VCU LibrariesResearch Guides

Use the laser cutter/engraver

VCU Libraries is excited to announce the availability of a laser cutter/engraver in the Innovative Media department on the lower level of Cabell Library. Explore the guidelines and other materials to help you use them effectively.

Innovative Media staff

Eric Johnson's picture
Eric Johnson
Contact:
Cabell Library, Lower Level Room 078

Mailing:
901 Park Ave., Box 842033
Richmond, VA 23284-2033

(804) 828-2802
Website

Innovative Media staff

Ken Hopson's picture
Ken Hopson
Contact:
James Branch Cabell Library
901 Park Ave
Richmond, VA 23284
804.827.3594
Website

Detailed Instructions

For more help using the laser cutter, see the Epilog Zing 24 Laser Gif Guide or the Epilog Zing 24 manual.

  Laser Start-up Gif Guide

Getting Started: Setup and Focus

1

Setup the Laser Cutter

Begin by cleaning the lens and turning on the filters

1 Turn on Epilog by flipping power button on side. Job: will come up on keypad screen when done
2

Clean lens:

  • Lower bed using down arrow on control pad so you can fit your hand under gantry
  • Wet a cotton swab with the lens cleaner (both items usually located on top of computer) then blot against a piece of cotton so that it is no longer soaking wet.
  • Gently dab lens (located under belt), rotating swab after each dab to expose clean cotton to the surface, until the lens is free of visible contamination (use mirror to see)
  • Wet another cotton swab and clean the lens with a gentle zigzag motion. Avoid hard scrubbing and don’t use repetitive motions
  • Allow lens to dry
3 Turn on air filter by hitting big green button on front. If blinking or beeping loudly, turn black knob counterclockwise until it stops beeping
4 Turn on air assist by flicking red switch by circuit breaker
5 Open the glass door and place the material at (0,0) coordinate (top left corner of bed)

2

Focus the Laser

Adjust the bed height up or down to position correct focal distance from the laser lens

1 Press the focus button on the control pad
2 Locate the focus gauge (dongle) on the horizontal beam. Release the focus gauge from its hook so that it hangs freely. If focus gauge is touching your material, lower the tray height by repeatedly pressing the down arrow on the control pad until the focus gauge hangs freely.
3 Adjust the tray height by pressing the up/down arrows on the control pad until your material touches the focus gauge. If the spring on the gauge is bent at all, the tray is too high.
4 Lightly flick the focus gauge. It should swing briefly and then stop by touching the material. If it misses the material, raise the tray and if it is bent, lower the tray.
5 Replace the gauge onto the hook.
6 Press the reset button on the control pad.

Prep Your File

3

Prep Your File

Vector vs Raster and why it matters

Raster images are images that are made of pixels - like the ones you take with your phone. If you zoom way in on one of your photos, you'll eventually begin to see the individual square pixels that make up the image. JPG, PNG, GIF and TIFF are all examples of raster image formats.

Vector graphics aren't made of pixels; they're made of math and coordinates. You can zoom way in on the edge of a vector graphic and it'll never look blurry, because it doesn't use hard-coded pixels to display itself. This is why many logos and icons are created as vector graphics; they can easily scale up to be on a billboard and never look blurry along the edges.

This difference is important in the context of laser-cutting. The laser cutter can only cut along vector lines because they're essentially just coordinates and not pixels. Raster lines or graphics are etched into the surface of the material instead.

Using Adobe Illustrator you can convert a raster image into a vector image, but you occasionally get unexpected results.

 

 
 

Follow these instructions if you want to make just cuts, not engrave.

