10 Tips and Tricks for Laser Engraving and Cutting

Picture of 10 Tips and Tricks for Laser Engraving and Cutting

Hello, I'm Geordie and I currently work at ADX Portland running the Laser Cutter and Engraver. My job is to take in customer's projects, set them up and run them on the laser. As a result, I've learned a few tricks for how to set up jobs to get the best results, and in this Instructable I'm going to pass them on to you.

The laser I work with is an Epilog Helix and the program we use to run it is Corel Draw. I'm going to try to write in general terms so you can use what ever laser and program you want to.

Note: For several of these tips it is important to understand the difference between Vector files and Bitmap files. Vector files are mathematical formulas defining lines, circles etc. These are created by programs like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, AutoCAD and Corel. Bitmap files are collections of individual pixels. This included digital photos, Adobe Photoshop files, JPGs etc. With the Epilog laser (and I'm assuming other ones) you can only cut with a vector file. You can engrave with either vector or bitmap files. For several of my tricks you need your file to be a vector file for the trick to work.

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WravoR.5 days ago


I have a problem with engraving picture,

always draw me a L profile line outside picture and i can not dissable it.


Good afternoon WravoR,

What program/programs are you using? I have had this issue a few times on some of the items i have engraved, and usually is quickly solved by selecting the whole screen or engraving area and converting it all over to one single bitmap. When you do this ensure that the new bitmap has all edges turned off. I hope this helped you, if not you can reach me for more help at

GauriP22 days ago


Nice write up! Must say your article gave me useful insights.

I have a laser machine in place and have couple of queries and it'd be great if you could address them.

1. How should I photo engraving on pine wood mdf. I have a software called PhotoGrav Version 2_11, where I selected mdf as the material and didn't get the desired results. Is there any way I can directly use the laser cut software or corel draw to do it?

2. When is "grade engrave" and "hole" used?

Many thanks!

tallest24 days ago

Another option is to place several vector lines extremely close together, III or IIIIII instead of I and you will still get what looks to the eye like one thicker line, and you don't have to de-focus the lens, which is nice if you don't have a z axis.

I run three multi headed industrial lasers as my day job, mostly etching and cutting hardwood veneers for smartphone covers.

torito793 months ago

Thanks for the advices. I´m trying to engrave a photo on MDF but I always burn the material. Do you have any tip for this?

Thanks again.

With MDF, you should test different sides of the material, too. The thing about MDF is that a great deal of it is made up of the glue that holds it together. Also, one side of the MDF is usually very shiny. This could be reflecting your laer. You may want to sand it lightly before you use it. In the end, you may simply need to switch from MDF to a thin wood.

geordie_h (author)  torito793 months ago
Photos are tricky. The black parts of the image are going to be 100% power for the laser and white 0%. Make a square and fill it with black and then find a setting for the laser that doesn't burn through. Then try your photo at that.
AhmedB22 months ago

That's awesome and very helpful!

karicashen3 months ago

This is so incredibly helpful, thank you for taking the time to post all this info!

ek.eyles ttompson5 months ago
Contact these quys! :)
MelbaI6 months ago

Another site on laser engraving you'll enjoy:

ben.gon16 months ago

hi im buy a laser machine k40 the laser w is on only go to the lelt sida soo I turne off

nwlaurie7 months ago

Very useful tips for a beginner. Many thanks.

Kraegan7 months ago

Man, thank you. I just got my engraver and have only tested on jpegs. This tip answer the question of head travel for me.

crawfordco7 months ago

I really enjoyed your article and found it helpful. The more tips on laser engraving and cutting, the better!

Very interesting. I am going to have to try that.

Waldo12010 months ago

Where are those pre-sets for different materials? We have an Epilog laser engraver and I was trying to look up what's the best setting for burning an image into brass (see Wound up opening the instructions and all it said was for metal to turn up the power and turn down the speed. So I did what you see there at 100% power and 10% speed. We also made a similar plaque on Polished Aluminum and had to do a bunch of test burns to get the image looking it's best. Knowing what's "suggested" would really save some time.

geordie_h (author)  Waldo12010 months ago
You should be able to go to the Epilog website and down load some of their suggestion for various material.

With our laser we can't do much with metal. Anodize Aluminum we can etch but its not powerful enough for most metals.
Waldo120 geordie_h10 months ago

So, I called Epilog and found out that the "pre-sets" are NOT available for the FiberMark series. Something about focus being one of the settings that FiberMark doesn't have. What model do you have? There is however a chart in the instructions. Doesn't do a lot of detail, but gives a few metals.

By the way, regarding your laser de-focusing tip. I'm told there is a way to setup different colors to be different focal lengths. For example if some of your part is 0.25" higher then the rest, you can make this section a red and define red as 0.25" focus length and black as 0" focus length. So you could have focus'ed like normal, done some the vector in focus in black, and the out of focus vector in red. Don't know for sure if that would've been useful but it's a good to know.

allaho10 months ago

Thank you so much for the tips. I especially needed Tip #6: Defocus the laser for thicker vector lines.


Even better than masking tape for many items is the paper based vinyl application tape. It is very easy to remove when done.

geordie_h (author)  AzzysDesignWorks10 months ago
I would want to double check what vinyl tape is made of. We don't cut vinyl in our laser because it contain chlorine and produces hydrochloric acid when it burns. Very toxic.
I don't know if vinyl tape and vinyl are the same.

But I will agree that masking tape doesn't alway stick very well to some materials.

Application tape for vinyl, not vinyl tape. Like this one: (Just a quick google search, not affiliated)

Another plus is that it comes in much larger sizes than standard masking tape.

