This is a simple set of instructions for anyone with access to a laser cutter on how to use a vector-based graphics program to alter text in such a way as to make it laser-cut friendly.

I've been working on the design for a few art-objects that need laser-cut letters, and decided it would be good to prototype some letters first, to get a sense of what's required. There are a lot of "stencil fonts" out there to be had for free, but a lot of them are pretty limited stylistically so I have been working with creating "laser-safe" versions of other more decorative, less industrial fonts. In this case, I am using Zapfino.

It started with a present for my father, then a present for a friend, and a wedding present, and this example is based off of a package of fashion show schwag that I gave to someone. It seemed a great opportunity to test out a few techniques, and the result was a stylish success. In fact, the usefulness of having a laser or stencil-friendly version of a font was so novel, I started working on an OpenType version called Stencilano that is available for free beta download now.

Also, a laser cutter is nice, and very effective, but after altering type in the way I've outlined here, you could cut the letters out by hand. It would take a very sharp knife, a very steady hand, and a lot of patience, but it's a nice alternative since not everyone has access to laser cutting equipment.

Here are all the steps I took to alter the letters and package my gift.

Warning: This technique may impress your boy/girlfriend.

Needed materials:

1) A vector-based graphics program. Inkscape is a great open-source vector program. You can also use CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator. I'm going to use Illustrator's interface for this example.

2) Some kind of gift-wrap to wrap your gift in. I used a brown craft paper.

3) Some stiff card stock. I used plain manila, which looks nice and clean against the craft paper.

4) A laser cutter.

5) An exacto knife.

6) A present to wrap.

Step 1: Selecting and Generating the Type

First we need to make our vector document where we will doctor our letters.

1. Open Illustrator. It will be helpful to set your document size to match the size of your laser cutter's print range.

2. We need to make a rectangle that will define the edges of our gift-tag. Use the Rectangle tool, and make a rectangle that is 1 in. smaller than the largest face of your gift in each dimension (if you don't have your rulers turned on in Illustrator, do so by hitting Command-r. It will help).

3. Select the Rectangle and give it no fill with a 1pt red stroke (making it red will be important later).

4. Now it's time to pick and type the letters. Zapfino is a really good font to use, not only because it's super-classy, but also because the strokes are often very thin, making it easy to "cut to the counters".
Counters are the isolated white spaces inside letters. Most fonts have them, but when cutting what is essentially a stencil, the paper will fall apart if we leave these in. But we'll get to counters in the next step.

5. For now, simply type your message and place it inside the Rectangle you've made.

6. Get the words centered and where you want them, then, select the word with one of the arrow tools and go to Type>Create Outlines. This will turn the text into editable vectors.

7. Leave the vector letters with no stroke, black fill.
Is a laser cutter something I might have access to and not know about it? For example can you find one at the library? Or can I get one at Office Depot?
No. Laser cutters about $9,000 for low end models I think and they just get higher in price. People generally use them for milling complex parts but this is just another use. I wish you could find them at local libraries. I would never leave!
You can actually find them for under $2000 now. Full Spectrum Lasers makes a few hobby grade laser cutters all under $4000 (before upgrades) that can etch and cut most materials 1/4" or thinner.
You can also do this with a plotter. You can find scrapbooking versions that will handle letter sized paper for around $300. A much cheaper option than a laser cutter, however it only cuts thin object. No fancy engraving or cutting of thicker materials.<br/><br/>I have a <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.graphteccorp.com/craftrobo/about.html">CraftRobo</a> cutter and use it for stencils and vinyl stickers all the time.<br/>
that is a brilliant idea. the project i am working on building up to involves cutting through many layers of paper, but for these single sheet ones that would totally work. nice.
Thank you! I'm in the middle of designing some Christmas cards right now, and I was so disappointed when I tried to use a fancy script font like yours. This worked like a charm.
Nice, thanks for all the links.
Very helpful thank you. I'm also searching for laser-ready stencil fonts beyond the various 'army' font types. Stencilano is a good start. I just modified some text done in Always Fat to use on a mylar stencil... we will see if I get enough projects like this to edit in font forge.
Can you upload an image of the Always Fat work, or link to an image?
Here's one of the Always Fat with edits... (also here: http://flickr.com/gp/sajego/8t7G66 )<br>The size of these cutouts worked for the material I was using - 7.5 mil mylar with adhesive backing. I had to adjust them to go from paper to mylar since the mylar was shrinking a bit on cutting with the laser.<br><br>I've also put together a batch of stencil-like fonts at this page:<br>http://inaflashlaser.com/fontcreation/stencil/<br><br>Some of them aren't perfect stencils though and would need some editing.
Cool. Thankd for posting.
Laser cutting machines are not cheap but you do some pretty cool stuff with &quot;soft&quot; materials.... http://www.lasercuttingshapes.com/page/78/Art_Basel_II and http://www.bostonlasersstudio.com/index.php/our-work/67
thx for the font. I used it to laser a notebook for my nephew. this is how it turned out. more pics can be found at my <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sjunnesson/4313215201/" rel="nofollow">flickr</a><br /> <br />
Very Cool!

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