Jakubs | November 4, 2022

How to draw shapes for laser cutting in Illustrator

Are you interested in laser cutting but are apprehensive about using the software to create a file? It's not just you! This instructable will help you begin your first project while demystifying the mystery around laser cut files.

I use Illustrator to create the majority of my laser cut files. A vector-based application called Illustrator produces.ai files that are suitable for laser cutters. It has many tools and shortcuts that make assembling a file more effective.

Step 1: Open the program and start a new document as the first step.

Open the application, and then let's start a new document.
File > New
To do this, use Ctrl + N.

Enter the title and size of the document.

Step 2: Basic Tools

A strong program with a sometimes-overwhelming array of tools is Illustrator. Here are a few tools that will help you complete the majority of simple projects.

You'll become more accustomed to using the application and exploring with new tools as you create more files. Until you have a fundamental comprehension of how to use these tools, try to keep things simple for the time being.

Step 3: Cutting and Etching

In addition to cutting, laser cutters can also etch (or burn) a material's surface. The fill and stroke tool can be used to control this.

For the majority of laser cutters, a cut line is anything with a stroke weight of .001 point or less; anything larger than that is an etch. Any region that is filled in will also be engraved.

Step 4: Finishing the Design

Examine your file after creating drawings that you want to cut.

Remember that the laser cutter beam has a kerf if you're making something with slip fit parts or other precise construction elements. Even though it's tiny— only.15 points—it will nevertheless have an impact on how some elements fit together. Include this tolerance in your parts, please. Before running your final design, it can be a good idea to test the fit on a smaller cut.

Additionally, make sure you have the appropriate line weights for the parts you want to cut and etch.

Here is a short file for a cat-themed engraved box I created.

Step 5: Setting the Material and Laser

Your file is now prepared for laser cutting. But from what will you be removing it?

Although a wide range of materials can be sliced using lasers, not all materials will respond in the same way.

Different materials cut and etch differently, with some being easier to work with than others.

The majority of laser cutters use separate software for setting adjustments.

Epilog laser cutters are what I use. With their software, you may choose whether to run a vector (cut), raster (etch), or both files, as well as change the speed, frequency, and power of the laser beam. This is useful if you want to review your design's raster or cut routes more than once.

For many materials, there are suggested parameters that will yield the best results. These are generally recommendations rather than strict regulations, so you might need to make changes in light of particular circumstances or your own preferences. For instance, cutting cardboard on the same settings as cutting a piece of .25″ acrylic would be inappropriate.

Use suggested settings for comparable materials if you're using a new material that doesn't yet have them, then experiment with the settings to see what works best. Before cutting your material, be sure to consult the MSDS for it. Some materials shouldn't be laser sliced because they can produce hazardous chemical fumes.

The following items should never be cut using a laser cutter:

– Any reflective surface (unless the mirrored side is facing away from the laser for obvious reasons)
– Vinyl (releases harmful fumes)
– Styrene (releases hazardous gases);
– PVC (releases harmful fumes)