Kodama! or How to Draw With the Laser Cutter




Introduction: Kodama! or How to Draw With the Laser Cutter

About: Fabriken is swedens first makerspace and now we're at Malmö Makerspace

By doing a wobbly head Kodama from the Anime Princess Mononoke we will show you how to process drawn images into vector files for laser cutting

We wanted do make the laser cutters at the makers space more accessible for our younger audience and thought of an easy, Draw, Scan and Cut way to do it. And why not do it with an instructable and an entry to the fandom contest!

What you'll need is the following.

A scanner or a camera (with camera you will need good lighting)

A computer with Adobe Illustrator CS6 or any other program that can trace black and white images to vectors*.

Paper and dark pen

Laser cutter and software

Soft springs

Gluegun and glue


Spray paint

Masking tape

* There are several different possibilities for this some free examples are the the Potrace engine for the free program InkScape


with a helpfull tutorial at


Another great tool is Vector Magic http://vectormagic.com/home

But it's sadly rather expensive...

Step 1: Draw Your Kodamas!

Use a pen with a solid colour that gives good contrast to the background. It's easiest if you use black on white paper AND try to make thin lines since it will be easier to clean it up later. If you are unsure of your drawings do them with a pencil first and then trace them with the pen on a new sheet of paper.


Use the scanner and software of your choice but use a rather high resolution (DPI) and if possible scan in only black and white.


If you have no scanner you can take a photo of the image. Make sure that you have an even and strong enough light source for the background to be somewhat evenly white in the picture. It might help if you place the light so that if shines from the side over the drawing making a "raking light" which is softer and don't reflect as much back to the camera. When satisfied transfer the image to the computer.

Step 2: To Illustator We Go!

Start by opening the scanned image in Illustrator. (Image 1:1)

Then go to "Window" and down to "Image trace", make sure there are a little "tic" by the text. Now you should have the Image Trace window open, if not it's most likely at your menu bar. (Image 1:2)

Select the entire image either by selecting it with the courser or by pressing "⌘" (command) and "A" on a Mac and "Ctrl" and "A" on a PC.

Now you can use the Image Trace window, there are different settings depending on what you want to do.
(Image 1:3)


For this Instructable we used the "default" setting. It creates an outline on both sides of the pen drawing which I liked for the cartoonish Kodamas. If you just want ONE vector line corresponding to the line you drew chose "Line Art" under "Preset".


Here you can change to different viewing modes mixing or not mixing the vector and the original image. Choose the one that you are comfortable with or just skip it.


We choose "black and white" since the image I used only have two (useful) colours. If you are tracing a photo with colours you can choose that there but you will have different results.


Is only used when you are working with more than two colours. IE we can skip it :)

When you are done press the "Trace" button if the program haven't updated by itself.

Step 3: Expanding and Ungrouping

Start by expanding the traced objects. (Image 2:1) Go to "Object" then "Image Trace" and chose "Expand".

To be able to move and fit the pieces you must start by Ungrouping them (Image 2:2) Just select everything if it isn't go to "Object" and chose "Ungroup"

Step 4: Selecting and Cleaning Up

Now everything should look something like Image 3:1

When creating outlines Illustrator creates vectors for all the outlines of a coloured area. The white that surrounds the Kodamas is one area, the black from the line are one area and last the white inside the black lines is one area. This is a bit of a problem for laser cutting since it will make the laser to cut the same line several times.

To clean it up we start by selecting the areas that we don't want and delete them. I started by selecting the white background, by clicking it, and then deleted it. This freed the Kodamas as in Image 3:2

Then we started to select the Kodamas I wanted and copied them to a new art board (Image 3:3 and 3:4)

The rest we discarded by deleting them.

When I was done I saved the file and transferred it to the Laser Cutter

Step 5: Laser Cutting and Painting!

We painted a MDF board white, let it dry and then masked it with masking tape. Set it in the laser cutter and started cutting. (Image 4:1) Use the settings and programs you usually use for your cutter.

The outer lines were cut trough the MDF and the inner lines for eyes and details where set to just cut through the tape. I did this so that could peal of the tape and spray paint the details. (Image 4:2 and 4:3)

When the paint had dried we pealed of the tape (Image 4:4)

Step 6: Assemble!

At last it's time to mount the heads!

We used springs that we bent so that they had a "flat" loop which we then glued with a gluegun to the back of the head and body. (Image 5:1 to 5:4)

All done! Go and make yourself a Kodama family!

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