Help with cardboard, no design software

I am an art teacher at a title one school with no budget for supplies. We are lucky to have a glowforge. We have loads of cardboard! But we have no design software (photoshop, illustrator, etc) only the glowforge software. How can I go about making creations without design software? For example, I am looking to do etched photos of the students (selfies?) and have them cut out into a circle. Thoughts? Suggestions? I am new to glowforge & a NEWBIE beginner.


Inkscape is free.


The starter settings for using Cardboard are here:

The process for creating a photo engrave and cutting it out in Inkscape (a free vector design program) are shown here:

The list of tutorials that you should read before attempting to teach other people how to use the machine are here:

Hope you all have a good time with it!


please be careful etching cardboard. that is not an operation that one should walk away from.


Inkscape and Gimp are free for any use but not without a learning curve. However if you have the computer it is an excellent way to teach the kids basic use of a computer. If the kids can find access somewhere, a library, a friend etc they can learn to work there and bring the work to class by chip (the small ones are very cheap and big enough) or internet if available.

There is probably no more important skill for a child to acquire these days than basic capability with a computer,

Double reinforce the attention needed if doing cardboard, like part of a box. You will want to use at least part of the material that came with the machine to make bed pins You will also want to use a sheet to calibrate the camera and after doing that it is a good material to make into bed pins.


Welcome! It makes me happy to know children are being exposed to the Glowforge in their art class. Engraving photos is not one of the more straightforward tasks a Glowforge can perform, and I would suggest not starting with photos on cardboard. I think it would be a frustrating experience.

You can start with tracing some simple drawings to get started. Here is a file you can use that has simple geometric items for cutting. Cut Shapes Template I think you will find it extremely helpful. Right click on the image and choose Save As SVG when prompted. Then upload the file to your Glowforge library.

There are lots of people here in the forum that will be happy to help you and your students get maximum use of your Glowforge. Many here had no laser experience when we got the Glowforge, and we appreciate that it can be hard to get started. Once you work through the 1st three prints and a few of the tutorials, come back to the forum with questions and someone will help you get to the next step.


I agree with this. Engraving photos is one of the more challenging tasks on any material, and cardboard (or paper) is not ideal for engraving on.


Here is an unrequested suggestion - feel free to ignore. Maybe have pictures of the kids printed on regular paper or cardstock. Use the Glowforge to make simple frames for the photos, and have the kids decorate their frames. By the way, how old are your students?


A simpler starting project (while you start learning the software!) would be to have the kids draw their own selfies (b&w, line drawings). Trace right on the GF and etch those.

I have some ideas for getting supplies. Reach out to local businesses and ask for their leftover scraps.
Some suggestions:

  1. sign shops may have scrap acrylic sheets/pieces
  2. framing shops will have scrap matboard
  3. printers will have all sorts of cardstock and paper - my cousin’s husband can’t get rid of the excess stuff he’s got.
  4. plywood stores may have scrap plywood pieces after cutting customer orders
  5. interior designers/kitchen & bath design shops will be discarding old samples of corian, tile, marble, etc.
    If you let local businesses (and friends/family) know what sorts of things you’re looking for, you may be surprised by all the goodies you can get. I have gotten all of the above free and I’m not a teacher. :slight_smile:

You can also get tiles for a just a few cents (easily as low as $0.17, depending on your area). If those kids who can bring in a quarter or a dollar, you can have each kid design their own tile, color with Sharpies, etc.


A 4’x8’ sheet of “Revolution” plywood sells for about $15 and cuts into 25 9"x19" pieces or about 60 cents each and each one big enough to design sometging substantial. And far less dangerous to cut than cardboard.


Thank you!! Will give it a go :slight_smile:

I teach PreK-8 so only 6,7&8 would be allowed to use the glowforge.

6-8 Grade!! Not years old lol

Thank you!! The kids are 6-8 grade, young teenagers. I teach preK through 8th grade be only the middle schoolers will be able to use it themselves (after I figure it out! Lol!). I appreciate your help so much!

Hi Joy! I have a GlowForge in my classroom (K-5 makerspace) and am innovating ways for my students to use it too. My goal is for every student in the school to do a project with it this year, though with the youngest, that will more involve using the trace function to cut out and etch their own drawings for puppets or mobiles.

In regards to cardboard, you’ll want to do a lot of testing to find the right configuration. Make sure you measure the thickness of the cardboard, as that will change the settings. A digital caliper is a handy tool next to your GF. I keep a notebook there too, where I mark the settings I’ve used for non-proofgrade materials. I’ve learned my lesson to retest materials because cardboard thickness and density can vary, but the notes can give me a place to start.

Do your kids have access to computers? I’m currently using Tinkercad on Chromebooks with my 5th graders to design and cut what I’m calling “slot animals”. That project is still in the works, so I don’t have any student work to share right now, but here are a couple of prototypes I made while trying to figure it out myself.

I wasn’t trying to make any particular animal, focusing more on how to make it and make it work. I was able to purchase a large amount of baltic birch for final projects, but will cut prototypes in cardboard so the kids can test and adjust. Failure is always in my classroom, but I prefer to give them the chance to rectify mistakes!

As mentioned before, Inkscape is free and has a lot of functionality, but I find myself using Tinkercad to create simpler designs faster and efficiently.

Good luck, and have fun! I’m in love with my GlowForge and just added an extra week to my summercamp schedule to make a little extra cash to hopefully buy myself one for home. :smiley:


You may also want to look at the AutoDesk set of applications. It may provide tools that your students will benefit from knowing and are free or low cost for individuals and sometimes for education.

Love those :slightly_smiling_face:

Check out “chipboard” for prototyping/1st runs. It’s the same stuff cereal boxes are made of so not corrugated like shipping boxes. I get a bunch from Dick Blick every few months. You can do engraves, cuts, scores just like other material. It’s pretty sturdy too so it is good for seeing how parts & pieces go together.

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Plus, you can ask families to send in their cereal boxes. :wink:


The reason that cardboard needs watching is because of all the air holes. Mat board might be a better choice. I have cut cardboard but engraving may not work as well.


There are some good online vector editing programs that work well for shapes, both simple and complex. Here is a link that has a few:

LibreOffice Draw is open source and has the least amount of overhead for installing and maintenaince. When I taught elementary technology I used LibreOffice/OpenOffice pretty much exclusively and that worked great. Inkscape was a bit tricky for some but the middle schoolers figured it out fairly well.

And as suggested above, you can get a lot done by just having a basic shapes file in the GFUI and that can be resized as needed. Then just add artwork for the illustrations and images. Good luck.

@theroar84 has some good videos doing the basics of laser and he definitely targets elementary students. He uses TinkerCADvery effectively.

What kind of computing appliance do the students have access to? That may make a difference.

I use cardboard all the time. In fact, I prototype things and they usually work well enough as is with a bit of masking tape or duct tape to skin them are perfectly functional.

I’m a big fan of chipboard from cereal boxes or other packages. It’s great for scoring lightly and folding too into new shapes.

Foam core from political signs and such are generally laser safe as to fumes but can catch on fire. I have tons of it from old signs. Might not be best for a school environment, but no less likely to burn in principle than cardboard or chipboard.