Introduction: Laser Cut Acrylic & Wood Inlay Flowers Using Illustrator & Glowforge
It was requested on the Glowforge community forum that I put together a tutorial on how I create some of my inlay-ed flower design pieces. Please keep in mind that much of what I do is discovered by trial and error. I don’t have any formalized design training, so there are probably better ways to do some of the things that I’m going to document here. I do all my design in Adobe Illustrator, but should be similar in tools like Inkscape or Affinity Designer. Let’s get started!
I wanted to create a flower design that I could use as stand alone flowers, or to be integrated into bigger pieces like polyhedrals. In this tutorial, we’ll create a simple wood-border flower with multi-colored acrylic inserts hat could be used in a simple vase. Pictures above are for reference only, as this tutorial showcases how to make the flower, not the vase holders or polyhedrals. I use 1/8" material for these flowers, but this method should work on different material thicknesses.
Step 1: Pick a Floral Design
I purchased a bundle of floral line icons from creativemarket.com as a starting point. There are plenty of free alternatives out there like flaticon.com that you could find similar icons to use as starting point. Drawing your own is definitely an option, but not covered here. Ideally, find a vector file that you can edit.
Open up Adobe Illustrator and bring up your flower icon.
Step 2: Create Border
1. Select the flower icon and adjust the stroke to be the width you'd like your flower outline to be. (This is in the properties window) I am selecting an 8pt stroke width, for a flower that will only be ~2.3" in diameter. Your stoke width may/can be different depending on how big you want your flower/border to be.
2. Under the Object Menu, select Outline Stroke from the Path sub-menu.
Your icon now has lines on the inside and outside of the stroke, and the original line for the icon in the middle is gone.
3. Use the Unite option under the Pathfinder Menu to create a solid object with no overlapping lines.
4. Change the fill color to none.
Step 3: Adjust for Kerf
To get the acrylic petal pieces to fit into the wood flower border, you have to adjust for Kerf. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, you can start here. I'm still figuring this out, and is no way perfect using this method. But, I have gotten good results so far.
5. Set the Stroke Width to .025 so that you can see the lines.
6. When you use the stroke outline, it created a compound path. In order to manipulate the different elements of the flower, you want to right click on the design and select Release Compound Path.
7. Using the Select Tool (V), select the outline of the outer border, and change the stroke color to red. Select the internal border lines and change the stroke color to purple.
8. While the internal border lines are still selected, use the offset path option from the Objects -> Path menu.
This is where you need to know the width of the laser. This can vary by machine, and there are ways to find this out. For my Glowforge, I start with .009 and adjust from there. I make test cuts and see how the pieces fit. In this tutorial, we are only adjusting the path on one set of lines. To do this more accurately, you'd offset the line half of the laser width in either direction, and this should give you even better results. We are doing the quick and dirty method, and adjusting the value once, instead of creating multiple paths.
9. While the newly created lines are still select, change the stroke color to green.
You should have 3 sets of lines with 3 different colors. Red is outside edge. If you were going to inlay the entire flower into something else, you'd have to add an additional offset to the outside edge. The Purple is the original petal path, where as the green is what you'll cut the acrylic for the inlay.
10. Save your design as an SVG file.
Step 4: Laser Cut Your Flower
Let's cut the wood border first:
1. Open up the Glowforge Web UI, and import your Flower SVG file.
At this point, you should have 3 elements in the side bar to work with.
2. Set the outer edge to Cut.
3. Set the inner most element to Cut. You may have to zoom in to 500% to figure out which one is the wood cut line and which one is the acrylic cut line.
4. Set the other one to Ignore.
I used Proofgrade walnut and maple to make these from some scraps that I had.
*** To save on material, you could print just an individual petal and do a test cut to zone in on your proper kerf.
Cut the Acrylic next:
1. Change the elements you had as cut to ignore.
2. Change the element you had as ignore to cut.
I cut 2 of each, so that I could swap out colors.
Step 5: Assemble
It's a tight fit. I use a hammer to coax it in there. It does matter what sides you use, and I find that the back to front works best, since there is a ever so slight taper in the laser. I also created some quick stems, and used super glue to adhere them to the flower.
Step 6: Repeat & Admire
Great! You've made one flower. Now, make some more to create a bouquet. These will make great Valentine's day gifts. I also used this technique and embedded a bunch of flowers in a Pentakis dodecahedron polyhedral that turned out fantastic.
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