Exercise 04.04: Laser Cutter Introduction


The goal of the exer­cise is to dis­cover and uti­lize the ben­e­fits and lim­i­ta­tions of com­puter con­trolled equip­ment. 


Cre­at­ing a phys­i­cal sim­u­la­tion of sig­nage on a laser cut­ter serves as an exam­ple of more com­plex, skilled based arti­facts often pro­duced by tradespersons.

Background Reading


Using com­puter con­trolled cut­ting tools to cre­ate phys­i­cal let­ter­forms is a cost effec­tive way of cre­at­ing high qual­ity let­ters for envi­ron­men­tal sig­nage. By sim­u­lat­ing the process with paper, it is obvi­ous of the skills needed by both design and craftsper­son to cre­ate such ubiq­ui­tous signage.

Part One

Choose a cap­i­tal let­ter or num­ber that is a mix of curves and straight lines, such as R, P, Q, D, G, 2, or 5. Select a clean type­face, such as a san serif like Hel­vetica or Avenir or a serif such as the block serif Claren­don or Times. 

Cre­ate the let­ter­form parts for assem­bly:

  1. Start a new doc­u­ment in Adobe Illustrator.
  2. Using a cap­i­tal let­ter X as a guide, cre­ate a let­ter that is 6 inches high.
  3. Out­line the let­ter to make it a vector.
  4. Using the Off­set Path fea­ture to insure a bleed, color the let­ter as you wish.
  5. Cre­ate a dupli­cate for the shape. Off­set path the by a neg­a­tive .01 inches, which is thick­ness of paper.
  6. Mea­sure the perime­ter to and cre­ate 1 in thick strips longer than the length needed to cre­ate the sides. Select the path to be mea­sured, and then choose Window > Document Information > -drop down menu- Object.
  7. Rearrange the art­work on the tem­plate to fit it all in, care­fully keep­ing items lay­ered and grouped as planned.
  8. Cre­ate a 1 inch x 1 inch using the rec­tan­gle tool and text inputs to cre­ate a box some­where out­side the final shapes. Stroke it with a .25 pt 100% K line. Use this box to ensure print­ing is 100%.
  9. Once the art­work is suf­fi­ciently devel­oped, it is time to pre­pare it for laser cutting.

The order of oper­a­tion is also important.

  1. Color the lines based on the tem­plate swatch col­ors. The color of the lines is impor­tant on this type of soft­ware and machine as the darker lines are cut before the lighter ones.
  2. The inte­rior shapes (ie coun­ters) should also be cut first, as if the laser detaches and fan blows, it could inter­fere with the next cut.
  3. Copy the art­work to the pro­vided tem­plate. The tem­plate includes color swatches for stroking shapes. These lines should be placed on a unique “Cut” layer and will be exported sep­a­rately from the printed artwork.
  4. Do not include the 1 inch x 1 inch box in the cut layer.
  5. The tem­plate also includes opti­cal reg­is­tra­tion marks the machine uses to reg­is­ter the printed work to the machine posi­tion­ing. Do not alter these marks in any way. Doing so will cause the cut oper­a­tion to fail.
  6. Turn off cut layer. Save as a PDF and print the file at 100% scale on card stock at the Copy Cen­ter. Mea­sure the 1 inch x 1 inch box after receiv­ing the print to ensure it has been printed at 100%. If not, politely ask the staff to print it again.
  7. Turn off the print layer and save the doc­u­ment as an SVG file.
Glowforge laser cutter cardstock settings
Image One: Glow­forge cut set­tings for card stock.

Part Two

Pre­pare the file for use on the Glow­forge (GF) Laser Printer (cut­ter). 

  1. With the instruc­tor, login in and load the SVG file into the GF user inter­face (GFUI)
  2. Set the indi­vid­u­ally col­ored lay­ers to cut and score. Use the fol­low­ing set­tings: Speed: 500; Power: 60; 1 pass; Focus Height .01 inches (See Image One).
  3. Place mag­nets on the let­ters to hold them down the paper while the exhaust fan is in oper­a­tion. 
  4. Click the mag­net icon to find reg­is­tra­tion marks. 
  5. Place addi­tional mag­nets on let­ter­forms pre­vent their move­ment. 
  6. Con­firm through GFUI the magnet’s proper posi­tion. 
  7. Close the machine lid. 
  8. When safety checks are con­firmed, send the art work to the machine. The cloud based soft­ware will take a few min­utes to process the infor­ma­tion and will notify the user when ready. 
  9. It is manda­tory to wear safety glasses when look­ing at the laser. Fail­ure to do so could cause per­ma­nent eye dam­age. 
  10. Push but­ton and close outer hood door. 
  11. When oper­a­tion is done, wait an addi­tional 10 sec­onds for smoke to clear, and care­fully remove the paper and mag­nets. Return items to the proper stor­age loca­tion or trash.

Part Three

Using the cut shapes, assem­ble the let­ter­forms with white glue. 

  1. The smaller plain let­ter is adhered to the back of the larger printed one. Do not use too much glue, as the result­ing water will cause the paper to swell.
  2. Result­ing gap serves as an edge for the side to fol­low while adding rigid­ity to the over­all form.
  3. Adjust and fold the thin strips to serve as the let­ter­form edges.
  4. Add glue using tools from back side to ensure con­nec­tion is made.
  5. Take a pic­ture of the fin­ished let­ter and upload it to the appro­pri­ate D2L dropbox.

To take a screen-shot:

  • Com­mand-Shift-4-Space­bar: Takes a screen­shot of the win­dow, and saves it as a file on the desk­top. The file will have a .png extension.
  • Com­mand-Shift‑3: Takes a screen­shot of the entire screen, and saves it as a file on the desk­top. The file will have a .png extension.
  • Instead of using the key­board short­cuts above, screen­shots can be taken by using the Screen­shot appli­ca­tion included with Mac OS X. It is located at /Applications/Utilities/Screenshot or by search­ing via Spot­light in the upper right of the Mac screen.
  • For more infor­ma­tion, please visit: https://​sup​port​.apple​.com/​e​n​-​u​s​/​H​T​2​0​1​361

Health and Safety Notice

  • Do not oper­ate equip­ment with­out instruc­tor supervision
  • Safety Pro­to­cols are in affect.
  • Equip­ment Man­u­als pro­vide warnings.
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Index


  • The fol­low­ing rubric posted on D2L will deter­mine assign­ment score: Exer­cise Grading


Path, off­set path, lines, strokes, tem­plates, lay­ers, safety operations


Glow­forge Laser Printer (cut­ter), paper, Adobe illus­tra­tor, 


As defined by cor­re­spond­ing cal­en­dar item, drop­box, dis­cus­sion or con­tent topic description.