We come across files of all types here at SendCutSend. Big files, little files. Simple files, complex files. Red files, blue files – we like files. We also come across a lot of issues in all those files. We'll go over the most common issues an how you can avoid and fix them.
An open contour (also known as broken geometry or open paths) is whenever you have a shape that doesn't connect all the way around. This can happen quite easily, even on accident, while you're designing. The issue is that the laser can't follow a broken path.
This can also occur if you have too many vector points around a tight corner where two ends meet. Your file may show a closed path, but the laser software will sometimes translate that as a break.
In short, making sure your paths are all closed before exporting your file is key. Viewing your design in Outline mode periodically while designing will help you find these. You can use the Join tool to close these up. If you're noticing a crazy amount of vector points on your shapes, using the Simplify Path tool will help.
I work a lot in Illustrator. Trying to zoom in and find open paths can be tedious at times. I found a couple free plug-ins that can save you some time and frustration.
The Select Menu plug-in adds some options to your Select > Object menu. It will find and select all open paths in your design.
The Concatenate Tool will intelligently join paths. Using the Join tool in Illustrator you can only join one item at a time. If you were to select ALL open paths, the Join tool would join them all together as one. Concatenate allows you to join multiple open paths at once, while keeping the shapes separate.
Text or Shapes Without Bridges
Nested holes, or the holes in letters that you are cutting from a shape will be lost if you have no bridges connecting them to the negative space. This is something we come across daily. We get a lot of orders for signs or logos containing text. Your text MUST be stencil-style. If I cut a B from a circle, the shape of the B is cut out, leaving nothing for me to cut the inner holes from.
We have a blog post dedicated to adding text to your design. I highly recommend reading that post if you're at all unsure how to design text for the laser.
Learn the requirements for designing typography for the laser cutter.
This also applies to shapes and patterns. Maybe you design a really cool wall clock back using a geometric pattern. Just keep in mind that all your cut-out shapes must somehow be connected to the outer shape. In the example on the left below, I have highlighted "good cuts with green. These cuts are connected to the shape of the clock. The cuts outlined in red have no connection to the outside shape and therefore will be lost.
When cutting with the laser, two objects cannot share the same line. Similarly, two lines cannot intersect. Let's take a look at a couple examples.
In this example, I have two objects in my nest. As a way to save space, I had them share one side. Seems smart - right? Unfortunately, the laser will not interpret this as I intended. In reality what I have here is two lines on top of each other. I will need to move these objects apart and make sure I have at least 1.5x material thickness between them.
In this example, I wanted some single lines cut into my shape for detail. I have these initials here, with the two letters touching. This is also not going to work because this is not one continuous line. The laser would need to pierce the point where they meet twice. I will need to add some space between.
Overly Complex Designs
The laser cuts quick, surprisingly quick. We are all still in awe at how fast it can cut sometimes. That being said, super complex designs really slow things down. Think of it this way. For every shape, the laser has to pick up and pierce the metal again.
To ensure we keep our turn-around times speedy and costs low for everyone, we have to set a limit on the complexity of designs we can print at regular rates. So, going back to the laser having to stop and pierce every shape, our rule of thumbs is one pierce (one shape) per inch. We're happy to cut your complex design, but we may charge a little more if it's going to slow production time down a ton.
Another thing to keep in mind with those complex design it the intricacy of your corners and details. The beam width is .010, which means it can't cut corners or lines and smaller than that. Try to round out some of those super tight corners.
We add microtabs to your designs to keep them in the nest for shipping. Super small or highly complex designs can be a task to remove. Keeping your designs simpler and in accordance with the one-pierce-per-inch rule will alleviate a lot of frustration on your end.
Empty and/or Duplicate Shapes
These occur often when you're using the Exclude, Trim, Divide or Image Trace tools. You will end up with extra shapes that have no fill or stroke. A good way to find these is to move your main objects slightly and then view your design in Outline mode.
Once you have found an empty shape or path, you can go to your Select menu, scroll to Same and select Fill and Stroke. Just to be sure that there aren't any hiding out of view. Once selected you can delete them.
I would also suggest removing all stray objects as well before you export. In your Select Menu, scroll to Object and check for things like Stray Points.
I use a free plug-in called Select Menu which gives you a few more options in that menu such as Open Paths. It will save you a lot of time.
You can see in the above design that in regular viewing mode everything looks great.
Once we view in Outline mode however, we see that we have a few different objects laying on top of one another. The laser follows a path. What we want is one continuous path around the outside and one path for each of the shapes being cut out. To accomplish this, we need to weld/merge/combine our shapes. This is called different things depending on what software you're designing in, but each does the same thing. It welds all those overlapping shapes into one.
We've created tutorials for combining your shapes in Illustrator and Inkscape below. More software-specific tutorials coming soon.
Live text is text that you can edit. Before you send your file to us, your text needs to be converted to paths or shapes. We've written a blog post explaining how to convert your text. I recommend checking that out if you're unfamiliar with designing text for the laser.
Learn the requirements for designing typography for the laser cutter.
Art not scaled properly
Is the Christmas ornament design you image traced the size you want? When you downloaded that lamp template did you factor in the material thickness you're designing for? These are super common and easy to make mistakes. When you're getting ready to export take a look at a few things. What unit mode are you in? We prefer inches at SendCutSend.
We're here to help.
Not sure about your design? Have a question or want advice? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll get back to you as soon as we can. The more we can help you, the more it helps us provide you with the best and quickest laser-cut parts.