The Pathfinder tool in Illustrator is a great tool for preparing files for laser cutting. To view the pathfinder window (pictured below, go to window - pathfinder)
The Pathfinder tool includes several different shape modes. Today we’ll cover the unite tool, which is the very first box in the pathfinder menu. We’ll cover the other shape modes over the next couple weeks.
UNITE /// MINUS FRONT /// INTERSECT /// EXCLUDE
The unite tool is a great tool for connecting vector shapes in Illustrator. Make the vector shapes that you want to connect, select them and then select the unite tool. This will eliminate any overlapping lines, allowing you to create desired shapes without any unnecessary lines. If overlapping lines are left in your design file, the laser will cut each line!
We use the unite tool frequently when creating files for the laser! For example, if we’re create a custom drink stirrer, we would create the text and outline it. (You can learn more about outlining text in Illustrator here!) We also offset the text slightly in this situation to thicken it. A good rule of thumb is that you want your cutting area to be at least as thick as the material thickness. Our drink stirrers are cut out of 1/8” acrylic, so our text needs to be at least .125” thick. Once we outline the text and offset it, we create the base for the drink stirrer. This one is .18” x 6” tall. We then select everything and click unite. Now we have a clean file that’s ready for the laser!