Laser HOWTO

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IN PREPARATION

1. Turn on laser with silver button
2. Turn air cooler on on the wall
3. Vent the moisture trap under the pressure gauge (push up on the clear hose til you hear outrush of air and see water venting
4. Always turn fan and laser ON or OFF together so nobody makes a mistake and turns on one without the other

Place your material

5. Put tape in 4 corners of the bed. Open X:\Laser Awesomeness\Alignment Checker.cdr and print with Red set to vector, 80% power, 100% speed. This will draw a 1/8" square that you can use to align your material to the bed. 6. Secure your material down to the bed. Strategies include:

    • Push laser clamps (in the small wooden box on the wall) into the honeycomb to pin your work in place. Don't use pins that are tall enough to bump the cone.
    • Strap the material to the sides of the bed masking tape (not blue painter's tape, it will peel up)
    • Use aluminum J-channel to correct materials that have a strong tendency to warp

Please refer to the Laser Cutter Materials for a list of materials you should **NEVER EVER CUT**

We will remind you now and also later that you must specify a laser Z-height that will clear everything on the bed. Don't knock the air assist cone off.

Create a drawing

Most people use Corel Draw, Inkscape (see "Using Inkscape with the Laser Cutter") or Illustrator to create their work. For Illustrator, save your file as Illustrator CS4 version.


Vector Shapes

The laser prints in two modes, vector and raster. In raster mode, the laser scans back and forth to create filled-in areas of darker color / removed material (depending on what speed and power you set). In vector mode, the laser traces the shape as a crisp thin line. Often the best results come from rastering the body of a shape using one color (e.g. black) and then outlining the shape with a different color (e.g. red) set to vector mode.

To print in vector mode, you must then set the stroke of your shape to be "hairline" width:

  • right click on object, select "Properties" (shortcut alt-enter)
  • second small tab in sidebar shows pen nib -- select it
  • under "width" choose "hairline"

It's usually easiest to do this in bulk: select all objects and then set hairline width. To make objects not have a vector outline, specify a stroke color of, say, orange (255/128/0) -- and then in your print settings specify that color as "Skip". If you fail to give some shapes an outline color, but then set them to hairline width, you may find the laser painfully slowly raster-outlining where you didn't intend.

When you're rastering, the shades of lightness and darkness on the screen won't be exactly reproduced by the laser. For rastering, the only color that allows gradations is black. You manage lightness and darkness of your print in the print dialogue box. There is a reference print on the wall that shows sample settings, referencing specific percentages of black.

  • Ctrl-P
  • "Preferences"
  • For Crispest line, when vectoring specify same "z" height as the top of your material. If your material is .12" high, set the z-height at .12"
    • You get the true height of your material by measuring its width with calipers.
  • If you start burning through to different layers of wood, you can get interesting/annoying variations to color and lightness. You make a DEEPER cut, go SLOWER and USE MORE POWER, and set the "z" height to the top of the material. Use 100% black in Corel Draw.
  • For darkest results, raster at a "z" height far above the material.

A good starting point for settings:

  • Print Special Effects: Normal
  • Image Enhancement: Disabled
  • Image Density: 4
  • More/Dithering: "Halftone"
  • Laser Settings by color:
    • For a dark raster layer: 100% power, 55% speed, 500 PPI, z-axis set to .5" above actual material height
    • For a crisp raster layer: 100% power, 30% speed, 500 PPI, z-axis set equal to height of material
    • For a crisp vector layer (hairline): 100% power, 50-80% speed, 500 PPI, z-axis set equal to height of material
    • For cutting wood: 100% power, speed 3%, 500 ppi, z-axis set equal to height of material

A note on speed settings: It's better to go slightly slower than you really need when cutting, having parts stuck together because you didn't cut deep enough can ruin your job/materials. Slight variations in material height can make the laser cut less efficiently in some sections of your work, so knocking down the speed gives you a stronger cut.

Once you get a set of settings that are working for your purposes, save them in your own folder on the X: drive.

The laser prints each layer in the order listed in "Laser Settings": Black, Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Magenta, Cyan, Orange. You always want to print all raster layers, then all vector layers, then detailed cuts, and finally cuts that sever a chunk of wood from the rest of the sheet (i.e., when cutting out a set of rectangles, you might cut three sides using magenta, and finally separate the pieces by coloring the fourth side cyan or orange. This helps with your precision because once a piece is separated from the sheet, it is free to move about the cabin. By making the severing cuts last, you have the chance to 'pause' the job and correct errors while things are still in their precise location.

Troubleshooting

If you (or the dumbass before you) accidentally printed while the laser was off

If the XL-12000 printer (Control Panel/Devices and Printers/XL-120000) shows jobs stuck in the print queue, you should restart the print spooler:

  • From the start menu, run Services
  • Scroll down to "Print Spooler", and click on it.
  • To the left, choose "Stop Service", then count to 5, then hit "Start Service"
  • You should now be able to clear the print queue