Designing artwork for raster engraving

Designing artwork for raster engraving

Posted Posted in Artwork, How to

There are two ways to provide artwork for raster engraving, the fill in engraving shown on the board engraved for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh above.

Pixel based files

Pixel based files include png, jpg and bmp files. They must be provided in black and white at a print quality resolution of 300dpi or greater to ensure good quality engraving.  Any pixellation in the image is seen in engravings!

Sometimes, customers provide artwork from the internet. While these look good on a computer screen, they aren’t good enough for engraving (or printing) as they’re only 72 or 96dpi.

And if pixel based images are rescaled, they can lose quality and become pixellated the more they’re processed through resizing. All these potential problems can be avoided by using vector files.

Vector files

Vector files  include ai, pdf, dxf, eps and svg files. They are made up of vector lines, not pixels as png, jpg and bmps are. Artwork for the engraved board at the top was created by pdfs and is shown below.

A huge advantage of vector files is that they can be rescaled to the size a customer wants without loss of image quality. Files are rarely provided at the scale required for a job, which means that resizing a logo or other artwork is inevitable.

Vector files also need to be black and white with no greyscale.

 

Why black and white?

Lasers can’t engrave in colour. The colour of engravings depends on the colour that the material becomes when it’s burned by the laser at the speed and power selected. In the case of wood, you can get deeper shades of brown and greater depths of engrave with increasing power or reduced engraving speed.

As the laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave, artwork needs to accommodate this. Generally, I recommend that the parts of a design to be engraved are black and non engraved areas white. Shades of grey can be achieved with different densities of black pixels like old fashioned news print, and the black pixels will be engraved to give a grey effect.

Why doesn’t greyscale work?

When the laser sees a shade of grey, it decides whether it’s dark enough to be black and engraves it as black, or decides it’s light enough to be white and doesn’t engrave it.

 

Have you still got unanswered questions? Email me at jane@laserflair.co.uk.

Follow these links for my top tips for designing artwork for laser cutting and laying out vector artwork for laser cutting .

commissioning a video

Commissioning a work video

Posted Posted in How to

This year, I decided to commission a video to show how I work. Since I started posting short videos of the machine at work on social media and my website this year, I’ve realised how much it helps customers understand what I do. And as video is increasingly important criteria for Google to prioritise websites in searches, I knew that I could kill two birds with one stone.

I had become more confident at filming the machine using my phone, but I knew that making such a video was beyond my abilities as I wanted something sleek and professional.

Finding a supplier

Kirsty Thomas of Tom Pigeon was one of my earliest customers. Her son Jude, who has just started a film studies course, made a video for her about designing and creating her prints. It was just the kind of format I wanted.

Jude agreed to work with me. Then we discussed what I wanted and what might look good. Then he came to the workshop during the summer to film me at work.

compressed air
compressed air guage

Filming

It took me some time to decide what process to film so we could organise a time for Jude to visit the workshop. In the end, I decided on my own plywood business cards. They’re my design with my logo, they’re quick to make and both cutting and engraving are involved. I wanted to show both processes.

Jude thought that the business cards would work well. He suggested keeping the video 30 seconds long so that viewers wouldn’t lose interest.

Jude was only in the workshop for an hour. He filmed me creating the artwork and colour coding it for cutting and engraving, and setting up the machine. Then he took lots of production shots as I cut a sheet of cards. Thankfully it was a bright day and shots taken inside the machine were well lit. Jude was worried that the window in the machine lid and its interior light might not illuminate the shots well enough. And he loved how the wisps of smoke generated during the process gave ambience to the cutting shots.

Post production

Once Jude thought he had enough footage, he went home to edit and add a soundtrack. He didn’t need to come back and retake any shots. Then he sent me a first version that I wanted some changes made to. Some parts of the process were shown in the wrong order, and we tried three different soundtracks, but it was perfect after two edits.

In the end, the finished film was 48 seconds long. As it showed lots of relevant process steps and was well within one minute, Jude though that it would work at that length.

I’m delighted with the finished piece. It’s on my scrolling website home page and YouTube channel, and I’ve shared it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. My only regret? That I didn’t do it sooner!

how to lay out artwork

How to lay out artwork

Posted Posted in Artwork, How to

Some projects have very complicated artwork where many intricate pieces are laid out on one sheet of material. The artwork for Four by Two‘s Perspex model for Studio B was a good example of this, and one sheet is shown above. I’ve put together my top tips for laying out artwork like this for laser cutting and engraving in one handy blog. I hope you find it useful!

How much artwork should I put in one file?

If you have large pieces to laser cut or engrave, it’s best to have them in separate files. The laser bed is 1200 x 800mm, so keep each individual artwork file to that size as a maximum. Alternatively, you can use size of the sheet of material we plan to use if it’s smaller.

I have a few pages of artwork. How should I send them?

Separate pages in a pdf work well if you’d like to keep all the files in the same document.

Alternatively, a zip file with separate dxf, ai or pdf files is fine. Dropbox is a great option too. You can group several files in one project folder and share it with me.

