I will just go through the basics here. What software you need, how to set it up and the basic tool chain. I will only talk about windows based systems, all you Linux people will have to do some digging around (even if Inkscape and the extension should work fine on Linux as well). First you will have to download three files:Inkscape
- this is open source vector editing software. (download
Laser engraver extension - This generates the g-code needed to control the laser. (download
G-code sender - A small windows program I wrote to communicate with Grbl. (download
Install Inkscape by following their instructions. This should be a pretty painless process. And any help on the subject should be easy to find in the documentation on their web page. Next up is the extension; this is a little harder but not much. Open the .zip file in your favorite unpacker and copy all the files to "c:\Program Files\Inkscape\share\extensions". You have to restart Inkscape for the extension to show up. The extension is a heavily modified version of "Gcodetools
". That is it for setting up Inkscape. You can leave the "G-code sender" on your desktop or any other place where you will find it later. It does not need to be installed.
One important word about the extension, I am not a python programmer and there might be some kinks in the code.
I assume you have everything installed and ready to use by now. Here is a quick screencast of the work flow.
I hope this was not too quick. There are loads of guides on how to use Inkscape out there. I will not go into any details on how to use it.
The G-code sender is another story; there is no documentation as I just made the program. All the documentation is in this instructable, but feel free to ask if you have any questions. When you open the program it should be pretty self explanatory. The only strange thing is the radio buttons "\n\r" and "\r\n". Depending on what version of Grbl you are using the line ending are different. If the one doesn't work try the other one. Choose your serial port, and if you do forget to plug in your laser engraver, plug it in and hit the refresh button and your serial port should show up. Hit the "open" button to open hailing frequencies. Once the port is open you can type in commands like any terminal software in the text box above the open button. To start engraving a file you can ether type in the file path or click on the browse button and select a file.
When you click on "print" your file transfer will begin. The file will be transferred until the buffer on the Arduino is full, about 20 rows or so. When the buffer is ready for more data another row will be transferred. When you hit stop the transfer will end but the Arduino will not stop until the buffer is empty. When you hit the "close" button or exit the program the serial port will be closed and any transfer will be stopped.
Sometimes there will be a G-code that Grbl can’t interpret and will return an error. Most of the times these errors can be ignored but they will show up in the sender. This can be comments or the start and end "%" sign. If there is a comment after a command there will be an error but the command will still be executed. For example "G21 (All units in mm)" the G21 command will be executed but the comment will give an error.