When it comes to cutting neoprene, there are a few methods available to you. The one you choose depends on a number of things, including how soon you need the part, the thickness of the rubber, dimensional tolerances required, and the kind of part that is being cut. Neoprene rubber sheets can be cut by hand, laser, waterjet, or die. For applications such as neoprene seals and gaskets, neoprene fabrication must be as accurate as possible. Computerized cutting machines, such as laser and waterjet cutters, are usually used to make custom neoprene parts since these products tend to require extreme precision. Other times, neoprene products can be cut by hand when high levels of precision aren’t required—hand-cutting neoprene tends to be a more cost-effective method of cutting neoprene. Overall, the method of cutting neoprene is dependent on the type of application, the time schedule of your project, and the budget of your project. In this article, we give you a comprehensive guide to choosing the best method for cutting your neoprene product. In doing so, we’ll also answer the following questions—among others:
• How do you cut neoprene rubber sheets?
• Can you cut neoprene by hand?
• Can a laser cutter cut neoprene?
• Can a waterjet cut neoprene?
• Can you die cut neoprene?
1. How Do You Cut Neoprene Rubber Sheets?
Neoprene sheets can be cut with a utility knife, pre-measured die cutters, waterjet cutters, and laser cutters. Each method of cutting neoprene is ideal for different purposes, such as larger neoprene sheets for floor mats or smaller and more precise cuts for a neoprene gasket or seal. For example, the precise cuts needed for seals and gaskets cannot be produced by hand-cutting and, therefore, must be cut using a machine-operated method. When cutting neoprene on a machine, you are able to produce more accurately-cut pieces of neoprene—custom-made for the application. However, before cutting, it is important to consider your neoprene material’s thickness and durometer, the size of the part being cut, and the tolerances in play. The thickness and durometer of the neoprene sheets will help you determine which method to use when cutting neoprene. Some methods can only be used with a thin neoprene sheet, whereas other methods can cut through even the highest durometers of neoprene. Tolerance refers to the margin of error acceptable when cutting neoprene. In some instances, custom-cut neoprene parts must be precise, rendering hand-cutting the less-recommended option over die, laser, and waterjet cutting methods. In addition, the scale of a project and volume of required cut-parts are also important to consider. Hand-cutting neoprene, although cost-effective, is not the recommended method for those needing high volumes of neoprene cuts in a short amount of time. Most importantly, cost is a massive factor to take into consideration. Of course, because it doesn’t require expensive, hand-cutting is the most cost-effective option, while die, laser, and waterjet cutting will be on the pricier side.
Can You Cut Neoprene by Hand?
Yes, you can generally—but not always—cut neoprene by hand. Hand-cutting neoprene is the most basic way to cut neoprene and can be done with a utility knife and T-square ruler. This method of neoprene fabrication is ideal for simple, straight cuts that do not need to be perfectly precise. Thicker, longer, and larger neoprene sheets can still be cut using this method. But, know that thicker neoprene sheets can take multiple cuts to completely sever the piece. This is called “scoring,” and the difficulty of cutting neoprene by hand depends on the neoprene durometer. And as we’ve said, this method of cutting rubber will not be as precise as other computerized methods, including laser cutting, waterjet cutting, and die cutting processes. Due to this limited precision, cutting neoprene by hand is typically only done for cutting larger parts. Hand-cutting neoprene will have a margin of error of 1/16-inch (0.0625 inches) for materials half-an-inch-thick or thinner, and of 1/4-inch (0.250 inches) for materials 1-inch-thick or thicker. Remember that this is the most cost-effective method of cutting neoprene, so it’s always worth your consideration. But this doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice.
Can a Laser Cutter Cut Neoprene?
