Laser Cutter

Our laser cutter is a Blacknose A3 from Just Add Sharks.

Introduction

Laser cutting is actually a fairly simple process that can be used to create very complex items.

All the laser cutter can do is fire a laser beam on a 2D plane, but it can be directed incredibly accurately with varying speed and power, allowing for cutting, engraving and etching of various materials.

Design Options

You can use many different pieces of software to create your designs. The most important thing is to be able to export a .dxf file at the end of it to import to the cutting software.

Other general recommendations are:

  • Use a very fine line width and keep it on the center of the shape (rather than outside or inside)
  • Text should be converted to a shape
  • Fills are ignored so it’s easiest just to work with outline shapes

Inkscape

Inkscape is a free, cross platform software that works very well for creating vector graphics. It is available from https://inkscape.org

Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is a premium vector graphic design tool available at https://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator.html

123D Design

The 123D range are available for free but have a monthly paid plan that allows you to use your designs commercially and export the required .dwg files from 123D Make. There is a free trial available. Find out more at http://www.123dapp.com/

123D Make

The 123D range are available for free but have a monthly paid plan that allows you to use your designs commercially and export the required .dwg files from 123D Make. There is a free trial available. Find out more at http://www.123dapp.com/

Preparing Your File

Once you have competed your design it needs to be imported into the laser cutter software and set up before sending it to the cutter.

The software is called lasercut and looks a lot like the screenshot below when you open it up.

Lasercut

Lasercut

Import your file

First you will want to clear your board of any existing designs by selecting all and deleting.

Then you can import your own file with the import tool.

The import tool

The import tool

Size and position your design

The position of your design on the grid is unimportant in our setup but it is nice to have it in the right place. You can use the center artwork to board button to move your current selection to the center of the grid.

The center artwork to board button

The center artwork to board button

Designs often are imported at the wrong size. Luckily you can use the scale tool to make your selection the exact size you wish. You can hit the … button to proportionately scale your other axis.

The scale button

The scale button

NEED SCREENSHOT!

Create the layers

In Lasercut layers are represented as colours. Each different colour can then be set as a different setting.

So all cut lines should be the same colour and any engravings at the same power should be the same colour as well.

To set your colours just select the same you wish to change with the arrow tool and choose the colour from the bottom. All colours in use on your design will show up in the right hand sidebar.

The colour selection bar

The colour selection bar

The document layer display

The document layer display

Set your modes, speeds and powers

Once your layers are set up you must set how they are handled by the cutter.

Modes

There are four different modes a layer can be: cut, engrave, grade engrave or hole.

Be sure to set these correctly otherwise you can end up with holes where you don’t want them and other mishaps.

Layer mode selection

Layer mode selection

Speed & Power

Speed and power is how you control the strength of the laser. Power ranges from 1 to 100 and speed ranges from 1 to 300.

Generally speaking cutting is usually done at a low speed and high power but it depends on the thickness and density of the material, paper obviously requires less power than solid wood.

Speeds above 200 when engraving are not recommended as the cutter can wobble about at that speed and potentially cause your material to move.

We try to keep recommended settings for various materials on the whiteboard at the cutter but it is always best to perform a test run to check your settings.

Layer power selection

Layer power selection

Layer speed selection

Layer speed selection

Make sure your order is correct

Finally you should make sure your layer orders are correct otherwise you may end up trying to engrave a hole where a piece of material used to be.

The layers are performed one at a time starting from top to bottom. It is best to do engraving first and cutting second but every design is different, just think about what will happen when a piece is cut out.

To move a layer up or down the list select in and hit the up or down button. The layers are performed from top to bottom.

Layer up and down controls

Layer up and down controls

Performing a test

Laser cutting is more of an art than a science and there is a lot of guess work and testing that goes into finding the perfect settings as every material is different and the laser cutter power can vary over time.

It is recommended to perform a small test on your material before actually cutting your design. If you are just cutting then a small square is probably what you want or in other cases it may be better to scale your design down to a very small size to see if everything looks ok.

The steps to perform a test are exactly the same as these other steps but it is easiest to just use lasercut to draw a test if required.

Cutting Your File

Once you are happy with your file it must be downloaded to the cutter and run. There are a number of steps to this that must be followed:

  1. Switch on the cutter, ventilation, compressor and cooler. These are all required to be on when cutting.
  2. Download your file by pressing the download button. Then delete all existing loaded files and hit load current.
    The download button

    The download button

    The download file manager

    The download file manager

  3. Insert your material. The honeycomb bed is better for engraving and very light materials like paper and cardboard whereas the ridged bed is more suitable for cutting of wood and plastic. It is usually a good idea to tape down your material to keep it flat and in place.
  4. Set the Z axis height. The laser has a focal point that is 55mm away from the top lip of the black casing. To move the bed up and down you can turn the rod at the bottom left of the bed. There are tools provided to turn the rod and measure the laser height.
    The focal length tool

    The focal length tool

    Z axis tools

    Z axis tools

  5. Set your X and Y start points. To do this hit esc on the cutter controls. You can then use the arrow keys to move the laser to your desired start point.

    The cutter control panel

    The cutter control panel

  6. Hitting test will show you a preview of your cutting area. If it is not correct you can hit esc and reposition again with the arrow buttons.
  7. The start button will begin the cutting.
  8. Please do not leave the cutter unattended while cutting as things can go wrong and you may need to stop it.
  9. To stop the process you can either hit pause which stops the laser at its current point and you can then hit resume to start from the same place or you can hit stop which will move the laser back to the starting position you set so you can restart the cut from exactly the same point (this is usually the option you want if your settings are wrong)
  10. Once you are finished please switch off the cutter, ventilation, compressor and cooler and sleep the computer.

Challenges

  1. Make a keyring
  2. Make a 3D model
  3. Make a storage box

Additional Information

Installing Lasercut 5.3

You can install the lasercut software we use for our machine on any windows pc in demo mode. In this mode you can create your cutter file and export it to then be used on the machine connected to the laser cutter.

Installation info for Windows 7: http://www.justaddsharks.co.uk/installing-lasercut-5-3/

Installation info for Windows 8: http://www.justaddsharks.co.uk/installing-lasercut-5-3-on-windows-8/

Easy box design

The http://www.makercase.com/ tool is a very nice way of quickly generating box designs.

Alignment

The cutter occassionally needs realigned for best results.

A good guide for how to do this can be found on YouTube.

Other Issues

If there are any issues with the cutter you should first try cleaning the mirrors and realigning it.

Then if nothing seems to work you can get in touch with the Just Add Sharks guys at info@justaddsharks.co.uk.

Pricing

Members
£5 per hour
Non Members
£10 per hour