Session 21 – Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser

The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series

Welcome to Module 3 of the new Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series with Russ Sadler. Module 3 will build on the information learned in the previous modules and will be targeted on the differing types of laser engraving methods and the techniques needed to consistently achieve great engraving results.  So let’s learn how to do line drawing with a CO2 laser!

In this Session, Russ explains how to use your laser machine to get get good quality line drawings. He reveals his tricks and secrets to achieve good results. Line drawing is also known as vector drawing.

Release Date: 3rd December 2021

Over the last 6 years, Russ has built up a formidable YouTube following for his RDWorks Learning Lab series which currently has over 200 videos.

The original RDWorks Learning Lab series on his “Sarbar Multimedia” YouTube Channel, follows Russ as he tries to make sense of his new Chinese laser machine and to sort out the truths, half truths and outright misleading information that is available on the web.

Six years later with over 3 million YouTube Views under his belt, Russ has become the go to resource for everything related to the Chinese CO2 laser machine user or wannabe user.

Example of How To Do Line Drawing With A CO2 Laser
Example of How To Do Line Drawing With A CO2 Laser

In this new series, Russ has condensed his knowledge and experience of the last 6 years to provide valuable information and insights into the purchasing, understanding, use, repair and maintenance of the Chinese CO2 laser machines and their key component parts.

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Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser

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The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab with Russ Sadler.

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Session 21: Line drawing. This is today’s session, it’s all about using the machine for drawing.

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Now, many people think that this is the easy part of using the laser machine.

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I beg to differ. There is a lot of understanding that you have to have to get good quality drawings out of this machine.

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Now, as I’ve said, for many other engraving processes, you can just throw some numbers into this machine and it will produce a result.

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Will it be a good result? Well, that’s up to you to judge.

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You might be lucky first time, but there’s quite a lot more to vector drawing than meets the eye.

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And I’m going to show you some of the tricks and secrets today to getting a good result.

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You will note how the smoke is pulling away towards the back.

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We’re using all the same sort of tricks that we’ve used in previous sessions, we’re using the engraving nozzle.

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And we’re using very, very low air assist.

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And we’re drawing the fumes away very quickly, so that they don’t make the job brown, because this is cardboard

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after all, a type of wood. This is producing nasty brown fumes exactly the same as wood.

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OK, can you see any hint of brown on there, apart from the lines?

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So we’re going to start off again, as we always do with the sessions at square one.

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We’re going to break the problem down into its simplest elements and gradually work towards doing this sort of work. Although

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you can do this on wood. Birch plywood is very good because it’s got a fairly uniform texture.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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Certainly, I wouldn’t be trying to do this on something like bamboo.

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There are just too many different woods in this thing called bamboo.

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Bamboo might be classed as a wood, but within bamboo there’s around about a thousand other woods.

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And we’ll take a look at that later on and I’ll explain what I mean.

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This is basically a one millimetre thick piece of beer mat card, the sort of thing that’s used in pubs that soaks up your beer if you spill it.

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So this is basically pretty raw wood.

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It’s uniform wood because it’s just wood pulp that’s been reconstituted.

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There’s no other chemicals or materials in here.

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So it is as I said, this is basically grainless wood.

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I’m using this because it’s a very good material to demonstrate the sort of principles, that I need to show you. As I pointed out to you just now.

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We’re using the short nozzle because we are engraving.

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We want the maximum distance we can possibly get between the work and the nozzle. For the small amount of material that we’re going to be burning,

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it’s still going to explode upwards and get drawn away, as you saw in the opening shots. We’re

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using your two inch lens with the flat side down at the moment.

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We experiment with that a little bit later on. Well, one of the first things we’re going to talk about today is my Ferrari, that I don’t have.

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But there is an effect on this machine that I like to describe as the Ferrari effect.

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It’s just a piece of ordinary physics. But if I relate it to a Ferrari, I’m sure you will remember what we’re talking about.

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So if I had this wonderful machine that was capable of doing 200 miles an hour, I could take it out onto the road.

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And if nobody caught me, I could travel in a straight line 200 miles an hour.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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Right now, the question is, if I started off from the traffic lights, what distance would it take?

