Laser Cutting at TechShop

Took a 2 hour Laser Cutting and Etching SBU class at Techshop yesterday morning. The class was very interactive and hands-on, covering fire and safety precautions and how to set up and use their laser cutting machine, specifically their Epilog 60 watt, 1 of 3 machines.

I am making a custom case/sleeve out of organic cotton canvas to put a portfolio sample in as self-promotion. Here are several tests on 2 pieces of canvas. The class gives you the basic knowledge, but ultimately each machine and material requires some testing of the correct parameters for the laser, affecting quality and how much material is burned off. I use back and front of the canvas and sometimes have different settings for top and bottom halves. This is not what the final artwork is supposed to look like. But I test different size fonts and line weights and can adjust my artwork from these results. Note the darker brown is due to more heat from the laser and on some areas it was enough heat to burn/cut all the way through the canvas.

I did some artwork in Illustrator and exported it in .DXF, .DWG and .EPS formats. CorelDraw X5 is the program used to send artwork to the machine. I tried importing all 3 formats into CorelDraw and ended up using the .EPS version, even though I had to tweak the file a bit in CorelDraw. As I am not familiar with CorelDraw, it was painfully slow to do anything because I had a hard time with its interface and controls.

So word of advice, first know what program is used for the machine you're working on and finalize your artwork in that specific program first. Importing/Exporting is not always seamless integration. I tried asking about the program used for the laser cutters, but was told I'll learn about it in class. I certainly don't feel like purchasing CorelDraw just for this purpose, but will prepare my artwork more carefully in Illustrator at home, then plan to spend bit of extra time at TechShop before using the machine to confirm the file is ready to go in CorelDraw. 

Although this brown etching result is quite cool, I am also curious to see how it compares with silk screening the same artwork in hot pink or lime green. I will be taking a silk screening class some time in the next couple of weeks and am looking forward to compare the two techniques.