How to use a laser cutter with Adobe Illustrator

Laser cutting is a technology that uses a laser to cut a wide variety of materials, including wood, acrylic, leather, fabric, and more. Laser cutting can also be used to create intricate designs or patterns on the surface of the material. This makes it an ideal choice for fabricating parts with complex geometries or for creating decorative items.  

To do this, laser cutting machines work in tandem with design software like Inkscape, AutoCAD, Coreldraw or Adobe Illustrator. This design is what guides the laser beam and helps you create your item.  

In this post, we’ll show you how to use a laser cutter with Illustrator, how to prepare your art for laser cutting, and also give you a step-by-step breakdown on how to laser cut text in Adobe Illustrator.  

But first, let’s take a quick look at how laser cutting works, what design software you can use, and how you can prepare an image for a laser cut in Illustrator.  

How does a laser cutter work?  

In general, laser cutting works by directing a high-powered laser beam at the material that needs to be cut. The laser beam melts, vaporizes, or burns through the material, and the resulting cut is very precise and has a smooth finish.  

There are a few different image formats that can be used for laser cutting, and the most popular ones are EPS, PDF, AI and SVG. EPS is a vector format that is widely used in graphic design, and it can be opened in many different software programs. PDF is also a vector format, but it is more widely used for documents and not as much for graphics. SVG is a vector format specifically for web graphics, and it can be opened in software like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. 

The next step is to prepare your design for laser cutting. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing this:  

  • The most important thing is to make sure that your design is a vector file. This means that it is made up of lines and shapes, as opposed to pixels. Pixel-based files (like JPG or PNG images) will not work with a laser cutter. 
  • The second thing to keep in mind is that the lines in your design should be a single colour. The laser cutting machine sees this colour as ‘cut this’ and the background as ‘don’t cut this’.  
  • Third, you need to make sure that all of the lines in your design are a hairline width. This is because if the lines are thicker, the laser machine will identify the line to be engraved rather than cut. 

How to use Adobe Illustrator for laser cutting 

Now that you know how to prepare your design for laser cutting, let’s take a look at how to laser cut text in Adobe Illustrator! Remember that just as with images, you’ll need to choose a font that comes in a vector format. This is a great way to create durable signs and lettering for business clients, or bespoke address or house number signs for private individuals.  

  1. Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. You can do this by going to File > New.  
  1. In the new document window, set the width and height to the size of your material. For example, if you’re using a piece of 8.5” x 11” acrylic, set the width to 8.5” and the height to 11”.  
  1. Now you can start creating your design. You can use any of the tools in Illustrator to create lines, shapes, or in this case, text. 
  1. Remember to use a vector font.  
  1. Once you’re happy with your design, go to File > Save As and choose EPS as the file format.  
  1. Now your design is ready to be laser cut! 

Quickfire laser cutting FAQs 

What program do you use for later cutting?  

There are a LOT of different kinds of software you can use for laser cutting, but some of the most popular are Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Draft Sight, Inkscape, and LightBurn.  

How to convert a vector image to a laser cut?  

You can use any of the above programs to convert a raster (non-vector) image into a vector format.  

Can I use Adobe Illustrator for laser cutting? 

Absolutely! Adobe Illustrator remains the most popular software for laser cutting and engraving.  

What’s the right file format for laser cutting? 

Vector files like AI, SVG, and CDR, and CAD files like DXF and DWG are ideal for laser cutting. For engraving only, you can use raster (pixel-based) files like JPEG, GIF, and BMP. If you want to cut a raster file, you’ll first need to convert it into a vector format.   

How can I make a vector image for laser cutting?   

If you want to cut an original design, it’s easiest to simply create your artwork as a vector straight away using a program like Illustrator. If you want to use an existing design, you can convert the image into a vector file in any of the programs we mentioned above, or even using free online software.  

Have any questions we didn’t answer here? Feel free to get in touch!