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How to use a Laser Cutter: File Formats and Design

What Are Laser Cutters?

A laser cutter is a type of machine that incorporates the use of laser beams to precisely engrave or cut materials. While these types of technology are often used in the industrial sector, more and more businesses, hobbyists, and schools are starting to use it as well. 

The laser technology was first developed in 1960. In a nutshell, a laser beam is a highly focused and amplified light that can melt, burn or vaporize any form of material, depending on the power of the machine and the type of laser that is being used. 

Different Types Of Laser Cutters

CO2 and gas lasers are the type of lasers that are most commonly used by businesses and hobbyists. These types of lasers are designed to slice and engrave various non-metallic materials like paper, wood, leather, acrylic, textiles, and many more. While the crystal and fiber lasers are often used in the industrial sector. 

What Can A Laser Cutter Do?

There are three (3) most common tasks that laser cutters are designed to do: 

  •  – The laser beams can precisely cut the edges of any material, without having to worry about having the material to change its color. 
  •  – They can apply markings on the surface of a material. For instance, an Enduramark or CerMark. 
  •  – Also laser beams have the capacity to remove the top part of the material, without cutting it all through. 

4 Steps in Laser Cutting

  • Buy or rent a laser cutting machine
  • Determine the kind of material that you wish to cut or engrave
  • Create a design that you want for the material
  • Proceed on cutting or engraving the material

What File Format Do Laser Cutters Use?

what file format does a laser cutter use

Document Type: 

Most beginners don’t know what file format to use with a laser cutter, which makes the learning process difficult.  If you are not familiar with design software you will need someone to help.

A laser cutter will use the information from a vector file, as well as the information from raster images through various kinds of programs like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Corel Draw, and many more. 

However, if you do not have these types of programs, then exporting your files into a .pdf format can be an alternative option for you. 

It is important to remember that laser cutters require their file format to be exported in a PDF file as its final format. 

In Exporting Files:

  • If you are using Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw or Inkscape, you should save the file as PDF. 
  • If you are using SketchupPro, you should 2D export it as PDF.
  • If you are using AutoCad, you should export the file to DWF, and then save it as PDF. 

In general, any files can be used as long as you convert to PDF in order to proceed with the engraving or cutting process for the material of your preference.

Document Size:

The size of the document should be at least 12″ in length and 24″ in width, and should always be landscape oriented. It is also important to keep the design within the required 12″x 24″ file size. 

Design Creation for the Material:

Vector lines are used by laser cutters in order to separate or cut the edges of a material. There are three (3) programs that incorporate vectors, and these are: 

  • Inkscape
  • Corel Draw 
  • Adobe Illustrator

It is located under the “object” menu item. Then proceed on the option that is labelled as “stroke,” where you will be needing to change the width of the stroke to 0.001 wide. On the other hand, for pixel users, you should change it to 72px. 

Setting your program into 0.001 inches or hairline in terms of thickness is essential in order to cut the edges of a specific material. 

PDF files are the required file format for either engraving, marking or cutting. So it is important to save your design as a PDF file. File formats in .ai, tiff, .jpeg, .eps, and the likes can also be used, but these types of files should still be converted into a PDF format as it’s final file. 

List of Popular Laser Cutting & Design Software Programs

  1. Inkscape
  2. OnShape
  3. AutoCAD
  4. SketchUp
  5. SolidWorks
  6. SolveSpace
  7. Solid Edge 2D
  8. Adobe Illustrator

All of these popular laser cutting and design software programs are highly versatile that allow you to create a design or modify an existing design. Now that you know what file format to use with a laser cutter, you will be well on your way to creating your first masterpiece.

About Maker Industry

Joshua Garcia, Founder

Hi, I'm Joshua. I created Maker Industry to share my passion for maker tools and help others learn about 3D printing, CNC systems, laser cutting and more. Learn More