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Laser cutters

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    EllenMCM @EllenMCM

    This may be a shot in the dark, but I need to seek advice in a woman-friendly space.

    I need to learn how to use a laser cutter. The model in question is a Rabbit QX-1290, if that means anything to anyone. I have access to one and I know it has potential for cutting Tyvek and leather, and I hear even fabric, and I think it could be amazing, but no one knows how to use it. My coworkers have spent the last month using it to cut tiny discs out of huge sheets of plywood and they keep saying they’ll teach me how to use it once they figure it out. I don’t think we’ve even defined a work flow for making things with it, like how do you create a file that the thing can cut, and import that file into the driver software, set and load the machine, and make it happen.

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    Enbee @Enbee

    My husband uses one at work, and I’ve toyed many times with the idea of trying it out for cutting fabric, which is my least favorite part of garment sewing.

    I’m afraid I don’t even know what model my husband uses, but if yours is the kind that cuts through 1/4″ ply/acrylic/leather etc, I imagine the details are similar. For the one my husband has (and I’ve really only played around with it once or twice, so really I’m not sure I’m going to be a whole lot of help with it!), the file type needed is a scalable vector graphic (.svg) file. For his machine, there’s driver software, which lacks a lot in the way of sophisticated tools, and then there’s vector graphics software (where you do all of the design), which can be set up to “print to” the machine’s driver software. From there, you set up the details of the kind of material you’re cutting, the thickness, the position of the start point in the cutter itself, and then you print.

    The vector graphics software that works best with the above process is Corel Draw. It’s $$$ if you’re buying it yourself. Another is Adobe Illustrator, and same deal – very pricy (and my husband got frustrated trying to get it to “print” to his driver software, the name of which I don’t know). There’s also a free, open-source software called Inkscape that is I think comparable to but less user-friendly than Illustrator, but there are LOADS of tutorials on how to use it. I’ve done some very, very simple projects in Inkscape, saved them as .svg files, and emailed them off to my husband, who then opened them up in Corel Draw and cut them out (of felt) for me.

    The key to getting good results, I think, is in getting comfortable with the vector graphics software. It’s something that’s been on my list for a while, but as it would be hobby-related for me and I don’t NEED to do it, it hasn’t happened.

    Does any of that help? I’m not even sure I rise to the level of “rank amateur” here – more like, “Hey, I’ve touched one of those!” I also understand the intimidation factor, and I will say that based on what I’ve seen of my husband and his students learning to use this thing, the learning curve is pretty steep (and I say that as someone in a tech field – these seem to lie in an intermediate space between “artist” and “computer programmer”). The vendor for his machine does a brief training class – maybe you could do something similar. You also might look into whether there’s a Fab lab or Maker space anywhere near you – if so, they almost certainly will have a laser cutter like this, and many of them have female-only lab time.

    If you sort this out, definitely update! I so, so want to try importing one of my digital patterns and seeing if I can zap out perfectly cut pattern pieces! I’ll try to do the same!

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    Enbee @Enbee

    ETA: the learning curve on the *design software* is pretty steep. People make whole (well-paid!) careers out of being proficient with Illustrator. I think once you have that talking to the machine software, the actual cutting is pretty straightforward, although my husband and his students have ruined plenty of plywood by messing up the scaling, or engraving when they mean instead to cut. Also, DH set something on fire in there once. Oops.

    LINK
    EllenMCM @EllenMCM

    Enbee, that’s so helpful! I’ve been trying to wring information out of people who, as of yesterday, hadn’t yet figured out the vector graphics part.

    I would also love to use a laser cutter for pattern pieces.

    I have an appointment at a place that says they can teach me this on Friday. I have to pay them money, which doesn’t thrill me, but these guys at work are knee-deep in not being helpful, so either I do this or I never learn to use the machine, they freeze me out of the school’s makerspace, and we have no role models in there for girls who are interested in making things.

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    Enbee @Enbee

    Ugh – paying for training on these sorts of things can be so hit or miss. I really hope it’s helpful for you. I wish the maker movement had come along when I was a kid, and I wholeheartedly support your making the makerspace inviting for the girls at your school.

    I looked up that model – fwiw, it does recommend Corel Draw (or rather, the Corel Graphics suite) as the graphics software. And it looks like LaserCut is the controlling software – I don’t think (but am not 100%) that’s the same one that my husband uses, but I would assume that that comes with the machine. I did some *very* brief poking around to see if it’s straightforward to set up the print/export from Corel Draw to LaserCut, and it seems like maybe it’s not. There also seem to be some intricacies about version numbers for both suites, and also OS/processor bit size. Ugh. I’m going to guess that this is maybe where the guys at work are stuck? Someone with what might be the same setup as you recommends exporting from Corel as a DXF (which seems to be some sort of autoCAD format), and then opening that file in LaserCut and using LaserCut only to print. But now I’m truly talking out of my rear, here!

    I feel like I have to stress again that I have very limited experience with the laser cutter, but if I can be helpful (and I’m happy to pump DH for knowledge), I’d love to.

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    EllenMCM @EllenMCM

    I think that, in MOST circumstances, I will be downloading open source files instead of drawing my own. Graphic design is not my forte! And I might for tomorrow as well if I can find something simple.

    We are using LaserCut, and it is a pain in the rear. Thus far, the guys have only tried drawing things IN the driver, which they admit is cumbersome and difficult to use. They’re talking about getting some different software to create files to import to it. If they had told me the machine needed vector graphics, I would have found some free software to create those weeks ago. I got tech support at school to download Inkscape onto my laptop today – it seems like a lot of people use it for this purpose, and the people where I’m taking the class recommended it.

    I’m actually ANGRY that the grant these guys wrote for all the equipment didn’t include a budget for training. They’re planning to just futz around with it until they figure it out. I let them put my name on that grant (even though they told me when they asked that they “forgot to include a sewing machine”) because the more teachers you put on a grant, the more money you can get. But that’s supposed to be because there are more teachers using and benefitting from it!

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    Enbee @Enbee

    How’d the training go, Ellen?

    It’s really terrible that you’re getting shut out by your coworkers on this.

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    EllenMCM @EllenMCM

    It was awesome! I know how to do some things with a laser cutter now, and while I don’t feel I’m super-experienced, I’m at a point where my experiments will be meaningful, and not just random stabs at finding the power button.

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