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Custom Laser Projects 101

Vector Graphics and Lasers 101

 

What do I need to know about my artwork and lasers?

Our laser takes in vector artwork and converts it to specific motions and fires the laser to create your pieces.  Ultimately, everything depends on the artwork - a few extra minutes on the artwork can greatly improve the results!

 

Vectors vs Bitmaps

There are 2 different ways to create a design - using vectors, and using bitmaps.  The end result can be visually similar but there are some significant differences.  For example, if you draw a circle in vector software, the circle is a mathematical shape - the shape is made of a single line that surrounds a center point with a fixed distance. Because it is a mathematical shape, if you scale it up to 12”  or down to 1” you get exactly the same result - a single line that surrounds a center point with a fixed distance.

 A bitmap on the other hand is an array of pixels that are either “filled” or “unfilled”.  Imagine a grid, now draw a circle on that grid and color in any square that is inside the the circle. But, notice that you will always have some squares where the line passes through the square - so the circle is partly in and partly outside of those squares.  Since a square can only be filled or unfilled, the circle will always be an approximation.

 Here’s an enlarged example:

 

Orange = Bitmap
Magenta = Vector

 

Notice the orange “bitmap” circle is kind of, well, circle-ish.  However, the vector circle (in magenta) is  a perfect circle.  

 

Ok, so how do I create vector artwork?

Great question!  We use Corel Draw, but you have several choices:

    • Corel Draw is the preferred professional software for creating vector artwork.  Depending on your needs, you might purchase the software package or you might get a monthly subscription.  The subscription can be cheaper if you just need to use the software for a short period to create your artwork.  (Not available for MacOS.)
    •  Adobe Illustrator is a good second choice.  Also available as a subscription, this can be a good choice if you are working on a MacOS-based computer
    •  Inkscape is a free open-source alternative.  Our experience has been hit-or-miss with Inkscape - PDFs avoid many of the issues, but there can be some strange results due to their non-standard implementations.

 

I have my software, and a design idea - what do I need to know?

Great! Before you start, make sure you have a few setting correct:

    • Document/artboard size:  10” wide and 6.5” tall.
    • Color Mode: RGB (do not use CMYK!)
    • Resolution:  300dpi

 

Ok, what else?

The laser has 2 modes - vector and raster - and is important to keep this in mind.  The vector mode is used for cutting *through* materials (i.e. the outside shape).  Raster mode is an engraving mode that removes a small portion (~1mm) of the material on the surface.  The only way the laser knows the difference is by the colors you use.

    • Vector cuts = Hairline (or .001” thick) lines in CYAN (RGB code = #00FFFF)
    • Raster engravings: Black (RGB code = #000000)


 

Text

If your design has text, convert your text to curves before creating your PDF.  PDFs handle text a little differently than you might expect. You spent a lot of time to pick the perfect font for your design - and then you create the PDF for submission.  When you check it, the PDF looks great! But, once we receive it, the fonts are all wrong the text is in the wrong place. What happened?  Well, we may not have *that* specific font variation in our library.  

The way to keep this from happening is to use the “convert to curves” function on all of your text.  This turns the letters into curves and eliminates the possibility that missing fonts will delay your project.

    • Corel Draw - “convert to curves”
    • Illustrator - “create outlines”
    • Inkscape - “object to path”

 

Give your design some breathing room!

Always leave .125” gap along all of the document edges and between your pieces.

What file format should I use?

We only accept PDF files for client artwork.  Using the EXPORT function of your software, save the document as a PDF.


Advanced Topics:

I have a token that *must* be a particular size.  What do I need to know?


Ok, so this is where the concept of “kerf” becomes important to understand.  When the laser vector cuts a line, it vaporizes a small portion of the material and that has a certain width - this is called the “kerf”.  On a laser, you should count on ~.5mm kerf.  That means that if you need a 30mm circle, you should add .5mm to the diameter and draw it at 30.5mm.  If you need a ruler of exactly 10mm x 150mm you should draw it at 10.5mm x 150.5mm.   Lasers are precise, but not perfect!  These guidelines should produce good results, but variations happen due materials, temperature, humidity, etc.

I already have my design done but it’s a bitmap… HELP!

Short answer: Use the trace function in your vector software.

The long answer: We’ll be creating more detailed instructions soon!