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.

Step 1: Tip #1: Preparing for cutting or engraving

Before we get to tips for cutting and engraving, lets start with some good ideas for preparing to cut or engrave.

Masking: If your going to engrave on something be aware that the smoke for the the engraving can stain the edges of the engraved surface. If you don't want that cover the surface with masking tape to protect it. The masking tape won't decrease the power of the laser much (bump up the power a bit if you feel it needs it) and the masking tape will protect the material around the engraving from the smoke. After running the engraving just peal the masking tape off. I use this a lot if I'm engraving on leather.

Presets: Your laser should have some suggested settings for cutting or engraving different materials and different thicknesses. You should also be able to load these settings into your computer or laser and save them as presets. Be sure to name them something that makes sense so you can easily find them That way the next time you need to engrave on leather or cut 1/8" thick acrylic, you can just find the preset for that material.

Test cuts: Even when I have a preset for cutting a material I usually try to run a test cut in it before I run the full job. Nothing is worse than taking the material out of the laser and finding that it didn't cut all the way through. I create a small circle or square (about 1/4" or 1/2" wide) and cut out in corner or on some scrap material. Then I can see if I need to increase or decrease the power before I run the final cut.

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<p>hi, this was really helpfull. I bought a chinese laser cutter and I like it, i don't have any complains so far beside of the max speed for engraving ,wich is 6 meters per minute (I'm from Peru i'm not a big connoisseur of US units) the thing is that when you are doing multiple engravings the laser head waste so much time passing through all the pieces that i rather create a new layer for different engraving sections that are smaller. Maybe you don't have that problem, hope you understand my english. Thanks!</p>
That's a good idea. I use programs like Adobe Illustrator that has multiple layers. You can put different parts of a design on different layers and then select which layers you want to use.<br><br>Have fun.
<p>Hello,</p><p>Wonder whether you can help. Just bought a cheap laser cutter for hobby, my first problem is that the mirror acrylic I bought is bend, so the engrave process is not quite right, I wonder whether there is a clamp or something that can make sure the acrylic is flatten. </p><p>My second problem is the flashback, I have to peel the protection film, then when the cut the acrylic, the laser is reflect back, then I can see the flashback scar on my material, so I am thinking to use some sheet material that can absorb the laser, underneath, do you have any suggestion? </p><p>Thx </p><p>Sky </p>
I don't know of any way to flatten acrylic. Warped material is a real pain to cut or engrave.<br><br>With mirrored acrylic what I've done is flipped it over so the mirrored side is down and then I engrave or cut on the side with the backing. You will need to flip your design as well. This way you don't get the laser bouncing off the mirror.<br><br>Have fun.
I'm having a file created and there will be 3 sets of lines that I'll alternatively be cutting and etching depending on the project. Should each line be its own file or layer or can the lines be changed later depending if I want to cut or etch at that time?
<p>Hello, I just started laser cutting and I love it! I designe with illustrator and for the laser cutting I use CorelDraw. Do you have any tips on cutting thin fonts? I tried cutting a cursive font and unfortunately it all fell apart. </p>
Thin fonts are tricky. I helped a few people with jewelry projects with words. No real advice. You could try adding an outline to make it a little thicker.<br><br>Have fun.
<p>Hey , I wanted a help. I want cut laser cut wedge shaped struture. eg. I want a 325 micron long wedge with base 325 micron and at the tip it should less than or equal to 10 Microns. can anyone help me with this. </p>
Lasers can only cut a 2D object. If I'm understanding your dimensions correctly you want a 3D wedge.
Yes i want a 3d wedge. So according to you it is not possible to achieve.
<p>You would need a 3 axis laser and most only have 2. They are designed for cutting flat shapes.</p><p>Try using a cnc router. They can cut bevels and slopes.</p>
Hi, I was wondering if anyone could help. I'm running a gcc Laserpro Mercury 25 watt and engrave mostly photographs. I'm getting a slightly blurry image ex. I have changed the rollers all my mirrors and my lens seem fine.i changed the X Axis motor about 10 months ago. I'm running at a very slow speed and getting the same results. Help any ideas?
