Good Files Make the Magic Happen - Outlining Text in Illustrator

Outlining your text is an important step in preparing your file for laser cutting! This is what creates vector paths around the text, what allows the text to be easily scaled, and the best way to ensure your font is included in your file.

Outlining text in Illustrator is actually pretty easy! To begin, you’ll want to create a new document (or work in an existing one). If you are new to creating an artboard in Illustrator, you can read more about it here.

Next, you’ll want to create a text box. You’ll select the type tool (your workspace might look a little different than mine, but the tool will look the same), it’s just the T button. Once you select the type, you can drag your mouse on your workspace to great a text box.

How to add text to an adobe illustrator file using the text tool
How to create a text box to prepare your file for laser cutting.

Once you have your text box, add your text. If you’d like to change the typeface, you can either open the type window or use the type menu. To open the type window, select the window - type - character, and you’ll get the type tool bar. Otherwise you can access the same tools under type - font OR type - size. I prefer to have the type window open, as it’s easier to change things quickly.

How to open the type window in Adobe Illustrator
How to change type face and type size in Adobe Illustrator

At this point, you want to ensure you have the correct text and type face, the size isn’t really important. The text can always be scaled after you’ve created outlines. I SAVE MY FILE NOW! Making edits to the copy in outlined text isn’t easy, you pretty much have to add the text and outline again. Most of the time, this isn’t a big deal if it’s just a name or simple text, but it can be a hassle if you have a lot of copy.

Now you’re ready to outline. You’ll want to make sure you have the text box selected, so you’ll want to switch back to the black arrow by selecting that from the toolbar. Then go to type - create outlines. You’ll notice blue outlines that go around the every part of your text - these are the vector lines.

How to outline text in Adobe Illustrator
Outlined Text in Adobe Illustrator - How to, Tutorial for Laser Cutting

Next, you’ll save the file under a new name (to ensure that you don’t save over the file with the unedited text). This is the file that you’d send to us for laser cutting - it allows us to have the vector paths for the font. Also, if you have a font that we don’t have, this will still allow us to see the font.

Pew Pew! The Basic Components of a Laser Cutter

You know how in Star Wars, the Death Star shoots like a beam to destroy stuff, or how Superman can melt things with his heat vision? That’s basically how our laser cutters work! At least that’s how it operates in the abstract anyways. The realities are a bit...less dramatic, but it’s equally as spectacular! Let’s go through basics of how a laser cutter functions! To start, here are the essential components:

  • laser tube

  • mirrors

  • head assembly

  • motors

  • rails

These parts can be further subdivided into two groups: the mechanical and laser systems

 
Main Laser Cutting Components and Parts Diagram - Mirror, Head Assembly, Laser Tube
 

LASER SYSTEM:

  • laser tube

  • mirrors

  • head assembly

 
Laser Cutting Mechanical Motion Components and Diagram - Motor and Linear Rail, How do Laser Cutters Work
 

MECHANICAL:

  • rails

  • motors

The laser system is responsible for cutting the material. The tube makes a heated beam much like a flashlight. The beam is bounced around the mirrors to reach the head assembly. The assembly then passes the light through a focus lense to cut the material.

The mechanical systems are responsible for moving the laser system around. There are two motors which drive the lasers in the horizontal and vertical directions over the span of the work area (or the laser cutting bed). There are also two additional motors responsible for raising and lowering the work area to make sure the laser is focused.

How does a laser cutter work, laser cutting component diagram - laser tube, mirrors, motor and lens to focus laser cutting beam.

We import our digital files (created in CAD programs, like Illustrator, Sketchup, etc.) into our laser cutting program. Once we have the file in the program, we change the settings depending on what we’re cutting/engraving. Then the program is responsible for translating an image to be cut or engraved into a series of instructions for the laser system and mechanical system: “Go here and then go here; fire the laser now and now stop firing” These two systems then work in concert to give us the desired result.

There you have it…the basics of how a laser cutting machine works. The next time you see Superman or the Death Star on the big screen, we hope you think of us!

Tiny Text - Sizing Text for Engraving

Sometimes when designing things digitally, it’s easy to forget that we might be designing things that are really tiny. We can easily zoom in and out while working in CAD programs and suddenly we’re making something that is 2mm by 2mm.

The design component that most often gets too small is text! We typically recommend that the smallest that you go with most text is 12pt font. Anything smaller than this becomes tricky to read once engraved. To make things a little more visual, we’ve engraved a few samples on bamboo plywood, clear acrylic and birch plywood.

Laser Cut Text on Bamboo Plywood
Laser Cut Clear Acrylic Engraving
Laser Cut Birch Plywood engraved or etched with Text

You can see that small text size becomes illegible when working too small and sometimes the engrave can become inconsistent.

If you’ve already outlined your text (one of the things you do to prepare your file for laser cutting…don’t worry, we’re doing a tutorial on this soon), you might be unsure of what size your font is. Typically you don’t want the font to be any smaller than .08 - .11” in height.


If you have any questions about text size, feel free to send us an email!