The Difference Between Control Software and Design Software
I have used a variety of US based lasers (ULS, Epilog, etc…) as well as quite a few Chinese lasers with different controllers. I discovered a myriad of different programs for controlling and design purposes. This article will touch on many of these applications and their functions.
Control Software is specific to certain laser controllers and DSP’s and is primarily used to control the laser. CLICK HERE FOR HELP IDENTIFYING YOUR CONTROLLER. Some control software has no design or editing function at all and some, like LightBurn, have fairly advanced design functions built in. Some people who use these advanced control applications design in the control app without even using a 3rd party design suite.
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Design Software is natively not designed to control your laser and is independent of the laser control software. The typical workflow is to design in the design software you prefer, export the file in a format that your laser control software will accept, and import the file into your control software to send the job to the laser.
I have used everything from notepad to FlexiSign Pro and with the right settings it works great. Chinese machines are a bit different. Many vector based design software use colors to designate layers and the epilog driver interprets the correct colors as to the process that will be performed on that layer.
These programs like Inkscape, CorelDRAW, illustrator, etc… Can have custom color palettes (or, in some cases, import predefined color pallets specific to the laser driver) so your layers are already formatted correctly. FlexiSign even had a ULS color palette available that you just import and use. If using the ULS color palette be sure to default your color space to RGB (and not CMYK) and use the same identical color palette that your laser driver uses because most laser control software uses the RGB color space but I did confirm that LightBurn software can use RGB and/or CMYK modes.
There are also a number of macros and plug-ins to help automate (or at least streamline) the workflow. So essentially anything that can be printed or plotted can be sent to the laser. Below is a good epilog article on installing and using the wood photo engraving macro in CorelDRAW and I’m sure there are others: http://support.epiloglaser.com/article/8205/50104/photo-laser-engraving-on-wood-with-CorelDRAW
Additionally, you could use Photograv, a similar image preparation software, or other services but they can be very expensive, don’t always do a perfect job, and you don’t really know what it’s doing. Learning what setting do what and how it affects the outcome is a valuable lesson that can be implemented from here on out.
There is a site with inexpensive (and free) tutorials that mostly cover epilog and CorelDRAW but the image manipulation tools (brightness, unsharp masking, resolution, contrast, etc…) are the same, or similar, across most of the raster (and many vector) design applications. The site is https://laserengravinginstitute.com. Look through the courses and see what you think. They will teach you what to look for in an image and how to best process them for a variety of substrates.
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