When creating a design for laser cutting, you need a “vector-based” software. Vector-based software creates 2D shapes comprised of lines and curves.
An advantage of vector-based software is that the designs can be scaled to any size and easily modified. These lines are what the laser cutting system will use to cut out shapes.
Two of the most popular vector-based solutions are Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape. These tools can both be used to create professional designs, but the one you choose to use really depends on your needs and personal comfort levels.
Adobe Illustrator (AI) is a well respected vector-based software which has been considered an industry leader for decades. If you are in graphic or industrial design, you will be well aware of AI.
This software is an excellent choice for laser-cutting design given its robust features, stable nature, and support from one of the world’s biggest software companies, Adobe. However, for hobbyists and small businesses, it can be on the expensive side. To use AI you need to pay a subscription fee, rather than purchasing a single license. This cost is hard to justify unless you are creating new designs regularly and generating income from them.
In saying that, most professional designers use Illustrator as their choice of vector design software.
To learn more about using Illustrator to design for laser cutting, check out these resources.
Inkscape is a free, open-source version of Adobe Illustrator. There’s nothing you can do in Illustrator that you can’t do in Inkscape, it may just be a little more complicated. Millions and millions of dollars have gone into fine-tuning and adjusting the user interface and experience of Adobe Illustrator, whereas Inkscape has had to rely solely on developers and volunteer feedback.
The major advantage of Inkscape is that it’s free. But there are other reasons to use it. For example, there’s a large community involved in using the tool, where you can get help and tutorials. And while there are some complexities to the software, it’s still fairly easy to use for basic design tasks.
Professional designers are usually going to use Illustrator rather than Inkscape, but that isn’t universal. There are many professionals who operate solely on open-source platforms.
To learn more about using Inkscape to design for laser cutting, check out these resources.
With all that in mind, should you choose Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape?
It depends on your project. If you need to do a fast, one-off design and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, Inkscape is clearly superior. It’s cheap and effective and you’ll be able to get a design that you want. It may just take a bit more time and a little more learning.
On the other hand, if you need to do more extensive designs, create designs habitually, or want to get them done quickly, Illustrator is going to be a better solution. Illustrator makes a number of processes so fast that they’re trivial, and there are more tutorials and plug-ins available for it when compared with Inkscape. You’ll be able to make a design quickly and reliably, but there will be a cost. A literal cost – Adobe Illustrator, compared to Inkscape, is very expensive.
Both Illustrator and Inkscape can export the common file formats that are used during the process of laser cutting. However, your budget, the extensiveness of your projects, and your own skill level are going to determine which software is right for you. Either way, as long as your files are exported correctly, they should be able to be cut.
While Illustrator and Inkscape are the most common choices, there are other vector-based design tools. If you find that neither Illustrator nor Inkscape seems to really work for you, one of these other solutions might.
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding software that matches your own workflow and comfort level. You may need to experiment with multiple solutions to find the right one.
All of the laser cutting software tools mentioned above are capable of creating the design you need. However, in the end, it’s not the tool you use to create the files that matters, but the guidelines you follow when doing so. For example, here are some important considerations to be aware of:
If the design itself has been properly formatted, it won’t matter whether it was made in Illustrator, Inkscape, or another solution. Your tool simply controls how easy your file is to optimize for cutting, rather than whether it can be cut at all.
There is no universally “perfect” laser cutting design software because different people like different methods of working. Some people think Inkscape’s experience is better, while others lean towards Illustrator. Your best bet is to try out both of these solutions before you settle on one. Adobe Illustrator has a free trial available, and Inkscape is entirely free.