll talk about in a moment.
However, be warned, because there are a number of materials that you definitely don’t want to cut in your laser cutter, as doing so can absolutely ruin it! PVC, vinyl, and artificial ‘vegan’ leathers are probably the ones that you might be considering using for your clothing and accessories, but they are a big no-no, since they release poisonous chlorine gas when they are cut with a laser. Not only will they harm you and anyone in the vicinity, but they will also damage the optics, metal parts, and control system of your laser too.
Can’t find the perfect fabric for a design you’re creating? Why not create it yourself? Because laser cutters can cut with incredible precision, you can use your laser cutter to create fabrics that are akin to lace – without the effort of creating lace. Not only that, you can use your laser cutter to create effect such as stonewashing, acid washing, and other aging effects on fabrics such as denim, without the harmful effects on the environment.
How to laser cut fabric
Laser cutting fabric is pretty similar to cutting anything else in your laser cutter! You’ll need to create the design in whichever design software you prefer, and then place the fabric in your laser cutter, and proceed to cut in the same way you would with any other material. Because there isn’t any mechanical friction on the fabric, the main thing you need to do is to ensure that the fabric is laid completely flat, and you’ll get the cut you want and need.
Is laser cutting best for cutting fabrics?
Laser cutters are great, but they aren’t going to be perfect for every type of garment that you want to create. Because of that, it is pretty likely that you’ll still want the traditional equipment in your workspace, and depending on what types of accessories you want to create, you might want to consider having the machinery for techniques such as die cutting, rotary cutting, and ultrasonic cutting.
What types of garments are already made using laser cutters?
Pretty much any garments you see on the market today may have been made using laser cutters – as long as the fabric they are made from is safe to be cut in a laser cutter. But there are some items that are more likely to have been created with laser cutters, including sports apparel, underwear, inexpensive items of clothing with lace effects, engraved fabrics, shoes, and handbags.
What is laser cut underwear and why is it popular?
Laser cut underwear is increasingly popular with people who really hate seams on their undergarments, for whatever reason. It might be that they find them uncomfortable, or because they don’t like the seams spoiling the line of their trousers, dresses, and so on. By using the laser cutter to cut the material, the edges are sealed with the cut, which means that there isn’t any need to have a bulky seam, or any other kind of stitching.
Other items of clothing that benefit from not having any seams include sports bras, swimwear, and running leggings, which tend to be made from stretchy materials like Lycra, because then they don’t cause any chafing when the owner of the item is taking part in their sport.
Making jewellery with a laser cutter
If you’re looking at creating jewellery and other types of accessories for your business, then you’ll be looking at working with hard materials such as acrylic, wood, metals, glass, and natural materials such as stones and semi-precious gemstones. If you’re a specialist, or become one, then you might even be working with precious stones such as diamonds. We wrote a whole post about making jewellery and creating a jewellery business with a laser cutter and 3D printer before, and so if making earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are on your agenda, we definitely recommend taking a look at that one.
How can laser engraving help a laser cut clothing and accessories business?
Owning a laser cutter isn’t just about cutting! Laser engraving is a technique that you can use your laser cutter to achieve, and there are so many materials that you can engrave on to create gorgeous effects.
There’s a good possibility that you’ll think of engraving on hard materials such as wood, metal, glass, and plastic first – and when you’re creating fashion items, you can create designs that are perfect for enhancing handbag handles and hardware, jewellery, belt buckles, and even buttons. But have you thought about using your laser cutter to engrave on fabrics?
There are a number of fabrics that stand up to laser engraving well. Cotton based fabrics are excellent, including materials such as denim, but fleece, felt, twill, and leather can be engraved, with excellent results, and can be used to add branding or other designs to existing garments. This opens up loads of opportunities.
Laser engraving on fabrics means that you can create designs without needing to commission fabric from manufacturers. In fact, by using laser engraving, you can customise items that you already make – let’s use an example of a denim jacket. You might order a number from your clothing manufacturer, and then use your laser cutter to engrave a custom design on them, so as to offer a completely different product. All you need to do is to create the design on one piece (perhaps one that fits you!) and then photograph it. If nobody orders the design, no problem, since you still have the unadorned pieces to sell.
Of course, another way you can use your laser cutter to increase the number of sales you make is by offering personalisation and customisation services to your customers. Particularly for products such as handbags, luggage, and luggage tags, customers will pay for their items to be monogrammed (a motif made by overlapping or combining letters, typically initials) or otherwise personalised. Check out the Louis Vuitton customisation offering for inspiration – although their master craftsmen are likely to use other techniques, as well as having a laser cutter at their disposal.
It might also be that, depending on the reputation you want to create for the business, that you could offer customisation for workwear such as fleeces, heavy cotton work trousers, overalls, and so on. By using the laser to engrave onto the fabric, you can offer those personalisation services to other businesses at a lower cost than they might find embroidering services – and of course, the effect is completely different too.
