Before we get started we need to learn a few terms:
Vector Graphics: "A form of computer graphics in which visual images are created directly from geometric shapes defined on a Cartesian plane, such as points, lines, curves and polygons." (Wikipedia) These are graphics that use math instead of pixels to form an image. As a result, they keep their proportions and clarity regardless of size.
The most common types of vector files are:
Raster Graphics: "In computer graphics and digital photography, a raster graphic represents a two-dimensional picture as a rectangular matrix or grid of square pixels." (Wikipedia) You can tell a raster because it will get pixelated and blurry as you enlarge it. Photoshop is a good editor for these files.
The most common types of raster files are:
.jpg or .jpeg: Common file for digital cameras and other image software. "Lossy" meaning that data was removed to get the image to the size it is, but great for things that need to load quickly (like the internet) or to email.
.png: "Lossless" meaning that data is not removed, and you have more room to enlarge images before they get pixelated. PNGs will also do a transparent background. Good for printing.
Cut - Use this function when you’re attempting to cut through a material. This function is also called “vector” since a vector, or line file is needed in order to execute. The laser will follow the lines of your file.
Engrave - Use this function when you’re attempting to darken or remove the surface of your material, rather than cut through. This function is also known as “raster” and will require an image file to execute.
Score -When you want the laser to follow the lines of your file, but don’t want it to cut all the way through your material. This function requires a vector, or line type file and is most useful when you want to emphasize the outline of text or an object.
Note: The Hatch It! Lab Laser Cutter DigiLab software will automatically read JPGs and PNGs as engrave files and SVGs as cut files. PDF files can be read as either, so if you are uploading a PDF file with both cut lines and engrave sections, the software will work best if you save your cut lines and engrave sections in separate files and then choose the ‘Import Cut Only’ and ‘Import Engrave Only’ options accordingly.
Before we get started we need to think about what we want to cut. Having have a grasp as what we would like to do can make the design process easier. Ask yourself questions like:
Please note: Illustrator creates vector files, and is best for cutting and scoring. Photoshop creates raster files, which are suitable for engraving. This guide focuses on Illustrator (see below), but here's a help sheet for Photoshop.
The Center for Entrepreneurship's Hatch It! Lab is a makerspace open to all students. The equipment requires training before use. To get access to the Canvas Site, click here. It is located in the James R. Mapp building in room 215.
Equipment includes a laser cutter, vinyl cutter, sewing/embroidery machine, and more!
Take a look around the Illustrator interface. You can get more information about the tools on the left by hovering over them. We also have this guide with information on the most common tools and features.
To get started open Illustrator and create a new document. Enter the document name and dimensions in the upper right-hand corner (Next to the dimensions you can change the unit of measurements from Points to any unit of measurement you would like such as Pixels or Inches. It’s useful to make the dimensions match the dimensions of the physical material that you’ll be cutting/engraving.)
Existing Images (logo, cat photo, etc.):
First, we need to bring your image into Illustrator or "import" it. Go to File > Place and select the image you would like to import.
Once the image is selected you can place the object onto your document by clicking on the artboard or you can scale the object and place it by clicking and dragging a box to your preferred size.
If you placed a piece of artwork that is a raster file, we will need to convert it to a vector. Select the image and go to Object > Image Trace > Make Simpler images usually get better results.
Depending on the quality, colors, or type of image you are working with you might need to change the Image Trace Preset in the Properties window.
Once you like how your image looks, go to Object > Image Trace > Expand to add paths and anchor points.
After expanding, ungroup it by going to Object > Ungroup or right-click > Ungroup.
Next decide if you need to delete the fill color (in this example, it is white). Engravings usually keep the infill, cuts and scores often don't. To delete the infill color, select the area you want to clear and go to select > same > fill object and hit delete.
Now adjust your stroke. Keep your object selected, and double click on the box next to 'Fill' in the Properties window. Select transparent, the white box with a red stripe going through it. Then double click the box next to "Stroke" and select black. Then adjust the size of the stroke to at least .025 PT. (Laser cutters can't cut any smaller than that.)
Creating a Design from Scratch:
See the Illustrator Guide for information on various tools that can be used for drawing. Keep in mind the instructions above regarding simplicity, strokes, and fill since they apply to anything you would like do on the machines.
Exporting for use:
Once you're done you need to save your design as an usable file. Go to File > Save As, and then select your file type.
For cutting or scoring, save your design as an SVG.
For engraving, save your design as a .JPEG or .PNG.
It's always a good idea to save your Illustrator file in case you want to tweak things later.
Be aware of the size of your object.
Check to ensure the design is to scale. You can add a rulers to your workspace by going to View > Rulers > Show Rulers.
Keep things connected.
You may need bridges to help the machine cut cleanly without pieces falling off and getting lost. You can clean things up later with an exacto knife.
Convert your text into shapes or “outlines.”
The machines think of them as weird shapes, so this ensures a cleaner result.
Remove all intersecting lines
If you have overlapping artwork, go in and remove any extra lines since the machines will still try to cut them. Combining objects can also help make things simpler and avoid unpleasant surprises.
Eliminate open shapes
Shapes that are open and unfinished will not work with a laser cutter. Ensure all paths are connected.
Reduce the complexity of your design where possible
In general, the more complex your design the greater possibility for failure or breakage. Start simple and iterate as you learn more about how the machines function.