I've mentioned that to take advantage of the potential of one of these little laser engravers there are some software programs to know. One of these is an open source program called "inkscape". To someone who has never used it, inkscape can be intimidating as there are so many menus, options, controls, etc. etc. With a little effort it all starts to make sense and a person begins to understand what is going on. This is a little step-by-step to create a name tag file that can be used with a cnc laser or cnc engraver. Once the main template is created it's a simple matter to change the name to rout or engrave several different tags.
The picture above is the main screen from inkscape. As you can see there are menus and tool bars all over the place. The only one that concerns us just now is the one on the right of that picture and the close up just to the right of this text. This dialogue defines the size of the document we're creating. One of nice things about inkscape is the ability to create a working page whatever size is needed. For a name tag that's about 3.5"X 2.4". The laser software is written in millimeters so the document will be created in millimeters. In this case, 90X58 millimeters. Inkscape will work in mm, inches, feet, or even pixels. The document page is outlined in the above picture.
After creating the page three items were added to it. First, a rectangle slightly smaller than the document. This defines the actual size of the name tag as the laser will engrave this box and provide a guide for cutting out the tag. These small lasers aren't powerful enough for actually cutting wood, not even thin veneer. By engraving the rectangle I don't have to measure to cut but can just follow the line inscribed by the laser.
Then, two decorative ovals were drawn. There are menu boxes to size, position, and manipulate the ovals or any other object. A person can even determine how thick the drawing line is. At this point the file is saved in inkscape as an SVG file. That is the inkscape default format. SVG stands for scale-able vector graphic. That type of graphic can be made larger or smaller without losing detail or resolution. This is now my master template, From now on the only design changes will be different names as required. When a name is added
it probably won't be exactly where you want it. For this example I'm going to center it on the page which is also the center point of the ovals. Incidentally, the rectangle and the ovals were centered on the page using the same method. Notice in the example the "name" is selected. It can be moved around, rotated, enlarged, or made smaller.
Centering an object on a page couldn't be easier with inkscape. Simply open the "alignment menu and choose what you want to do. Again, only because the program is so powerful there are many options. Looking at the menu to the right you can see I've chosen to align my name relative to the page. The two symbols I've pointed out represent vertical centering and horizontal centering. Simply clicking on those center the name perfectly on the page. A person can also choose to center items relative to each other or a dozen other options.
At this point it does get a little tricky. Its important to keep in mind a laser engraver is basically a plotter and not a printer. A printer moves the print head back and forth. As the paper advances the printer makes a dot in the right place, connect the dots and you get a picture or text. A plotter actually follows a path, much like writing in cursive. So, a path must be created that the plotter can follow. Two more steps and the file will be ready to send to the laser. First, all four objects, the rectangle, the two ovals, and the name must be selected.
You can see a selection box around all four objects and I've chosen the option "group" in the drop down menu. That will make all of the objects one entity as far as inkscape is concerned. If I enlarge one, they will all be enlarged the same amount. After grouping them the selection boxes morph into one box as there is now only one object.
At this point there is one more operation before the file can be saved and that is to add the object to the "path" After, the file is saved in "DXF" format which is a "desktop cutting plotter" file.
This may seem a lot of steps but in reality it takes about five minutes to do this start to finish. Once the master template is created the name can edited in about a minute. This is a very simple example of creating a file that a laser or cnc engraver can read. The next step is to open the laser software and load the dxf file for engraving.