Step 1: Image Processing
We only made vector cuts on these particular pieces. For best results with vectors, try to avoid having any very thin sections, especially thin sections supporting other areas, as they are prone to breakage. Tiny holes are hard to pop out and may require a lot of tedious work with a toothpick or the point of a knife if you have many of them. Holes with complex shapes may also be difficult to remove from the finished piece - consider breaking them up into smaller, less complex sections. Thin, wiggly areas make removal of the frisket (the paper coating on new acrylic sheet) difficult. You can take the frisket off first and cut the acrylic "naked" but you may get smoke stains on it. I prefer to leave the frisket on.
We used an Epilog laser cutter, and printed directly from Adobe Illustrator. It is also possible to print from Corel Draw if you are more familiar with that. In Illustrator, I first made a tiling of the images on a page the same size as the acrylic sheets we had bought (we had scraps in various sizes up to about one square foot). Then I made sure that all the lines were set to a stroke width of 0.007 points. We did some experimentation to come up with this number - 0.25pt, 0.5 pt, and 0pt, all did not make any cut at all. If your print file does nothing at all when you press Go on the laser, check your line widths! In Corel Draw, the correct stroke width is called "Hairline" and is in the pulldown menu, but in Illustrator you have to enter it by hand.
Step 2: Print Setup
Control-P, or File > Print, produces the dialog shown in the first image. Several of the settings were incorrect - it came up with the default page size of 8.5 x 11, which was close but not good enough as the pendants went to 12 inches. However the way to make these changes is a couple dialog boxes further on. First you click Setup in the lower left, to get the dialog in the second image. In that one, ensure the correct printer is selected, and click Preferences.
Finally you have achieved the Epilog setup dialog box. Here is where to enter the size of the material, the speed, power, and frequency settings, and a choice for how the software will decide on its cut order. See notes on the image for more detail. I was cutting 1/8" acrylic, for which Epilog recommends 50% speed, 70% power, and 5000 Hz frequency for its 120 watt laser. (Raster settings have different recommendations but I was not doing any engraving so did not enter those.) This set of values worked for our blue acrylic, but the other colors for some reason would not cut quite through with those values. I found that 45% speed, 78% power, and 5000 Hz (the maximum) worked well for our white, black, turquoise, orange, and clear frosted acrylic. It is always a good idea to run some tests on the material you are cutting, as everything is slightly different - even the laser adjustments, from day to day.
In the final image, after you've OK'd your way back to the first dialog, you should see the correct values come up in the media size box. Placement should be at 0 X and 0 Y if the media size and the print area size are the same; if you are printing on a larger media size than your document size, you can move it to different parts of your media by clicking on the TINY squares next to placement. If either of those values is negative, however, you probably want to recheck your settings as that means part of your image is off the laser bed!
In many cases you're only cutting one copy and as long as the media size setting on the print dialog is bigger than your cut, you're good. The sizes only have to match if you're filling your whole sheet up.
Step 3: Printing
Any pieces of acrylic that are warped so a part is raised up more than about a mm or two above the bed should not be used, or the focus will be too far off and the part will not cut all the way through. There is also the risk of running the laser head into a raised edge, if the warp is placed "smile up". If you must use a warped piece, place it like an upside-down bowl, it will be more stable and less likely to damage the machine.
Once everything is set correctly, close the cover, press GO on the machine and watch it go! Don't stare too long at it, of course... and don't leave the machine unattended in case of fire. Once the cut is complete and the print head has returned to its home position in the upper left corner, open the cover and carefully remove your cut pieces. If the settings are just right, and the acrylic is very flat, you may be able to take the sheet out with many of the cut pieces still in place held in only by a few scraps of the bottom frisket. (If you must choose, however, between pieces that fall completely out and pieces that haven't been cut all the way through, go for the first!)