Non-clamp rotary

Learning Through Social Media Communities: The top laser engraving questions answered

Amy Dallman is the marketing communications specialist for Epilog Laser. To request the complete version of Epilog’s Guidebook to Starting a Cutting and Engraving Business, email sales@epiloglaser.com or call toll free 888-437-4564.

One of the most powerful things about social media is its ability to bring people together. With the creation of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms, it’s now possible for entire communities to interact like never before. Social media allows us to share, teach, learn and encourage from nearly anywhere in the world.
When Epilog started the Epilog Laser Fans (ELFs) page on Facebook, we were simply trying to create a space where laser owners could share resources: laser techniques, project files, vendor information, etc. Sure, there are lots of graphic design tutorials and downloadable laser projects online, but we really wanted to create a forum where laser operators could truly interact with one another, sharing best practices, advice and other resources to help build a sense of community and support.

Fast forward seven years and we have a thriving community of nearly 7,000 (6,962 at the time of this writing) laser owners, operators and enthusiasts who have a dedicated place to go for advice and encouragement—whether it’s a machine maintenance question, material supplier inquiry, or a helpful technique or tip someone wants to share. The ELFs page is a closed group (you have to request to join), so we can’t give away all the secrets, but here we’ll run down some of the top questions asked in the group as well as some ELF-supplied (and Epilog-approved) insights. Hopefully you can use them to troubleshoot any laser engraving issues you may encounter.

ELF-STYLE LASER Q&A

Question: What’s the best way to remove smoke residue?

Answer:

  • “I use a medium tack masking paper. So much easier than trying to clean the smoke off after.”
  • “Denatured alcohol and elbow grease.”
  • “Try 220 grit sandpaper. That will easily take any smoke or residue off the bamboo but leave a nice clean engraving.”

Another helpful tip is to use the “Bottom-Up” engraving function within the Epilog Laser Dashboard. In standard top-down engraving, there can be a large amount of engraving debris generated. As the debris moves towards the exhaust plenum, some of it collects in the area that has just been engraved. The Bottom-Up function reduces the amount of smoke and residue so that it is not dragged across fresh engraving marks.  

Question: I have all my artwork set up, but when I press “go,” the laser just beeps and nothing happens. What’s going on?

Answer:

  • “If (your file) is all hairline, it won’t raster. The laser sees hairlines as vector cutting.”
  • “Check your line weight and DPI.”
  • “Make sure you have the correct box checked in the driver—vector, raster or combined—depending on what you want to do.”

Epilog’s print driver, as well as other machine print drivers, has three options for running different types of jobs—raster (engraving-only), vector (cutting-only), and combined (both cutting and engraving in the same project.) If you run into this problem, make sure you’ve got the appropriate box selected for your project. Keep in mind that each manufacturer has slightly different nuances in how these features are used.

Job Type

Raster Mode: Used for engraving or marking materials. Typical applications include engraving clipart, scanned images, photos, text and graphic images. Vector lines that you want to engrave rather than cut should be set 0.006 of an inch (0.152 mm) or greater line thickness.

Vector Mode: Selected when you are running only cut lines, or for use with the Red Dot Pointer (Epilog systems) when previewing the job processing area. In vector mode, a line is recognized as cut line based on the line width (or stroke). To make things easy, set any cut lines to a line width of 0.001 of an inch (.0254 mm), or hairline width in CorelDraw.

Combined Mode: Used when you engrave and cut in the same job. The laser will always engrave first, then follow with the vector cutting mode.

Question: I’m trying to engrave a cylindrical item and it’s slipping on the rotary; any tips on how to fix this?

Answer:

  • “Are you using the clip?”
  • “Trying adding weights inside the piece to prevent slipping.”

In most cases, you will want to load your cylinder with the larger diameter on the left (drive wheel side). The scissor jack is used to elevate the right side of your cylinder so that the top surface is horizontal. Load your cylinder onto the rotary attachment so that it is just touching the black bumper. Using the clamp to hold the glass in place is optional. Some oddly-shaped glasses rotate better if they are clamped to the drive wheels, but not all glasses and other cylindrical objects will require clamping.

Question: I’m getting inconsistent results when engraving glass; anyone have any idea why or how to get better results?

Answer:

  • “Lower the DPI you’re using.”
  • “Change the graphics to 80 percent black and lower the DPI.”
  • “You could try a little dish soap or wet paper towel on the engraving area.”

When a laser strikes glass, it fractures the surface but it will not engrave deeply or remove material. The fracturing of the glass surface will produce a frosted appearance but can cause roughness and chipping depending on the type of glass being engraved. While the frosted appearance is desired, the roughness and chipping are not. Here are our tips, which will help create smooth, bright and frosted effects on glass:
300 DPI: Using a lower resolution, around 300 DPI, produces a better result on glass as you separate the dots you are engraving.
80 Percent Grayscale: Change the black in your graphic to 80 percent black to improve the engraving quality.
Jarvis Dithering: Running with a Jarvis dithering pattern in the driver (you’ll find this in the laser dashboard) will also help provide a smoother finish.
Masking: Some people find that applying a thin, wet sheet of newspaper or paper towel a little larger than the engraving area also helps with heat dissipation and improves the engraving. Just be sure that there are no wrinkles in the paper after it is applied.
Dish Soap: Using your finger or a paper towel, apply a thin coat of liquid dish soap—any kind will do—over the area to be engraved. This will dissipate the heat when engraving.
Polish: If there are small shards of glass, you can polish the area with a ScotchBrite pad or something similar.

CONCLUSION

While some of the questions above may be more beginner level, our ELFs (and Epilog admins) often field more technical or design-based questions as well—it just depends on what’s trending on any given day. The overall purpose of the group, however, is and always will be to provide a place where engravers of all skill levels can go to share, learn and advise other laser operators… and maybe build a few friendships along the way.

We hope you find this information useful as you go about your laser engraving operations.