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!
Table of Contents
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 non-CAD software, 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 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 metric units are acceptable. 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 a raster file, 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.
One part per file, no pre-nesting
We know you might be tempted to include many parts per file to assist us with efficient nesting (arrangement), but please don’t do this.
As a best practice, only include one part design per file.
We’re sure you know what you’re doing, but the fact is that our proprietary processes are streamlined for the greatest possible efficiency within our facilities. So, something that you think is saving us both time, could actually cost a great deal of it. It’s better to let us handle it for you. We like being helpful anyway.
This is also true in the case of multiples. If you need multiples of the same part cut, you’ll adjust the quantity in your cart to reflect how many you need. Crowding your file with the same design is going to complicate production, guaranteed. Don’t do this.
- One part per file
- Adjust quantity in the cart if you need multiples of a single part
- Do not pre-nest (arrange) anything, stick to one part per file, let us handle the rest
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.
Shapes, holes or cutouts are at least 50% material thickness
Holes or interior geometry that are smaller than 50% 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 0.050” in diameter. A safe rule of thumb for would be to keep all geometry greater than 1/2 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. For more information, please visit our pricing page.
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.
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
Deburring, Ceramic Tumbling and Brushing / Line Graining
Standard deburring is included free of charge for qualifying orders.
Deburring (sometimes called brushing) is included free of charge (on most materials) for all parts that are larger than 3″ in any axis and less than 30″ in width. Check out our Deburring Page for more information.
Oversized or undersized parts with excessive burr or scratches may undergo a deburring process using a variety of methods.
Ceramic tumbling is available at our discretion or upon request for small (less than 4″x4″), sturdy parts in order to break/smooth the edges a bit. Please contact us at email@example.com for availability.
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. You can deselect the deburring option when uploading your drawings to decline all deburring processes.
Please keep in mind that we treat every order as a rush order, and typical production time is about 24-48 hours. Although we cannot speed up our production process, we can save a day or two of shipping time by using overnight shipping. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for availability of overnight shipping options.
Before you go…
Go over this checklist once last time before sending your first file: