Glowforge Interface - How to Get Perfect Alignment (Yes, perfect!) 🤔


#1

So by now, everyone who has gotten an early machine has experienced having their object placements using the lid camera be off at one time or another. That’s likely going to continue until the folks at Glowforge tighten things down on their end.

(Not going to lie to you, it could take multiple months. It has taken a minimum of four to six months with every single machine I’ve ever gotten involved with testing on. If you don’t want to deal with it and haven’t received your machine yet - just defer receipt until they finish the software tweaking, they do give us a choice.) :wink:

But until then, it’s still possible to get perfect alignment on engraves, cuts and scores. And it’s not particularly difficult.

I’m going to demo an alignment process below using my (ancient) version of Adobe Illustrator, but the process is the same for Inkscape or CorelDraw or Affinity Designer. Whichever one you like to use, you’ll do the same things, with the tools in that program. (I’m also going to give you the thought process that goes into creating a design with 2D Design software, to keep from having to write another one up, so if you can slog through it, you’ll pick up some stuff you need to know to make things easier .)

Suggested Reading:
If you haven’t read through these yet, they help with definitions and setting the stage for what comes below:

Laser Design Basics

Glowforge Interface - Tips & Tricks for Using the App

Vector Files Made Easy

How to Correctly Save a File as an SVG for the Glowforge

Designing a File with perfectly aligned Engraves & Cuts in External Design Software

In Adobe Illustrator: (Or your Design Software)

1. Step one is to think about what you want to do. :wink:
(Don’t skip this step, it’s the most important one in the process. By planning ahead, you’ll ease your files straight into the interface without having to fight your way past error messages a lot more frequently.)

Example: I want to cut out a little circular wooden ornament that has a bitmap (raster) engrave on one side, and a couple of different styles of text engraved on the other side.

I know that I will need to perform at least three different operations to create the design…

  1. Engrave the front side of the ornament
  2. Engrave the back side of the ornament
  3. Cut things out

You would think that meant you needed 3 colors to set up the operations for the design, and that’s generally the easiest way to do it…but…the GFUI also takes into account whether an element of the design consists of a Fill or a Stroke, or whether engraves are raster or vector, so you can get separate operations created for each of those as well. It can make batch production challenging, to say the least.

Having said that…the easiest starter method is to use separate colors for as many elements as you can, so that’s what I’ll do in the example.

  1. Collect the raster graphic you want to use on the front of the ornament, drag it onto the artboard, and (in Illustrator) click on the Embed button while the graphic is selected. (Raster artwork needs to be embedded, and in AI that means pressing a button.)

  2. Type up the Text you want to use and make it a different color. (blue). Once you have the text the way you want it, convert it into a Path by selecting it and either clicking on Object > Expand or Type > Create Outlines. (Text has to be converted to paths or outlines before saving for the GFUI. Some software has the option to do this automatically when saving or exporting an SVG, so check the tutorial listed above to see if your software does it.)

  3. Draw a couple of Circles and assign them a stroke color, and no fill. Those will be the cut lines. (Make them a different color - red.)

  1. Here comes the fun part…use the Align tools to combine the elements the way that you want them to be:

align 1a

a. Group together the two circles after using Horizontal Align Center and they can be treated as a single unit for further aligning purposes.

b. Place the graphic over the circles for the front side and use Horizontal Align Center again to make sure that you have it squared away. Group it.

c. This part might freak you out a bit, but in order to place the engraving for the back side of the ornament (the text) you just place it right over the top of the other engraving and align it as you like.

(I’m going to temporarily hide the graphic image so you can see what the interface will see for the text when the time comes to process it. When you turn the wood over, you want the engraved text to read in the correct direction, so you don’t flip the text unless you are processing clear acrylic from behind.)

And here’s what it looks like when you have everything correctly in place:

  1. Okay, that looks great! But I have one other alignment that I want to do, and it would be difficult with a round cut shape. I want to make sure the text is oriented correctly with the little hole at the top, and if I try to flip a round tag in a circular hole, the odds of me getting that little hole lined up perfectly at the top go way down.

