Introduction: Laser Engraving Photos at the Johnson County Library

Lasers aren't just for cutting, but you can engrave images and even photographs onto wood, glass, stone, or anodized aluminum. Just bring your image into the Central Resource Building at the Johnson County Library and our MakerSpace staff can help you out. This tutorial will walk you through the process of preparing a photo for laser engraving. There are lots of methods out there using a lot of different effects to enhance the picture. I'm just going to show you a really simple rundown and I'll let you know a few extras you can do, too.

Step 1: Materials and Setup

What you need to bring with you:

  • a digital picture (if your picture is not digital, we can help you scan it!)
  • something to engrave the picture on (wood, corian, your laptop, etc.)
  • your library card

Next steps:

Step 2: Open and Size Your Picture in Corel Draw

Once you've chosen a picture, open CorelDRAW and create a new document that is 24" wide and 12" high. This is the size of the laser print bed. Once in the new document, drag reference points down and across from the rulers to mark out the size of whatever material you'll be engraving. You'll want to keep your picture inside this space. If it's a phone or other electronic device, be sure to mark out any spots where your picture wouldn't show (the apple on your iPhone, etc.).

Crop: File > Import your picture. There are 2 ways to crop. Use the crop tool (see the 1st photo--this is easier, but somewhat less accurate) or use the Resample menu under Bitmaps.

Step 3: Add Effects to Enhance Photo

There are several effects you can do to enhance the photo and many many other tutorials that go into a lot of detail about them. We're going to cover the basics of a couple of things here, but not go into gory detail. It all comes down to the quality and composition of your photograph. Some will need it, some won't.

Remove the background: If there's a super busy background or your goal is a floating effect, do this one. The easiest way to do it in CorelDRAW is to click on the Edit Bitmap button on the bar and let it take you to the CorelPAINT window. Click on Image > Cutout Lab and then highlight around your image and fill the part you want to keep. Click Preview and okay. When done, click Finish Editing and it'll take you back to DRAW with your background-less image.

Contrast, Gamma: Adjusting these can help make the picture more even in its highlights and shadows--which will result in better images in grayscale. Find them in Effects > Adjust.

Sharpen, Unsharpen: To define edges more clearly, use sharpen and unsharpen as needed to clear up blurry edges. Find under Bitmaps > Sharpen.

Step 4: Convert to Black and White. Invert If Necessary.

So...engraving is a grayscale thing. You're going to need to convert your picture into a black and white 1-bit image for it to look right. We recommend the Stucki dithering approach.

Once your image is right where you want it, go to Bitmaps > Mode > Black and White (1-bit). Choose Stucki in the Conversion Method drop down.

If you're printing on wood or chipboard, call it good and move on. If you're engraving glass or aluminum, you're going to want to revert your colors so that you print the negative (trust us on this).

With your picture selected, go to Effects > Transform > Invert Colors.

Now you're ready to send it to the laser cutter.

Step 5: Send It to the Laser Engraver.

Double check your settings. Is your picture in the right place? Have you removed all reference marks? Do you know where you're going to put your material in the cutter? If you have any questions or need a second pair of eyes, find a MakerSpace staffer to help out!

So then. You're ready. Go to File > Print and select the Epilog Engraver. Be sure to click on Preferences!

In the Epilog screen, 1) Select Raster, 2) Change the piece size to the bed size on the printer (24 and 12), 3) choose your settings. Don't forget to change the dithering to Stucki!

To pick settings, go with some standards on the reference list next to the printer or check out some of our examples to get a better idea of how power and speed settings can change the look of your picture. For aluminum, just go with the standards.

If you're engraving on a cylindrical object, be sure to ask our MakerSpace staff to set up the rotary engraver.

Hit okay, adjust the focus on the cutter, and hit GO!