How to work with fonts (part 1)

When you laser cut fonts there are a few things to take into consideration to ensure you get the best results.
The first step is to decide what font you want to use. This may sound obvious but your choice has an influence on the final piece that is produced. Certain fonts lend themselves better than others to certain uses. Laser engraving on wood / veneer / acrylic / slate / ceramic or metal (using a special coating) can produce wonderfully crisp results which vary from just the lightest touch to deep marking. You can also cut out letters or words to create free standing items or to provide something suited to back-lighting.

As with everything in the lasering world the key to success is preparation and understanding what you are actually asking the laser to do. It’s pretty straight forward to create your given text and send it to the laser, but sometimes the results aren’t what you initially expect.
Consider the following…
I wanted to make a sign that said “415 Industries” to put on the door of my studio. If I want it engraved it’s a case of deciding on the font I like, how heavy I want the engraving and if I want a vector outline to crisp things up. Send it to the laser and that’s it.
But what if I want it to be a cut out from a sheet leaving spaces where the letters were?

Again I have to chose my font, but there now extra things to think about. These include kerning (space between letters), counters (the enclosed bits of letters like P or B), if my font adds any extra enclosed pieces (handwriting fonts may add some flourishes to certain letters) and if there are overlaps between letters.
Today I’ll cover kerning and counters.

 

Kerning

This is the space between letters which is set by either the font designer, your software or your choice of layout (such as justified which can stretch things to fit line width).

You can adjust the space between letters to improve not only the look of the text but also how it will cut out. Rockwell is shown below and you can see the difference in the spacing of the numbers vs the letters.

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To adjust the kerning of the numbers select the text and press F10 to open the shaping tool. You can change the distance using the little square boxes before each letter. Now the space between the numbers matches the letters. Some people prefer this look.

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Counters

In the example above you could add a border and send it to the laser as-is and you’d get a sign with the letters outlined exactly as they appear.

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The inside of the ‘4’, ‘d’, and ‘e’ are lost because they’re not joined to anything any more.

In the world of printing they are called ‘counters’ – for reasons Wikipedia doesn’t readily supply –  and I have decided this is because you can count on them falling out of your finished piece. If this isn’t what you intend you have to either (a) find a font which doesn’t fully enclose those areas or (b) edit the font to join the counters to the main body of the sign (using an ‘aperture’).

Luckily it’s quite straightforward to make minor changes to the letters, at least In CorelDRAW.

Complete any kerning changes you want to carry out and then convert the letters to a curve so you can edit them.

Select your letters and use CTRL + Q, or the Arrange menu, to convert to curves.

Now use the shaping tool (F10) and click on a node to edit it. Then right click and choose “Break Apart”. For example to edit the 4 break the enclosed triangle at the bottom right and also the outer piece directly below.

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Now you can move those lines and connect the vertical nodes up using the shape tool and then add a two point line to connect the loose ends.

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After going through the letters that need attention the output looks something like this.

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Much nicer!

 

As you still have the letters leftover you can make one of these too…

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Coming next: Stand-alone joined up writing.

 

Posted in best practice, coreldraw

Slate coasters

 

 

 

Playing with slate coasters.

Engraving with a laser creates a permanent mark but doesn’t cut away the surface so it still feels like before. We will shortly be offering them in our shop and via Etsy with a range of fonts.

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One page CorelDraw reminder

A Quick one pager for those basic CorelDraw settings, but will also apply to Inkscape and Illustrator too

Posted in best practice, coreldraw

Keys

We made some keys!

Approximately 16 & 20cm long.

6mm FSC birch plywood finished with metallic silver spray paint.

 

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They were some props for a workshop done at the last minute, but I’m still pleased with how they came out.

Visit LightTouchLasers for all your custom wooden key needs!

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We’re now LightTouchLasers!

Following a re-think of direction for 415Industries we’re changing our name to LightTouchLasers. We think this more closely relates to our core business and will free 415Industries to carry out more varied projects.

Follow us in twitter @LTLasers or check out the new website www.LightTouchLasers.com

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How to work with fonts (part 2)

How to work with fonts (part 2). Joined up thinking

Working with joined up script / hand writing fonts brings a couple of extra challenges. To ensure that you achieve your intended result it is worth noting a couple of things about the way CorelDRAW (and other program) deal with fonts.


They don’t understand joined up writing. What they actually give you is a series of fractionally overlapping letters in the same colour that you see as one long flowing word.
If you are printing something with this type of font you may never know as it doesn’t make any difference to the ink on the paper.
On the other hand a  laser cutter uses the (vector based) outline of shapes to tell the beam where to go and when to switch on and off. Because each letter is self contained what the machine will produce is a whole pile of disconnected letters. If you want individual letters this is fine, likewise if you only want a silhouette type cut-out. But if you expected a whole joined up word then this can be a problem.


Today we will make these signs as a proof of concept using Freehand521 BT as it has nice flowing lines.

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Create and check the text
 
In it’s native form it looks like this and you can see the little gaps between the letters.
Just as in working with fonts (part 1) use the F10 space tool to move the letters closer together and (apparently) eliminate the gaps.
 