If you’re selling jewellery, adding an engraved personal message has long been a popular thing to do when giving a gift, so offering this to your customers will almost certainly encourage additional purchases. Be prepared, and have a range of text styles available on your website, so that you don’t have to create the design specifically each time.
Can laser cutters cut diamond?
Yes! Diamonds are one of the hardest materials known to man (read about 6 materials that are harder than diamonds here!), and cutting them used to only be possible by using diamond saws – essentially, using diamonds to cut other diamonds. But today, diamonds can be cut using laser cutters, with the advantage that they are less likely to shatter. Neodymium YAG laser cutters tend to be the preference for cutting diamonds, since they can make the cut in just two passes.
On the first pass, the high temperature of the laser can leave black marks on the diamond – which is where diamond is converted into graphite – but the second pass removes those marks. Since the laser cuts through with microscopic precision, the marks are usually as small as 20 microns across, and therefore easily removed as the second pass occurs.
How to diversify a fashion brand with your laser cutter
When you’ve got your laser cut fashion off to a great start – by which we mean that you’ve started to make consistent sales, you’ve got your social media flying, and business is good – you’ll be starting to look at other ways to grow your business.
Adding more products to those that you’re offering is an easy way of extending your business and increasing customer interest. Since you don’t have to create more than one of any of your designs (you’ll want at least one so you can take photos for your listings), the risk to your business if a certain product doesn’t sell is minimal – you’re not going to be stuck with loads of stock that you have to shift.
You’ll need to create designs that are likely to appeal to your target customers, or maybe, if you’re designing other items that appeal to another target audience, you might do that and sell through Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, rather than your website. There are plenty of ways you can sell products that you’ve been inspired to design, even if they don’t fit your usual customer, so don’t let them go to waste.
A few suggestions that you might consider using your laser cutter to diversify your clothing and accessories business:
- Laser engraving mirrors and mirror frames – working with wood, plastic, and metal (depending on your laser cutter)
- Customised jewellery boxes, or to personalise cheap, generic boxes using engraving. Wood, acrylic, leather work well for this, and you can see plenty of examples on Etsy
- Jewellery holders such as jewellery trees, earring holders, and ring boxes
- Personalised engraving on coat hangers, especially if you’re offering products that are suited to the wedding industry
- Bow ties and cufflinks
- Handbags, pouches, and purses
- Personalised luggage and travel items such as jewellery wraps, luggage tags, and passport holders
The possibilities are endless, and the choice is yours.
Which laser cutter is best for a fashion business?
There isn’t a single correct answer to this question, because it depends on what you’re going to be creating. In some cases, a low power, budget laser cutter may be enough, especially where the focus of the business is on engraving rather than cutting, and certainly in the early days of the business. If you start with a budget laser cutter though, you may need to plan ahead for upgrading as your business grows.
If you need more power and flexibility, but you’re starting out by creating smaller items, then the Universal Laser Systems VLS2.30DT is a perfect entry level desktop laser cutter. Unlike with larger, platform systems, with a desktop laser cutter you won’t need quite as much space – although you’ll need to consider your fume extraction. If you’re going to be creating bigger items, then you might want to look at a platform system. We’ve just installed the first ULTRA X6000 platform in the UK – which can handle materials up to 914 x 610 mm (36 x 24 in)!
In addition to the size, you’ll also need to consider the type of laser cutter you need, and this will depend on what you’re cutting. Not all laser cutters are able to process metals, for example, and if you want to cut diamonds, you’ll need that neodymium YAG laser cutter.
Of course, buying a laser cutter of any type is an investment, and so you’ll need to make sure you have the budget available for what you need. A second hand model that has been fully refurbished may be the way to get your hands on the laser cutter that you need, without compromising on the functionality and at a far lower cost. You can check out our range of second user and ex demonstration laser cutters here, all of which have been fully serviced, and are sold with a 12 month warranty.
If your business is already established – perhaps you’re selling items that don’t require a laser cutter to create – then we may be able to offer you a laser cutter rental service, or in some circumstances, we can offer finance terms for purchasing the laser cutter you need. If either of these sound like they could help your business get to where you want it to go, then get in touch for a discussion.
Our final thoughts
Laser cut clothing and accessories is a booming niche, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of demand dropping. If you’re looking to start your own business, or to diversify an existing business by adding your own designs to your inventory, then a laser cutter can be a brilliant investment in your future. When you buy your laser cutter, make sure you do so from a reputable retailer, and make sure you get a good service plan too, so that you can continue to build your business successfully. If you’re in the market for a laser cutter, or you need your laser cutter maintained, get in touch – our team of experts will be able to help you.