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The chances are it would be something like maybe a quarter of a mile, maybe to get up to 200 miles an hour.

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And then, of course, I could carry on at 200 miles an hour. Let’s change the scenario

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now. I haven’t got a straight road and I haven’t got a set of traffic lights.

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What I’ve got. Is the block where I live, which might have six houses on it,

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and it’s probably about 200 meters by 200 meters, and there’s a road that runs around the block like this.

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OK? Now, if I start here with my Ferrari, how fast will I be going when I get to this corner? or

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put it another way. How fast will I be able to get to before I have to put the brakes on to go round the corner?

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The chances are I will only probably be able to get up to about 60 mph because by the time I get to 60,

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I’ve got a jam on the brakes to get round the corner. So there isn’t a lot of point in having a 200 mile an hour car.

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If you’re on a very short, small sharp road.

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The only time you can benefit from that 200 miles an hour, is if you’ve got a long, straight road or a very gentle curve.

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Here is the Ferrari of my machine. It’s the head. It cannot instantly go from zero to two hundred millimetres a second.

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It’s the same problem as my Ferrari.

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It takes a physical amount of time before it can get to 200 millimetres a second and then it can carry on at 200 millimetres a second.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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But equally, it takes time to to slow down from 200 millimeters a second to zero.

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So there is an acceleration and a deceleration period, which depends upon the speed at which the head is moving.

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So the faster you move the head, the greater the distance it will take for it to reach the speed that you want

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to travel at, 200 miles an hour or on this machine 200 millimetres a second.

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So every time I approach a corner, I’ve got to slow down to zero in Y, and then I’ve got to start from zero in X.

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So at that point, there the speed is zero zero X and Y, it comes to a dead halt on the corner.

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Now, the problem with this machine is the power is on all the time.

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As we slow down, the cut will get deeper and deeper and deeper to the point where when the beam is stopped, it will be very deep.

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And then when the beam starts off again,

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it will get shallower and shallower and shallower and then it’ll get deep again on this corner and this corner and this corner.

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Hey now, I’m just going to give you a little demonstration of the Ferrari effect.

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OK, so here is that 200 meter race track around the block, that I was just describing to you.

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We go flying down here, we have to put the brakes on and we have to stop at the corner.

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But because the power hasn’t stopped, here’s what happens at the corner.

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Look, you can clearly see the brakes being applied here as it slows down.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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Look, so here we are. We’re running from zero up to and we’re an accelerating up to 100 millimetres a second.

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We’re then running along here with a shallow cut at 100 millimetres a second and then all of a sudden,

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whoa, we’re going to hit the corner, too fast, jam on the brakes.

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So we jam on the brakes and eventually we stop at the corner and look how deep the cut is right at the corner.

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So here’s our original hundred millimetres a second and you can see it accelerating.

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It reaches 100 millimetres a second and then it decelerates. Now we change to 400 millimeters a second.

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And look, first of all, it takes a lot longer to get to 400 millimeters a second.

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It just about makes 400 millimeters a second in the middle here.

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Look. And then it has to jam on the anchors here.

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Now, there’s no difference in the depth of cut because we’ve still got exactly the same power.

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So when it stops, it stops. So the depth of cut will be the same.

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The only thing that will be different is that because we’ve asked it to run at 400 millimetres a second,

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it takes longer to accelerate up to the correct speed.

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The point I’m making here is you can set a drawing speed to anything you like.

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It could be a thousand millimetres a second, but if the distance is not long enough, it will never make a thousand millimetres a second.

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If you’ve only got a two millimetre long cut at 100 millimetres a second, it’s still going to not make 100 millimetres a second.

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It’s only going to make maybe 40 or 50 millimetres a second.

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And that’s your burning capability, 50 millimetres a second.

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Speed and power are related to the depth of cut or to the damage you can do.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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So we’ve got two physics problems here. Number one, we want to cut and draw as fast as we can do.

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And when you’ve got fairly smooth, straight lines, you can run pretty fast.

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But when you’ve got sharp corners, you have to slow down and as you slow down, so your line thickness will change and you’ll burn

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depth will change. I’ve changed my material to MDF because it’s a nice, easy material to see the effect that I want to show you.