Yes, a laser cutter can cut neoprene. You can cut neoprene using a laser cutter to produce an accurate and precise cut. In this method of cutting neoprene, the exact measurements of your piece are entered into the machine. Then, a high-powered laser beam is guided across the surface of the material, creating extremely accurate and precise neoprene products, such as seals and gaskets. Cutting rubber on a laser cutter makes thicker neoprene sheets effortless to customize. But, the laser used to cut the neoprene can sometimes leave behind blemishes. Slight discoloration or jaggedness along the laser-cut edges may occur. Don’t worry though—these issues can be solved by cleaning the mat. Although laser cutters produce extremely precise lines, they also tend to consume much more energy than other methods, such as die cutting, making laser cutters the least-frequently used method of neoprene fabrication. Due to the large amount of energy being used, laser-cutting neoprene is generally only used when there is little-to-no room for error.
Can a Waterjet Cut Neoprene?
Waterjet cutters can cut neoprene, and like cutting neoprene with a laser cutter, waterjet cutters are used for making complicated and intricate cuts. Custom neoprene parts fabricated through waterjet cutting are extremely accurate in accordance with the specified measurements entered into the computer. Unlike laser cutters, waterjet cutters do not use heat in the process of cutting; instead, they use high-pressure streams of water to cut through the material. This method allows for a more precise and accurate cut that will not be compromised by the laser-cutting heat that can sometimes melt the material. When cutting through tougher neoprene materials, such as higher-durometer neoprene products, abrasives are added to the water to help cut the material. While it may not seem like it at first, waterjet cutting is the most expensive option for making neoprene cut-to-size; however, the accuracy of waterjet cutting greatly exceeds that of DIY neoprene-fabrication methods. Furthermore, because waterjet cutting does not require as much energy as laser cutters do, waterjet cutting is regarded as an eco-friendlier process of cutting neoprene.
Can You Die Cut Neoprene?
You can die cut neoprene as long as the neoprene sheets are thinner than 3/8-inches-thick. Die cutting machines are essentially large hole punchers—pre-measured to the customer’s specifications—that cut out custom neoprene parts. Although die cutting is limited to thinner sheets, die cutting reduces time spent cutting individual pieces. Die cutters are generally used for creating custom neoprene products en masse since, in die cutting, multiple pre-measured cutting molds can punch out many neoprene parts simultaneously. However, the dimensions of the neoprene sheet being cut must be relatively small and less than 24 inches on all sides. Furthermore, the tolerance of a die cutter is 1/16” (0.0625 inches), which makes for extremely accurate cuts. This makes die cutting neoprene an efficient method of creating large numbers of custom neoprene parts for applications that require highly precise neoprene parts.
Example: How Do You Cut Thin Neoprene Rubber Sheets?
As an example, if you’re looking to cut a thin neoprene rubber sheet, your first considerations should be either hand-cutting or die-cutting. Keep in mind that die-cutting is more expensive than hand-cutting since the former requires the operation of expensive machinery. If cost-effectiveness is your main concern, then hand-cutting is likely your best bet. However, if the margin of error that you can tolerate is low, then you should go with die-cutting—because die-cutting uses machinery, its margin of error is lower than DIY methods. So, how do you cut thin neoprene rubber sheets? It really depends, but based on the above factors, your likely best way to cut neoprene is to go with either hand-cutting or die-cutting methods.
Even though there are so many different ways of cutting neoprene, such as hand-, laser-, waterjet-, and die-cutting options, it shouldn’t be difficult to choose the right one for your application. Now that you know all the variables to consider before making your choice, you’re equipped with the right decision-making tools for ensuring you have neoprene rubber sheeting that meets your specifications. Remember, take into consideration the type of application, the deadline of the project, and the project’s budget before choosing a method of neoprene fabrication. Custom neoprene may be made with specifications that are not compatible with certain cutting methods. For instance, due to its limited precision, hand-cutting neoprene is not preferred for cutting intricate neoprene parts. On the other hand, machine cutting neoprene, including laser, waterjet, and die machines, produce more accurately-cut pieces, so smaller and complicated pieces can be produced without error. Precision, accuracy, and cost are considerations that help you narrow the playing field—the right way of cutting neoprene soon becomes clear.