No vector program, no problem!

Many customers come to us with queries and designs but no means to create their artwork in the vector format we require for the laser cutter to plot it’s route and cut out your creations.

For those of you struggling with this I’ve come up with an easy way for us to help you! I’ve talked about this before in previous posts (check out our Beautiful Bears from last year), but here’s a step by step guide to what you can do!

Firstly – What is a vector? Why can’t I just send you a jpeg?:

The reason we ask for a vector design is this is what we use to create a file that the laser cutter understands. The cutter needs specific instructions in order to work.

A vector is different to a JPEG, BMP or GIF which are made up of a grid of pixels. Instead, vector graphics are made up of paths which have a start and end point. They have a specific defined position on the x and y axis of the workspace/artboard. It’s these paths that the cutter uses to plot it’s route.

Software that creates vector artwork can be tricky to get the hang of if you’ve not used it before, but we recommend a free one called Inkscape, if you’d like to give it a go!

No time for that? No problem…

We can use a function called ‘Image Trace’ to create vector artwork for you if you’re struggling. The method is simple and gives some lovely results!

  • Draw a clear image on a clean white background using a thick black line. This can either be drawn digitally, for example, on an iPad or tablet, or using a fat felt pen on paper. Here’s one I’ve had a go at below! Notice how clear and smooth my lines are.
  • I used the drawing app Procreate, on an iPad pro with an Apple pencil. You can use whichever device or program suits you best – there are plenty of good ones. Just make sure to save or export your finished artwork so you can email it over to us at Nice-Cuts ready for the next stage. A PDF, JPEG, or PNG are all perfect options for this .
Demonstration silhouette drawing for an Image Trace vector artwork.
Demonstration silhouette drawing for an Image Trace vector artwork.

If you choose to hand draw your image with pen, this is perfectly fine! The same rules apply, use a single colour, preferably black, on a white background so we have the best chance to faithfully trace your design. Carefully take a photo of it from straight on, or above, to avoid image warping.

  • Everything that is white will be cut away, so make sure everything you want to keep is drawn in black! Remember, if any part of your design is not touching another part of it , it’ll just fall out when we come to cut it! Notice how no part of my fish drawing is free-floating – it’s all nicely connected. This is commonly a problem with lettering. Remember all the dots over your ‘i’s will be disconnected.
  • You can either use a different colour to label the dimensions you’d like, or just tell us in an email. But don’t forget we’ll need to know exactly how big you’d like it so please be specific!
Silhouette of a fish for image trace laser cut vector artwork demonstration
Include dimensions and any other instructions!

Now it’s up to us – and this is what we’ll do!

Design after Illustrator Image Trace ready for laser cutting nice-cuts a laser cutting service in Leeds
Vector Design after Illustrator Image Trace

Here’s what your design will look like after we’ve traced it. In the image above all the points are selected so you can see how many there are. It’s now a vector and is far more useful! Vectors are great because you can easily rescale it to whatever size you need without loosing any information. All those little blue dots contain information that explains to the computer what the shape looks like. If you need to, you can even move single dots individually if you think it needs tweaking.

From here we can create another file that the laser cutter’s computer will be able to understand. The laser will then cut along every single blue line.

The finished design cut out of MDF after illustrator image trace to create a vector format file suitable for laser cutting
The finished design cut out of MDF

And here he is, our finished fish design cut out of 3mm MDF (the perfect material for prototyping). This is a fantastic simple way to turn your drawings into laser cut art! Laser cutting can be accessible to anyone using this method so go get creating!!

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