I know with the Epilog laser there is an optical strip that it reads to determine position. Its along the top bar that the mirror moves along. Every now and then it would get dirty and images would start to skip.<br>I would see if there is any thing like that in your laser and try cleaning it. All you should need is a q-tip and some lens cleaning or rubbing alcohol.<br><br>Good luck.
Hi Geordie. Hope you could help me... I just bought a 40wAtts chinese laser machine. I will use it to make/engrave names on rubber to be used as stamps. Could you help me<br>What settings to use for me to get the best result?? I've done a thousand trial and errors but still the letters a barely readable especially if it's long. Can you suggest what are the best settings to use. Like what DPI on corelDraw, DPI on laser machine, power (0-99.9%) and speed. PLEASE HELP... Thank you in advance.
I've done a little work with rubber and its tricky. Instead of burning like wood it can melt and soften the edges. I would use a high resolution image and if you can stroke the edges and do a very light cut on them to sharpen the edges.<br>Lasers are not routers. They cut great but they aren't designed to remove material when they engrave. Rather they burn it. Its like trying to use a wood burner to remove material rather than just burn an image in.<br><br>Good luck.
Btw i'm using an A4 2.3mm thickness rubber sheet.
<p>Hi Geordie</p><p>Thank you for this great tutorial, although we are a complete newbie to engraving. We have purchased the <a href="http://www.boxzy.com" rel="nofollow">BOXYZ </a>and although we know (have been told) it is not a high powered piece of kit, but we are so much looking forward to seeing what can be achieved engraving some of the more specialty 3D printing filaments that are on the market today, we operate 3dfilaprint. Would be interesting to know what sort of experience you have had engraving plastics any tips gratefully recived :)</p>
I've mostly engraved acrylic which does great. The main trick is to run a few tests to figure out the best settings for your laser first. When I was running the laser at ADX if someone wanted to cut or engrave something I hadn't worked with before I would tell them to bring in extra or some scrapes so I could test it first.<br>The one issue to watch for is thin plastic pieces can melt, warp or catch fire. So start with a low setting and then increase power if need be.<br><br>Good luck.
<p>Sorry about the late response Geordie, thank you for the information. Yes we will start small and safe :) Good luck with all.</p>
<p>Hello Geordie</p><p>Thank you for the tips. I'm a beginner in the engraving world and im trying to figure out if it is better to use Adobe Illustrator or CoralDraw for my laser engraving? I'm currently using an Epilog engraver.</p>
I've found that the Epilog works best with Coral. You can use Illustrator but its not as easy. I like working in Illustrator far more than Coral, so I create my designs in Illustrator and then save them as a pdf. Then I use Corel to open the pdf and send it to the Epilog.
<p>Wondering why you save as a pdf and not a vector file?</p>
<p>pdfs can be bitmap or vector depending on how you make them. If you save an Illustrator file as a pdf it is still a vector.</p>
<p>Thanks for these great tips Geordie - very helpful!</p>
<p>Hello Geordie,</p><p>Was wondering if you have tips on how best to engrave this logo of mine onto bamboo. I'm getting feedback that it may be too complex. Any thoughts?</p>
<p>I'm assuming you are taking about engraving on a flat piece of bamboo ply (plywood) and not a round piece of actual bamboo. Bamboo ply is great stuff and engrave wonderfully. It can be bit tricky to cut due to its fiberous nature.</p><p> I would mask the bamboo with tape to keep the edges clean. It will take some time to engrave but I don't see any reason it wouldn't work.</p>
<p>I've done several jobs with both engraving and cutting. I use Illustrator for my file. I put the engraving on one layer and the cut line on another. You should be able to run the file as is. The Epilog I use engraves first and then cuts. If need be you can do it manually by turning off print of one layer. </p><p>If both the engraving and the cuts were off I would say the laser motors or belts are off. Odd that its just the cutting.</p><p>Hope that helps.</p>
Geordie, any tips on engraving and then cutting the engraving out? I am trying to make small 1-inch game pieces. They engrave just fine, but when i go to cut them out, the cut area slowly creeps to the left as it cuts pieces. So the first one will be fine, second is a little off, third is noticable, fourth is way to the left, etc. Any thoughts?
I need ur help please tell me how do I make this with my brothers photo
I don't work for these guys I just use the product. Try http://jtechphotonics.com/?product_cat=software<br>It walks you through the pictures. <br>The company also has a plug in for Inkscape that creates g code for your laser. The plug in and software are free.!!! And they work really well.<br>Enjoy<br>Dwayne