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Even though the letters appear to be joined they are still individual. The best way to check what is actually going on is to use the wireframe view.

Menu > View > Wireframe

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Now you can see the actual outline of the letters and not the ‘enhanced’ print friendly view
 
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Each letter is still individual and (because we moved them) overlaps with it’s neighbour. The result would be a pile of individual letters, some with double cuts at the overlap which would potentially ruin the outline. 
 
 
 
Welding it together
 
The fastest way to join this all up is to weld them together. Weld is found in the shaping toolset (Menu > Window > Dockers > Shaping) and is very easy to use.
 
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1. Untick these boxes. Otherwise your original object(s) will stay hidden underneath and you’ll have double or triple lines which the laser will cut again (and again).
2. Use the pick tool.
3. Click on the word you want to weld.
4. Click the Weld button.
5. Click on the word again.
6. There is no step 6
 
As you can see all of the little overlapping lines have gone away. This is one step closer to being ready
 
 
 
 
Checking with smart fill
 
 
At this stage I tend to perform a test run using the smart fill tool as a sanity check as it will fill all connected areas with the same colour*. After putting a border around the word just go ahead and fill the area using the Smart Fill tool from the bottom of the lefthand toolbar
 
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Just as in part one you still have  to use the shaping tool to eliminate enclosed areas and counters plus, in this case,  joining the “I” and “n” of industries.
 
 
 
After doing those tasks a final check in software proves what it will look like before sending to the laser:
 
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* This colour was picked to match birch plywood, but on reflection I think it looks more like a ‘flesh’ coloured plaster.
 
 
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Little BIG tokens

Some little give-away tokens for the British Interactive Group (BIG) event in Norwich today.

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Paper Balloons

Following a request from a client about cutting paper templates I made some little balloons from the wonderful site PaperMatrix. This was a test with some 20cm metallic paper that was lying around the office. They’re a bit of a fiddle to assemble but I was pleased with the look for a first attempt…

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The final result stands about 10cm high.
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Display gears

A good test for squareness and alignment

I’ve recently had to move the laser and as a result needed to check that it was properly calibrated in it’s new location. I saw a design for gears in a frame on Instructables and thought that it looked nice and would be a good test.
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My first run was something of a worry as the gears seemed to bind at certain points, but after checking and re-checking the alignment I found that the problem actually lay with the file. At some point between the original author creating the file and my importing the design into CorelDRAW the gears had become ever so slightly non-circular. That as a pretty easy fix once I’d spotted it and certainly has increased my vigilance when importing files.
The result is pleasing and makes a nice tactile example of a design in 3mm birch.
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If I was to do it again I’d use masking tape (and / or sand) the front of the wood to reduce the staining from the smoke the laser creates when it cuts the wood.
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Inkscape workspace settings


Using Inkscape to design for laser cutting

Inkscape is powerful graphics program that is completely free and suited to creating files for laser cutting. You can use it to create files in a format that laser cutters understand known as ‘vector’ graphics. This type of file is made up of straight lines, curves, and nodes that join them together. Laser cutters use this information to tell the cutting beam where to go. 

In contrast files such as jpeg (regular pictures) and bmp (bitmaps) are composed of pixels of different colours which we see as images but they don’t provide the laser cutter with information about where the beam should go, although they can be used for producing engravings. 

This is a basic guide to setting up Inkscape so you can produce good quality images that can be used to turn your ideas into reality.There are many good Inkscape resources out there which you can call on when you go beyond the basics, just google what you want to do and chances are that someone will have the answer.

Getting Started
After installing and starting Inkscape this is the basic window, mousing over things gives tool tip pop-ups. Also watch the bar at the bottom of the window as it changes when you use different tools and will tell you if you need to press a key to do things. If you’ve used other graphics packages then many things are familiar.

Inkscape primer 1

 
Setting up your workspace
 Now you will want to change a few settings to make like easier for yourself. I make extensive use of guidelines to ensure things line up perfectly. The other thing that is very useful is ‘snapping’ which means that when certain items get close together they line up perfectly on top of each other. For example if you wanted to create a ring from two circles snapping means that the centres will line up so everything is even. The same goes for all other shapes, lines and text.

Inkscape primer 3

Using guidelines
Guidelines are very useful and I would recommend using them all the time. It costs nothing to create and delete them as you go along and it ensures things line up nicely. You only need to click and drag from the vertical or horizontal ruler until they are where you want them. If you’ve followed the settings above number (6) means they will snap to any of the other things you’ve selected. Once you’re done with them select them and hit delete. 

Inkscape primer 2

 

Posted in getting started with inkscape, Inkscape

Business Card test

I’ve been doing some experimenting with veneer and will soon be offering custom business cards in the Shopify store. I’ve been trying different settings and here’s a few versions of my current card in horizontal grain Maple.

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Got wood

The plywood has arrived!

Just taken delivery of a consignment of FSC certified laser grade birch plywood from Avonply.co.uk. Now on to one of my least favourite and dustiest tasks – the sanding…

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