Introduction: Laser Cut business cards can create be quite impressive with even simple designs. I usually cut these cards for my best clients so that they are less inclined to throw them out and even display them more prominently on their desks (and are even more inclined to call me back!)
Currently I use either artboard (that has white on each side and cardboard in the middle) this gives me a nice textured look. Or, I use wood veneers that I get from a carpenter (recycled samples.) You can buy the wood veneers at Southern Lumber (in San Jose off of Curtner Ave.) or many hardware/lumber stores in sample packs.
I use the Epilog Laser Cutter at the Techshop http://www.techshop.ws/ and even though I am fairly new with the Laser Cutter I have been able to create some designs I am very happy with, and I am happy to say "I made it at TechShop!"
Step 1: Step 1 - Gather Your Design Details
The first thing to do is decide what kind of business card you will cut and etch. The standard business card dimensions (in the U.S.) are 3" wide by 2" high.
As in any business card design, when you design it be sure to give yourself some room near the borders (edge) of the card so that you do not get too close. This can be more of an issue when you deal with traditional printing that uses bleeds. But in this case we will just avoid getting too close so that we have a balanced design and if you do any vector (cuts) then you can avoid the thin pieces of wood veneer from fallin apart. Try and keep cuts in your design closer to the center.
Step 2: Step 2 - Create Your Design in Corel Draw And/or Adobe Illustrator
Most of your work should be prepared ahead of time so that you are not tying up the Laser Cutter and not doing any cutting (there may be people waiting to use the cutter...)
I usually bring my designs over to the Techshop workstations on a USB stick. I open my designs in Corel Draw and first check the dimensions.
So, I come from a desktop publishing background and I tend to start my projects in Illustrator for this even though I really like Photoshop. (Many of the people here at Techshop with CAD/CAM backgrounds seem to like to use Corel Draw to get started.) It may be because Corel Draw seems easier to work with the Laser.
Once I have my basic vector lines created in Illustrator I import this into Corel Draw (this is an extra step you can start in Corel and finish there or start in Illustrator and finish there, it's best to use what you prefer. But, in my opinion it's easier to do it with Corel Draw.)
Now, the real trick in getting a nice design lies in knowing when to use raster, and when to use vector. Raster images will etch into the card. While vector lines will cut through your design.
Remember, the design is 3" wide by 2" high so check this in Corel Draw.
Step 3: Step 4 - Setup the Laser Cutter for Your Material (wood Veneer)
My workflow usually goes like this: I walk into the laser cutter room and turn on the cutter I am assigned to. Then I get on the computer insert my USB flash drive and open my files in Corel Draw.
I usually calibrate the Focus and then the Home Position of the Epilog Laser Cutter after I have looked at my design. You can do this in either order, but I do it this way so it gives me a few last minutes to think about whether I like the way my design is setup.
Step 4: Step 5 - Double Check the Home Position and Start Cutting With the Laser
Once we have everything all ready, we've checked my settings for raster, and vector, and I've checked the dimensions in Corel Draw and the Print Preferences then we are ready to start cutting.
Send the print job to the computer directly from Corel Draw and then look on the front panel of the Epilog Laser Cutter and you will see the name of your print job. Just press go and it job will start to print/cut/etch!
It is important to monitor your job as vector cuts that are too close can cause small bursts of flames, and this can burn the entire card if not most of it.
Step 5: Step 6 - Remove the Veneer From the Laser Cutter and Break Away Your Finished Business Cards
Once the laser cutter is finished, we remove the cards from the veneer by gently pressing on one side of the card first, then the other until the card is ejected from the veneer on its own.
And there you have it, Business Cards from veneer to give them that natural impression.
Note: In the picture for this last stepp you will see the progression of my design as I was playing with the dimensions of the (corner) gear. I did not plan ahead on this one and I made the final card at the bottom (right) after a few trial and error runs only printing one card at a time (on recycled wood.)