This instructable was prepared and designed for a Makerspace Meetup to introduce participants to Inkscape, a free graphics vector software that we utilize for laser cutter prep.
Step 1: Intro to Inkscape
Inkscape is a free and open source vector graphics editor. This software can be used to draw, design, and edit graphics for illustration, graphic design and in this particular event- design a file specifically for the laser.
It is compatible with PC, Mac, and Linux. It is an open sourced software, which means it is updated, enhanced, and inspected by the contributors.
You can download a free copy of Inkscape here.
Step 2: How Do We Use Inkscape?
We use it to design files for the laser cutter or any program that can read and understand layers for cutting and engraving or marking. Patrons can design and prepare a file on Inkscape to use with other tools in our space such as the Silhouette Cameo and Cricut Maker, both are smart cutting machines.
For this particular class, I am discussing Inkscape primarily to design and prep for the laser cutter. This class will empower you to learn the skills you need to come prepared for a laser cut appointment.
Step 3: Document Set Up
Open Inkscape and let's start setting up your document!
The default canvas is an A4 document size, we will change this to prep for the laser.
1. Go over toFile - Document Properties(1st image)
2. The Document Propertieswindow will appear, let's go over the highlighted... (2nd image)
- Display Units: set this to inches or your preferred metric.
- Under Custom Size: Also, change the units to inches and then change the Width and Height to the size of the bed or the material size you will be using on the laser cutter.
3. I have set my document size to 20" x 12"- which is the maximum size of our smaller full spectrum hobby laser. (3rd photo)
I have created templates designed for our laser cutters. These templates are based on the maximum size of the honeycomb bed that lays inside and holds the material you will be using for laser cutting and/or engraving. This template does NOT include the material size, you will need to add that when you are ready and have measured the size of material.
Please feel free to save and use these templates as a starter.
Step 4: Layers Are Your Friend
Layers are a great way to distinguish levels at which you can place an object, image, or paths. With layers you can stack, merge or define layers.
It is particularly important to use layers especially when you have several jobs to do on the laser and can choose which ones to do and which ones to hide.
Step 5: Layers Dialog
Let's look at some of the options on the Layers Dialog.
Plus & Minus
The + is to add a new layer (1st image).
A new dialog will appear, Add Layer (2nd image)
You can define that layer with a name so you know what that layer is about.
For this example, I called it Vector Cut and positioned it Above Current- which means it will be the top layer. This layer will be for vector on the laser.
The - is to delete the selected layer you have highlighted.
Open Eye & Closed Eye
The next options are what I call the Eyeball.
If you click on the eyeball that layer hides whatever designs, objects, or paths you've placed inside it. (3rd image)
You can see my Vector layer has an open eye - my Raster layer has a closed eye so it's hidden.
I have two layers for laser jobs. (4th image)
One layer is for vector only, so whatever will be cut will appear in that layer.
The other layer is for raster engraving only, so whatever will be engraved will appear in that layer.
Next to the eyeball is a Lock (5th image).
The Vector layer has the lock open- which means I can move those objects, shapes, paths, etc. anywhere in the canvas.
The Raster layer has the lock closed, meaning I can't move those objects, shapes, paths, etc. They are locked in place. This is helpful to use when you still need to move objects around that space but don't want to interfere with accidentally moving anything from that specific layer.
Go ahead and create two layers
1. Vector Cut
**Remember: Whatever you will be cutting, you will place those objects, shapes, path, etc. in that specific layer.
Whatever you will be engraving, will live in that specific layer. This could be images, text, etc.**
It may take some time to get use to but it definitely helps understand how layers work for laser jobs.
Step 6: Material Layer
Now that we have a basic understanding of layers, let's add our material in the process!
- Create a new layer and call it 'Material' (1st image)
We want to measure our material in which we will be vector cutting and raster engraving.This layer will simply serve the purpose of an outline for you to know where your design for engraving and cut lines are within the laser bed canvas.
**It is important to measure your piece of material that you wish to vector cut and/or engrave. This will greatly help with placement of design onto the material and be sure it all fits.**
For this example, I have a scrap piece of 1/4" birch plywood sized to 4" x 5".
I will create a square to that size on my document in the 'Materials' layer.
I've decided this scrap will make a good coaster.
Shapes in Inkscape
On the left hand panel there are a few icons, let's look at what's highlighted...(2nd image)
The highlighted icons on the panel is a square, a circle, and a polygon tool option. This is the simplest way to create your shape.