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Now, I’m going to run exactly that same 400 millimetres a second Test square again.

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I think you can see on these corners here,

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the line is getting thicker and it’s getting browner on these corners, because

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of the slowing down effect. Let’s change that to 100 millimeters a second.

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OK, so those are the two for comparison. When the beam stops, penetration is the same for both in the corners.

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And we can see that because if I turn it over, look, it’s come through by exactly the same amount on both of them. Because this is a fairly hard material.

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You can’t really see that change very much. Here’s my beer mat card.

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And you can see the effect very, very clearly on here, how it’s running into the corners, making the lines thicker and blacker.

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And then when we turn it over and have a look what’s on the back, you can see how far the effect is coming into the corners.

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So what I’m going to do now is to show you how we get rid of this effect.

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So here’s my little program. And I had it running at 400 millimetres a second and I was using 20 percent power for both Max and Min.

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This is one of the occasions when you can use minimum power.

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Most of the time you would always have your max and min power set the same,

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especially if you’re cutting. Mainly it’s for engraving that you might want to change this minimum power.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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And what I’m going to do is I’m going to change that minimum power to five percent at the moment, leave everything else, the same.

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Now, bear in mind, the only thing that I’ve changed is minimum power.

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We’re going to change the power up to eight percent minimum power.

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We’ve just about got the corners to join up.

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Let me go back to seven per cent and I’ll show you that it doesn’t take very much to make the corners separate.

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So this is minimum of seven percent. And as you can see, at seven percent power,

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the corner is missing. We haven’t. What we’ve done,

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we basically put the brakes on and we stopped before the corner. There is something built into the machine, which I’m not going to explain,

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but basically it is a proportional power control that happens in relation to the speed that you are running.

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And in fact, at nine percent, we’ve overdone it. Look, it’s got a little bit of burning in the corners.

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And let’s look underneath, and look we’re just coming through with the power.

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So we applied the brakes to late at nine percent.

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So it looks as though eight percent is the right value that we should be choosing.

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So let’s try eight percent, and there we go at eight percent, we’ve got nice clean corners.

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And if we look underneath, we have no burning through. Let’s change that to 100 millimetres a second.

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Well, we got a darker result. Corners not too bad.

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It was four hundred millimetres a second here and now it’s 100 millimetres a second,

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the line thickness doesn’t look a lot different, but the colour is.

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But I think I’ve described to you in one of the previous sessions, how colour is nothing to do with the burning effect.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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It’s all to do with the depth of the cut, and it’s the depth of the cut, the blackness,

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the occlusion of light that’s causing this apparent blackening of the line. As the line gets towards the surface,

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shallow here, it looks brown, but as you put it in deeper, it gets black.

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That’s the key thing, that I wanted to explain to you; the Ferrari effect and the fact that you can get rid of the

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Ferrari effect by changing the minimum power. We’ll just do our Ferrari test square again,

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using the same minimum power number. We’ve got rid of that corner penetration because we’ve stopped the power exactly at the corner?

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OK, so I’ve just draw a little program here and we’ll use exactly the same parameters.

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Hundred millimetres a second and eight percent and 20 percent min and max power.

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And we’ll see what results we get this time, should we? We’re going to run that program again,

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and I’ve made one small change. Nothing to do with the speed or the power.

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I’ve just added another feature. Listen, can you hear how that’s hissy? The cut, and again as it goes around the outside.

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Listen to how hissy that cut is. That tells me we’re in pre-ionisation mode. Let’s just change the power very slightly to something like 30 percent.

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I don’t know whether you’ll be able to say that, but with the naked eye, this one is definitely blacker than this one.

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This one’s got a slightly brown hue, a dark brown hue to it.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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And this one is blacker, and it’s also crisper, because changed the speed from 100 to 400 millimetres a second.

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The line has got thinner.

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These little pieces will never get up 400 millimetres a second in the same way that these will never get up to 100mm/s.

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So I think these are both looking the same because they are limited by the speed they can actually reach.

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Now, let’s just run this last sample that I did, on different materials to see what the effect is.

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Did you hear that last rip around that the speed and the noise that tells me we’re still operating in pre-ionisation mode?

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Let’s try a piece of my soft poplar plywood. And a piece of Baltic birch plywood.

