Making Stencils from Recurring Patterns

This is for the Tips and Tricks Category.

Attached is a PDF on how to make a stencil out of a recurring pattern for printing with a GlowForge. It goes into very great detail, and has a ton of illustrations. The is a basic level introduction.

It’s important to note that this is just one of dozens of ways to make stencils. The purpose of the document is to clarify the intent in making a stencil, not necessarily all the particular steps.

I hope it helps the people that are new to stencil making, and prompt the more experienced folks to contribute their methods.

Any feedback is welcome.


Making_Stencils.pdf (5.7 MB)


Thank you very much for the tutorial @tracypaul.warrington. This will come in handy, my daughter prints with hand made stencils.

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You’re welcome! Let me know how it works out.

Wow! Great addition for the community! Thank you!

This type of tutorial takes a good bit of effort to write up, you’re generous to post it.

I think you might find the Inkscape command “stroke to path” (or its equivalent in other programs) very useful. All of the steps that involved exporting to a JPEG and converting it to an svg can all be skipped if you use those commands.

Secondly the kerf for the glowforge is about 0.006” for most 1/8” materials. Your estimate of how much to correct for it is about ten times too large (your recommended correction of 1/16” is 0.0625”). If size accuracy is important to your design this is a large error.

So as an Inkscape user, if I were in your shoes I’d

  • draw my pattern
  • set the stroke to .131” (1/8 + 0.006), this handles all the kerf correction
  • Path->stroke to path
  • Select all and do path->union
  • Unset the fill color
  • Set the stroke color and thickness so you see the outlines. (Like black and 0.01”)

And you’re done with all the path work. If you want to be very precise you can color code things so the outline cuts last; it’s the best practice for accuracy. To do that:

  • Select your unioned path
  • Path->break apart (now it’s a bunch of small shapes)
  • Select just the outline path, change it to a different color from the inner shapes
  • (Optional) group all of the shapes so you don’t jostle anything if you need to move the art around.

If you’re not an Inkscape user that’s ok. Any fully-featured vector editor will have equivalents to these commands.

I think you’ll find that this type of method has some advantages over the one you described.
*It’ll be faster: the steps I described take under a minute with practice

  • It’ll be more accurate: converting to jpeg and back is always an approximation and can lead to inaccurate shapes
  • It doesn’t rely on any converters: no more saving out and uploading to anyplace

Give it a whirl, I think you’ll like it.


Thank you @tracypaul.warrington and @evansd2 for the work on this! This does take a lot of time to document and share.

In case one is googling for where this command is - you’ve actually portmanteaued two separate AI commands.

“object>expand” and “object>path>outline stroke”.
The first one expands everything in the object include strokes, meshes, patterns, warps, etc.
The second one deals with the selected stroke(s) only. :slight_smile:

Fair enough. Not an illustrator person, updated my post to remove my mistake.

Regarding kerf: I found that it’s a function of speed and power. As my first Glowforge got older, I had to slow the speed greatly to get it cut completely through. Hence a bigger gap. Another thing that surprised me was the inconsistency in the thickness and density of the proofgrade material. That sometimes requires me to slow the cutting speed down as well, and wind up with a wider kerf.

As I stated, one of dozens of techniques, and experimentation is part of the process.

BTW, I’m not a Inkscape user.

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