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

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

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 or give me a call and I’ll be happy to help.

engraving a cask end clock

Engraving a cask end clock

Posted Posted in Artwork, Furniture, Recycled wood

Catherine from The Upcycled Timber Company makes beautiful things from old whisky barrels. She started to make clocks from cask ends and used fillets of wood at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions to indicate numbers. Catherine asked if I could help her experiment with laser engraving as an alternative.

Creating the artwork

First, I had to create the artwork for the numbers. Catherine was happy with a simple bold font to complement the rustic nature of cask ends, so we chose the Arial font. I laid out the numbers on a circle sized roughly to match cask end sizes.

clock artwork

Cask end challenges

Unless cask ends are brand new like the ones I engraved for Diageo, they’re not usually regular circles. Edges wear down over the years, making the faces near the edges curved, and they’re rough and blackened in places. Individuality is part of the appeal of old cask ends, but it means we have to be flexible with the artwork to make it right for each clock. In this case, we reduced the size of the artwork to make sure that the numbers were far enough away from the edges.

How to reduce engraving time

I programmed the laser to engrave all the numbers individually. It’s much faster to do this rather than engraving each number at the same time as the laser has to scan across the whole cask end with each pass of the laser head. This reduces production time per unit. That’s why you see all the numbers coloured differently in the artwork. The colours are engraved sequentially.

cask end clock

Each cask end is different

Catherine brought the cask end round to the workshop and stayed while I engraved it. She decided that she wanted the clock raster engraved with the pieces of wood vertically aligned.

There was a surprise on the back of the cask end – a piece of wood perpendicular to the cask end pieces. As it would be unstable in the machine without extra support, I stabilised it with pieces of wood so that it wouldn’t wobble.

Cask oak is usually very dense. I engraved at the highest power setting to get the deepest, darkest engrave possible. This oak was particularly dense, so we engraved the 3, 6, 9 and 12 again for extra definition. As the 9 was on a darker area of wood, it helped it stand out more.

Catherine was delighted with the results. After oiling it and fitting the mechanism, she sent it to its new home in the United States. It was ordered as a birthday gift for a whisky lover who fell in love with it immediately.

tiny logos on beard scissors

Tiny logos on beard scissors

Posted Posted in Artwork, Corporate, Stainless steel, Thermark

One of my most unusual enquiries came from Beard Juice. Wayne wanted to sell some beard accessories alongside his new range of beard oils, and chose surgical stainless steel beard trimming scissors. He wanted to brand them with his logo, but knew that this would be a challenge on two levels. Could I engrave on metal? And could I engrave his logo small enough to fit on the largest area available – the hinge area of the scissors?

Engraving tiny logos

Wayne sent me a copy of the Beard Juice logo in black and white. I worked out that to engrave the logo in the right place, it could be 19mm wide maximum. I was concerned that the detail in the logo wouldn’t come out clearly enough as the text lines were very fine, and the feathering around the edges might be completely lost at that scale. It was clear that the copyright logo at the top right would be too small to be seen clearly, so Wayne said I could remove it.

Beard Juice logo


Wayne send me some scissors to perform some sample engravings on. We needed to check whether the stainless steel of the scissors would be compatible with the Thermark metal marking paste. It was also important to see whether or not the logo would engrave at a high enough quality.

Thermark is a mixture of glass particles and black pigment. It looks like a grey paste and it is spread onto the surface to be engraved. After it has dried, it can be raster or vector engraved. We chose raster engraving in this case. The laser melts the glass and traps the pigment onto the surface of the metal as a layer of black enamel. Residual paste is then washed off.

Beard Juice logo zoom

It’s a great technique offering good contrast against stainless steel. But it hasn’t worked with every stainless steel sample I’ve engraved using this method. It did in this case, and the logo came up beautifully despite all my concerns. There’s no substitute for preparing samples. Then customers can be confident that they have a good product at the right price before they commit to investing in new product lines.

I sent the prototypes back to Wayne who was delighted and promptly ordered more for engraving.

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.


Cambo Estate's wooden keyrings

Cambo Estate’s wooden keyrings

Posted Posted in Artwork, Corporate, Wood

Cambo Estate decided to have new keyrings made for their guest accommodation. They wanted to use chunky fobs of wood from the estate and engrave them with their logo on one side and accommodation details on the other side. We knew that the logo would be a challenge as it’s highly detailed. How would it look when scaled right down?

Engraving room names

Once the wooden blocks were ready, we could begin. They were 80 x 30mm, and felt smooth, chunky and light in the hand. Large enough to be hard to loose, but small enough to be easily carried!

Cambo wanted the text to be raster (fill in) engraved for maximum impact. They provided the artwork for all the accommodation names in black and white pdf files, which was perfect as it ensures good engraving quality. Text for each name was shown in rectangles representing the fob size so the engravings were located where the customer wanted them, offset to the right to leave room for holes to be drilled.

As the engravings were a good size, we engraved using our usual machine settings for wood. We had to secure the fobs in the machine to stop them from moving during production. Compressed air is blown at 1.5bar at the engraved surface to get best results, and this can blow small items out of place.

Engraving the Cambo Estate logo

Cambo’s logo is very detailed. It’s difficult to downscale logos like so that fine detail isn’t lost. In this case, the bird and the sheaf of wheat at the top of the logo and the helmet were the most vulnerable areas. It they engraved well at the size required, the logo would look fine.

Again, the customer supplied the logo as a black and white pdf.  We had to rescale the logo dramatically to fit the fobs. Using vector artwork means that this can be done with no reduction in artwork quality.

Struan and Frances were open minded about how they wanted the logo to appear on the keyrings. Would the logo look better engraved at the bottom of vertical keyrings or in the middle of horizontal keyrings (pictured)? From the start, I was sure that the latter option would be better as the logo could be made bigger, increasing the chances of success.

We did sample raster engraves of both options. My hunch was right. Horizontally engraved keyrings looked good and were just big enough to see all the detail. Including the text, the logo is 24 x 36mm, and the coat of arms alone is tiny at 13 x 15mm.

A lot of details were lost on the vertical sample.  Unfortunately, it was just too small to work well.

Cambo approved the horizontal option, and we engraved all the backs of the keyrings. We used a much slower speed to engrave the logos – a quarter of the speed used to engrave the accommodation names! This kept the logo as sharp as possible. We also engraved the coat of arms with more power than the text underneath to give more definition.

Finishing touches

Cambo drilled and countersunk holes in all the engraved fobs ready for the split ring keyring hoops.