The universal laser is a flexible machine that can cut and etch many materials for unparalleled results. This guide is for its general use, and includes specific examples from the Laser installed at the FirstBuild MicroFactory. These Instructions focus on the ILS12.150D model, with a 150-Watt Dual powered laser with a 48 x 24 inch, but the guidelines will apply to most Universal Lasers. With specific questions, please refer to the manufacturer's website.
Supplies: Title (quantity)
- Etching paint if etching on metal (1)
- PC or Mac with Adobe Illustrator (1)
- Material to be etched/cut (1)
- Universal Laser System (1)
Step 1: Turn on the Cooling Air
A cooling system ensures heat does not build up on projects in-process.
To turn on the ventilation system at FirstBuild, turn the blue-handled ball valve behind the laser to a vertical position. This will activate the cooling air for both the #1 and #2 lasers. To turn the laser on, the cooling air must be activated.
Step 2: Turn on the Ventilation System
Due to the fumes produced by burning material with the laser, we recommend venting the laser to the exterior of the building.
At FirstBuild, you can find the exhaust controls at the back of the exhaust box behind the laser cutter. There are two buttons with a clear rubber casing over them. Press the button on the right.
Step 3: Turn the Laser On
Turn the laser on with the switch on top of the machine.
Step 4: Measure the Material You Want to Etch/cut
Before placing your material on the engraving table, measure its thickness and make a note of it. You will need it later!
Step 5: Open You Image File
Open Adobe Illustrator and open the file you want to use.
The image that you want to cut/etch will need to be in .ai (Adobe Illustrator), .pdf, or .dxf format. Note that .dxf will only produce black lines and won't incorporate other colors when initially opened.
Step 6: Place Material
Open the protective cover of the table and place your material on the table.
It's recommended to place the material's corner in the upper left hand side of the table, as pictured. Note the measurements along the top and left sides of the table for later use.
Step 7: Set Up the Document
Go to "File" and click "Document Setup"
Click on the "Edit Artboard" button. You should now see 4 boxes for the different dimensions of the document at the top of your toolbar.
Make sure that the values of the "W" and "H" boxes are "48 in" and "24 in", respectively. Click on the mouse pointer button on the left toolbar to exit this editing mode.
Step 8: Position the Image
Determine where on the table you want to place your image.
Highlight the lines you want to move.
Enter the "X" and "Y" coordinates of your image in the respective boxes on the right side of the screen
Now that your art board's dimensions are the same as the engraving table's, you can place your image on the artboard exactly where you want to be etched on the engraving table. This is where those measurements on the table come in handy. You can use the "X" and "Y" boxes on the right toolbar to position your image exactly on the document/table. Just make sure the image is highlighted first!
Step 9: Changing the Color Settings
Click "File", expand the "Document Color Mode" tab and make sure that "RGB" is checked.
Step 10: Coloring the Lines (Rastering)
Highlight your lines to color.
Double click on the "Stroke" icon on the left toolbar.
Note: This step in the process will be different for each project, depending on whether or not you are cutting, rastering, or both. In order to raster, or etch, the color of your lines need to be one of a set of specific colors. Those colors are black, green, yellow, cyan, or magenta.
Step 11: Coloring the Lines (Rastering Cont.)
Set the numeric values of "R", "G", and "B" to their specific values for the color you want to use.
The colors for rastering are black, yellow, green, cyan, and magenta.
Note: black's RGB values are 0, 0, 0 respectively.
Step 12: Coloring the Lines (cutting)
Highlight your lines to be cut.
Set 0.001 to the stroke box on the top toolbar.
In order to cut, two conditions need to be satisfied with the lines. Its line weight needs to be set to 0.001 pt. and it needs to be colored red.
Step 13: Coloring the Lines (cutting Cont.)
Highlight the lines you want to cut.
Double click on the "Stroke" box to open the color menu, as in step 11.
Set the RGB values to 255, 0, 0 respectively.
Step 14: Print the Document
Inspect your image to ensure it is positioned and colored correctly.
Click "File" and then "Print".
Step 15: Print the Document (cont.)
Click "Print" to send the image to the cutter.
This does not start the laser, it only sends the image data.
Step 16: Open the Laser Interface
Go to the expandable arrow on the taskbar.
Click the red "Universal Laser Systems" icon, as shown.
Step 17: Check for Placement Errors
Check that your image uploaded correctly and is place at the correct coordinates.
You should see your image on the virtual engraving table. This corresponds to where the laser will cut on the table, so make sure that it has been placed correctly with respect to your material. If it needs to be moved, you can go back into Adobe Illustrator, change the placement, and print it again. Or, you can manually move it with the "Relocate View" icon underneath the "Start" button. This is not very precise, however, so only use it if you have some room for error.
Step 18: Input Material Properties
Click on the "Settings" button to the right of the interface.
Step 19: Input Material Properties (cont.)
A new window will pop up.
Click on the "Materials Database" tab on the top of the new window.
Step 20: Input Material Properties (cont.)
Find your material within the expandable categories.
Click on the material once.
Note: if you're using the plywood supplied by FirstBuild, use the material "General Hard Woods" located under "Natural" ->"Wood" -->"Hard Wood"
There is a "Material Thickness" box below the category list, input your material's thickness that you measured previously into this box, in inches.
Click "OK" This will help the laser cutter know how close to get to the engraving table, so ensure that this is accurate.
Step 21: Changing Laser Power and Speed (for Experienced Users)
Click on the "Settings" button.
You now have the option to either operate the laser under the recommended power and speed settings based on the material you selected earlier or change these settings yourself. Only change these settings if you have experience cutting the material. You should be under the "Manual Control" tab and see a list of colors with assigned "Power," "Speed," "PPI," and "Z" values.
Depending on the color you used for your lines, change that color's "Power" and "Speed" settings.
Click "Apply" and "OK" when finished. You should not need to change the "PPI" or "Z" settings. Note that higher power and lower speed means a deeper cut. Be careful, as this can lead to deformations due to melting and/or fire.
Step 22: Enable Auto-Z
Go the the top of the interface and click on the "System" tab.
Ensure that the "Auto-Z" box is checked on the left hand of the window.
Go back to the "Viewer" tab
Step 23: Start the Job
Ensure that the lid of the engraving table is closed and click the big, green "Start" button.
This will start the laser, so make sure that you have followed all steps up to this point.
Step 24: Pausing the Laser
If something goes wrong or you need to stop the laser, click on the red "Pause" button.
From here you can either resume the job by clicking the button again or start the job from the beginning by clicking the "Start" button.
Cut leftover scrap into rectangles and placed in the appropriate section of the appropriate materials bin.Return the calipers and/or focus tool to its labeled position on the laser.
If you are using material that you have provided, please do not place the scrap material into the scrap bin, as it will be treated as FirstBuild property. It is also important to note at this point that the material in the scrap bin is not free and will carry the same price per square foot as shown for the full sheets.
Troubleshooting / Tips
Never operate the laser without cooling air on and the exhaust system running. The lid of the engraving table must be closed for the laser to operate. Supervise the laser at all times in case something goes wrong. You can assign separate power and speed settings to your image by using different colors. If your AI file has more than one color, the laser will engrave one color at a time. Once all of one color has been engraved, it will move to the next one and so on. Apply engraving paint to metals like stainless steel for best results when etching. Allow sufficient time to dry before trying to etch. Materials like Styrofoam, PVC, and polycarbonate are not recommended to be cut on the laser.