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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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mekkit12 days ago

This is a great resource you've put together.

Only comment I'd make on this particular tip is, if you're cutting a material which sometimes contains air pockets or other imperfections (e.g. birch ply) you're better off adding the extra cuts. If one cut separating two pieces doesn't cut cleanly, you lose the two pieces. With the extra cut you're more likely to only lose one. It takes longer to cut but can save time, if you see what I mean?!

That said, it makes perfect sense with regular materials!

CorreyS113 days ago

Geordie, what a neat job that you have of doing laser cutting and all sorts of projects like that. I like the projects that you demonstrated in the article and they look amazing. Do you have any tips on how to use an Epilog laser?http://www.productiveplastics.com.au/custom-design/custom-design-fabrication/

GailM316 days ago

I now have a CO2 Epilog and thinking about purchasing the Fibre Laser and they are not cheap. Anyone have pros and cons for this machine, would greatly appreciate any feedback.

CzacaniniC17 days ago

Hi Geordie_h, i use 123make to slice my computer models and get blueprints and as an attempt to get a lower price on my cutting, i'm trying to make efficient my DXF file by:

-Selecting the order in which the lines are going to be cutted.
-Reducing transfer distance between profile A and profile B. (when laser is off and goes to the next profile to be cutted)
-Make cuts first and engrave after. (avoid shifting between lines to be cutted and lines to be engraved)

Is this useful to reduce costs? Do i'm wasting my time? When the laser cutter process a DXF file, rearrange the cutting order?

Great article by the way. Tip #6 is genius.

PyramID0071 month ago

Dear geordie_h!

I have a problem, what I hope you can fix it :)

I made my own home-made laser engraver, which is working perfectly, but i have a problem to make a good engraver-able file. The program (Inkscape, with engraver extension) working well, but always make just a line... never "fill" the sample... (I attached pic. about this problem :S) What can I do for?

I made SVG from png in Adobe Illustrator, after I go to the Inkscape to make engraver G-code (.nc).

And Im using grbl Controller, for the engraving proccess.

problem.bmp
Hello i have the same problem i cant fill the sample....did you find something?
torito796 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.

geordie_h (author)  torito796 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.
Hi,can i have ur telephon number or line id or instagram or somthing like this for easier coonection?
i have laser machine.when engraving photo on ston the picturehave black and white bound!means one bond about2 cm is strong and 2 cm or less or more is wake!and finally my picture will have bound...i can send its pgoto...please help me..my jobs stoped beacause that ...and nobody know that..

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.

jeffcole2 months ago

Thanks for the tips.We have the same cutter at work.

Ralphxyz2 months ago

You BUTT things up not BUT!!

Great article thank you!!

Great article! I found another site that has some information about the benefits and advantages of laser cutting - http://www.laserage.com/laser-cutting/

GWorks2 months ago

Very nice & helpful :)

photonburst2 months ago

Good article. I, too, wish I had read this article earlier. One suggestion I might make for improving the article is to give the reader some direction for when they have multiple shapes that result in overlapping lines (this happens a LOT). Usually, it's not a trivial case where they are butting simple geometric shapes next to each other, but frequently it's a combination of complex overlapping geometries whether the source art was in vector or raster. In particular, Illustrator seems to be fairly commonly used.

It seems that one way to resolve this in Illustrator is to use the scissors tool, click on either side of the overlapped line, then hit the delete key. The other approach that I had to use on my project today was to use the Direct Selection tool to select and delete specific anchor points on a shape.

The other thing is when you're wanting to score a vector outline around the shape in question. In Illustrator since my main artwork was already vector, I tried the approach of creating a stroke around the object as a whole and then using the above technique to get rid of everything but the outline. This was too tedious though and what I ended up successfully doing instead was to lock my existing layers, and then use the Pen tool to trace the outline. What made it easy was that since the underlying layers were visible but locked -- that meant that the cursor would automatically snap to the anchor points in the layers below -- and since the layers were locked I didn't have to worry about accidentally modifying one of the shapes below. If I didn't hit one of the anchor points accurately, no sweat, Edit | Undo and try that last anchor point again. Because of this, I was able to trace the outline blazingly fast without losing accuracy.

Great article as a whole - thanks for the contribution!

WravoR.3 months ago

hello,

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 www.EliteEngraving.com

GauriP3 months ago

Hi!

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!

tallest4 months 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.

AhmedB25 months ago

That's awesome and very helpful!

karicashen6 months ago

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

ek.eyles ttompson8 months ago
www.blnkdesigns.com.au
Contact these quys! :)
MelbaI9 months ago

Another site on laser engraving you'll enjoy:

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

ben.gon19 months ago

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

nwlaurie10 months ago

Very useful tips for a beginner. Many thanks.

Kraegan10 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.

crawfordco10 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/

LazyDMImprints11 months ago

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

Waldo1201 year 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)  Waldo1201 year 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.

allaho1 year 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)  AzzysDesignWorks1 year 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.

Ghostpilot1 year 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)  Ghostpilot1 year 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
labernache1 year 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.

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.

nwlaurie1 year 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!

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