Welcome to a guide on how to use Makercase, Inkscape and how to lasercut. The easiest way to get good at using graphics software, is always to play around - so this is of course also the case with vector graphics.
However, this page will show you some important and helpful tips to get started, and it will also combine the use of vector drawing with files from Makercase and very importantly; with lasercutting.
Elements on this page comes from the Fablab lasercutter guide - make sure to also check that one out.
how to get started
For lasercutting you will need a vector graphics software (e.g. Inkscape, which will be used in this guide). With a vector program you can edit or draw your own models in a "language" that the laser cutter can understand and use. Bitmap based programs like Photoshop and Paint will not work.
Using Inkscape to design Cutting paths
To download Inkscape, go to https://inkscape.org/release/inkscape-1.0/?latest=1
Be sure to download the upcoming version 1.0/Beta from the link above. Since this version is much more stable.
Press "Download", choose your system, and download the newest version. If your specific system requires a different version than the newest one, it should say so on the download page.
Inkscape is free and opensource.
Commercial alternatives are:
- Adobe illustrator (subscription based)
- Affinity designer (one time cost - good alternative, but a bit tricky export)
- Corel Draw (one time cost - good alternative)
- Gravit Designer (subscription based with a free alternative)
Makercase & Inkscape
This video shows some basic tasks in Inkscape and how to use Makercase.
- Always make sure to double-check the sizes in Inkscape, to make sure that you didn't pull the edges of your model and changed the size. It should be the same as the size you set on Makercase.
- There are tons of different functions in Inkscape. Please play around and get familiar with more than the ones I show in the video. Try to make your own figures and drawings as well.
Use Maker case to generate a box. This is often at good start for a project. Go to https://www.makercase.com/#/
- Make it in milimeters
- Use fingers joints (often as big as possible)
- Set the material thickness typically 3mm or 4mm.
CUT and combine shapes
The most used tool in Inkscape when it comes to manipulating paths is to cut or combine different shapes. Let us say that you need a square with a halfhole or you need a square with a halfcircle. The design on the right would give you 3 pieces. Two halfcircles and a square with a hole in it. By combining or cutting the path you get what you specifically need.
Based on the two objects above (the circle being on top of the rectangle). Select both objects. Choose path in the file menu and difference. This will cut the top object from the bottom object.
Select both objects. Choose path in the file menu and union. This will combine the two paths into one path.
Stroke Color defines cutting order
In case you want to make sure that something is cut before something else, one can use stroke colors as a way to group the cutting order. This is especially helpfull to make sure that an outer pieces fall out during cutting before the inner part has been cut. Later, in the laser cutter program, you can define red to be cut before black.
CONVERT TEXT to CURVES
The laser cutter cannot handle text that is dependent on a font. So in Inkscape you need to convert all text in your drawing to curves. In inkscape this means converting to dynamic offset
Stroke Color fOR ENGRAVING
Let us say that you want the text to be engraved (so instead of cutting the line it will burn the space inside). You then first convert it to curves (see above) then you define the stroke color to a unique color (which one does not matter). Later in the laser cutter program you can then choose that all paths with that specific color should be engraved.
SAVE AS DXF
The laser cutter program only read DXF files. So you need to save your file as DXF R14 and make sure that the LWPOLYLINE is marked. Checklist before exporting:
- Make sure that all your text is converted to curves. (dynamic offset).
- Verify that your objects have the right size in mm. Often you end up with a drawing that looks right but are in the wrong units and thus size.
- Make sure that you only use stroke colors and not fill colors.
- Make sure that you don't have different nuances of stroke colors. Often you should only have one color for stroke. Sometimes you will need a color defining the order.
- Make sure that the stroke width is set to one. Different stroke sizes can i n some cases create confusion for the laser cutting program.
Copy it to a USB thumbdrive so you can use it on the laser cutter machine.
Using GOOGLE DRAW INSTEAD
Insteaf of using e.g. inkscape you can use google draw. It, allows you to work collaboratively and automatically keep version of your design. However it comes with the following limitations:
- It is limited to basic shapes and they cannot combined and subtracted.
- Importing vector files is possible but cumbersome (you need to convert your vector file to EMF - e.g. use https://cloudconvert.com/)
Create a new drawing
- Go to drive.google.com (create a google account if needed).
- Press the plus sign -> more -> Google Drawings
Sizing and units
- When adding an object you can change the size byt selecting it and go into the "format options" menu.
- Be aware that sometimes the units are defaulted to inches. To fix this go to https://myaccount.google.com/language and change it to English. See the bottom image on the right for an example.
Exporting as PDF and converting it to DXF
get ready to lasercut
Now you have your model saved as a DXF on a USB, and before you are ready to move to the lasercutting room, there are a few steps:
- First you have to walk past the Fablab and look for the password on the whiteboard, and let them know that you will be using the machines.
- Watch the safety video! This is very important.
For a more detailed runthrough, go to Fablab's own guide: https://fablab.ruc.dk/laser-cutter-guide-2-0/
In the lasercutting room, open the programme RD Works on a computer and import your file from the USB.
Once again, check the sizes. If they don't look right go back and check the sizing in Inkscape and import again.
The lasercutter can cut in different ways. It can cut through a material, outline a figure on the material, or engrave a figure on the material.
Depending on what you want to do, you have to adjust some variables and make the lines in your model different colors to create multiple actions in the same run.
You always have to test on cardboard before moving onto HDF, acryllic, etc. This way you can test for bugs or mistakes without wasting materials.
By each computer hangs a sign with the required speed, minimum power and maximum power for different materials.
Cardboard, for examples, needs: speed 100, minPower 20 and maxPower 30.
If, for example, you want to outline a picture on one side of your box, engrave your name, and also cut through the material for all sides of the box, you need to make the three functions three different colors and adjust the speed, minPower and maxPower for all three colors according to the sign.
Now you can turn on the lasercutter. Place your material on the grid, and check that the focal distance between the head of the lasercutter and the material is correct. For a more detailed guide, see Fablab's guide.
If necessary, put some weights on your material to keep it steady.
In RD Works, press the "Download" button and accept all of the pop-up windows. It will be called "Default", and you will override the latest file, which is fine. If it downloaded properly, it will say something like "File uploaded".
On the lasercutter, press "File" and choose "Default". Chech the small preview on the screen to double-check that it is your file.
Once your file is downloaded to the machine, you can chose where on the material to locate it. Use the arrows to move around the head, and when you find the perfect placement (the head will be at the bottom-right corner of your model), press the button called "Origin" to chose the location.
In order to check that sizing and placement are correct, press "Frame" and the head will move around to encircle the area your model will be cut from.
Now you're ready to cut. Press "Start", lean back and enjoy!
Sometimes the material will catch on fire during cutting. This is why it is very important that you stay by the machine at all times. In most of the cases, you will be able to control the fire and end it simply by pressing the "Pause" button on the machine. As seen in the safety video, there are different kinds of fire extinguishers, but they are only to be used in absolute emergencies, as they will break the machines. Please watch the safety video, so you know how to act responsibly around the lasercutters.
...and last but not least.... Clean up after yourselves, please!
Empty the lasercutter, including the drawer under the grid, and put any larger pieces back on the shelf for others to use.