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10 Tips and Tricks for Laser Engraving and Cutting

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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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MelbaI1 month ago

Another site on laser engraving you'll enjoy:

http://www.primeproductsinc.com/laser-etching-marking.html

ben.gon11 month ago

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

nwlaurie2 months ago

Very useful tips for a beginner. Many thanks.

Kraegan2 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.

crawfordco2 months ago

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

http://www.crawford-company.com/laser-cutting/

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

Waldo1205 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 http://www.instructables.com/id/Laser-etched-clock-with-photo/). 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)  Waldo1205 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.

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.

allaho5 months ago

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

Emad

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)  AzzysDesignWorks6 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:

http://www.amazon.com/Application-Transfer-GreenSt... (Just a quick google search, not affiliated)

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

Ghostpilot6 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)  Ghostpilot6 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.

Thanks
labernache6 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.

Cheers,
Labernache

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.
labernache.
jktechwriter6 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.

nwlaurie6 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 Drage6 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!

yogunny6 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)  yogunny6 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_h6 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.

Squidyman6 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 Squidyman6 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.

Jlhx6 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.

nwlaurie6 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!

quinn6 months ago

This is all really great advice!

rimar20006 months ago

Very useful tips, although I have no laser cutter.

zonkerharris6 months ago

Hi Geordie! (See you again at Maker Faire Bay Area?)

On the epilogues, when working with scrap, I often release the X/Y coords, and use the visible laser to put the red dot in the upper-left corner of where I want to place my design (as in your two rectangles above), and then "Set Home". I've learned a few other neat tricks in this series. Thanks!

jhall306 months ago

I love using jigs, but when using raster engraving, all of those copies can take a long time. Here's a tip to make it take less time: color mapping. Set all raster objects in a vertical line to the same RGB color, and make each column a different RGB color. This reduces the "empty" horizontal (x-axis) raster movement, and will save time when you have a few unconnected columns to engrave. When sending your file to the cutter, use the color mapping pane in the control panel to set the settings for each color (they'll most likely be the same if you're using this to speed up a job), and make sure that color mapping is turned on. Everything that is not mapped will use the default settings on the main pane of the control panel.

This works because the laser will process each color individually, and complete one color before moving on to another.

nearlygreen6 months ago

Excellent - well done

rgpfx6 months ago

Awesome!

jmc756 months ago
very helpful thanks.
vicvelcro6 months ago

Thank you.