Even though the BTU lab's Laser Cutter is a wonderful resource for our upcoming project, there are a few reasons why you might find yourself needing or even preferring to use the Laser Cutter right here at the VAC. When making this decision, consider the following:
· Considering the BTU Lab’s traffic and the flow of projects for ATLAS classes, the Laser Cutter in the BTU lab might not always be easily available, especially in the months of March and April.
· You can’t do a laser cut by yourself at the BTU lab and need a "Laser Master" to help you out. If you have an erratic schedule, it might be harder to schedule a time with a Laser Master.
· You have to be able to convert your cuts into a PDF for the BTU Lab Laser Cutter. Meanwhile, the cuts from the VAC Laser Cutter prints straight from Adobe Illustrator on the Laser Cutter room’s computer.
If you’re in a spot where going to the VAC Laser Cutter is optimal, here are the necessary steps to cut out your laser cuts successfully!
**DISCLAIMER: I'm not an expert on the Laser Cutter nor a Woodshop Monitor. I do have quite a bit of experience with the Cutter and would like to pass on my knowledge to y'all is all.**
STEP 1: FIND THE LASER CUTTER
The Laser Cutter room is in the back of the woodshop on the 2nd floor. There, you will find two computer work stations, a 3D printer, a banner-sized Vinyl Cutter, and, of course, the Laser Cutter.
STEP 2: FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU CAN CUT
The VAC is very strict on what you can cut. Luckily, there are useful graphics on top of the Laser Cutter that go indepth on what and what not to cut. If you have a material that you’re still not sure you can cut, ask Bill Rumley or Evan for further assistance. NOTE: ONLY CAST ACRYLIC IS ALLOWED; PLEXIGLASS AND EXTRUDED ACRYLIC IS FORBIDDEN.
ALSO NOTE whether or not your material fits inside the Laser Cutter’s bed or if it is too thick to cut. Woodshop monitors should be able to assist you in cutting the material into the appropriate size if it is too big. As for thickness, there is a chart next to the computers (which you will later go back to when setting up the cut on the computer) that shows what materials in what thickness can be cut.
STEP 3: MAKING A FILE
The PC (not the Mac) in the room is the one used for laser cuts. There, you can create or upload your laser cut design on Adobe Illustrator. When creating a file, have your artboard set to inches and set the dimensions to what your material is. You can measure this on the Laser Cutter bed.
For Rasterizing (imprinting a design onto the material), the file must be on a grayscale. The darker the image, the deeper the raster, and the lighter, the shallower the raster. White means there is no rasterizing onto the material.
For Vectoring (cutting out from the material), every line or shape that is to be cut out must have a stroke size of .001 pt (I recommend converting the stroke size to .001 after finishing your design and right before cutting as it will be very difficult to see what you’re doing at .001 pt since it will make the design look like it disappeared—don’t worry though, it’s still there, ctrl + a can check this).
STEP 4: SETTING UP THE JOB
Before using the Laser Cutter, you must set up the laser cut "job".
1. On illustrator, go to File > Print.
2. From there, go to "Setup" on the bottom left, then "Preferences" on the top right.
3. A new window will open up, there you will set the Laser Cutter to Raster, Vector or Combined. You must also set the power, speed, and frequency of the Cutter. Go back to the chart (it will be directly to your left) as reference for these settings.
4. Click “OK” from the Preferences window and then "Print" on the Setup menu.
5. Turn on the Laser Cutter (Next step). After the machine is setup up, Click “Print” on Illustrator's Print menu.
STEP 5: TURN ON THE LASER CUTTER (FOLLOW THIS CAREFULLY!!)
The Laser Cutter’s ventilation system is a bit old, so you must be mindful of properly turning on the Laser Cutter.
1. Above the Laser Cutter on the left, there is a valve. Pull the valve up.
2. You must turn on the ventilation timer, it’s found in the Sanding room right outside the Laser Cutter room and immediately to your left. Set it to 10 minutes at first and then adjust accordingly for your Laser cut job time. You should hear a loud whirling noise when it's on.
3. Turn on the power button on the Laser Cutter.
4. Wait for the Laser Cutter bed to get settled and place your material in the machine flat and into the corner as snug as you can.
5. Focus the laser on the Laser Cutter by taking the metal triangle thing on top of the machine and place it on the laser bit.
6. Go to “FOCUS” on the Laser Cutter by using the arrow keys and adjust the bed up and down with the joystick until the metal triangle thingy is just touching the surface of your material.
(the reflection makes it look like the material isn't touching the triangle, but it is.)
7. Take off the metal triangle doodad, place it back where you found it, and close the Laser Cutter. Go to "JOB".
8. Click “Print” on Illustrator.
9. On the Laser Cutter, you will be able to see how long your cut will take (if the time is unrealistic---like if it says the job will take 1 second and you're engraving the Mona Lisa onto 24 x 24 marble---please go to “Troubleshooting” below). If the job time looks correct, press "GO".
While your design is being cut, you must be in the room and monitor the cut the WHOLE time. Note that smoke (and even fire for wood materials) is normal, but if it seems like your material is too lit and not in a good way, press the "STOP" button on the Cutter.
Also, the laser in the Laser Cutter is VERY BRIGHT, so try not to look directly at it too often even if it looks real cool.
MAKE SURE THE VENTILATION TIMER IS NEVER AT 0 MINUTES WHILE THE LASER CUTTER IS CUTTING.
Lastly, when your cuts are finished, turn off the Laser Cutter by simply flipping the power switch off and pulling down the valve horizontal back where it was. The ventilation timer will go up on its own. Please be courteous and clean up as well if you make a mess, such as having scrap pieces all over the floor or Laser Cutter bed.
· On Illustrator, if your print preview looks unaligned, after adjusting your preferences, do not click “Print” on the Print menu (not to be confused with the "Print" button in the Setup menu), but instead click “Done”. Then go back to File>Print again, and you will see that the preview is fixed. Resume by clicking “Print.”
· If the “job” time is weird, the file is not set up properly. Please check that all stroke sizes on all lines and shapes are at .001 pt for Vectoring. Also make sure your shapes are closed (when switching stroke size on unique shapes, you may realize the connecting lines aren’t closed). Zoom in very close to all openings and connect the points with the pen tool.
· If you find that your material was not fully cut through, press "GO" again on the Laser Cutter and it will repeat your previous laser cut job (make sure you did not move your material on the bed, otherwise your cut might not fully align with the previous one). You can repeat this as many times as you like, but be wary if it's been the fourth or fifth repeat and it still hasn't been cut through. When this happens, it might mean your material was too thick or dense for the Laser Cutter from the start and it will never fully cut through or your "Preferences" settings are wrong for the material.
· Any other issues, ask Bill Rumley, Evan or any available monitor or if you’re really desperate and can't find anyone who can help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can try to help to the best of my ability.