Since my example for this project is a 4" x 5" square coaster.
I will choose my square option. (3rd image)
- Set the width and height based on your material.
Now, that we have the outline of our material Lock your 'Materials' layer.
Step 7: Vector Layer
Let's go to our vector layer.
I want to create a circle the will fit inside my 'Materials' layer. This circle will be the coaster cut that I want from the 4"x 5" plywood scrap.
- Click on the vector layer, this is where your circle cut will live. (1st image)
- Click on the circle shape on the left panel.
Stretch your mouse and create a symmetrical circle. (2nd image)
Your circle will be filled with a color, but this is NOT what we want.
We only want the outline stroke of the circle and we want the outline stroke to be yellow because the laser software automatically knows yellow means to cut.
On the right side panel - there is a dialog box called Fill and Stroke.
Let's go over Fill option(2nd image)
- Under Fill, there is an X. When you click on it the circle is now blank and has no fill at all.
- Next to the X, there is a box that is filled. That is the state of our current red circle.
- Click on the X under the Fill option. You will have an empty circle. (3rd image)
Now lets move over to the Stroke Paint option
- Under the Stroke Paint, there is also an X. This is the state of our current circle- it has no stroke outline to define the circle. (4th image)
- Next to the X, there is a box that is filled. When you click on it, the circle is now yellow or whatever default color you have. If your default color is a different color just change the RGB color scale to yellow. (5th image)
Because yellow is a hard color to see- I have zoomed in to show. (6th image)
Lastly, move over to the Stroke Style option. (7th image)
- Stroke style is the width of your cut. Make sure the width is at 0.010 inches.
- Dashes are solid line throughout.
Circle on Material
Alright, now let's move that circle over to the materials box (NOT LAYER).
Adjust the circle so it fits perfectly inside the 4" x 5" square. (8th image)
This is your cut line for the coaster.
Go ahead and Lock the layer so we can't manipulate it any further.
Step 8: Raster Engraving Layer
Great! Now we can do an Image Search
- Do a google black and white image search of whatever it is you are going to engrave. In this example, I searched "Adventure quotes in black and white" (1st image)
- Copy/save the image. (2nd image)
- On Inkscape, make sure you are on the Raster Engrave layer.
- Paste/open the image on Inkscape onto that layer (3rd image)
Step 9: Trace Bitmap
Trace Bitmap Image
Trace Bitmap Image is an awesome tool to trace and have a clean image on your laser file.
- Click on the image so the shape is outlined.
- Right click on the image.
- A dialog box will appear- go to Trace Bitmap... (1st image)
Trace Bitmap Dialog
A pop up Trace Bitmap Dialog will open giving you options on tracing.
Let's go over the highlighted...(2nd image)
- Brightness Cutoff: Traces by brightness level
- Threshold: You can change the numbers up and down to see the effect on the brightness level on the image you like to trace. It will give you more black or more white depending on the threshold count.
- Remove Background: Make sure you have this checked to remove the white background of the original image when you do a trace.
- Live Preview: Make sure you have this checked as well so you could see a live preview of the option you have for changes.
- OK: Once you have played with the options and are satisfied with what you see- go ahead and press Ok.
Image Trace Complete
Once you hit OK- drag the trace out of the original image(3rd image).
You can see that I have removed the watermark that originally came with the copied image and the lines are dark and clean.
Now, you can delete the original/copied image on Inkscape- we will not be needing that anymore!
Step 10: Putting It All Together
Alright, I know that's a lot of ground to cover but we are almost done! This is where we can put all the elements together and see how it will turn out on the laser.
On ourRaster layer, let's resize our design so it fits within the yellow circle we created on the Vector layer.
**The only unlocked layer should be the Raster Engrave layer**
- When you click on the image, you will see arrows at the corners- with your mouse and using the shortcut SHIFT +CTRL resize. (1st image)
- You may have to zoom in to see the yellow circle; center your design. (2nd image)
Step 11: Saving for Laser Cuts
Most importantly, save your work for the laser appointment.
- Go to File
- Save As
- Name your work
- Save as type: SVG
I recommend saving your work on a USB.
Appointment Set Up
Due to high demand of our laser- we only take appointments. Please see our Makerspace Hub website to schedule, a Creative Specialist will reach out to you within two days.
Step 12: Thank You!
Thank you for attending this instructable meetup! I will be sending this link to all attendees the next day. Feel free to use all the examples and files on here for practice!