Laser Cutting Design Guidelines
To quickly laser cut your parts as accurately as possible, please make sure your files meet our guidelines. The better the file, the better the parts!
Best File Formats for Laser Cutting
Files Accepted by Our Instant Quote System:
For laser cutting, we only accept vector files. We currently accept DXF (Preferred) AI (Adobe Illustrator), EPS, and DWG (more coming soon) in our automatic online quoter. If you design your parts in Adobe Illustrator, please send us the original (native) ai file. We’ll take care of the conversion on our end.
We accept STEP files from common CAD programs such as Solidworks, but these are not eligible for instant online quoting. Please note that we cannot accept or process STL (mesh) files or raster-type (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, BMP) files. For STEP, Raster or PDF files, please request a custom quote and we’ll get back to you right away.
We’re here to help you every step of the way in designing your laser-cut parts. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Artwork should be correctly scaled
Your art should be sent to us at the exact size you want it cut (1:1 scale). We will not adjust your design based on written dimensions in the drawing, they are ignored by our system. Also, we prefer to work in Imperial Units (inches) when possible, but we handle metric scaling from mm too. Please note: If your design is in metric units, we only accept mm. We do not support cm or meter units.
If you’ve converted your file from raster, please be sure to verify dimensions. Printing your design at 100% scale may help you confirm dimensions and scale.
Please don’t do this:
Files should only contain your parts/cut-paths
To save time (and possibly money), be sure to remove any instructions, dimensions, notes, borders and unused objects from your file. You should only be sending us the actual cut-path that the laser should follow for cutting. Notes, quantities, etc. can be noted on your order. We’ll contact you right away if we have more questions.
Please note: “Student Version” lettering is automatically ignored by our systems. No need to worry if you are a student using Solidworks.
Files should not contain multiples of one part
We will arrange your parts in a way that maximizes efficiency and reduces material waste. This process is known as “nesting”. Designers are often tempted to “pre-nest” their design, thinking that it will speed up the production process. However, this is more likely to complicate the cutting and impede our process. If you want to cut multiple copies of a single object, don’t crowd your design, just upload a drawing with a single part and adjust the quantity in your cart.
Have different parts to be cut from the same metal?
Always leave a safe amount of room between parts. 1.5x metal thickness is a good rule of thumb. For example, in .125″ thickness material, you’ll want to space the parts about .187″ from each other. The extra space allows us to compensate for the width of our laser beam, as well as our “lead-in.” Lead-ins are small lines that we use to initiate the cut to give your parts the best possible edge quality.
Convert all text to shapes/outlines.
If your vector design has any “active” text boxes, the CNC laser cutters won’t be able to process the cut properly. To include text in your cut, simply convert active text boxes into shapes or outlines, a process that is extremely easy to do in most design software.
Not sure if you have any active text boxes? Hover your cursor over the text, and if it is editable as text, then it needs to be converted into a shape. In Illustrator, this is called “converting to outlines.” In some CAD software, it might be called “explode” or “expand.”
Shapes and fonts/type should be stencilized or connected with “bridges”
In the example below, all the shapes marked in red on the right will be lost or loose because they are not connected to the outer shape. If that is intentional, that’s fine, but it can make installation challenging if you are designing a sign or using a lot of text. You can remedy this by creating “bridges” like you see on the example on the left. When possible, think about your design as a stencil. This will reduce the number of “loose” pieces that would need to be considered during installation.
If you are fine with many small, loose parts, just let us know in your order notes and we’ll take care of it. We just want our customers to be prepared for the installation or mounting process.
Check out our tutorials on creating bridges:
Shapes or cutouts are at least 1x material thickness
Holes or interior geometry that are smaller than the thickness of your material are unlikely to be cut accurately by the laser. This is because the laser “pierces” the material to begin cutting, which requires a certain diameter allowance for holes and other internal shapes. As an example, if your material is 0.100” thick, the smallest hole you could expect to cut would be 0.100” in diameter. A safe rule of thumb for would be to keep all geometry greater than 1x material thickness.
In the example below the red circles would be too small to cut correctly:
Avoid intersecting or common lines
Check your design to make sure no two parts are touching or sharing a line. Be sure that no lines overlap or intersect with each other. The laser will not interpret these lines correctly, and the parts will not be cut. View your part as a wireframe or in outline mode (Illustrator) to quickly spot these issues.
Your file should not contain empty objects or open contours.