So I’m going to add a weeding jig around the circle. It’s nothing more than a rectangular cut line around the circle, that will let me flip the whole shebang in the correct orientation halfway through the processing. This can be used for odd shapes as well, or if you are making multiples, you can flip the orientation of oddly shaped cut objects around the Y axis and alternate cut holes when engraving the backsides.

So here is the final file with a last color and cut line added.
(I want to cut the square at a separate time from the circles, so I gave it a different color line.)

I did a quick Camtasia recording of the whole process… it took under two minutes. That’s generally a lot faster than trying to eyeball something with a camera, and the accuracy is 100% between the elements.

.

  1. Save As an SVG file to your desktop.
    (Using the tested settings in the tutorial up top.) :wink:
    .
    .
    .

In the Glowforge User Interface:

  1. Turn on the Glowforge, let it calibrate, and open up the App.
  2. Drag the SVG file onto the Catalog area to open it in the interface.

You’ll see that the file was correctly interpreted as needing two engrave operations, and two cut operations.

  1. We will set the backside engrave (text) to be Ignored, along with the Circle Cuts.

  1. Send the front side engrave and the square weeding cut to Print.

  1. When the first part of the print is finished, open the lid and flip the square center cut over around the vertical (Y) axis. (Use a thin pick to lift the cutout without shifting the backing.)

DO NOT ALLOW THE BACKING MATERIAL ON THE BED TO SHIFT.
(I like to tape the backing material to the tray on one side to remind me to not move it until I finish processing all of the engraves and cuts.)

  1. In the interface, without shifting the Preview placement or trying to align the preview if it appears to be out of alignment, set the backside engrave to engrave, and the circles to cut. Set the engrave for the front side to Ignore, along with the square cut.

You only want to turn things on and off in the thumbnail column…do not move the image placement on the bed.

  1. Send the backside engraving and circle cuts to be Printed. (And you’re done!) :champagne::clinking_glasses:

img1

img 2

Everything lined up just right with no struggle. :slightly_smiling_face:

(This happens because there are relationships created between the elements in the design, when it is created as part of the same file. Everything will be maintained as long as nothing is moved after the cutting or engraving starts.)



A final note:

This fixed relationship between the parts of a file makes it easy to create something that is perfectly aligned if you are both cutting and engraving on a piece of background material, but it can also be used to create a “jig” to get perfect alignment for placing engraving on something that is already cut out. (For instance, if you wanted to precisely place engraving on a purchased coaster.)

Simply create a quick rough outline that fits the dimensions of the object that you want to engrave, align the engraving to that in the file, then save it as an SVG. When you get to the GFUI, cut the outline out of some sort of jig material (cardboard or scrap plywood), remove the center part, drop the object to be engraved into the hole, then turn the engraving on and set the cut to Ignore. As long as you have not moved either the material on the bed or the image on the screen, it’s going to land where it needs to be…perfectly. :slightly_smiling_face:


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#2

These are an outstanding series of tutorials
Thank you!


#3

Awesome sauce! Thank you so much for your contributions to this community!


#4

Bookmark for later. I’m already pretty good at this but I guarantee there will be something to help in this.


#5

This is essentially how I do it. The hardest part was figuring out that you need to do an extra cut (square) in order to be able to precisely flip a circle without rotating it. Once someone teaches you that trick it’s quick and easy to do two-sided cuts. :smiley:


#6

This file prep also works for items you are not cutting. Tags, beads, pencils, etc. You just lay out your design with the “cut line” in the shape of the object being engraved and cut sacrificial material like cardboard to hold the item in position. You have to set the height of the material properly, so set the height for the sacrificial material first, then cut. When you put your engraving material in, set focus to that height. Then follow Jules’ excellent tutorial by turning the other colored engraving operations on and off. I agree that it is much easier to align things in the design process!

Excellent presentation on the method Jules, I could never show it that well!


