laser cutting files

Laser Cutting Kerf

When the laser cuts through material it burns away a small amount of that material - this is called the laser cutting kerf. The amount of kerf is dependent on the material type and thickness, along with a couple other variables (including the lens on that particular laser cutter, air pressure, etc). Typically the kerf ranges from about .15mm to .2mm.

 
LI
 

To account for the laser cutting kerf, we offset the cut paths by the amount of the cutting kerf. Most of the time, we do this in our laser cutting software, but this can also be done in other CAD based programs (Illustrator, Sketchup, etc.)

It isn’t always necessary to offset cut paths to account for the kerf if something doesn’t need to be an exact fit. For example, if we’re cutting out a wooden 5” x 7” menu card, accounting for the offset isn’t necessary, as the piece will be just barely smaller than 5”x7” - measuring .49940” x .699040”.

One example of a project where accounting for the kerf IS NECESSARY is when we’re doing inlay. If we’re cutting an acrylic piece that a wooden letter will fit into, we need to account for the kerf to ensure that everything is a tight fit. If the kerf isn’t accounted for, the two pieces will not fit together.

 
Laser Cut Wood and Acrylic Inlay
 

Good Files Make The Magic Happen! - Vector and Raster Files

We get it…if you’re not making digital files often, it can be pretty confusing! Over the next couple months, we’ll be releasing a series of blog posts with tips and tricks on how to create and submit your own files for laser cutting.

Laser cutting begins with a file…it’s pretty much a map that tells the laser where to go! We need vector files that we can import into our laser software for cutting.

The laser can make a few different types of marks. It can cut all the way through, it can score (this is similar to a cut, but at a lower power so it doesn’t cut all the way through) and engrave material.

Cutting and scoring take much less time than engraving because the laser is just following paths. Engraving on the other hand, is a little more time consuming because the machine scans back and forth over the design at a lower power.

In vector files, the image is made up of points connected by lines. Vector files include .ai, .eps, .svg, and sometimes .pdf files (depending on how they were first created). Vector files allow us to scale the file without losing the integrity of a file and also us to edit the file. Vector files give us the direct paths that the laser needs to cut or engrave on.

Raster files are made up of pixels and can lose their integrity when resizing. Raster files include .jpg, .gif, .png, and .tif. Raster images don’t give us paths, instead they are just a flat image. They don’t contain paths that can be edited or adjusted.

In most situations, we want to have a vector file. Vector files allow for clean cut lines, scaling, and editing. However, in some situations we can use a raster file. If we’re engraving a logo on something small, we can likely use a high res. jpg to do this. We can also use a raster file if you want an photo (like a family portrait) engraved on material.

If you’ve worked with a graphic designer to create your files, they might have given you a folder containing several types of files - if you’re not sure what to send, send us the entire folder! We can help.

VECTOR RASTER

Have questions about how to create your file? Visit our design resources page or send us an email!