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And now a piece of interesting thin white card, which I’ll explain in a minute what it is.

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As you can see, these settings work for a whole range of materials. That’s just about to come through the back of that card.

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Now, if we hold this last one up to the light, it’s full of perforations.

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That perforation is what I was describing to you in an earlier session.

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That’s what pre-ionisation does. You heard it making a very hissy noise.

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That’s high frequency pulses. And that’s why those pieces haven’t fallen out, because it’s a perforated cut, not a continuous cut.

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And pre-ionization tends to give you a very nice, clean smoke free cut.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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There’s no smoke damage on any of these. So there will be instances when you want thicker lines.

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So the way you get thicker lines is you don’t mess around with the power or anything like that.

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You just put it out of focus slightly. So I’m going to lift that focus up by two millimetres for your two inch lens.

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You’ll notice how much darker that is. It’s not because I’ve increased the power.

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It’s because I’ve basically softened the intensity. I’m basically doing more scorching and less deep cutting.

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OK, the lines are slightly thicker as well. So look at the range of colours that we’ve achieved just by messing around with the focus.

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We haven’t seriously compromised the thickness of the lines or the quality of the shape.

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We’ve made the lines slightly thicker, much darker, and we’ve done that just by increasing the focal distance.

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Didn’t we have an amazing effect when we changed the focal distance, when we were deep engraving?

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It’s very underused facility on this machine, changing the focus.

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Everybody wants to keep things perfectly in focus.

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Perfectly in focus isn’t always the right way, as I hope I’m demonstrating to you. Let’s see what out of focus does on this card.

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Now, with this thin card, you can clearly see that we are not cutting in as deep. As I said, when we’re running with it in focus,

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we’ve got good penetration into the material. When we defocus,

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we’ve got exactly the same amount of power there, but we’ve softened the power and

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we’ve spread it out. So that it can’t go in as deeply. It doesn’t go in as deeply,

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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and it actually scorches the material more than cut the material, which is why we’ve got a darker and a thicker line cut.

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And if we look on the back, you’ll see we’ve got nothing coming through, whereas previously we had cuts that went right the way through.

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OK, now I’ve taken the two inch lens and I’ve physically turned it from flat side down where we had fifty point eight,

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exactly where we expected it to be. And I’ve turned it flat side up and now the focal point is no longer where we expect it to be,

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just there. The focal point has come down here to fifty two point eight. In other words,

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we’ve got a bigger gap. Now, you can’t really see it,

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probably on this picture, but these two lines here are pretty close to the same, but that I judge to being the thinner line of the two.

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But when I compare that line to this line here, this line is slightly thinner than that line there.

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So the focal point is different and it’s also generating a slightly thicker line when we use it this way up.

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Now, that may be to our advantage,

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because now I’m going to move away from; everything that we’ve been doing up to now has been done at low power, 20, 30 percent power.

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Now, if I want to do big letters, I should be able to run very fast because remember the Ferrari effect.

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If we get big letters, we shall get large expanses of curves and long straight lines, we should be able to run very fast.

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But of course, if we run very fast, we’ll run out of puff because we shan’t have enough power at 20 percent.

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So we shall have to put the power right the way up, which is the opposite end of the spectrum.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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The problem with understanding how the machine works is it sometimes can get in the way.

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We’ve been working with powers down at the blunt end of my beam, because this is what the intensity looks like

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at round about 20 percent.

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I probably exaggerate that slightly because, as I said, when we’re using the pre-ionisation zone, we artificially probably jump up to here or here.

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Even though technically we would expect to be right the way down here. Because of the high,

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high frequency pulses, we get a much sharper beam than we would normally expect.

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But now we’re going to go right to this end of the spectrum and we’re going to use full power.

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Now, full power means that we’re going to get a much sharper beam.

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Does that mean to say we’re going to be able to get thicker lines if we pull it out of focus? Hmm.

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That’s an interesting question you see. If we want to run fast to do drawing.

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What about running into the corners with the Ferrari effect? And then we’ve got this effect here where we might get a sharp beam rather than a blunt beam.