Can I group artwork for different materials and thicknesses together?

No. It’s best to group artwork to be cut from the same material, thickness and colour together to minimise material waste. I will only process one sheet of material in the machine at a time.

You could have a file for 10mm clear,  one for 10mm white and one for 5mm red Perspex for instance. It makes it easier for us both and avoids confusion if each artwork file is named after the material, thickness and colour of the material to be cut if you have several.

Then I can cut everything from the same material specification together to maximise efficiency.

laser cut golf bag tags
Golf bag tags laser cut from 3mm plywood

Can I cut to the edges of the material?

I never use the edges of sheets of material as they’re often unfinished or have saw marks. For best results, it’s best to cut all the outlines of the shapes so they all look the same.

It’s best to buy materials with a 5mm margin on each side to make sure that this is possible. If it helps, you can show the outline shape of the material sheet in your artwork as a check that everything fits.

Should I have gaps between cut out shapes?

Yes, but 2mm is enough to avoid wasting material. We don’t want cut lines to be superimposed or too close to each other. It’s better to cut through material once only, or you get flaming and damage to the back of the material. Perspex and wood are flammable, so this is important!

Of course, if you just have a single shape that you want laser cut and engraved multiple times, I only need that artwork file. I can tile it in my software to get as many pieces as possible from the material. In the picture above, you can see the waste plywood remaining after cutting the golf bag tags for Holiday Essentials and Scotland Golf Tours.

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered, drop me a line at jane@laserflair.co.uk or give me a call and I’ll be happy to help.

My-DIY-WordPress-websitePart-3

My DIY WordPress website Part 3

Posted Posted in How to

A video on YouTube showed me how to build my own website and gave me the confidence to give it a go.

With a large header with a photo/video slider and a scrolling home page, the Sydney template looked perfect. I wanted to summarise LaserFlair’s services, portfolio, testimonials, customers and recent blogs. This template created a clear structure for this, and it looked smart.

The WordPress.org files were downloaded and I was ready to begin. WordPress looked fairly intuitive, but I was glad to have guidance until I felt comfortable finding my way around.

Setting up the header slider

In two simple clicks, I reached a user friendly form where I could add up to 5 photos scaled to 1024 x 683 pixels, or a video. I’m used to rescaling photos with good results, so this was easy for me using the basic MS Paint package for PCs. Once I’d uploaded five good photos, I could see how my new slider looked instantly. The YouTube video suggested speeds for the slider which were easy to adjust. It was possible to have text appearing on the slider, but I didn’t want this feature so I didn’t populate the fields. So far so good.

 

header slider

Logos and menus

Next, I needed to upload a transparent logo which would appear in the black strip that appears at the tip of the header with the menu during scrolling. I also found a way to increase the size of the menu text which was too small to read easily.

Designing the scrolling home page

I’d never had a scrolling home page before and had no idea how to set one up, but the WordPress menu made it easy.

Under ‘Pages’ in the menu, I was instructed to add a row for the scrolling home page.

Under the ‘Edit’ in the ‘Pages’ menu, rows could be populated with the Sydney template widgets for the Services, Projects, Clients, Testimonials. Once the widgets were set up, I was instructed to chose the relevant menu item directly. Then the pattern was the same – I could set up a new service, project, client etc and edit with text, photos and logos that showed up in their own pages and featured in the scrolling front page after a single set up.

It was easier than I thought, and the visual impact was impressive.

 

Service

Adding new pages

Next, I wanted to add pages about artwork tips and materials, and the usual About Us and Contact Us pages. Under the ‘Pages’ menu, I created a new page, adding rows and standard widgets with text and photo editors and contact forms. The video gave lots of helpful tips about spacing and adding background colours and images.

To create a blog page, I created a new page and set the category of page to ‘posts’. I could then go to ‘Posts’ on the menu and add new posts, as I could with the Sydney template widgets like Projects and Services. Nice and easy. And it was simple to select how I wanted to display the posts. A grid layout saved space and show more posts per page.

Filling the Media Library

 

media library

 

Photos for the website had to be uploaded in two formats. The header slider and background images required images sized to 1024 x 683 pixels. Other photos used on the website were set up to be 700 x 467 pixels. So I spent some time resizing photos so that they would all look uniform across the website. This was especially important for the ‘Projects’ images as they had to tile seamlessly into a neat grid on the scrolling home page.

 

This is just a short summary that covers discrete website features that I wanted as the backbone of my website. I hope it helps you to decide whether or not you should give it a go for yourself! But I’d recommend setting up with a host and building the website on their platform. Using your own computer as the local host make going live much trickier unless you know what you’re doing. You can read about my mistakes here.

Here’s a link to the video that I found so helpful. How to make a WordPress website 2017

Other blogs in the series:

My DIY WordPress website Part 1: WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

My DIY WordPress website Part 2: How not to set up a host for an easy life!

designing artwork for laser cutting

Designing artwork for laser cutting

Posted Posted in Artwork, How to

When designing artwork for laser cutting, you need to bear in mind that the lines you create will be followed by a cutting machine. Here are some top tips to help you avoid the common pitfalls and get your design right first time.

