Lasercutting at FabLab Leuven

A few weeks ago I wanted to lasercut something for a friend. I was looking through the pages on the FabLab Leuven website but there’s very little information on how to design a vector image that would result in a nice little lasercut object.

So for all those who are new to lasercutting, vector images and the like, here’s a short tutorial on what you can and need to do to produce something you can work with.

First of all you need software that can produce vector images, something like Photoshop (or Adobe Illustrator specifically). Keep in mind that FabLab uses Inkscape to “print” your design to the lasercutter’s software. It is a good idea to download Inkscape and check your design. This is a free program so if you don’t have any expensive Adobe software this one will do the trick.

Some design tips you need to keep in mind are the following:

  • Black, aRGB(0,0,0,0) will make a deeper imprint than a shade of grey (so if you want contrast in your design, one thing you can do is play around with the alpha channel)
  • The contour needs to be aRGB(0, 255, 0, 0) which is bright red. The laser will burn all the way through the material on vector lines colored like this
  • Your designs can be quite large (20 by 20 centimeters or more) but you’ll probably have to pay up

If you’re going for something small (a few square centimeters) chances are you can find a spare plate of wood that has already been used. Most of the time there’s still plenty of room left on the plate to cut your design so you won’t have to pay anything since you’re reusing material that was already been paid for.

You’ve finished your design, now what? Open it up in Inkscape and select the lasercutter software as the “print to” option. Your vector image will now be loaded into the cutter’s printing application. Select the correct material and thickness. Make sure to move around the laser’s point of origin to a place where there is enough room to cut your design. Use the little calibration stick to adjust the height of the laser. Now drag and drop your design onto the workspace of the software. Once everything looks fine (if you have any problems or aren’t sure, ask the Fablab folks, they’re very friendly and eager to help!) hit the print button and you’ll see your design in a matter of seconds!

Note: make sure you have some free time when going to FabLab or call in advance as many people use the cutters and at the moment of writing only two are operational.