Adobe Illustrator is software widely used by designers and artists to prepare files for laser cutting and CNC work, it varies slightly to Autocad and also in the way you would design for print using it, but here are a few pointers on preparing your files.
Using our Drawing Templates
If using our material, we recommend using our drawing templates, which you can download here: FLUX_Adobe Illustrator Templates. You don’t have to, but the files are already laid out for the specific material sizes, we stock and give some guidelines into preparing your drawing.
Working with the drawing templates
Multiple files from same material
If you want all your parts cut / engraved from the same material, add additional artboard into your file and indicate the number of sheets in the file name: ie: “JoeBloggs_600x900mm 3mm MDF x 5_1:200 Scale building model.ai”
Multiple files from different materials
If using various materials and sheet sizes, please create multiple artboards in the same file and clearly label each rectangle with material, sheet size and thickness.
Try and use templates that suit best the scale of you drawings. i.e if your components can fit within a 450x600mm sheet and file, don’t position your drawing on a 600x900mmm template with lots of excess.
If using your materials or not using a template
- Set art board to match the size of the material in mm
- Select File > New > Set width / size from the top menu
- Allow 5mm from the border of the material.
Multiple art boards:
- Select File > New > Number of Artboards from the top menu
- You can use multiple on one file if setting up different files to be cut from the all the same material and thickness only.
Configuring units & colour mode
- Measurements: 1 unit = 1mm
- Draw components at actual size.
- If copying and pasting vectors from another file, make sure that they are at the scale you require
- Make sure you are working in RGB mode
- Select File > Document Colour Mode > RGB
Laser cutting lines
For everything you would like to have laser cut draw out your vector strokes in:
- Red: RGB: 255,0,0
- Stroke weight: to 0.01mm / 0.25 pt
Cutting and speed:
The laser cuts different materials at varying speeds. As a benchmark it generally takes longer to cut thicker materials than thinner ones. The thicker a material the more power is required at a lower speed. The laser is also faster at cutting straight lines than it is at cutting curves.
Vector engraving / scoring lines
For everything you would like to be vector engraved / scored set the strokes to:
- Blue: RGB: 0,0,255
- Stroke weight: to 0.01mm / 0.25 pt
Raster / Infill engraving lines and fills
While we can raster engrave thin vector strokes, it’s advised that you vector engrave/ score them, as this can generally be quicker and often have a better appearance. All vectors you would like raster engraved must be indicated by a green outline shape.
To turn a stroke into a filled shape:
- Set strokes to a minimum of 0.40mm. / 1pt (anything thinner wont engrave)
- Expand strokes. Select Object > Expand > Stroke / Fill
Set the outline of the shape to be Green, with no infill:
- Green: RGB: 0,255,0
Ensure that shapes are joined
If you have drawn the shape yourself, ensure it is a sealed and joined shape, this can be done by selecting all parts and Object>Path>Join, you can test it by trying to have an infill colour and seeing how it appears.
Arrange parts economically
When arranging artwork for engraving that have a few components on one sheet, it’s best to keep all of the raster engraving as close together as possible and in horizontal row, this is due to the way the the laser head moves horizontal side to side, like an inkjet printed, engraving one line at a time, from 0.05mm apart.
Raster engraving standard appearance & depth
In raster engraving terms the marking is cosmetic, shallow and typically a balance between legibility and cleanliness, not all materials can utilise raster engraves
Bespoke depths / treatments:
If you would like to achieve a deeper result or an engraving a little heavier get in touch to discuss the possibilities.
Nesting components & minimum cut widths
- If compiling a file with lots of components on one sheet of material, make sure there is a gap of at least 2mm between the components.
Small details / cut widths:
- As a benchmark, we recommend that minimum cut widths be no smaller than the thickness of the material. E.G. If cutting from 3mm acrylic, its best not to allow cut widths less than 3mm. We can go smaller but things can get quite fragile and in some cases can cause the material to warp whilst cutting. Anything thinner than the thickness of the material we cannot guarantee will be cut accurately and safely.
Maintaining continuous vector geometry
Try and make sure that all your vector paths are continuous. If strokes / closed shapes are constructed from more than one path, make sure that you join / close the paths.
- To do this, use the Direct Selection Tool and select the open endpoints.
- Select Object > Path > Join (Ctrl+J) from the top menu
Using text – outlining your fonts
All text used needs to be Outlined / converted to paths.
- Select Type > Font > Create outlines from the top menu
This is to convert the text to vectors and preserve your font. If you don’t do this and we don’t have your font installed on our computers, the file will open in default font Myriad or Arial. The middle islands of some letters will fall out when laser cut which can make the text difficult to read. If you would like to prevent this one option is to use a stencil font, alternatively you can add in ‘tabs’ and manually edit the vector.
Releasing all clipping masks
You can’t use the clipping mask function to draft a drawing for laser cutting. Clipping masks are an “appearance” tool specific to illustrator.
- View in Outlines (toggle Ctrl+Y) This mimics how the laser cutter will “view” and process your drawing.
- To release clipping masks select all vector strokes and fills, Select Object > Clipping mask > Release
- You can then either then trace or redraw them.
- To merge shapes you can also play around with the Pathfinder Select vectors, Select Effects > Pathfinder > play around with the options.
- Vector strokes can be also be trimmed using the Scissors Tool
Cleaning up drawing / removing overlapping lines
When drafting your drawing ensure that there are no duplicate vector strokes stacked up on one another. If you don’t get rid of them the laser will cut / score these lines repeatable, ruining the material and damaging the laser bed.
- You can spot duplicates quite easily as the stokes appear darker than other cutting lines.
- To remove them use the Direct Select tool and delete until you have single lines remaining.
- View in Outlines (toggle Ctrl+Y.) This mimics how the laser cutter will “view” and process your drawing.
- If there are any vectors strokes that you don’t want to have cut or engraved trim using the Scissors Tool.
Purge your file: Clear the all guides and stray vector points:
- Select Select > Object > Stray Points to delete stray vectors not attached to a path.
- Select View > Guides > Clear Guides to delete all guides.
- Select Object > Paths > Clean Up to remove any spray points or any unused text boxes
Saving your file
- Select File > Save As
- Format Adobe Illustrator (ai)
- CS6 or earlier
Save your files in the following named format, replacing the fields with the relevant information:
NAME_MATERIAL DIMENSION_THICKNESS & MATERIAL_DRAWINGNAME.ai
If you are using multiple sheets of the same material and thickness, ensure they are all in the same file, but save the file including ‘x5′ if 5 sheets are required
JOE BLOGGS_600x900mm_2mm MDF_Arch. Model June2015.ai
Send us your file
Once the file is complete, email your files over to use: email@example.com, ensuring you provide us with the following information:
- Your Full Name
- Whether you are a student (we offer 25% student discount, but only with a valid student ID, or email from a student email account)
- What material, thickness and how many sheets you require
- Whether you are providing the material or using our stock
- Collection or delivery? – we can offer affordable postage all over the UK and abroad if required.
- Deadlines – we usually work to a 24-36 hour turn around, although this may be slightly longer during very busy times of year, if you need it fast let us know as soon as possible.
With all of the information above, we will be able to provide you with an accurate price, we usually do this within a couple of hours and will let you know when we will be able to get it complete for. Once you are happy with your quote, we’ll need you to send a written email confirmation in response to the outlined quote you received. We can’t confirm quote’s over the the phone as we legally need to have something in writing. Do bare in mind that once a written email confirmation has been sent and received the confirmation is bound in a legal contract.