Assignment 2: Laser-Cutter

Objective: cut out a wooden circular badge with our name on it
Time: 2 hours
Prerequisites:
  • EPILOG MINI 24 (40WATTS) laser-cutter
  • Wood plate (max: 300 mm x 600 mm, thickness max:  6 mm)
  • Software: Corel Draw + Vector-Based Program

In this first fab lab session we got our first hands-on with the laser-cutter by creating our own badges. It soon became clear that we had a lot of freedom with modifying its contents, but also some limitations.

1. Creating contents of badge

For creating the badges contents we could use any vector-based program such as Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape. Adobe Photoshop does not work as well for a laser-cutter.

In these programs we could draw whatever lines, shapes and texts we wanted. For this tuturial we would use circular badges, so we put all the contents in a circular shape. We were explained that the laser-cutter could both engrave and cut, but lacked an easy way to colour the contents or create 3D structures with depths.

I tried both programs, but created my final deliverables (Illustrator, PDF and SVG file) in Illustrator. These include my name and two simple spiral-formed shapes.

IMG_5755

Final SVG File.

2. Setting real-life scale of the SVG Files

Another pc in the lab was directly connected to the laser-cutter via the software Corel Draw.

As we were with a group we used a USB stick and opened all our individual PDF files of the badges and moved them to a new big document that was preset to the format of the machine (see above).

All vector items in a badge were grouped so that the entire badge could be moved and reshaped to 50 mm x 50 mm. Since our wooden plate would be smaller than the maximum format (see later photo), we arranged so that we were almost sure they would fit. Also, the x-axis needed to be 1 mm from the border, and the y-axis 1-1 mm from the border, with the origin (0,0) being the upper left of the wooden plate.

3. Choosing what to cut and engrave

Firstly some badges still contained a background which had to be removed by hitting delete on the item, or deleting it in the item list on the right.

Secondly all (hidden) duplicate shapes had to be removed to save the machine some useless work. For example: once clicked on a circle shape we often found through some simple deleting that there had been more circles at once.

Then we did some operations to the individual vector items in the badge:

  1. (If grouped) They were ungrouped.
  2. They were converted to an outline and then to an object (Arrange menu)
  3. Items that would be engraved were filled red (Paint Bucket button) and any outline, if present, is put to none and thus removed (Pencil button).Items that would be cut were filled black (Paint Bucket button). Also, we gave them a hairline (very thin) outline (Pencil button).

    The necessary buttons are situated in the lower right.

4. Setting context of the machine

We put the wooden plate in the machine aligned to the upper left corner.

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Putting the plate in the  machine.

On the left size of the cutter, the power is switched on. Underneath the table, another switch is turned on. This is a safety fume extractor in case something in the cutter catches fire. The extractor is quite noisy.

Button 9 is pressed to turn on the LED laser pointer. This tells us where the origin of the laser cutter is.

IMG_5767

The red dot pointing to the plate. The finger tells us how to move the laser.

 

However, we can’t change the laser’s position yet since X/Y Safety is on. Button 8 and then Button GO make the laser and its arms movable. We move it to the origin (0,0) being the upper left corner. Then, we press Button 7 to define the origin as being there. Now moving the laser has become impossible again.

img_0134_2

Laser-cutter interface with all buttons.

5. Et voilà, print!

On the Corel Draw, ctrl-P is pressed to print. We delete all the objects outside the cutting area (that give a warning).

In the blue window that pops up after, we set the final parameters. The precision is set to 600 dpi (although the max is 1200 dpi). Also, we choose to combine raster (engrave) and cut.

IMG_5771

The blue printing window.

Some final parameters are the cutter’s speed, power and frequency. These could all be found on a cheat sheet in the room. Looking at our current material (wood), we find that the parameters should be respectively 6/100/500.

It is not allowed to leave the machine while it’s still on, so we watch the process and became very excited about the result!

 

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