NOTE: all lines to be cut must be vectors with line width <.001in or .07pts

1 Open Adobe Illustrator
2 File > Open Recent Files > Epilog Zing.ait
3 Import your file by dragging into workspace or File > Open file, and then select all (Ctrl-A), copy (Ctrl-C), and paste into template (Ctrl-V).
4 Note: If showing blank rectangle where image should be, go to View > Pixel Preview
5 If rulers are not already showing, select View > Rulers > Show Rulers
6 OPTION 1: To create a CUT line, draw a line and set the stroke width to be 0.07pt. The stroke options will be at the top or in the side menu with the horizontal bars.
7 OPTION 2: To convert a feature to be CUT, select your image and then choose “Image Trace” from the top menu, use the drop down arrow to select the desired trace option (try B&W Logo or Line Art). Select “Expand” and change the stroke width to 0.07in. Once ‘expanded,’ the blue lines are the paths that the laser will cut.
8

Position your image relative to your material on the 12x24” laser bed

Note: Position of 0,0 on the bed can be slightly off, so if you need precision, run a test and measure where 0,0 is or offset your cut by .25in from the top and the left sides

9 Continue to ‘Print Preferences’ section of guide
 

Follow these instructions if you want to just engrave, not cut.

NOTE: Anything not vector will be treated as a raster engraving

1 Open Adobe Photoshop
2 File > Open the image you want to engrave
3 Convert image to Grayscale: Image > Mode > Grayscale
4 Increase the brightness and contrast of the image: Image > Adjustments > Brightness & Contrast
5

Convert the image to Black&White (if desired): Image > Adjustments > Threshold

Note: The laser works in grayscale and the closer to pure black and white you can get the raster, the clearer the difference will be with the laser. Some materials take grayscale engraving better than others. Laser will be at max power for black raster and will be off for white or negative space. For example, the image at right is a black and white (not grayscale) image.

6 File > Save As - create a new file name for the image
7 Open Adobe Illustrator
8 File > Open Recent Files > Epilog Zing.ait
9 Import your image by dragging it in or copy and paste
10 If showing blank rectangle where image should be, go to View > Pixel Preview
11

Position your image relative to your material on the 12x24” laser bed

Note: Position of 0,0 on the bed can be slightly off, so if you need precision, run a test and measure where 0,0 is or offset your cut by .25in from the top and the left sides

12 Continue to ‘Print Preferences’ section of guide
 

Vector paths with line width <.001in or .07pts will CUT, anything else will be treated as a raster

1 Open Adobe Photoshop
2 File > Open the image you want to engrave
3 Convert image to Grayscale: Image > Mode > Grayscale
4

Increase the brightness and contrast of the image: Image > Adjustments > Brightness & Contrast

Note: the closer to pure black and white you can get the raster, the clearer the difference will be

5 File > Save As - create a new file name for the image
6 Open Adobe Illustrator
7 File > Open Recent Files > Epilog Zing.ait
8 Import your image to be engraved by dragging it in or copy and paste
9 If showing blank rectangle where image should be, go to View > Pixel Preview
10 OPTION 1: To create a CUT line, draw a line and set the stroke width to be 0.07pt. The stroke options will be at the top or in the side menu with the horizontal bars.
11 OPTION 2: To convert a feature to be CUT, select your image and then choose “Image Trace” from the top menu, use the drop down arrow to select the desired trace option (try B&W Logo or Line Art). Select “Expand” and change the stroke width to 0.07in. Once ‘expanded,’ the blue lines are the paths that the laser will cut.
12

Position your image relative to your material on the 12x24” laser bed

Note: Position of 0,0 on the bed can be slightly off, so if you need precision, run a test and measure where 0,0 is or offset your cut by .25in from the top and the left sides

13 Continue to ‘Print Preferences’ section of guide
 

Print Preferences

4

Print Preferences

1 When your file is set up in Illustrator, go to File > Print
2 Click Setup in the bottom left corner of the print window
3 Click Continue on the dialog box
4 In the new Print window, make sure Zing is selected, then click Preferences to open the Epilog Zing Printing Preferences
5 Make sure 500 DPI is selected for Resolution
6

Under Job Type, choose the job type you require:

  • Choose Raster if you only want to engrave
  • Choose Vector if you only want to cut
  • Choose Combined if you want to both engrave AND cut
7 Input speed, power and frequency settings for raster or vector projects. Refer to Recommended Settings below or poster on the wall
8

Raster Engraving Setting Explanations:

