Introduction to LightBurn
LightBurn is the CO2 laser engraver industry-standard software. LightBurn is often considered the best laser engraving software of use for many brands of lasers, including OMTech. It allows not only design editing capabilities, but a very beginner-friendly interface that is easy to navigate. It is a powerhouse and allows unlimited possibilities for creating complex design files that directly translate to G-code so your laser can engrave it! Not to mention, it is also one of the only laser cutter software that is Mac compatible.
I’m honestly not too familiar with the additional softwares out there as options are limited on Mac, but some quick research shows there are alternatives if you are running a Windows machine. Such softwares include RDWorks and LaserGRBL which offer some functionality, however the design and feature options are more limited with what you can do.
You will want to start off with the 30-day free trial prior to purchasing your machine, if possible. That way you can get a feel for it so when your OMTech laser cutter arrives, you are ready to test and go!
How do you use LightBurn?
You can use LightBurn as a stand-alone design software, or you can use it in conjunction with other design-centric software, such as CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator. If you are familiar with designing and want to export laser-ready files, LightBurn makes it easy to export in .SVG or .ai formats.
How do I set up LightBurn?
LightBurn can be installed from the official website as a trial, and is both Mac and Windows compatible. In order to use the program for more than 30 days, you will need a special license code which can be purchased from either LightBurn's site, or the OMTech site.
When starting out, you will need to make sure you set up your machine correctly. There is a step by step guide it takes you through which is called “Find my Laser”, or if you have a Mac and face some issues, you can do a manual setup.
With the manual set up, you need to know some things. It will ask you what controller you use (Rudia with the OMTech units), if you are using ethernet or USB, your IP address (if ethernet), the dimensions of your work area (this would be your bed size) and then the origin of your laser. The last part is easy enough to find, just start up your machine and see where the laser head goes.
LightBurn Rotary Setup
Before you enable your rotary, you should always make a backup of your machine settings beforehand which is easy enough to do. Simply go to edit and then click on machine settings, where you can then save your current controller information. It doesn't hurt to take screenshots of the settings as well, in case you ever have an issue loading up a profile again.
When you are ready, you can enable the rotary feature by going into tools and then clicking towards the bottom at rotary set up. It will ask you some basic information such as what type of rotary you are using (roller or chuck), if you wish to enable it along with some specifics you will need to find, such as the steps per rotation, roller diameter and then the object diameter. Brandt from Bearded Build Co. has an informational video that covers this. You can also check out this OMTech blog article for a complete guide on how to set up a laser rotary attachment in LightBurn and RDWorks.
Note that when using the rotary, you may need to make some machine adjustments and possibly will need to edit the actual machine controls.
LightBurn Camera Setup
If you have purchased a camera from LightBurn (to line up your designs), you will need the camera and the designated mount that goes with it. LightBurn also offers a really cool option to 3D print your own mount for free, if you have a 3D printer. They have the STL available right on their site.
There are various camera options on the site, so make sure that you select one that works best for your machine and use. You need to think about the view, if you will be mainly viewing the designs with the door open or closed.
For a lot of people, they find the 85-degree camera to work centered within the lid, if open. If closed you will want a larger view of the area, so something like the 170-degree one might work best for that.
LightBurn actually has a video that goes more in depth with the installation, so make sure to check it out.
Designing in LightBurn & Using Laser File Types
Imported File Types and their Uses
Let's start off by going over two terms you should familiarize yourself with, vector and raster graphics.
A vector is a scalable file that allows your artwork to retain its shape no matter how large or small you make it. This is preferred when working with a majority of your cuts and engravings, unless you are trying to work with a detailed photo or image.
A raster file will become pixelated and distorted if you try to scale it, especially if you want to make it larger. You will notice that the edges will become very blocky, as raster images are made up of tiny pixels. In the laser world, you would want to use a raster image if you plan on engraving a photograph or a design that has a lot of depth.
Importing .SVG and .ai files to LightBurn
.SVG and .ai file types are scalable vector files and one of the most common files available for purchase if you were interested in purchasing your own files versus creating them. Not all programs allow you to create in vector format, however there are workarounds for that.
I design a lot on my iPad and then bring the lineart into Illustrator or LightBurn for live tracing and editing. Both programs are capable of turning lineart into vector files.
To import an .SVG or .ai, simply go to File and then select Import.
Importing .PNG and .JPG to LightBurn
If you plan on working with a lot of photo engravings, using a high-resolution, .PNG or .JPG would be best. You follow the same process as above, but instead select the desired .PNG or .JPG to import. LightBurn also offers some options to edit the photos within the interface, which can be found under shape properties.
After playing around with photo settings, watching videos and running some test engraves, I have found the following settings help output some really nice engravings:
Differences between Line, Fill, Fill+Line and Offset Fill
These are the four options you can mix and match when setting up and designing.
- Line is primarily used when you want to cut something, but can also be used as a quick score for simple lines and text as well, if you reduce the power enough.
- Fill is a simple term for engraving
- Fill+line engraves and outlines the design.
- Offset fill is best used with borders and will outline the actual design. It will follow the outline of the shape VS a left to right engrave
Below are some examples of a design set up for each option so you can have an idea of how it looks.
For those of us coming from Glowforge- how can we score?
For those not familiar with scoring, scoring can be used with simple text and line art instead of engraving, to help speed up production time. It is advised that you test this with your machine, but make sure to bring the power down almost as low as you can go and raise the speed up significantly. Single line fonts work best in this case scenario.
For example, on a 60W you can try 200 speed and 10 power (or the lowest setting of power you can do with your machine). Depending on the thickness of material and the power, it can take a lot of trial and error because the line can burn right through the material, especially if it is a thinner material type like 1/16 or even 1/8. Make sure that you do not go over the allotted mms on your machine (you can find this right on the OMTech website) as it can run the risk of issues, such as motor seizing and potential belt slip/strip.
Below are some test examples at minimum power with different speeds.
Using Layers in LightBurn
Layers can be a great way to organize your designs and what color is what. You can change the layer and color simply by going to the bottom of the screen and selecting one of the color squares. You can also set the layers and colors as default settings by clicking into the layer number on the cut/layer panel. If you use a certain type of material and thickness a lot, it might help speed up your workflow and process by assigning layers settings that you commonly use.
Layers are useful when designating what elements you want to engrave and cut and what order you would like them to be in. It is always advised to engrave first and then cut. You can organize your layers simply by clicking on the little side arrows next to the panel to select what layers you want where.
At the end, you will see a T1 and T2. These are not intended to be sent to your laser and should be used more as guides.
Using Libraries in LightBurn
Libraries are a great way to store and save settings for all the different types of materials you use. You can organize it by material type, supplier, thickness, or whatever methods work best for you. You can also download libraries from the OMTech facebook group as a starting point, just make sure you select a library that works with your machine.
If you want to use a library setting on a layer, simply double click on the library panel and select assign to layer.
Library example is shown below:
Using Preview Mode in LightBurn
Another great tool to familiarize yourself with (especially if you need time estimates for running jobs) is the preview button. This handy tool gives you not only time estimates, but also shows how your design outputs, whether it is a line or fill. It will also advise if you have any paths that might be out of bounds, or potentially a design that needs to have a second look.
Hopefully this guide was able to help you navigate and learn LightBurn a little bit better! One of the best ways to learn this program is to dive in and give it a try yourself. Take your time, learn the different tools, and watch video tutorials to help familiarize yourself with this program. The possibilities are truly endless! Your only limitation is your imagination.