In this tutorial we'll cover all the basics for designing for laser cutting in Adobe Illustrator.
BEFORE YOU BEGINHere’s some things you should do to when creating your file:
Artboard size is equal to your material size
I would suggest viewing your design in Outline view mode multiple times while your creating your parts. This will make it easier to see empty objects and stray points.
Individual parts should have an overall size larger than 0.5” x 0.5". Since each individual part will have a microtab (a tiny link to the nest to keep objects from falling into the abyss), having parts smaller than 0.5”-1” makes them difficult to separate from your material. You risk distorting your objects and quite possibly a lot of frustration.
Be aware of your material thickness when creating your objects and type. Keep all holes and cutout areas (including type) a minimum width of 1.5x material thickness. Any cutouts smaller than material thickness will not be accurate and may not be possible to cut.
Avoid sharp angles and details smaller objects. Details and small features should never be smaller than the laser beam width (.008"-.010"). Again, using material thickness as a minimum size for details would be a good rule of thumb.
If you’re cutting type out of your design, like a stencil, be sure to use a font with stencil properties, or be sure to manually create "bridges" to the holes in your letters.
Be sure that none of your objects have open contours. In other words, all shapes should have a fully connected outline. An easy way to find these openings is to view your design in Outline mode.
Make sure you design your parts as a single object, and not multiple shapes overlapping each other. Make use of your Pathfinder Palette to combine (we call it "welding") or exclude multiple objects.
Make sure your design does not have any intersecting lines. Intersecting lines or lines that cross each will yield in unexpected results.
ARRANGING YOUR OBJECTS
When arranging multiple parts, here are some good rules of thumb:
- Be sure to refer to your material thickness when arranging your objects on the sheet.
- Your parts should be separated at least 1.5x material thickness from each other.
- Make sure no two objects share a common line.
- Check that all your objects are on the same layer.
CLEANING UP YOUR FILE
Before you export your file to upload to us, be sure to remove everything that is not to be cut. This includes empty shapes, boxes, stray points and text areas. If you click on your Select Menu, and hover over Object you’ll see a list of things you can select. We suggest selecting each of the following: Clipping Masks, Stray Points, and All Text Object.
By selecting these options, you'll be able to quickly spot stray geometry that could cause errors when laser cutting.
To find duplicate objects or empty shapes, select a single object and move it slightly. View in Outline mode and you’ll quickly see if you have any double lines or extra objects. Duplicate objects are sometimes created when using Pathfinder tools such as Combine or Exclude.
Make sure all your objects are on the same layer.
EXPORTING YOUR DESIGN
We've set everything up on our end to make uploading as painless as possible. When designing in Illustrator, please send us your files in .ai format.
As always, before you upload your file, go through the usual checklist to make sure your file is ready to be cut.
My file is built at a 1:1 scale
All my type is outlined
Reversed type has bridges
I have cleaned up all stray points, empty objects and text areas
All my objects are on the same layer
All holes and cutouts are at least 1.5x material thickness
No feature or detail is smaller than 0.010"