Tools: AutoDesk AutoCAD 2012, VCarve, FlowPath
Step 1: Differences
This is why an Illustrator file runs fine on the laser cutter, but will appear broken and messy in FlowPath. Simply saving the file to DXF format is not enough because the development process still matters. And that is what I will address here!
Step 2: Analysis and Cleaning in FlowPath
A clean and enclosed vector will be indicated by a cyan and yellow pair of lines, while a broken vector will appear as a red line with red squares indicating a break. Patching in FlowPath is fairly easy, albeit limited. Select the “Line” tool and “Snap Endpoint” tool to close a large shape.
For very small gaps it is better to delete the problem lines and redraw the entire length instead of adding a 0.002” fragment. When it comes to dealing with arcs, it is possible to work in FlowPath, but I find AutoCAD easier.
Step 3: Cleaning in AutoCAD
If you are to use AutoCAD to fix a file, redrawing trouble spots with regular arcs and straight lines will help substantially when it comes to cutting. For example, I replaced three separate, broken arcs with one continuous arc. When overlayed and compared directly, they are about 1/8th inch long and 0.0143” different at the widest point. This kind of discrepancy is negligible when dealing with a logo cut out, imperceivable to the eye and will significantly reduce cut time and headaches.
Convert to polyline is not recommended because while it will create a clean, closed shape it will also create small fragmented lines. This can be controlled by adjusting how many segments occur between spline control points, where you can effectively increase your resolution, but dramatically increase your cut time and subsequent cost. Dropping resolution down creates a very jagged and unsightly shape.
Step 4: Cleaning in VCarve
All of these steps are not necessary every time, but should cover 95%+ of the problems you will likely face and provide quick solutions.
The project continues with part 5!
For more resources, tools, and training, head over to TechShop!
FlowJet Series Part 1: AutoCAD Basics
FlowJet Series Part 2: Applying AutoCAD
FlowJet Series Part 3: Converting an Image to Vector
FlowJet Series Part 5: Manual Pathing in FlowPath
FlowJet Series Part 6: Using FlowNest
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