Artwork formats

Laser cutting requires artwork in vector format (ai, eps, svg, dxf, pdf). These formats allow individual components of the artwork to be picked out and colour coded for cut through, vector engraving (kiss cut) or raster engraving. But most importantly, the laser follows the vector lines for cutting as though it’s doing a line drawing.

Quick hits

  1. All lines should be hairline thickness only. If you have thicker lines, the laser will want to cut around them.
  2. You don’t need to fill areas with colour if you want them cut out. Simply draw the outline of the shape and the laser will follow the lines and cut the shape out.
  3. Make sure that a continuous line surrounds your shapes. This ensures that corners are cut cleanly as well as the straights and curves. If there are gaps in the outlines, pieces won’t fall out easily.

How does laser cutting artwork look?

The red lines in the owl image below are for cut through, the green lines are internal cut out details, and the black lines are for vector engraving.

 

artwork for laser cutting
artwork for laser cutting

Duplicate lines

Watch out for duplicate lines in your design. The laser will cut every line you make, whether you see it or not. Cutting and pasting creates lots of unwanted lines that you can’t see if they’re superimposed. You want one single line for each cut otherwise the material will be cut as many times as there are lines! This will increase production time and reduce product quality due to charring or melting on the reverse side. It might even cause a fire if the material ignites!

How much detail can I have?

The more complex the design, the longer it will take to cut and the more the job will cost. Bear in mind the size of the item, the material you’ve chosen and how robust the final product needs to be. As a rule of thumb, I recommend having 2 – 3mm spaces minimum between cut out areas to keep the design robust.

How about text?

Fonts like Times New Roman might be best avoided for small designs or as fine detail within large designs. Serif fonts have extended top and bottoms of the letters that can weaken the product if they are too close to each other. I avoid them unless the design is big and bold enough to allow 2 to 3mm spaces between cut out areas. Sans serif fonts like Arial don’t have this problem. I avoid cutting text smaller than 22 point, but this can vary for different fonts.

You should bear in mind that centres of a, b, d,e, g etc will fall out. To prevent this, you may want to select a stencil font as Old School Fabrications did for the plywood stencils in the picture.

Design size

You should design the artwork at the size you want to keep things simple. Vector artwork is rescaled easily without loss of quality. This is really useful as the same artwork can be resized and used for different applications.

Top tip

If you have a wireframe view function in your design software, this lets you see how the laser views the cutting lines.

Need more help?

If you need clarification on any point for your particular project, contact us and we can chat things through.

 

how to engrave a bench

How to engrave a bench

Posted Posted in Furniture, How to, Wood

Have you ever wondered how to laser engrave a bench? Garry Macfarlane from Freckle Furniture did. He received two commissions for benches with engraved pieces simultaneously! He asked us if we could help.

The bench in the picture was commissioned as a retirement gift. Colleagues wanted the logo of the fisheries organisation where they all worked together on the back top beam of the bench. For the front seat rail under the seat, they chose a Gaelic inscription – ‘Mur a bheil e agad, na cuir air tìr e’. Garry and I still don’t know what it means, so let me know if you do!

Designing the bench

There was no way that we could put the complete bench into the laser machine. It was far too large! When Garry was designing the bench, we discussed what dimensions of wood would fit into the machine when we were ready to engrave. Garry built the bench himself from oak. Before he assembled it, he brought the pieces to be engraved to my workshop.

Setting up the artwork

Garry supplied the blue and white SFO logo from the customer and he wanted it resized to 132mm. I usually ask for black and white artwork, but there was enough contrast between the blue and white shapes for the laser to detect which areas were to be to engraved.

I set up the Gaelic inscription. Text is easy to create once the customer has chosen the font and the size for engraving. Garry wanted a reasonably plain but classic font with something a little different, so we chose the Nyala font.

Size constraints and getting around them

The back top beam measured 1480 x 124 x 38mm and the front seat rail 1480 x 76 x 38mm. The maximum width we can fit into the machine is 1330mm, but as our machine has letterbox slits at the front and back, we can set up pieces with sections protruding through the front and back of the machine. That’s what we did with the bench pieces.

Engraving the bench

As all the wood sections would be lined up vertically in the machine, I set up the text and logo for engraving vertically too. Garry wanted the text and logo to be located centrally on each piece of wood. We identified the horizontal and vertical centres and made a small pencil mark that could be rubbed or engraved off.

When I positioned the wood in the machine, I set up the laser so that it was lined up over the pencil marks. Text length was kept within 800mm, the height of the machine bed, so that it could be engraved at one go. The text was easy to align as it was engraved on a rectangular section of wood.

But Garry had designed the back top rail into a curve with a point in the middle. This made things more interesting! We made a similar pencil mark to identify where he wanted the centre of the logo to be. Then I set up the wood in the machine in a similar way.

We did a nice heavy engrave for a good 3D effect. Having Garry there to give feedback during production meant that I could check each detail with him as we went along. He was delighted with the results, and returned to his workshop to finish and assemble the two benches.