“Open contours” is a fancy way of saying your shape is not connected all the way around. The laser will follow the path of your shape. If your shape stops, so does the laser. Viewing your art in Outline or Wireframe mode in your design software is a quick and easy way to find these issues.
Laser Cut Sign Design
Before designing your first sign, think about the installation. A little pre-planning can save you a lot of time in the end. Here are three basic sign styles.
When we talk about negative design, we mean your type and logo are “reversed” (removed) out of a larger shape, like a rectangle.
In the example below you can see our logo and text have been removed from a solid rectangle. The key to keeping this design easy to install are the bridged letters and shapes (as mentioned above). This sign will be very easy to install since it’s a single, connected part.
STANDARD INSTALLATION DIFFICULTY
If you prefer a “positive” design, you can make installation a little easier by connecting shapes and letters using an underline like our second example. The installation is a little more difficult as you will now need to align two separate pieces.
All Positive Design
In this example you’ll see that we have MANY separate parts to line up. If you decide to go this route, we recommend making a paper template to use as a guide, or even better, have a professional sign contractor install it for you.
How our laser cutting pricing works
Here’s a few pricing guidelines to consider when designing your parts.
We have a minimum order fee of $29. This fee helps us cover setup and programming time, material loading, care and feeding of our robots, waste material, and shipping. Once the $29 minimum is reached, you only pay for the price of each part.
For example, a single $2 part would end up being $29 at checkout. However, if you ordered 20 parts at $2 each, your total would be $40 at checkout (including shipping). We offer significant quantity discounts as well, up to 50%. Pricing is updated instantly in your shopping cart.
Material Type and Thickness
We offer a variety of materials in multiple thicknesses. To learn more about what we offer, please see our Materials page.
Commodity metals such as steel, copper and brass will vary based on current market conditions. Titanium is very expensive to produce, which drives up the raw material cost.
Overall part size (up to 47″ x 118″)
Overall dimensions affect the final price of your parts. Larger, heavier parts use more material and take more time to cut, and will be priced higher than thin, small parts. We can cut single parts up to 47″ x 118″, but keep in mind these parts exceed our standard order requirements and will be quoted with freight shipping.
Design density refers to the overall amount of cutting, per square-inch in your design. The more detailed and intricate, the longer it will take for the laser to cut. Increased density will increase part cost.
What to expect
Your parts will be packaged securely to prevent damage during transit. Keep in mind that we allow for some “padding” around the edge of the part to minimize corner damage. If the box appears damaged, please open it to inspect the parts. Sometimes a box may look damaged, but the parts are intact. You do not need to refuse the package with the carrier.
We cut the majority of our metals using an assist gas such as high-purity nitrogen in order to obtain a clean edge on parts (little to no oxidation). However, for steel thicker than .135″, and all thicknesses of copper and brass, we use may use non-nitrogen assist gasses. This will result in some oxidation on the cut surface. Before you paint, weld, or plate your parts, you will need to remove that oxidation. This can be done easily using a chemical process (muriatic acid), or mechanical methods such as a wire brush or rotary tumbler.
Some materials such as brass and copper will have some discoloration near the cut edge. This is normal and can be removed using a mild acid or abrasive.
Some laser cut metals will have a bit of dross (burr) on the underside along the cut edge. This is a normal occurrence from the cutting process. Due to manufacturing variables, your parts may also have small cosmetic imperfections/scratches.
Software Specific Tutorials
If you need software specific help for designing, check out one of the tutorials below. We’ll add more tutorials soon.
Other services and add-ons
We offer etching, however this process is still in beta. Etching is available for runs of 20 or more parts. Contact us at email@example.com laser-etching pricing and capabilities.
Deburring, Ceramic Tumbling and Brushing / Line Graining
Standard deburring is standard on all parts that require deburring or dross removal.
Ceramic tumbling is available upon request for small, sturdy parts in order to break the edges a bit. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for availability and pricing.
Brushing or line graining is included free of charge for parts that have excessive burr or minor scratches. We do not offer a cosmetically perfect brushing process like you would see on a modern refrigerator. Our process is only used to deliver a smooth, consistent part, and may have some variation in texture.
Our lasers are already pretty quick, but if you absolutely need your parts faster, we do offer an Overnight option. To guarantee you receive your parts the next day, your order must use a material we currently have in stock, and your order must be placed before noon PST. Contact us at email@example.com for availability.
Before you go…
Go over this checklist once last time before sending your first file:
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
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 1.5x material thickness