Ghostpilot10 months ago

The masking technique is especially usefull when engraving on glass surfaces. The laser I use have a 4th axis for engraving round objects, mainly used to engrave drinking glasses. If I maske the glass area to be engraved with a wet peice of wiping paper just before engraving, the edges won't be as sharp and the engraved image will look much more "in focus". The paper shouldn't be dripping wet, just moist enough to stick to the glass surface.

geordie_h (author)  Ghostpilot10 months ago
Cool technique.
We have a rotating unit for our laser but since the object just rests on it it tend to slip or not rotate evenly.

But I do engrave on flat pieces of glass so I will give your tip a try.

labernache11 months ago
These tips are indeed very useful, especially those that differentiate between raster (bitmapped) and vector-based images. I have done quite a bit of vector based image work in the last 30 years of CAD/CAM engineering, primarily for the creation of Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designs, but also for mechanical engineering works. Knowing these types of labour saving utilities is invaluable for streamlining and design for manufacturability. All of this translates to saving you or your company quite a bit of money. Thank you for passing on your own experientially gained knowledge in a very concise set of observations and guidelines. My only concern is that, though your composition is nicely phrased, you appear to have made the same error many instructable authors have made in failing to proof
-read your contribution prior to submitting the material for publication.
I don't want to come across too harshly, but spell-checking is not enough and sometimes adds to the problem. Proof-reading from top to bottom prior to submitting your masterpiece will in most cases catch all those "gotchas" and leave your audience with not only the clear and concise tutorial you intended, but will also ensure that the first purpose of your work: communication, is well served.
Despite the prevalence of errors, this Instructable did convey a wealth of information in an interesting and engrossing way. Next time, just take a couple of minutes to proof-read your work. I think it is deserving of the extra effort, don't you agree?

By the way, I favorited your excellent contribution. Had you proofed your work, I would have also voted for you.

Thanks for the interesting read.


By the way, I did proof my work, and may still have introduced errors. But this step is crucial, especially on the Web because of the huge potential audience you may reach.
jktechwriter11 months ago

Man, those are some outstanding tips, including the example photos. Thanks for sharing this with us novice laser cutter users... I'm going to begin experimenting with many of these ideas.

nwlaurie11 months ago

Concerning the price of lasers: my chinese K40 (35 watts and good for thin ply, acrylic up to 5mm and, of course, lighter materials plus engraving almost anything except metal) cost m a tad under £400 on FleaBay. I spend about the same again with an American firm called LightObject for more sophisticated electronics. For well under £1000 I now have a machine that can earn its keep doing light cutting and engraving work.

It'll probably be even cheaper in a year or two!

David Drage11 months ago

I have been running a laser cutter for a few years, and I really wish I had had this guide when I started out. These are all good tips and worth a read if you are new to laser cutting!

yogunny11 months ago

Some of the best tips I’ve seen. Very well written. It’s too bad that lasers, powerful enough to do a myriad of work, are so expensive and beyond the reach of most woodworkers (we use two in our shop). But things change and prices drop. I’d recommend readers keep this article for future use when the money starts flowing and you can afford a laser. :-) Sorry, don’t mean to rain on your parade Geordie in re the cost of lasers - your’s is an uber fantastic presentation. I give you six out of five stars!! :-)

geordie_h (author)  yogunny11 months ago
I agree that its to bad that lasers are out of the price range of most people. I know there are some Maker spaces where people can rent time on them and at ADX where I work we offer the laser as a service for people to either rent or for us to run jobs for them.

I tried to write these tips to help people who where renting time or paying for someone else to run their project for them. Hopefully this will help people lower their costs and get better results.
yogunny geordie_h11 months ago

I’ll up that to seven out of five stars - didn’t think of Maker spaces - need to check that out. Again, mega kudos for a fine i’ble.

Squidyman11 months ago

Do you know if it is possible to either buy or make a laser engraver for a lot less money than when I do a quick google search for one? I can think of a million uses for one but don't have a million $$$ lol :P

There's instructions here on making one. Some day I will hire someone to do that for me, heh.

Okay awesome JIhx and lauralbaby! From what you said, it mostly looks fairly simple. That does sound right about the laser. I once built a 3d laser scanner and made the mistake of buying a low quality laser on Ebay. Lesson learned there. What laser diode do you recommend and where would I get "precision" mirror and lenses to focus?
Thanks :D
Jlhx Squidyman11 months ago

From replacing parts on the Epilog, I know most of the items comprising the units are standard motors and power supplies used in many other industries, mainly the configuration is custom, and the housing. The DC power supplies inside are the same I use for LED lighting. The X-Y motors would be easy enough to control with a modification of a 3D printer kit.
I think the most difficult (and costly) part is in the laser it self. These units use a back mounted laser with precision mirrors and lens to focus the beam. This is the hard part to make at a home level.

Jlhx11 months ago

Nice list. We have a Fibremark laser at my Office, also from epilog, for engraving on metal. Some items don't apply as the UV laser acts a little different than the IR laser here, but it's nice to see that the few that do have been things I have been doing as well for the last year. Good stuff.

These are expensive industrial Machines, and like earlier posted, it's far outside the range of the average home user. The Fibremark is even more expensive, about 3 times the price of the IR series!

Nice list all-in-all. Cheers.

nwlaurie11 months ago

Great stuff! I have just bought (and upgraded the electronics of (thanks LightObject)) a cheap chinese K40 40-watt laser engraver/cutter and have been learning these tricks the hard way...

Really useful and much appreciated.

More would be welcomed!

quinn11 months ago

This is all really great advice!

rimar200011 months ago

Very useful tips, although I have no laser cutter.

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