Laser cutting an image can be more difficult than it first appears due to the need for expanding an image. If you expand an image too much you may end up with a blurry jagged image, but with Illustrator you can scale an image to any size you want and still keep the curves.
Step 1: Preparing Illustrator for Future Usage - Document Preparation.
The first step you should take is making life easier for future you. You can do this by setting up a few useful tools in Illustrator.
First of all go to File>New and adjust the width to 39 and height to 23.75 to match the laser cutter(Note that each dimension is .25 shorter than reality to avoid conflict with CorelDraw). Make sure to set the units to inches. This will match Illustrator's work place to the laser cutter's bed. Next click on the "Advanced" drop down arrow located near the bottom. From here click on the "Color Mode" drop down and change it to RGB. Click OK and a new document will be created.
Save this new document to an easy to access spot such as your desktop. Name it something useful such as LaserCut Preset so you know what it is. Go ahead and go to File>New and Click on the Profile drop down and select "Browse..." at the bottom. Finally you move the previously made file into the folder that was opened from clicking "Browse". From now on when making a new document you can change the profile to LaserCut Preset and it will be the same format every time.
Step 2: Preparing Illustrator for Future Usage - Deleting and Adding Swatches.
The next step is setting up your colors or as Illustrator calls them swatches.
Go Window>Swatches this should make a pop up on the right. By default it probably has tons of colors shown, but you don't need any of them so you can either click on each individually and click on the trash can or you can click on the little button in the top right corner of the swatch menu and click "Select All Unused" and click the trash can.
With all the swatches gone click on the little folder icon near the bottom it should be 3rd from the right. This will create a new folder that you should name something convenient such as LaserCut Swatches. While convenient the folder itself will do nothing.
So the next step is to start making some actual swatches. To start click on the folder paper icon in between the trash can and the folder. In the new menu that has popped up it will let you create swatches. The name is not important, but is a good idea to name it in a consistent manner such as WoodCut1/4th so you do not need to remember what it does. Color type does not really matter so just leave it on the default. Make sure Color mode is on RGB. The colors need to match what you have set on the laser cutter for the intended job. Generally good starting colors would be each of the solid colors such as 255 on one color and the other two at zero. When you are happy with a color click OK and drag it in the swatch menu to the right of your folder.
Step 3: Preparing an Image in Illustrator - Image Trace.
Due to the nature of laser cutting you really only want your image in large solid chunks rather than split up into smaller bits that come together to form your image. So the best way to go about this is using the Image trace feature in Illustrator.
Click on your image and near the top center of Illustrator click the arrow next to"Image Trace". In this new drop down select "3 colors". This should convert the image to three basic colors.
Do note that this may be too simple or too complex for your intent. If your image seems to have distorted edges or you don't need some details try using the "Black and White Logo" setting or if it is too simple try using the "6 colors" setting the more colors you trace your image into the more work you will have to do going through
Step 4: Preparing an Image in Illustrator - Expand and Ungroup.
Next you need to select Expand which should be around the same location as Image Trace was.
This will cut the image into individual pieces, but you cannot manipulate it yet. To manipulate individual parts of the image you need to right click on your image and in the new drop down select "Ungroup".
Step 5: Editing an Image in Illustrator - Cutting the Border.
The most important part of cutting out an image is of course cutting it out.
Most images have some sort of unwanted background such as a solid color. Illustrator does not have a convenient feature for making an outline so instead you will be using all of the unwanted background for it.
In order to do this you need to simply select the unwanted area then go to your swatch menu and select your color for cutting. This should fill in the entire area with the color. You do not want this, but rather an outline that touches the image. To do this just click the arrows to the right of the box which should not be the same color as your cutting color.
Do this until you have an outline encompassing your image. There will be extra lines around the unwanted area, but that is fine as they wont be cutting into your image.
If there are gaps in the outline just use the line segment tool to fill in the gaps by selecting the cutting color and dragging from one point of the gap to the other. If your image does not have a convenient border or you only want a part of your image use a shape tool located under the Type tool.
After you made all of the lines go through selecting each line and in the top left corner where it says "Stroke" in orange type in the value 0.001 this may seem like a meaningless number, but that is the value equivalent to hairline in CorelDraw.
Step 6: Editing an Image in Illustrator - Engraving.
If you want any holes to be cut into your image simply select the part you want cut out and click the cutting color from you swatch menu and like for the border click the arrows.
For engraving you just need to select the part you want engraved and from the swatch menu select the engraving color, but this time leave it as a solid color. If you do not want the laser cutter to effect a section with an engrave or cut just select and delete it. Note that you may need to click around to find pieces you mistook as the background.
Another option is setting its colors to transparent by click the small white box with the red slash through it below the two main boxes.
Step 7: Preparing to Laser Cut - CorelDraw.
Assuming you did everything correctly up to this point you should not need to touch the image at all.
Go to File>Print or hit Ctrl P. In the new menu that should have popped up select preferences located near the top right.
In this new menu the only really important section is the material settings. Here you need to make sure to select from the two drop downs on the left whatever material you are using.
Once you are content with the material click the large JC icon to the bottom right of the menu. This should close the menu and leave you with the printing menu. Just select OK and it should send your design to Trotec.
Step 8: Laser Cutting - Trotect.
If Trotect was already open it is very possible you have some sort of gray polygon in the middle of your screen with text on it. This is probably someone else's design. To get rid of it click and drag it over to the right side of the screen where there is a small white section.
Now that its out of the way find your design's name in the same place as you just placed the previous. Click and drag on your designs name onto the main white rectangle. This should place a gray box with your designs name on the white box.
The next step is to once again make sure your material selection is correct. In the top left corner there are two drop downs similar to the preferences in CorelDraw once again select the materials that you are using.
Finally to actually tie the colors you used in Illustrator to Trotect go to Settings>Material template setup. In the menu go along each color that you used and set it to the desired outcome for all of the values you will need to consult the "Laser cutting bible" located near the Laser cutter generally the most recent entry for the material is the best to use, but better hand writing or settings by a student you know has used the laser cutter more frequently might be a good idea to follow. Once you are happy with your settings click OK.
Next select update in the bottom left. If you did everything correctly on the left there should be the colors you selected along with times representing how long it will take for each part. Make sure that everything you expect to happen has a time next to it.
Line up your material in the laser cutter with your material in Trotec. make sure you have enough material for your design by moving the laser in the laser cutter all around your material and see if it overlaps your design in Trotec. If this is the case you should be able to hit the large play button in the bottom right.
Step 9: Final Notes - Trouble Shooting.
In Trotec if you do not see a timer next to a desired action you may have accidentally mixed up colors.
If you do not see a timer next to cutting it is probably because you did not properly set the cutting lines to hairline. Check in CorelDraw by clicking on your cutting lines and seeing if either on the right side or center next to the pen icon says hairline. If they say a value other than hairline either go back in Illustrator and make sure the line is set to hairline or change it in CorelDraw by selecting the drop down and clicking the hairline option.