  • Speed: how fast the laser moves. Slower speed setting will produce greater depth for engraving
  • Power: the amount of laser energy. The higher the power, the deeper the engraving
  • Engrave direction: bottom-up engraving prevents debris from collecting in freshly engraved spaces - makes for a cleaner engraving
  • Dithering: defines how the dot patterns will be engraved in grayscale images. Refer to the Epilog manual for more explanation of different dithering settings.
9

Vector Cutting Setting Explanations:

  • Speed: how fast the laser moves. Most cuts require a slow speed setting.
  • Power: the amount of laser energy. The higher the power, the deeper the cut.
  • Frequency: the number of laser pulses the laser fires per inch. Use a lower frequency for materials that might catch fire.
  • Vector sorting: determines the sequence of vector cuts. In optimize, vectors cut in most efficient manner

Recommended Settings

5

Recommended Settings

 

 
Material Speed Power
Wood 80 100
Acrylic 100 30
Aluminum (Anodized) 100 40
Brass (Painted or Marbleized) 100 50
Glass 50 100
Leather 100 35
Marble 30 100
Masonite 70 100
Matboard 100 45
Melamine 80 100
Plastic (Laserable) 100 40
Rubber and Rubber Stamps 40 100
Stainless Steel (Cerdec Coated) 40 100
White Bread 75 100
 
Material Material Thickness Speed Power Frequency
Wood 1/8" (3mm) 70 30 500
Wood 1/4" (6.4mm) 40 100 500
Acrylic 1/8" (3mm) 40 100 5000
Acrylic 1/4" (6.4mm) 25 100 5000
Corian or Avonite 1/8" (3mm) 50 100 500
Felt   75 25 2500
Leather 1/8" (3mm) 80 30 500
Masonite   60 100 500
Mat board   40 50 500
Paper (thick)   100 20 500
Plastic (laserable)   80 30 5000
Rubber or Rubber Stamps   20 100 100

These settings are recommendations!

They are a starting point for your project. It’s good practice to run tests starting with these values and adjusting as needed. If your material is not listed, consult the Makerspace Attendant.

Dangerous Materials: PVC, Fiberglass, Polycarbonate, Vinyl

 

Printing

6

Start the Job

1 After you’ve input your settings, click Ok, then Print and Print
2

On the laser, check the screen on the Control Pad:

  • Is the name of your file displayed?
  • Is the yellow light above Data not blinking?
  • Press GO!
3 If the light is still blinking (if you have a large file), wait til the light is off before pressing Go
4

If the file name isn’t displayed:

  • Unplug the USB cable and wait a few seconds and then plug back in, repeat up to three times
  • If still no Job, turn laser off and back on
  • Sometimes you need to send the print job from the computer again
5 If 500 dpi displayed on screen: you pressed the button before the Data light was finished blinking - turn the laser off and then on again
6 If still no Job, ask Makerspace Attendant
7 Stay near the laser and monitor the progress of your work. You cannot leave the Makerspace while the laser is running your project.
8 When your job is done: if you have cut pieces, do not move your piece yet. Try to lift part of the cut piece without lifting the whole piece. If it has cut all the way through, they should move. If it didn’t cut all the way through, do not move piece, close lid and cut again.
9 Turn off the laser cutter, air filter and air assist.

Troubleshooting

7

Troubleshooting

1

When I press print, nothing shows up on the laser screen

  Check that the printer driver is selected on “Zing”

2

When I press print, 500 DPI shows up on the laser screen

  You pressed print before the “Data” light went off, so the file didn’t finish transferring

  Turn the laser completely off and then power back on

3

The laser is trying to cut into the ruler / it’s not zeroed

  Make sure the cutting grid is firmly in place

4

The laser starts, goes out and then immediately resets

  Stroke point for cutting isn’t set to .07pt

5

1000 DPI shows up on the laser screen, laser will not start.

  This is an error that sometimes occurs when DPI is set to 1000. Turn the laser completely off and then power back on.

8

Need more help?

Ask our Makerspace attendant!