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Now, I’ve got the lens the wrong way round. Curved side down remember. And we said that it was around about fifty two point eight,

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which is a two millimetre bigger gap than previously.

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So fifty two would mean this would normally be set at 22.

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So if I want to add 4 to that, I’ve got to set this at twenty six. So we’re four millimetres above the focal point and we’re going to run this with

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the standard parameters that we’ve been using up to now, 200 millimetres

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a second, 30 percent power for maximum and eight percent minimum.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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As I think you can see, hmm, it’s not all that dark. And what we have got is where it’s running along very fast here, 200 millimetres a second.

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And up here, it’s slightly lighter than it is where it’s going slower round these corners.

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The same applies here. Look, we’ve got dark and light.

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The whole of that centre section is darker because it never gets up to 200 millimetres a second.

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The first thing we’ll do is we’ll raise the power up to 95 percent.

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Now, trust me, 95 percent on my machine is perfectly OK because I’ve got an underpowered power supply on here, which I can drive to it’s limit.

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You see, that’s pretty good. I’m going to push this up to 400 millimetres a second.

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Think about it for a minute. Remember the Ferrari effect? OK, so I’ve set the speed to 400 millimetres a second.

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Will it ever reach 400 millimetres a second? Because some of these corners here, it cannot go round these corners at 400 millimetres a second.

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So by running faster, I’m likely to bring this difference in thickness and density back into the equation, because

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in places it will be running very slowly and in other places like round here or down here,

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it will make it to 400 millimetres a second. And these lines will be a lot lighter.

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Well, there’s no doubt about it, it’s definitely lighter.

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OK, so if I want these lines to be thicker. I can I can feel in there

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at the moment they are quite deep, with my fingernail.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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So I could get those lines thicker and darker by lifting the focus up at 200 millimetres a second.

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And that was four millimetres above the focal point, five, six, seven millimetres above the focal point now.

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So we’re running this at 200 millimetres a second, full power.

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Quite nice, thick lines that are proportionate to the size of font that we’re using, we’ve been able to run quite fast and we’ve got it quite dark.

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What I’m saying to you is there is a whole range of power, speed and focus that you can use with drawing.

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But do not overlook the Ferrari effect, which we don’t have here because look, we’ve got no sharp corners on this font.

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Let me change the font and see what effect this setting has on a different font.

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I mean, I can see that just here, for example, on the Serifs, we’ve got a little bit of darkening here, and on the short lines.

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We still got quite a good depth of cut in there. But we’re losing a little bit of colour just here,

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where it gets up to speed. Look, it’s darker down at the bottom and at the top and lighter down these gentle curves. The same applies here

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look, we’re going up the N and then when we get up to here.

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It gets very dark, very dark, and then it moves away from dark to quite light here, back to dark, light, and then you get darker on the top of these serifs.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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So, yes, there are differences if you’re critical. But if you just look at that, generally, that’s not bad.

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What I’m basically trying to show you is, you can get thick lines and thin lines with drawing, you’re not limited to just thin lines at

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the focal point. A little demonstration to finish off with. So as you can see, we’re using all the tricks of engraving here.

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You can clearly see that the smoke is not really reaching the nozzle, and the explosive effect on the surface is obvious,

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but we are not sending it up so high that it’s trying to force its way into the nozzle. It’s

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being drawn away by the crossflow of air, before it has a chance to get up there.

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We’ve turned the lens flat down again and we’re using this four millimetres above the focal point, so that we get a nice dark burn and a slightly thicker line.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser (Cont…)

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Now I put the outside shape on a different layer because I want to cut it, and the problem is, I want to cut it

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at 20 mm. So I’ve got to stop the program, reset the focus,

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and run just the outside of the job. Just take those little magnets off there.

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And there we have a beautiful table mat, if you want such a table mat. And we haven’t talked about cutting yet, but hey, I cut that with an engraving

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nozzle. Not the best thing to do,

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but it’s always possible, because I’ve just got this one shape to go around the outside here and I can make some compromises.

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But hey, that’s as much as we need to do about drawing

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with your laser, you can see what is possible.

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The rest is all down to your imagination and remembering some of the things that we’ve done with this machine today.

Transcript for Line Drawing with a CO2 Laser

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Last updated August 26, 2021

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