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3D (STL) to 2D (SVG)

Back in 2015 I used Rhino to convert 3D files into 2D vector files that could be used in illustrations, instructions, etc. You can see what I’m talking about in 2D to 3D to 2D. Sadly, Rhino is not cheap, and I do not have access to it. Instead I would often do fake versions of this technique in OpenSCAD, which you can see in Enclosure Prototyping.

Well, thanks to Trammell Hudson, I can throw all that away! Checkout this post plotter.vision – STL to SVG and then go to plotter.vision and give it a spin.

The code is available on GitHub, and my favorite part is in the README:

I’m not a javascript programmer, so this is probably not very well written.

And yet… It exists, and it works. It may not be perfect, but the great thing about open source is that it can be improved by others in the future.

I’ve included a few results in this posts of things I’ve modeled in OpenSCAD. I think they turned out well and I can see using this tool in the future. Thanks, Trammell!

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Copy Specific File Types

As I’ve been using Illustrator I’ve found it’s very common to need to reuse elements in new documents. As all of my projects consists of folders within folders many layers deep it can take a bit of time to navigate to the correct folder to find the file I need. I’d also have to make sure I either opened and old file and copied out what I needed without making any changes (or worse, damaging the document) or I would make a copy and open that, but then need to remember to delete it later.

What I wanted was a destructible copy of all my old files I could easily browse through, open, mangle, destroy, etc. with no affect on my workflow. I’ve got something that seems to work for now. (Until I come up with something better.) My original plan was to construct a Perl or Python script to walk the directory and copy any Illustrator files (with the .ai extension) to another folder named EXAMPLES. Before I got started writing code I did a few searches, first wondering if rsync could it, and it can, but it didn’t seem elegant. I ended up reading a bunch of posts about how to do this and I didn’t bookmark the page that had the closest solution, but my script is below.

#!/bin/sh

/usr/bin/find /Users/pete/Projects/ -name '*.ai' -exec cp -p \{\} /Users/pete/EXAMPLES/ \;
 
# copy just the .ai files

Difficult to read the code? See the gist on GitHub.

Yup, the good old find command to the rescue. It’s not perfect, as files might overwrite other files if the names are not unique. In this case if names are the same, it’s probably because I’ve got the same source file in multiple locations. With a bit more code I could deal with that, but again, doesn’t matter for this use case.

The nice thing about this is that I can just create a cron job to run it every night and I get all the fresh files copied into in the EXAMPLES folder ready to reference. The files are (mostly) tiny so it takes very little resources or space.

This is one of those things I’m posting because there’s a 97% chance I’ll find this useful in the future. And if anyone else finds it useful… You’re Welcome! Keep Being Awesome.

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Laser. Cut. Files. (Part IV)

It’s been a few years since I’ve posted about laser cut files, and by that I mean, the files I prepare to be used for laser cutting, so I thought I’d do an update.

Right now I typically use a few different laser cutters in the Milwaukee area. At Milwaukee Makerspace there’s a 60 watt ULS and 50 watt ULS, but using a Windows PC with CorelDraw for control, and at Brown Dog Gadgets there’s a 90 watt Chinese laser cutter using CorelDraw (and LaserCut 5.3) though it seems to be a much newer version than used at the Makerspace. I also use a 40 watt Epilog Zing at UWM’s DCRL. The Zing uses Rhino instead of CorelDraw, which may sound weird, but it works.

I’ve got a file workflow that can work with all of these machines… which I’ll explain below.

Panel Mount

Here’s what my vector art looks like in Inkscape. You’ll notice that the inside lines are blue, and the outside lines are black. This is so we can set a manual cut order for machines that don’t automatically cut inside lines first. (Some software is smart, and always makes inside cuts first, other software… is not.)

lcfiles02

I should note that while doing the design work I may end up with multiple layers. Often I’ll use layers to hold pieces or revisions of a design. For our final file though, we want a single layer.

Let’s pretend my design file is named “Panel Mount.svg”, and it has more than one layer. When I’m happy with my work, and have all the things that will be cut on one layer, I’ll save that file, duplicate it, renaming the dupe to “Panel Mount LC.svg” and then open that file. My original design file (Panel Mount.svg) is now safe and sound, but my new file (Panel Mount LC.svg) is about to get altered.

Files

I usually set all the objects to have no fill. This may not be required for all workflows, but I like to be consistent. (Oh, one more thing… you may need to “convert objects to paths” to get things to work like you expect them to in LaserCut 5.3)

Files

For the stroke I’ll set the outside lines to black… (This may be different depending on your laser cutter software.)

Files

And I’ll set the inside lines to blue. Again, this may depend on the laser cutter software & driver you use. Some allow you to set the order of colors, and some may not. If I need more colors I can use red, green, etc. (Also, if you’re working with a laser cutter operator who is colorblind, ask them what colors they prefer.)

If you want to selectively cut things and only have one color, you can use this trick: Load the file into the laser cutter software (CorelDraw, or whatever) and delete the parts you don’t want to cut, then cut. Then “undo” until all parts are back on the screen, then delete other parts, cut again, and repeat. Not the cleanest method, but it totally works. Don’t move any parts, though you may have to ungroup them, and obviously do not move the thing you are cutting.)

Stroke 0.03mm

Once I’ve applied all the colors, you can select everything and set the stroke. I set it to 0.03mm. This should set it to “hairline” when you import it into CorelDraw. Rhino also seems to do the right thing. If your stroke is too thick it can cause issues. (Always check for the lines to be set to “hairline” after you import your PDF.)

