Testing out cutting and etching fabrics: denim and light cotton

Continuing the discussion from Fabric etching!:

Christmas day always gets me in a project mood, whether because I got a new tool or just have the time to devote to something creative (besides cooking, that’s a given.) I have been wanting to test fabric so @bwente, @jamesdhatch and @mspricethelibrarian’s interest coincided with my own plans.

First a test pattern in Inkscape. Making the 1/2 squares different colors allows me to choose 10 different dots per inch resolutions available in the custom engrave list. The text is converted to vectors and scored/cut rather than engraved to save time but keep a visual reference.

I have a big box of denim clothes that I have been collecting through the years. One of these days it’s going to be a jean quilt. Until then it is a bottomless supply of material to process. I cut off one pant leg and opened it up flat on the bed and used magnets to keep the fabric somewhat tight and flat.

And with the text pattern overlay-ed. You can see how I designated DPI.

It doesn’t take too long to go through all the options. I kept the power on 1 and I kept it on the fastest speed of 335 in/min and one pass. Too bad at this time you can’t save it as a project, so get it right before you exit out of that particular workspace. But it’s not that big of a deal. A digital calipers is handy for getting the material thickness correct. I did these with a correct focus, but that would be another way of etching, defocusing the beam.

After the burninating is done, it’s pretty clear that the Glowforge has power to spare. Note the honeycomb in the holes by the highest DPI, 1355. Another way to do this is keep the DPI low and add more power, butiat seems that I want to keep power at 1 and DPI to 125 for a medium to light weight denim, .015" thick. Note the scoring of the numbers does cut. I forgot to take a pic of the ready screen to show what time the engraving would take but I think it was around 18 minutes.

Here is a photo after I lightly brushed away the char. You definitely can get some distressed looking jeans here.

Here is a closeup of the lower DPI effect. 35 does affect it but 75 seems to be the way to go to get that upper blue layer etched without cutting the threads.

Higher DPI definitely distresses more and starts making holes.

Next process is to do a text pattern using the cutting, vector settings. Circles, squares, straight lines horizontal, vertical, diagonal, closely spaced and further apart. Once again, doing different colors allows me to designated different operations in the workspace.

Pattern overlayed on material. Note the settings on the left panel for power level: 5%, 25%, 35% 50% all at the max vector speed of 192 in/min and with one pass.

What is really neat is that it cuts it perfectly, very small kerf and cuts it easily. With the char you really can’t tell what the effect was.

One of the things with denim or any kind of woven material is that depending upon the weave and how the threads intersect with where the laser it hitting, you might get a stray thread not cut through even though it all is good. So the diagonals all cut very well on all settings. The squares didn’t quite cut through, The circles cut through even at 5% put there were tiny places of attachment. In the end 50% power at max speed does pretty good and 40% will get it all totally cut, any shape. Higher than fifty works well too, but is seems it’s a good idea to use the lowest power setting possible for any job.

Here is an overview of the text and you can see on the left side the vectors are more or less cut through.

And finally the result of the 55, 60 and 65% tests.

If you want to cut very precise circles and squares or any odd shape into material, the laser cutter will just do it perfectly and quickly. I think these were around a minute long or so. A single 1 inch circle at fastest speed will do 11 seconds. Also: depending on how the object is cut, the air assist can blow the cutting out onto the rest of the fabric. It might get in the way!. Something to consider as you do this. Having flat and tight fabric would help keep it level and not have some part pop up to get blown away.

Observations: lack of bigger Z height will limit what you can process, but you can still do lots of amazing things with a decent amount of material. I think I could cut all the squares to make that jean quilt in no time, especially since denim is a bit of a bear to cut with a roller cutter. (Which makes me realize I didn’t try to go over seams and double thicknesses of material. That would be follow up.)

Heavier weight fabrics, especially something like a heavy duck twill that Carhartts are made of will give a good etching without blowing through the fabric, but that’s another test.

So after the denim, I got pretty excited and thought I would try some beautiful Christmas fabric and see how a light weight cotton would work. I used this fabric color and pattern in a few log cabin Christmas tree skirts I made through the years.

I had my eye on the poinsettia in the middle and wondering what the trace function would do with that.

I placed the fabric in the center and used the magnets to keep it taut.

So, I don’t know what I was thinking, that this would magically scan and trace the multi-color item and then pick up the gold outline around the poinsettias. Yeah, right. The Glowforge does get some contrast though and you can try to pick up an outline and do some cut work of the dark spots. Certainly something to be investigated further.

Whoops. Obviously 40% power is too much for lightweight cotton. I kept a pretty close eye on this. Lots of continued burn in this fabric. Wondering if there is something in there a little more flammable in the dye or coloring. Air assist blew out the burning edges perfectly.