<p>Photos are tricky. I don't have a specific technique but you need to edit the photo in a program like photoshop. You want to reduce it to black and white and as few grays as possible. Color photos turn to &quot;mud&quot; very quickly. Also experiment with filters that give a wood block cut or etched effect.</p>
<p>I would recommend mask and or keeping the leather wet.</p>
<p>Hello Guys, this is our wood laser cutter</p><p>http://www.cncmetalcut.com/product/wood-laser-cutting-and-engraving-machine-l1490/</p>
<p>what is scan gap</p>
<p>what is scan gap</p>
<p>Hi Geordie, </p><p>I have run lasers for many years but your masking tape trick has sure made me smile! works like a bomb :) </p><p>many thanks for sharing.</p><p>kind regards Marc</p>
<p>Geordie, thanks for this. New to the whole thing, and thought I was going to set fire to some wood today - was trying to do some ablation and failed miserably. I do like the bit with the masking tape, and definitely about using the vector to give an outline to words. Much appreciated!</p>
<p>Great tips Geordie espically the masking tape tip.Im having trouble with scale. I set everything to A4 which is about the size of my bed. Id like to use all of that space but Im either running off by miles or bunched up in one corner. With the page set to a4 in Corel and the bed size set the same I did a test cut.I set a box 25mm wide x 100 long.It came out 11mm wide x55mm. I cant figure out how to calibrate it.Whats a good starting point.</p>
Sounds like the scale of the laser and Corel are off. I've run into problems where I have the file size set to one dimension but the print size set to another size. Corel usually tries to center the file in the print settings not the file setting.<br>Make sure your file and print settings are the same.
<p>Thanks for taking the time to reply.</p><p>I worked in engineering for 10 years and ran a 24 meter long cnc drilling machine. I may be mistakenly using the same techniques to zero this laser machine. Something is off and I'm still a bit lost among all the Chinese windows.</p><p>I looked at the print settings at it all seams to be set to A4.</p><p>I have limited time but some thing i have noticed whilst playing.</p><p>The x axis travel shows in the software as 0 to about 900mm, Its an A4 sized machine so it should be showing about 0 to 300 to 350 ish at the end of travel.Its the same on the y axis.</p><p>Any pointers would be much appreciated.</p><p>Kind regards </p><p>Chris.</p>
<p>Thanks for sharing these tips! :)</p>
<p>Wow thanks for this tip - its saved me a lot of time on my machine. Do you know if there is an easy way to 'engrave' words (fonts) using this cutting method instead of engraving? </p>
The only option is to out line the words rather than filling them in and then do a shallow cut. It doesn't fill in the center but is much quicker.<br>One trick is to do a light engraving and then outline the edge. The light engraving is quicker than a full engraving and then by outlining the edge you get a nice sharp edge.
<p>Lovely! Thanks so much :)</p>
<p>These are wonderful tips. I hope you can help me. I have a small Chinese laser, one that is based on CD/DVD frames. For the life of me, I cannot make logos that have filled in areas. It does great with outlines, but it ends there. I create the image in Photoshop, save it as a bitmap and import it into Inkscape.</p><p>I use the 'Trace to Bitmap' under path. I found problems using Laser in version 0.91 so I am using 0.48.5.</p><p>No matter what I do I cannot get the logo to fill in.</p><p>HELP!</p>
<p>I have a Chinese laser cutter too and have had some experience with a bunch of them , try to use it with corel 4 , most of the laser machines cant handle higher versions , and corel reads the laser cutter as a printer , while i tried to use it with other softwares but they don't detect it , in case you want to make a logo with inside fill and outside cut on a chinese laser you either make the logo a bitmap and draw cutlines over it , or just make a black fill most chinese lasers will make the black fill an engrave and make sure your output setting is set on auto when sending the file over to the machine cause in case it's set on vect it will only identify the vector lines ignoring fills .</p>
Good advice.
<p>You should be able to engrave a bitmap image. To cut you have to have a vector image. I would go straight from photoshop to the laser and skip Inkscape. The only reason I can see to going to Inkscape would be if you need to scale the image. A vector will scale better than a bitmap. </p>

About This Instructable


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Bio: Mad scientist, graphic designer, mechanical drafter, sci-fi geek.
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