Fire the Laser!

I finally got some quality time with the Laser Cutter at Milwaukee Makerspace, and I have to say, I’m fairly pleased with the results!

Milwaukee Makerspace Logo

I started with the Milwaukee Makerspace logo (in SVG format) in Inkscape, and exported it as a DXF file. (I also kept the stroke of the width just 1 pixel for all the lines.)

Once I had a DXF file, I was able to import that into CorelDRAW, which is what the PC that controls the Laser Cutter uses to do the work. There’s a bit of trickery in CorelDRAW between raster and vector artwork, but doing it this way with a DXF file at just one pixel wide seemed to force it to work in vector mode, which is what I wanted.

Laser Etched Wood

Knowing the power and speed settings for the Laser Cutter are tricky, and require a bit of experimentation based on if you are etching or cutting, and how deep you wish to etch or cut. The nice thing is, as long as you don’t move whatever your material is, you can run the Laser Cutter multiple times to go deeper, or complete a cut. In many cases this may be the way to go… (More on that later!)

It’s worth noting that some materials should NEVER be cut. Since our pals at PumpingStation: One already have a list, I’ll point you to the NEVER CUT THESE MATERIALS list on their their wiki. The also have this cool list of laser settings. (Yeah, we’re working on that as well. We have a different laser, so we need to start from scratch.)

Laser Etched Wood

Here’s a close-up of the etching into wood. I ran it a few times. If you’re doing a vector cut, it just traces around the outline, and goes super-fast. If you are using raster artwork, it’ll behave like an old dot-matrix printer and go line-by-line and take forever. Shane did this Periodic Table and it took almost two hours. (It does look pretty amazing though!) I’m still not 100% sure what CorelDRAW does with each format. I tried to import an SVG file but it seems to convert it to raster format. The DXF kept its vector format, so I’ll stick with that for now.

Laser Etched Plastic

After I was satisfied with wood, I moved on to plastic. When I say plastic, I mean “plastic” and I don’t know if it’s acrylic, or plastic, or what kind of plastic, or anything else, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. (And yes, we’ve got a nice scrap pile of plastic at the Makerspace to experiment with.)

Laser Etched Plastic

This is just an outline of the logo, but we should be able to use a filled-in logo (in raster format) and create the effect of frosted glass, and then we can do this Floating Glow Display project from Make with our laser-etched plastic. Hmmm, it looks like I just gave myself another project to tackle!