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.
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.