Before we get started we need to think about what we want to cut. Having a plan before designing makes it easier for us to use the program once we have a grasp as what we would like to do. Ask yourself questions like:
Before we get started we need to learn about some terms when it comes to laser cutters, vinyls and more.
Depending on the software our cutters are using the might prefer different types of files but one thing is true for all software is that Vector files are our best friend! What is a vector file? Vector files are images that are built by mathematical formulas that establish points on a grid. Vector files include items like SVG, PDFs, EPS or Adobe Illustrator files. Vector files are our best friend because they can infinitely adjust in size without losing resolution.
The most common types of vector files are:
Definitions of printer term:
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
**The HatchIt! 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.
Here is some cool equipment around camps
HatchIt! Lab Equipment
James A. Mapp Building, Room 215
Dremel DigiLab LC40
Roland CAMM-1 GS-24
Before we get started on creating creating your design Illustrator or Photoshop. Each program can produce similar results depending on your needs. Photoshop can be a great tool if you're just doing engravings or etchings. If you are looking to do a cut file then Illustrator will be your best tool. If you have never used either then illustrator will give you the best performance
No matter if you're creating an original piece of work or utilizing a completed work we are going to start the same!
1. To get started open Illustrator (If you are working in the UTC Library Studio and need help signing in follow these steps) and create a new document (File > New). 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.)
The next step is dependent on the material you are working with. If it is a recreated item such as a logo follow step 2A if it's an original piece of artwork follow 2B. If you are using both original and unoriginal work you will follow both steps
2A. If you are working with an item such as a logo or other graphic image we need to import the image first. To import an item go to File > Place and select the object that you would like to import
Once the object is selected you can place the object onto your document by left clicking or you can scale the object and place it by holding down the left mouse and dragging to your preferred size. If you are work with a .JPG, .JPEG, or .PNG and you start to scale it up you will note a decline in quality due to the image not being a vector.
2A. If you placed a piece of artwork that is a .JPG, .JPEG, or .PNG we will need to convert it to a vector images. While the image is selected go to Object > Image Trace > Make (Image Trace scans your image and recreates the image as a vector. The simpler the image the better results.)
Depending on the quality and type of image you are working with you might need to change how the images is processed via Image Trace. For example if you're dealing with a images that has 6 colors you can choose 6 colors or 3 if you're working with 3 colors.
Once you have selected the best option for your images you will have to expand the images so we can continue to prepare the file for cutting,engraving or scoring.
Once the object has been expanded we will need to ungroup the object.
Once the object is ungrouped we may need to delete the fill color (the color that fills in a space. In this example the infill color is white). How do you know if you need to keep or lose the infill? If you are doing an engraving you will most likely keep the infill. For this example we are deleting the infill. To delete the infill color by selecting one segment of infill we want to delete and go to select > same > fill object and hit delete.
We now need to covert the object to have a stroke. The laser cutter will only follow lines with a thickness of at least .025 PT. With my object selected I can double click on the Box next to 'Fill' and select the transparent (The white box with a red strip going through it). Under it double click the box next to stroke and select black. Next the the stroke box we can select the thickness of the stroke.
2B. When doing an original piece from Illustrator we have several tool we can use depending on what you are crafting. The most common tools that you’ll likely use in Illustrator are the Shape tools, Line tool, and Text tool. These tools can be easily accessed via the sidebar.
Once you're done we need to save this as an SVG file. To save a file as an SVG go to File > Save As > SVG
Here are some common mistakes when designing for laser cutters
Scale the design to the finished size
Check to ensure the design is to scale.
Connect your design
Except for holes, shapes will be lost if they are not connected to the primary material in the design. Adding bridges enables the laser to cut cleanly and keep the entire design together without losing pieces.
Convert your text into shapes or “outlines”
Turning this text box into shapes will allow the laser cutter to process it properly.
Remove all intersecting lines
Your design may be complex and have overlapping artwork, but the overlapping lines need to be eliminated. In this scenario, the laser cutter will cut on any lines in your design, causing cuts you never intended and ruining
Eliminate open shapes
Shapes that are open and unfinished will not work with a laser cutter. Ensure all designs are complete and self-contained, or the cut will not function as you expect and the end product will look quite different from your vision.
Reduce the complexity of your design where possible
For each laser punch and cut required, manufacturing costs will rise. Complex designs also tend to have multiple smaller pieces or delicate details which make the design less robust and more susceptible to breaking.