How to Make a Flat SVG Into a Layered Laser Designs
Lasers are fantastic toys! They effortlessly cut detailed designs thru a variety of materials. Some of these designs would be difficult, nearly impossible, or very time consuming to do by hand. Lasers truly expand your range creative possibilities.
Take the idea of cutting detailed designs and multiply it. Multiple layers add depth and texture to what would otherwise be a flat project. You may have even seen the growing number of layered designs available. These designs are unique and eye catching.
Multilayered designs don’t have to be complicated to make
Although these multilayered designs can look intimidating, do not be afraid to give it a try. If you want to ease into multi layered designs, consider altering any simple design. Most drawing programs have a contour tool that will allow you to duplicate a shape either within the original outline or outside of the outline. Below is an example of a butterfly shape contoured on the outside (top) and then contoured on the inside of the shape. Once these contour lines are created, you can start looking at breaking them into individual layers.
Contour can change the outline of the design
Depending on your design, the contours may keep the shape and detail of the original or they may require editing. In the example below, three identical hearts with red outlines have contour lines added on both the inside and outside. Note the differences of the outline when using the different styles of contours. If your design is very geometric, the type of contour applied can make a big difference.
When creating these contours, keep in mind the desired size of the finished project as well as the material that will be used. If a small project is planned, it may limit the number of layers. It is possible to make designs that will be exceedingly difficult or impossible to assemble if your contours create areas that are too narrow. Substrates that are very thin, such as paper may become very delicate. The cross grain in plywood will tend to be more stable to handle than a piece of wood of the same thickness. Therefore, testing materials prior to cutting a whole project is suggested.
Make your own layered laser design
Let us play with a simple Celtic knot. Often, what looks like a simple design will show double vector lines, so before editing always remove any color fill in the design. After the color fill was removed, you can see there are two contour lines. Without doing anything to this design, you could cut the outer line (red) and then cut the second inner line (blue) to get a layered design.
Editing the vector in a drawing program
Additional contours could be added to the shape, but in this example, the design was going to be used to create a cork table mat. Although the design could have been left with the current outline, two circles were added to the perimeter of the design. This left vector lines that overlapped. If it had been sent to the laser without editing the overlapping vectors, the laser would have cut the Celtic design out from the circles. In CorelDraw, this is easily accomplished with the virtual segment delete tool. Other drawing programs also have similar tools. Below you can see the design before and after the vectors were edited.
This design could have been cut so that it was just the base and a cutout layer or the base, then the outer lines of the design and then the inner lines. As it was a table mat, it was just cut with two layers so that any pan or dish would sit nice and steady. In hindsight, a simple addition of another circle to the outer edge would have accomplished that. (I may just have to go back and redo my project!)
Cut the vector with the laser
Cut from 5mm cork, even the two-layer design makes an interesting table mat. There is still enough room in this design that a monogram or other design could be added to the center.
This technique has limitless possibilities. For the table mat, two layers of cork were placed over 1/8” or 3mm plywood. Think about what it would look like if the bottom plywood layer were exposed and the top layers were cork. Although mixing materials can really create contrast, consider the possibilities of using transparent acrylic for a double-sided key chain or suncatcher. If layers are added to both sides, a 3D effect can be created.
Alignment is key
Assembly of these designs is not difficult although it can be tedious, depending on the number of layers. For the Celtic mat, the outer edges just needed to be aligned and so it was simple. If I had not cut the inner lines and instead opted to add another layer on top, it would have been still easy to line them up. The more layers your project has, the more important it is to keep it aligned. Usually a dry fit, assembling without glue, is recommended. This will give you a chance to see how the layers line up and what problems you may encounter. This will also give you an opportunity to see how the layers look together. Any painting or finishing of the layers should be done before the actual glue up occurs. For any projects that will be have a sealer applied, it should be done after the assembly for better glue adhesion.
As far as adhesives, it simply needs to be suited to the material you are using. Drying or curing time is also important. Adhesives that are slower to set up, will give you more time to make sure everything is lined up exactly. However, chances are it will slow down assembly as you may need to wait and let each layer dry. On heavier materials such as wood or acrylic, cyanoacrylate may be used but the working time is short. Whatever your choice of adhesives, please be sure to read the label and use any recommended ventilation. Also, even the neatest person will also agree that a covered workspace is a must.
Layered designs, regardless of the number of layers, have endless possibilities. They provide depth and texture and of course can be very impressive. Developing your own designs also allows you to personalize your projects. Have fun and try a few layered projects. It is addicting though!