I'm making this instructable to help others with how to get started with a cheap laser engraver. Because the model I'm using is a newer engraver from outside the US, there is just about no information on how to use/set up. Hopefully by the end of this instructable you will be able to start engraving/burning words and designs for less than $100.
Step 1: Where to Get the Engraver
The engraver I am using is the NEJE 300mW Laser Engraver Machine, model number DK-8. I bought mine from GearBest for just under $85 with free shipping.
***** Now I do not remember where it shipped from, but if shipping to the US be ready to wait a long time. I have seen plenty of bad reviews for GearBest's website, yet I feel that the reviews were written by ill patient people. Once bought, it took about 2-3 business days to process. After that it had to find its way to a shipping container to travel to the US in, that process took about a week and a half to two weeks in itself. Then once in the US it has to ship to you. It took a month for me to receive my engraver, but I had working tracking numbers since it shipped so I knew where it was almost the whole time.
It arrived very well packed with foam blocks and securing tape all over to make sure it was shipped safely. Remove all tape and foam and you are ready for the next step.
Step 2: Hardware (The Engraver) Set Up
Once you have everything unpacked you should have the Engraver, measuring 5.75"x6.25"x7.5", with two usb cables coming out of the back, a microSD card, a usb wall adapter, glasses and instructions(not so great).
Plug the USB wall adapter into a near socket, and plug the thinner/smaller of the two USB cables into it. That is your power cord. There should be three red LEDs that light up near the back that can be seen from looking down on the engraver. One LED is on the Arduino board, and the two are on the stepper motor drivers.
The other USB cable is your data cable, you plug this into your computer.
That is it for initial set up. Nice that its all self contained and comes assembled to limit errors by the end user.
Step 3: Software SetUp
To begin the software set up, first power up your engraver (plug both USB's into their proper slots). The laser should be on, but it is not at burn power so don't worry about it, act like it doesn't exist. No install the software from the MicroSD card and follow all steps (not many at all).
If your package did not include a MicroSD card, you can download the software here. The webpage is not in English. In the text box, type the password: 3477 and hit enter. The next page will be the download screen, click the blue button with the down arrow. Once downloaded, unzip the folder and follow the installation procedure.
By now you have the Engraver ready and hooked up, and you should have the software installed. Now lets figure out the software a little in the next step.
Step 4: Software Intro
Now that you have installed the software, find the shortcut on you desktop, or where ever you placed it, and open it. The second picture is what the program looks like when you open it.
If the driver installed properly, the port name in the upper left area of the program should default to the port your printer is plugged into and the Y+ X- X+ Y- buttons should be clickable.
IF NOT: try plugging the USB into a different port and re install the program (the drivers install with the program for the port the engraver is plugged into). Mine didn't work until I tried my last USB port. Not quite sure why that is, but it works so I'm happy.
Before you do anything Home your laser. The home position is with the laser all the way to the left and front of the engraver. Refer to the pictures. To Home the laser click the X- until you hear slight clicking, which is the sound of the bracket that connects the laser to the gear slipping. Then do the same clicking Y-.
So now you know the upper left corner, lets move down. You will see a check box below the X Y jog buttons, this is to power the laser to burn intensity. I don't find it to be much of any use except for if you don't know if what you want to engrave/burn will work with the laser. So I just ignore it.
Next going down is a button labeled "Font". Click that to bring up the fonts option box where you can change the font type, style, and size. That open box just under the Font button is your text box. As you type you will see the text show up in the print preview window which is located in the middle of the program.
That big box in the middle is your print preview window. This will show what the engraver with engrave/burn when you send over to the engraver. The red lines that make a smaller box in the print preview window is the parameters of the engraver. I will later explain how to change the size of that.
Now on bottom you have a selection of images that come with the program that you can engrave/burn. Nothing fancy and you can load your own images.
Next is the right side column. Selecting to Load Picture will bring up a browse window where you can upload any of your photos to engrave/burn. You can paste pictures too if you have one copied as well. Next is your gray style, which just gives you a few different looks for your print with different gray scales. Invert and Flip also let you change how your image looks.
That button labeled "start" is your print button. The laser will start your design once your hit start. From there you can also pause and stop. When your print is done, or stopped, the laser will auto home.
Remember when I said you can change the size of your print area. Hopefully you weren't expecting that you can print bigger than the 38mmx38mm print area advertised. When you move the slider you will see the red box enlarge or shrink respectively. Use this when you upload an image but doesn't show as big as you would like.
You can also change the burn time, since all objects engrave/burn at different speeds for different results.
And lastly there is a clock that shows actual time your print has been going for.
You probably noticed another tab all the way at the top left next to "Print Picture" called "NC Sender". I am not experienced with this area yet so I can't help to much. If you select Create NC File it will open Inkscape to make your paths file. Just keep in mind your build area is only 38mmx38mm. If you make a file to large, you will just get en error message. I will add a section on this when I learn how to use it better.
**** The Print Picture tab is for Engraving/Burning not by following a path but by pixel. The program starts from top to bottom, burning each pixel one at a time. A simple Transformers logo that the software comes with printed as big as the program allowed took about 2 hours! It is not to easy to cut with this tab. When cutting craft foam or paper, you should use the "NC Sender" tab. That just takes more work to get your cuts.
Step 5: Burning/Engraving
Load your material on the yellow print table, securing it with the supplied rubber bands. Load your file or picture in the software and start your print.
I have yet to engrave/burn anything all to useful, but I have engraved/burned a few items to show some quality.
Thing I have engraved/burned: Scrap underfloor 1/8 wood, tooth picks, carboard, foam, wooden golf tees, and plexi glass.
Yes you can engrave plexiglass/acrylic. When you purchase acrylic it has a protective sheet on both sides, leave them on. Black out the area you want to engrave with sharpie. Place it on the burn plate, and for your engrave burn time, select the longest burn time. This might work better with NC Sender but again I am not experienced with that section yet. Once your engraving is done, remove the protective plastic(which the laser burned through) and there you are.
I can see using this to customize your wooden cooking utensils, or making some as gifts.
If you have another ideas or questions, please leave them in the comment section and I will try and answer.
Thanks! And happy Engraving/Burning!!