Glowforge Interface - Using the Trace Tool 🤔

The Trace Tool in the Glowforge User Interface can be used to scan printed artwork for engraving, and to create cut lines around the artwork, or inside the artwork, by clicking with the mouse.

There are a couple of ways to do things with the Trace Tool.
(I’m going to borrow one of Glowforge’s freebies to demonstrate since my drawing skills are non-existent. I printed this airplane out - pretend it’s hand drawn.) :smile:

Procedure To Scan a Physical Drawing and Add Cut Lines:

  1. Black ink drawings on white backgrounds will give you the best results for tracing. (Smudged lines and pencil drawings are going to give you smudged results with the scan.)

  2. Turn on the Glowforge and let it run through the startup calibration.

  3. When it’s done, open the lid and place the image to be scanned under the lid camera. Secure the paper flat with magnets or tape to reduce shadows.

  1. In the Glowforge Interface, click the Trace Button.

  1. Click and drag a square around the artwork that you want to trace. Handy instructions will appear in the black bar to guide the process.

(Keep it compact around the drawing, you don’t want to have to deal with the magnets in your scan.)

  1. After you drag the box out, the screen flips to the “Add Cut Lines” step.

(This step is optional, if you want to place cut lines or cut outs around the drawing.)

Use the Zoom tool at the top to Zoom in so you can see what you are clicking on.

Note: On this screen you can also use the CTRL/CMD + Up and Down Arrow Keys to change the amount of data that is being picked up for the engrave, if needed. See final example at the end.

To add cut lines, you will want to click on any WHITE areas that you want to remove from the image.

Examples: If you want to place a single cutting line around the shape, click on the white background. You will see a pink cut line appear around the shape.


If you decide you want to cut out the windows too, click on the white inside of the window areas to add more cut lines.

The algorithm that creates the cut lines is searching for edges where there is a color change, from white to black, or black to white, and it inserts a cut line in between them.

If you click directly on a black line that has white on either side, you will see two cut lines created - one on either side of the line, where the colors are changing at the edges.

It’s easy to see on this drawing because it has thick lines. But it can sneak by you if the lines of your drawing are thinner, and you accidentally click on a black line. It will create double burn lines right on top of each other, and you’ll probably ruin the cut. It’s just something to watch for.

  1. If you make a mistake adding cut lines you can use the Back button to start over, or just use CTRL/CMD+Z to undo. When you have finished adding all of your cut lines to the image, (or none, if you want to cut out some other shape), click the Place Artwork button.

  2. Open the lid and remove the paper and magnets. Put in your material that you want to cut and engrave on.

  3. If you are using non-Proofgrade material, you need to:
    1. Measure the thickness with calipers and enter that value into the Unknown Materials slot at the top of the thumbnail column, or use the Set Focus tool.
    2. Enter your Manual engrave and cut settings.

(If you are using Proofgrade material, that information is loaded for you when the QR code is scanned.)

  1. Place the artwork where you want it on your material and send it to Print.


Procedure to Add a Different Vector Shape for Cutting:

Okay, so, say you don’t want to cut out tightly around the plane, you just want to scan it to create an engrave, and use some other vector shape that you have created in outside drawing software to use as a cutting line.

Very easy to do. :wink:

Follow Steps 1 through 5 above, but when you get to step 6, skip it. Go ahead and click the Place Artwork button without setting any cut lines.

You’ll get just the engrave.

If you have a prepared SVG of a circle or square that you want to use with the engraving, you can either drag and drop the file from your desktop onto the artboard, or click on the Add Artwork button to add the file.

Arrange the cuts and the engraving the way you want them, and then proceed to set your settings and Print the file.

Note: If you want to move all of the parts after getting them placed, you will need to drag a selection rectangle around everything. These are treated as separate components since they were not created together.


Cleaning Up a Messy Drawing

After the Glowforge has scanned your print, you have the option of adjusting the scan results somewhat using the key commands for the Trace function.

Here’s our drawing with a few smudgy pencil marks added:

Original scan results look like this, not bad considering…

But say I actually wanted all of those pencil marks in there as a design element… holding down the CTRL or CMD key and slowly clicking the Down Arrow on the keyboard increases what gets picked up in the trace:

Going the other way, CTRL/CMD + Up Arrow will drop a lot of the noise and stray marks, but it also starts cutting into your shape a bit. (If there are only a couple of stray marks, you can try dragging a box around them and CTRL/CMD+X to cut them out, depending on how things are grouped.)

Best practice is to start with as clean an image as you can.

Note: Solid blocks of some kinds of scanned black inks can do a weird reflection thing because of the bright lights of the machine…just use these keyboard shortcuts to adjust those out if you see them pop up in the engrave results. CTRL+SHIFT+Arrow to fill in the gaps.


And she just keeps cranking out the good stuff!

Also, I know what you printed recently, I still need to glue mine. :slight_smile:


Amazing work as always, @Jules. Note that undo (ctrl-z) works during trace, so you don’t have to go “back” and start over. I realize it says that in the header but some folks might miss it.

Also, you might want to mention the shortcut keys here, since they’re really invaluable for cleaning up bad designs! I believe they’re in the manual.


Excellent overview of this feature. Good job, @Jules!


Thank you, @Jules!!!

1 Like

Yes, YES! The basics, I look fwd to following your example at my first chance just to get a better feel.

Husband has no issues or problems with this, this is not his first experience with laser cutters, I am the one who needs this to make sure I understand the forge.

It’s all so exciting and this just adds to it, @Jules, you are making my SIM meter rise quickly and I thank you for that.


Excellent idea @dan, I’ll get that put in there today. :grinning:


Jules! Thank you !!! This concise primer has allowed me to “pre-wrap” my head around this procedure. Looking forward to putting it to use in the next few weeks when my GF arrives.


What would be nice is if the GF folks would add these commands to the UI screen in icon buttons or similar. For new users it is not obvious what the UI is even capable of. Until a few nice folks provided me with info on how to do some stuff I thought I had purchased a lemon.

Another simple way of making the UI easier is to add context bubbles that when hover over the screen button/icon would tell you what the thing does. And PLEASE add a trace button to the main screen to make life easier.

I must add that I’m starting to like the GF but wish a lot of capabilities where not hidden unless you know of the short cuts etc.



Great suggestions, James! In the meantime, I believe they’re all in the first 3 projects we recommend you do when you get your Glowforge.


@Jules your smudgy marks are a bit sketchy. :wink:


Quit that, you’re distracting me! ROFL! :smile:

1 Like

Thank you so much for putting this together! I struggled hard with finding any documentation on how to use the trace feature. I used @marmak3261 video to help me out when I first got my machine (unless I’m totally missing another manual)!


It’s in here:


Uggggh! See… I knew I was duplicating efforts…I should have taken a look at that again before typing all of this up. (That’s so much neater without my stream of consciousness meanderings.)

Dammit I hate duplicating efforts. :smile:


I think it’s wonderful to have different takes on this. If I was learning, I’d have someone start with the version we provided, then go straight to yours to solidify the concepts.


You’re so diplomatic! :wink:
(Much appreciated!)


I would disagree that you duplicated. The amount of details and clarity you have provided is what the training manual SHOULD be showing users.


It probably will one day. This is just for us intrepid trail blazers.

(I like being a trail blazer, it’s rather exciting.) :wink:

1 Like

As long as you are the lead, the view keeps changing (unlike the ones behind you :roll_eyes::astonished: )!