Laser cutters are powerful tools 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 80 watt C02 red laser cutter, Trogdor or our 10 watt diode laser, Calcifer. The best way to contact someone is via the #Laser channel on Discord. Once you’ve gotten a 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. Thankfully, once LightBurn is set up for Trogdor, it is easy to set up for Calcifer as well. Here's some useful info as you set up the lasers!
- We have Ruida controllers
- 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!
- 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
- Trogdor's laser bed is apx 685 mm by 508mm (~27" x 24"). Calcifer's laser etching area is apx 20" x 36".
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 (https://wiki.asmbly.org/index.php/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:
|70 mm/s||40%||Cut 1mm thick poster board|
|300 mm/s||25%||Etches 1mm thick poster board|
|20 mm/s||40%||Cut 6mm thick birch plywood|
|150 mm/s||20%||Dark etch on birch plywood|
|300 mm/s||20%||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.
As you experiment and try new things with Trogdor and Calcifer, check out the plethora of video tutorials available at https://lightburnsoftware.com/pages/tutorials
- cut - which items in your artwork that will be cut out with the laser
- scan - imported bitmaps (like a photograph) that the laser doesn't cut out, but instead burns at different intensities to create the bitmap in your material
- layer - assigned by color, a layer contains items you wish to be treated in the same manner (i.e. I want this triangle to be burned in at 50% intensity, then have this circle to be cut out around it.)
- speed - how fast the laser moves in mm/s
- min/max power - how intense the laser is; you will need to adjust this based on the material you are using.
- scan - used for reproducing a greyscale/black and white bitmap, and for "etching" out large areas that aren't burned completely through. Darkness/lightness varies with material and speed/power combos.
- ramp - a "bevel" effect: the laser cannot be angled, so this reproduces "bevels" for things like stamps or 3D engravings.
- overscanning - letting the laser go a little past the end of its print area so that it can slow down and turn while off instead of while on.
- scan mode - NEED DEFINITION(S)
- dot - NEED DEFINITION(S)
- pen - NEED DEFINITION(S)
Basic Settings to Make Your Life Easier
- Position: Select "Absolute Coordinate" This will cause the laser to start its business at the bottom left-hand corner of the bed. This makes it much easier to position your materials in both the program and in the laser.
- Transform: Select your item(s) and tick the bottom left-hand checkbox and type in the position: Horizontal: 685 Vertical: 487 this will move your art to same position as the bottom left-hand corner of the laser bed.
Tips on Artwork
- Work. In. Millimeters. Measure your material in millimeters, make the default unit in your art program millimeters. Your life will be easier for it.
- RDWorks will import vector files in .AI (Adobe Illustrator) format.
- Colors are treated as layers in RDWorks. Layers aren't names, they're colors. If you import art, you must separate it into different layers by selecting art and clicking a color in order to assign properties to that layer.
- A vector/bitmap combo may not be GROUPED then DUPLICATED. Doing so will only cause the vectors to be cut; the bitmaps will not scan.