How to Prepare a DXF for Laser Cutting
Creating a DXF
So how do you actually create a DXF that is ready for laser-cutting? Any CAD program should be able to export a DXF from a sketch or from design geometry. Here are some options:
Free, fairly capable, and built by Autodesk, Fusion 360 is our preference. Fusion 360 has a handful of eccentricities that make it interesting to use, but once you get the hang of it, it's hard to beat the price!
Free, and a DXF-native editor. That means it saves its own files in DXF format from the beginning. The editor feels old and clunky, but it is a capable tool.
Was free, but may not be anymore. OnShape is a cloud-based CAD platform that we've used in the past. It is very easy to select a surface in OnShape and create a sketch from it for export.
Powerful but expensive, SolidWorks is more or less an industry standard engineering tool.
Adobe Illustrator can be used to export DXFs, and is our method of choice for preparing cut-ready files from artwork. The DXF outputs from Illustrator aren't necessarily going to be cut-ready right away, and sometimes it takes a little extra work in CAD to set it up.
There are other software tools that can be used to prepare a drawing for laser cutting. CAD programs are almost always going to produce better, more accurate drawings than art-centric tools like Illustrator, but CAD doesn't offer tools for creating vector drawings from raster images, like your company logo.
We have some exciting projects in the works that will make it very easy to turn your artwork into cut-ready drawings. Stay tuned for more!
Examples of Good and Bad DXFs for Laser Cutting
To laser-cut your custom metal part, we need a DXF drawing that outlines the part. Here's a good example:
Notice how all the lines in the drawing outline the part. Your DXF should not include dimensions, tables, center lines, or open contours. Also note that none of the contours collide. Here are some examples of invalid DXFs, with reasons given in the captions:
The basic rule-of-thumb is that every line should represent a cut path for the laser, and the resulting part should be one solid piece of metal. Your drawing shouldn't include any text or other features that aren't designed to be cut.
We are working on improvements to our software that will allow additional capabilities like engraving and ignored contours. In the mean-time, use the rules described above to ensure that your part is quoted and cut accurately.