Here is some follow-up information for those who took the laser class and would like to use the laser. Some of these items were mentioned in the class, others will be new information.
There were two pieces of software mentioned in class. The first was the graphics software used to create the image file the laser needs: Inkscape. The second is the laser control software: K40 Whisperer.
In class we showed Inkscape as the software that was used to create the images. For the laser, the images need to be saved in SVG format (Inkscape’s native format), or DXF.
There are other graphics programs that can create the needed SVG files (scalable vector graphics). CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer—as well as many others—are alternative tools you can use if you already have one of them installed. Inkscape is free and, while not always the easiest to use, it is not much harder than many other full-featured vector graphics program.
There are many tutorials online for using Inkscape, but I would start by watching the videos made by the creator of K40 Whisperer because he teaches what is needed to make the graphics for the laser.
This is the laser control software. It works well with our laser and we will soon have a computer in place at the shop that will control the laser and you won’t have to configure the software on your own machine. But, until we have that computer set up, you can work through the setup steps on the K40 Whisperer website to get started on your own machine if you would like. When I was setting up the software and laser at the shop, I believe everything was left at default settings that the software and website recommended.
Don’t miss his tutorial videos towards the bottom of the software page. They are short and very informative.
Turning Everything On
[This section will be updated as the physical location and setup of the machine changes in the coming weeks]. The laser should be plugged into a power strip. When turning the strip on, everything that needs to run for the laser to work, should come on. But, here are the things to check if something doesn’t seem right.
- The Main Machine: If the on/off switch on the laser control panel doesn’t light up, then switch it to the on position.
- Water Pump: There is a pump submerged in a bucket of water under the laser. Two hoses are in the bucket. One comes out of the pump and sends water to the laser. The other comes from the laser and is not connected to anything in the bucket. It is the return water from the laser unit. It would be wise to check and make sure water is pumping when you get started.
- Air Assist: We did not have this in place during class, but we are working on an air assist nozzle. It pumps air right at the base of where the laser is cutting. It, along with the fan for smoke exhaust, are needed to help get the cleanest possible cuts with as little flame as possible. This is the stand-alone pump that makes so much noise.
- Smoke Exhaust: Smoke from the laser is pulled from the unit to a filtered box by a fan. This should be running when you use the laser. It will keep the smoke fumes down in the room as well as give you a much better cut.
These are the items that you can adjust as you are using the laser. If you are not getting the cut you expect, go through this list and make sure everything is adjusted properly.
Use the “Laser Focus Block” to help set the height of the bed to the laser output lens. If the block cannot be found, the proper distance is 1-15/16″ to 2″ from the bottom of the laser lens to the work piece.
Raise and lower the bed using the knob on the front of the machine. Be aware that the table currently does not rise perfectly level. You may have to focus one end of the table to the laser and then check the other end. Adjust the table as necessary.
The laser strength is set by the knob labeled “current regulation” on the main control panel to the right of the laser. You will need to make some test cuts and engravings to find what works best for your project and material.
Though I haven’t confirmed the exact number, the laser should not be set to greater than 15 mA on the “current indication” meter if it is running continuously. If it is pulsing a bit above 15 mA, that should be fine.
Be aware that the laser will wear out faster and need replacing the more it is run closer to 100% power (which is approximately 15 mA on the meter). Cut and engrave at the power needed, but try not to overdo it. Realize that for some materials you will have to run the cutting pass multiple times to get a cut all the way through.
This is a setting inside the K40 Whisperer software. At the bottom left you will see a speed in mm/sec (or inch/sec if you choose inches as your default units when setting up the software). Since the laser will have a static strength (based on the power knob setting), the depth/strength of cut is determined by how quickly the laser moves over the material being cut.
Graphics Colors and Meaning
When you create your artwork for cutting/engraving, be aware of the following colors. The colors in the art help the laser control software know how to handle each part of an image.
Red: Vector Cut
Anything you want cut all the way through should be outlined in red. You can change the speed based on the thickness of material, but it should be somewhere near the default speed of 10 mm/s.
Blue: Vector Engrave
Anything that is blue in your image will get outlined with a vector engrave. This is a burn on the surface, but not a cut (unless your power is too high or your speed is too slow). Note that this will only draw the outline of each item in blue. It will not color in the entire blue object. That is what the raster engrave (next) does.
Black: Raster Engrave
Raster engrave is where the laser burns the surface of the material being engraved. This is done in a series of lines moving left and right, then top to bottom. Anything that is black in the art will be filled in using a fast movement of the laser for the purpose of scorching the surface of the material without cutting through.
I recommend you watch the tutorial videos at the bottom of the K40 Whisperer website. Working through those while sitting at the laser will really teach you most of what you need to know to operate the laser confidently.
Then, I suggest that you find some projects, either through YouTube or a written description of how to engrave/cut, and work through those tutorials.
Doing these two things will help you learn how to operate the laser when you want to step out of the realm of having someone hold your hand through a project.
Enjoy the new tool!