In this tutorial we’ll cover all the basics for designing for laser cutting in Adobe Illustrator.
Before you begin
Here’s some things you should do to when creating your file:
Measurement units are set to inches
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. Learn More
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.
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.
File is a two-dimensional vector format file. If you're designing in Adobe Illustrator, please send us your original .ai file.
File is built at a 1:1 scale, preferably in inch-units
All text has been converted to outlines or paths
Cut-out text (reversed text) has bridges or has been stencilized
All stray points, duplicate lines, empty objects and text areas have been removed
No shapes have open contours
All shapes have been united, combined or merged
All objects are on the same layer
All holes and cutouts are at least 60% material thickness