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The laser cutter is a powerful tool full of creative possibilities!  You can laser a wide variety of materials (see this web page for the kinds of materials you can and can’t laser), but most people start off with ⅛” thick plywood or MDF.  Check out websites like Thingiverse and Instructables for examples of laser cutter projects.  

Ok, that’s great.  How do I start lasering all the things?!

We definitely ask that you talk to an experienced member of the Lab to get a walkthrough of a basic laser cutter project with our red laser cutter, Trogdor.  The best way to contact someone is via the #Laser channel on Discord.  Once you’ve gotten that walkthrough, or in preparation for it - feel free to come back here to review as you set up your own projects!  

No really, I want to LASER ALL THE THINGS
Ok.  Let’s get started with software.  The laser desktop and laptop each have a copy of LightBurn installed on them.  Lightburn is the software that we use to communicate with the laser cutter.  It translates your image file into the settings required for running the laser cutter. 

We have an agreement with LightBurn that allows any members who want one access to a coupon code for the software so that you can set up files on your personal computer.  This coupon code will allow you to purchase LightBurn for $20 instead of the usual cost of $80. Please message the Laser Area Host via Discord to receive that code. 

One of the best features of using LightBurn is that, unlike open source software options, there is an impressive level of documentation and support with LightBurn.  Here is their beginning tutorial page, complete with a plethora of video walkthroughs!  

While setting up your own copy of LightBurn is not necessary (That’s why we have the laser cutter desktop!) when you need to, you’ll probably need to know a couple things about Trogdor to get everything running properly.  

  1. We have Ruida controller
  2. The easiest way to connect to Trogdor is via USB.  Here is where the USB cord plugs into Trogdor (black cord on the left) and where the same USB cord plugs into the Laser Desktop.  If you unplug this cord, you must plug it back in when you're done!
      
  3. If you desire to connect to Trogdor via the ethernet, you are welcome to make the attempt.  It is not as reliable a connection as USB, but it can be done.  The Ethernet address is: 10.200.0.50 and the MAC address is 9C:B7:0D:E5:7E:13  
  4. Our laser bed is apx 685 mm by 508mm (~27" x 24")

Most materials found in nature can be etched or cut with the laser (eg wood, paper, stone, glass, cotton, etc)  SOME man-made materials are safe to laser, but with others there are LETHAL or EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS consequences.  Again, please reference this web page (http://wiki.atxhs.org/wiki/Laser_Cutter_Materials) for a list of laser cutter DO NOTS and suggested materials that laser well.  

One real advantage of LightBurn over other open source controller software options is that you can import a wide variety of files natively.   If you do not have a professional vector graphics editing program, we recommend you download the open source program, InkScape to create and edit your laser files.  

Setting Up Your InkScape SVG 

SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics files are images made up of nodes and vectors - which makes them infinitely scalable smaller or larger.  These files are ideally suited for cutting with the laser because they easily provide the laser with a line to trace and therefore cut.  When you are creating your SVG file, you will use color to indicate different lines and areas to cut or etch, also referred to as line or fill.  Each color can be edited separately in LightBurn to specify speed and power of the laser.  Speed or how fast the laser moves is measured in millimeters per second.  Power is measured in a percentage of the maximum capabilities of the laser.  Here are some examples of speed and power settings:

SpeedPowerEffect
70 mm/s40%Cut 1mm thick poster board
300 mm/s25%Etches 1mm thick poster board
20 mm/s40%Cut 6mm thick birch plywood
150 mm/s20%Dark etch on birch plywood
300 mm/s20%Light etch on birch plywood


Each material is going to interact differently with the laser and we encourage you to record successful settings on the whiteboard in the Vent Room.  This will allow us to build a database of settings that work and track any changes that occur.  Being able to track these changes will also allow us to know when the laser cutter needs maintenance which will make sure it works consistently for everyone.  If you are a frequent laser cutter user, we encourage you to come to maintenance days where not only can you learn how to fix problems that might come up - but may also earn credits you can use to defray suggested donations.  

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