LaserWeb is open-source laser cutter and engraver software, and [JordsWoodShop] made a video tutorial (embedded below) on how to convert a cheap laser engraver to use it. The laser engraver used in the video is one of those economical acrylic-and-extruded-rail setups with a solid state laser emitter available from a variety of Chinese sellers (protective eyewear and any sort of ventilation or shielding conspicuously not included) but LaserWeb can work with just about any hardware, larger CO2 lasers included.
LaserWeb is important because most laser engravers and cutters have proprietary software. The smaller engravers like the one pictured above use a variety of things, and people experienced with larger CO2 laser cutters may be familiar with a piece of software called LaserCut — a combination CAD program and laser control that is serviceable, but closed (my copy even requires a USB security dongle, eww.)
LaserWeb allows laser engravers and cutters to be more like what most of us expect from our tools: a fully open-source toolchain. For example, to start using LaserWeb on one of those affordable 40 W blue-box Chinese laser cutters the only real hardware change needed is to replace the motion controller with an open source controller like a SmoothieBoard. The rest is just setting up the software and enjoying the added features.
[Fuzzy Wobble] and [Amy Wang]’s Deep Space Settlers project is a one-of-a-kind re-invention of the popular board game Settlers of Catan, and showcases the polished results that are possible with the fabrication tools and methods available in many workshops and hackerspaces today. We reached out to the makers for some of the fabrication details, which they were happy to share.
(For those of you who are familiar with the game, technically this is a remake and slight evolution of the Seafarers expansion to the base Settlers of Catan game. A few rule changes were made, but it is mostly a total remodel and redesign.)
The LaserWeb project recently released version 3, with many new features and improvements ready to give your laser cutter or engraver a serious boost in capabilities! On top of that, new 3-axis CNC support means that the door is open to having LaserWeb do for other CNC tools what it has already done for laser cutting and engraving.
LaserWeb3 supports different controllers and the machines they might be connected to – whether they are home-made systems, CNC frames equipped with laser diode emitters (such as retrofitted 3D printers), or one of those affordable blue-box 40W Chinese lasers with the proprietary controller replaced by something like a SmoothieBoard.
We’ve covered the LaserWeb project in the past but since then a whole lot of new development has been contributed, resulting in better performance with new features (like CNC mode) and a new UI. The newest version includes not only an improved ability to import multiple files and formats into single multi-layered jobs, but also Smoothieware Ethernet support and a job cost estimator. Performance in LaserWeb3 is currently best with Smoothieware, but you can still save and export GCODE to use it with Grbl, Marlin, EMC2, or Mach3.
We recently shared a lot of great information on safe homebrew laser cutter design. Are you making your own laser cutting machine, or retrofitting an existing one? Let us know about it in the comments!
[Martin Raynsford] wrote a program that converts a black-and-white 2D image to G-code so that his laser printer could then etch the image. Not satisfied with just that, he used his laser printer to make a scanner that consists of a stand for his webcam and a tray below it for positioning the paper just right. The result was something he took to a recent Maker Faire where many kids drew pictures on paper which his system then scanned and laser etched.
[Martin’s] program, written in C#, does the work of taking the image from the webcam using OpenGL and scanning it line by line looking for pixels that surpass a contrast threshold. For each suitable pixel the program then produces G-code that moves the laser to the corresponding coordinate and burns a hole. Looking at the source code (downloadable from his webpage) it’s clear from commented-out code that he did plenty of experimenting, including varying the laser burn time based on the pixel’s brightness.
While it’s a lot of fun writing this code as [Martin] did, after the break we talk about some off-the-shelf ways of accomplishing the same thing.
[Dan Royer] explains a simple method to engrave/etch on both sides of a material. This could be useful when you are trying to build enclosures or boxes which might need markings on both sides. There are two hurdles to overcome when doing this. The first is obviously registration. When you flip your job, you want it re-aligned at a known datum/reference point.
The other is your flip axis. If the object is too symmetric, it’s easy to make a mistake here, resulting in mirrored or rotated markings on the other side. Quite simply, [Dan]’s method consists of creating an additional cutting edge around your engraving/cutting job. This outline is such that it provides the required registration and helps flip the job along the desired axis.
You begin by taping down your work piece on the laser bed. Draw a symmetrical shape around the job you want to create in your Laser Cutter software of choice. The shape needs to have just one axis of symmetry – this rules out squares, rectangles or circles – all of which have multiple axes of symmetry. Adding a single small notch in any of these shapes does the trick. Engrave the back side. Then cut the “outside” outline. Lift the job out and flip it over. Engrave the front side. Cut the actual outline of your job and you’re done.
Obviously, doing all this requires some preparation in software. You need the back engrave layer, the front engrave layer, the job cut outline and the registration cut outline. Use color coded pen settings in a drawing to create these layers and the horizontal / vertical mirror or flip commands. These procedures aren’t groundbreaking, but they simplify and nearly automate a common procedure. If you have additional tricks for using laser cutters, chime in with your comments here.
Expensive laser cutters have a 3D engraving mode that varies the laser power as it is etching a design, to create a 3D effect. [Benjamin Alderson] figured this could be replicated on a cheap Chinese laser — so he made his own program called SmoothCarve.
He’s got one of those extra cheap blue-box 40W CO2 lasers you can nab off eBay for around $600-$800, but he’s replaced the control board with a SmoothieBoard as an easy upgrade. He wrote the program in MatLab to analyze a grey scale image and then assign power levels to the different shades of grey. You can see the software and try it yourself over at his GitHub.
The resulting application is pretty handy — watch it carve the Jolly RancherWrencher after the break!
Here’s a fantastic way to add a new dynamic to your laser cut and engraved parts. Did you know it is possible to color your engravings on acrylic? It’s kind of one of those moments where you go “Why didn’t I think of that?”
[Frankie Flood] works at the Digital Craft Research Lab (DCRL for short), which is kind of like a hackerspace for the University of Wisconsin — complete with CNC routers, lasers, 3D printers, and all your basic manufacturing tools. [Lionel Rocheleau], one of his lab technicians at DCRL was interested in doing some experiments with the laser cutter, so they came up with this experiment…