Laser Cutting Class
Lesson 5: 2D Puzzle
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In this lesson, we'll learn how to make custom laser cut objects using Adobe Illustrator. We'll make a 2D puzzle and learn how to draw, cut, and etch a laser cut design.

Set Up Illustrator File

Let's start by opening Adobe Illustrator and making a new file. As long as the canvas size is less than or equal to 36" X 24" (the size of the laser cutter bed), our design will work just fine. Click on Document Setup, then Edit Artboards and change the canvas size to 10" W X 10" H.

Document Setup > Edit Artboards

W: 10 X H: 10

Bring in Artwork

To make a puzzle, we need to start with a picture. I've downloaded a jpeg of some artwork by Clare Szydlowski that I think will make a great puzzle. Browse for your file, then click and drag it onto the Illustrator file you've already got open.

Click and drag jpg onto Illustrator document

The jpeg comes into the file at actual size, so you'll need to scale it to fit the size of my puzzle. With the image selected (using the default Selection tool), click the Align icon on the Control Bar at the top of the screen and select Align to Artboard. Then click the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center icons to center the artwork.

Align image to Artboard

With the artwork selected, you can drag the edges of the bounding box to resize the artwork. Note that by default, the proportions don't stay consistent- you can distort the artwork (make it skinnier or fatter) depending on how you drag the corners. You probably want the artwork to keep its original proportions, so hold shift while you click and drag. With shift+drag, you can resize the art while keeping the proportions the same.

Size image proportionally

Draw Cut Lines

Now that your artwork fills the artboard, it's time to start drawing the cut lines. Go to the Layers panel and click the Create New Layer icon, then click the Lock icon for the layer with the artwork on it. This will prevent accidentally moving the artwork.

Create New Layer

Select the new layer, then click the Line Tool icon and start drawing your cut lines. Illustrator has a lot of sophisticated drawing options that allow you to make any shape you can imagine, but for this class, we're sticking to the basics. I'd encourage you to play around with the drawing tools on your own and learn how to make new kinds of shapes.

Draw lines on new layer

With my cut lines finished, select them all and change the Stroke Weight to .001 pt. This is the line weight that the laser cutter recognizes as "cut".

Change stroke weight to .001pt

Laser Cutter Settings

To cut and etch the puzzle, go back to the Print Dialog and place the file in the upper left corner of the media again. This layout shows the bed in landscape orientation, but the result will be the same as it was with the portrait orientation we saw for the tissue box project.

Print Dialog

This project will use both cutting and etching, so the Job Type must be set to Combined. The Vector Setting remains the same as it was for the tissue box since we're cutting 1/8" plywood again. The Raster Setting is set to Speed: 100% and Power: 70% as recommended in the Epilog Settings PDF provided in the previous lesson.

Epilog Printing Preferences

Etch and Cut

The Combined cut / etch setting runs each operation in turn. It starts with etching automatically, which is great because there's less chance of distortion since there is only one uniform surface to etch on.

Etching is time-consuming because the head burns the surface of the material one-line-at-a-time, just like an inkjet printer. The Valueof the image corresponds to the depth of the etching: darker parts of the image etch deeper, and lighter parts are shallower. Black will etch the maximum depth according to the speed / power of the settings, and white will not etch at all.

Sometimes it's helpful to use grayscale images for etching because it's easier to see what it will look like once it's etched.


With the etching done, the machine runs the cutting operation as seen in the GIF below. I'm not using masking tape on the top of the material because that would probably ruin the etching, so there will be a small amount of soot on the top surface.



This technique can be used in practically endless ways with this machine. You can etch paint off of the surface of metal, etch into glass, or use etching on plywood to customize a project like the tissue box from the last lesson.

What did you make for your etching / cutting project?

    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "What would happen if you ran an etching job that was only a black square?",
    "answers": [
            "title": "The laser cutter would etch the square at 0% intensity, so nothing.",
            "correct": false
            "title": "The laser cutter would etch the square at 100% intensity, so it would make a solid black square at full etching depth.",
            "correct": true
    "correctNotice": "Correct! Etching intensity corresponds to the value of the image. White is 0% intensity, black is 100% intensity, and the intensity varies according to the value in between.",
    "incorrectNotice": "Nope! Etching intensity corresponds to the value of the image. White is 0% intensity, black is 100% intensity, and the intensity varies according to the value in between."


Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project