#7

Sure you could! :wink:


#8

@Jules


#9

what if my item is larger than 0.5" it’s pre-cut but I need to align an engrave exactly on it


#10

You can use the method above to align any engraving inside of a cut line that is shaped exactly the dimensions of the pre-cut item that you want to engrave on…and then cut that shape out of some kind of backing material (most people use cardboard - I like to use cheap BB), creating a jig for placement of your pre-cut item.

So the first half of the process happens on the backing material, you remove the cutout, just like above, only when it comes time to drop in the item to be engraved, you drop in the box or whatever you’re working on. (Creating a jig for alignment.)


#11

The rule I’ve learned to use is: Files that are imported together stay together.

Once you cut, the ability to go in and interact with those cuts with new designs becomes much less precise.

I’ve used a Pazzles cutting machine for years and have been trained in this pretty well. The difference is, the Glowforge may overcome it some day. (The Pazzles and other cutting machines have these issues because dragging a blade through materials can make it a bit less predictable).

it means you can’t expect to cut, then adjust things, but once you recognize that it’s not that hard to adjust.

These tutorials remain amazing, @Jules. Thank you so much for having the time and exertise to make so many!


#12

What a great tutorial! Laying it all out so clearly is going to help a lot of folks with this issue. Thanks!


#13

Jules, You are AMAZING. Thanks for all of your efforts on these tutorials.


#14

But I cant have the crumb tray in when I am using things above 1/2" and because the material is thicker than the cardboard for the jig I cant simply place it on the support im using to hold the item.

The only thing I can think of is an elaborate two story setup where I leave the middle empty and use stuff 1" tall around the outside to support the cardboard. Cut my shapes and then very carefully pull out those shapes and place my materials on the 1/2" or so support in the middle. Seems like a huge pain so I’m hoping someone else has figured out something better


#15

That’s pretty much exactly what I did when I was test cutting that thick foamcore…I just taped a bunch of 1/4 inch ply offcuts together and stuck them at either side of the bed, and taped the foamcore between them. (Very scary looking setup actually, but it worked just fine.)

So you can make your side setup tall enough that the top of the cardboard is slightly below the object to be engraved (about 1/4" lower) then just reset the thickness for the taller object to be engraved and drop the boxes down into the hole cut in the cardboard. Make sure you put a piece of scrap wood under the cardboard the first time you cut it, so you don’t fire the laser into the metal underneath, but then you can remove it for the engraving part. And just keep reusing the hole - you only have to cut the jig once, then you can engrave as many boxes in a session as you want.

Once you close the app, you will lose the relative placement for this method, so that means either cutting another piece of cardboard the next time, or if you want to try to hit specific repeatable positioning after closing out a file, @takitus has a specific tutorial for it in the Matrix.

Either one of those should work. (It does add an element of challenge when you take it over tray cutting levels, but it can be done.)

Later Update: We have a report now that the full height of 0.50 inches is now obtainable! Yaaaaay!


#16

Ooh, I love this idea! Will use soon for sure.
P.S. - My antique version of AI looks like yours… CS5? Just say no to paying subscription fees!


#17

Yep! :wink:


#18

Aces, lady. Aces! :squee::squeeee::squeeee:


#20

I know it’s not what some people consider alignment. However it is a method to align things accurately. (Even if it means placing engraves on pre-cut objects by creating a jig first.)

I disagree, so I’m going to just leave it the way that I wrote it, because I did it for a reason. :slightly_smiling_face:

This is a method that people can use to get better alignment even while the visual camera alignment methods are not at 100%. And the object of the discussion, and the title, is to get that information across to as many people as possible, so that they can benefit from it.

It might not be your preferred way of doing it, and that’s fine. You can do things the way you want to, for as long as you like. But other people might want to hear it, and not waste weeks or months just waiting for the visual alignment fixes to be rolled out retroactively.


#21

Hey Jules,

I would just like to say THANK YOU for your tutorials…they’ve really helped us new folks to get a jump start on things. I think it’s so cool that folks like you so selflessly give of your time and energy…great stuff!

BTW, I had no problem sorting out the difference between your double-sided alignment vs. what “most people mean by ‘alignment’”, and I’m a complete novice regarding lasers and illustration programs.