View

After you change the stroke the lines may appear very faint. If you can barely see them switch the Display Mode to “outline” which makes every stroke appear a black and sort of beefs up the lines.

At this point I run down the checklist…

  1. The file has one layer (If it had more, I duped the file and then adjusted the dupe to have just one layer.)
  2. The file has all objects set to no fill.
  3. The file has all objects set to 0.03mm stroke.
  4. The file has different colors for inside and outside cut lines.

Obviously you can do all the file prep stuff (line colors, stroke, etc.) in your master file, and then dupe that one and delete any extra layers. The order isn’t the most important thing here.

PDF Export

Once we’ve made all the changes, we can save our “LC” version of the file. After that, it’s time to use the File menu’s Save a Copy… command to save it as a PDF file. Note that “Convert texts to paths” is selected. This should create a PDF that does not rely on any fonts being installed. If you used text in your file, this is helpful. It does however mean that you cannot edit any text when you import the PDF into other software, as it will have been converted to lines.

PDF

Oh, one more thing! Some older versions of CorelDraw seem to have issues importing PDF files created in Inkscape. On Mac OS X, I just open the PDF that Inkscape created, and export it. It somehow fixes the PDF so CorelDraw likes it. Whatever… it works, so I do it!

Simple Dual Axis Solar Tracker

(BTW, the piece I used an as example was for the Simple Dual Axis Solar Tracker from Brown Dog Gadgets.)

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Laser. Cut. Files. (Part III)

NOTE: See the latest post on this subject: Laser. Cut. Files. (Part IV)

SVG file in Inkscape
SVG file in Inkscape

After my last post on the subject, Laser. Cut. Files. (Part II), I figured that I had something that worked… but then something came along that worked better!

Thanks to a comment from old pal Thomas Edwards on the Part II post:

Have you tried Inkscape Save as EPS, then Preview EPS to save PDF? (Inkscape Save as PDF might work as well, but I find Corel Draw gets messed up by fonts unless I start as EPS and then go to PDF)

I decided to give PDF files from Inkscape a try. They didn’t work. CorelDraw gets some crazy error trying to open PDF files I create in Inkscape on Mac OS X… but what did work was a two-step process!

Again, my goal is to do all of my design work on Mac OS X, typically using Inkscape, and then moving my files to the Laser Cutter PC running CorelDraw on Windows (yuk!)

PDF file in Preview
PDF file in Preview

So for now, my process is the following:

  1. Create vector art in Inkscape
  2. Save (original) file as an SVG
  3. Save (a copy of the file) as a PDF from Inkscape
  4. Open the PDF from Inkscape in Preview and Save as a PDF
  5. Copy the new PDF file to Laser Cutter PC
  6. Open a new document in CorelDraw and import PDF file

Save as a PDF (again!)
Save as a PDF (again!)

Windows and Linux users, your mileage may vary, and obviously you don’t have Preview.app, but on Mac OS X this process works for me. And as for the note in the comment from Thomas about fonts, I’d be sure to convert any fonts into outlines after I save my SVG file, but before I save my PDF file. (It’s an old print design trick.)

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Laser. Cut. Files. (Part II)

NOTE: See the latest post on this subject: Laser. Cut. Files. (Part III)

In our last adventure, Laser. Cut. Files. I thought I had it down… sadly, I was wrong, and I’ve actually updated that post, and here’s a Part II to share more of what I’ve learned.

Inkscape DXF

This time I once again started with Inkscape, which creates SVG files. From there I export to a DXF file. This is, I guess, not ideal, but it sort of (mostly) works, so I’m still trying to perfect it. Mostly.

The issue I mentioned last time involved exporting a DXF file from Inkscape and then not being able to re-open or import that DXF back into Inkscape. I’d get some weird error, which I thought might be due to too much extension madness in Inkscape. Anyway, I ended up re-installing Inkscape and now I can open DXF files, but they just show up blank, so that’s not much better.

I did however finally find an application for OS X that allows me to easily open and view DXF files: SolidWorks eDrawings. This should help me see what crazy stuff happens to my DXF files between Inkscape on the Mac, and CorelDraw (yuk) on the Laser Cutter.

Here’s my most recent file loaded into SolidWorks eDrawings.

DXF File

Hey, look at that! I can view a DXF file on my Mac! And it was much easier than last time, where I screwed around with OpenSCAD to do it.

DXF File

But wait… as we zoom in, we can see that when the original Inkscape SVG file was exported as a DXF, it did that crazy thing again where it changes curves into lines! (Argh! I know that there are times when you want this for CNC things, but this isn’t one of them… and if I wanted them, I could do it myself. In fact… maybe I’ll just start doing it myself if I have to.)

For this control panel, it didn’t really matter, since the front of the button will be covering up the hole, but I’m still not happy with the results… And just so we’re clear, the results I want involve me doing the digital design in tools I can run on my Mac (that I like using) and then getting those files onto the laser cutter PC with minimal screwing around, and just doing my lazzoring.

A simple, clean, friction-free, non-annoying process that doesn’t involved having to mess around redrawing things in CorelDraw (yuk) because really, it seems like it shouldn’t be this hard.

Oh, and as for the Laser Cutter PC, Inkscape got installed, but I couldn’t get it to work with the Laser Cutter. Illustrator 8 was also installed, which can’t read SVG files, and couldn’t open my DXF files either. So sadly, for now, it’s that damn CorelDraw…. yuk.