So then it was plan B: I thought I could trace a black line around the poinsettia that I wanted to cut out, but that wouldn’t work because of the black in the pattern already and nothing to differentiate. Then I thought maybe I could trace the poinsettia with an overlay of tracing paper or lightweight white paper and then cut to the dark line tracing scanned in from the Sharpie. That might have worked just fine, but I let that go.

Then I thought I could get my little hand held scanner and upload the fabric image and try to trace it with Inkscape. Played with that for a while. Definitely need to work on my tracing skills and image processing to do it efficiently. In the end it was easier for me to do a manual trace of the outline I wanted and upload that and overlay that over the material.

And then I cut the fabric, this time on a much lower power setting.

I cut some squares while I was at it. Very easy since I have a few vector shapes ready to bring in and use.

The Glowforge will be of great assistance if you are making fussy cuts for applique work or other special shapes.

I am sure that it could even process some bigger patterns once that pass through is calibrated and you have the right kind of jig.

One thing that it will be perfect for is making frayed edge linen or cotton napkins. It is very easy to get nice cotton in different patterns or colors, especially holiday themes. You can cut perfect squares on the Glowforge very easily. Then you fray the edges just a little. They work very well.


I would have made some with the Christmas fabric, but the gold that is in the fabric is a bit rough and not quite soft enough for napkins.


This is incredible!!! Exactly the kind of thing I wished to see! I hadn’t even thought about using the trace function with a fabric print to make appliqués—that is a fantastic idea.

Wow. Just when I don’t think I can get any more excited for my Glowforge, @marmak3261 shows us something amazing. Again. :blush:


Another great test & writeup Marion. The results look very promising for some projects I have in mind. Many thanks again, for taking the time to share! :smiley:


Wow, @marmak3261 ! That’s incredible work you’ve done for detailing this! Thanks so much for doing it!


You’re ahead of us on fabric, I think - super cool!


Thanks for another great detailed experiment! I have a growing pile of scrap material building up for these kinds of experiments.


Wow! that is way cool! Did anyone else notice the very faint traces of honeycomb pattern under some of the lighter engraved squares? I wonder if you could put other patterned metal things under the fabric and get another level of effects.


That’s what I’ve been waiting to see! Great to finally see some examples of fabric (other than the brief shot from the promo vid)! I really appreciate the time you put in to these—they’re not just “Hey look what I did,” but actually showing and comparing the different options along the way. Keep it up!


I’ll reiterate the other folks’ statements–THANK YOU for this post, and for showing your process, especially! I’m so excited about working with fabric (including for applique) that seeing this makes the wait for my own Forge that much easier.


Have you tried any only cotton women’s and denim? Have you tried other fabrics? Like knits?
Have you tried to make patterns on textiles?


Not any other materials yet. Haven’t done much study on other kinds of fabric. I do know that cotton and wool will be pretty safe. Linen will be ok. Will try a t-shirt for a knit and check what other fabrics I have on hand. Corduroy and velvet would be interesting.


Thanks for documenting your experiments!


It would be interesting to see if you could use the cloud trace thing (on a simpler pattern) and then scale it up a bit to cut the shape out offset from the traced line. Like this, but with greater ease. I think that is what you were trying to do initially, but the pattern didn’t help. Certain direction changes in the lines and what have you would not work, but it could simplify things. I think cloud-done offset paths may already be in the hopper. So, a choice between scale and offset would be perfect. Scale could work for some things for now, though. Thanks for sharing!

Awesome job on testing the fabric…I’m gonna bookmark this, I’ve got a box of old jeans to play with.


If I had a pattern that had isolated designs, it would work. Yesterday I did a scan, trace print with engrave and cut around. I had printed the rowmark Christmas vectors on a color laser printer and did several with two colors so I could more easily designate cut, score engrave.

If/when they add some simple drawing tools to the Glowforge workspace, that would be perfect. Like @karaelena pointed out with the Silhouette Pixscan feature.
And @takitus posted here:

Glowforge's Trace Functionality


For those who can’t wait to get the fabric etching working, here is your solution!


So, they use lasers to remove tattoos from the human body, and now they ‘tattoo’ clothing.
Is it only me that thinks the world’s gone mad :smiley:



So excited to see some fabric testing! I do lots of quilting/sewing, and have a stack of projects in mind that I’m holding off on because they would be so much easier if I could cut the pieces out with a laser rather than by hand.

Excited to try out etching fabrics too - I’m excited for the personalization possibilities, especially something thick/fluffy like a fleece or minky!

Also want to try dabbling in some clothing with laser-cut lace in fabrics like pleather :smiley:


There’s a tattoo place near my brother-in-law’s place that has a laser tattoo removal studio next door :slight_smile: (BTW, my son said the only thing that hurts more than getting a tattoo is having it lasered off.)


Pleather is not usually laserable. It’s PVC based and that releases chlorine which will eat the electronics of a laser.

Real leather on the other hand is perfect.