Laser Cutting Guide

Our Laser Cutter

Introduction to laser cutting at WSA (Login with University account to view):

WSA has a Cadcam FB7100 laser cutting machine which can cut a range of materials and fabrics! Laser cutting costs £2.00 per lasercut for students - however, if your artwork will take over an hour (£4.00) to cut you will be asked to make an appointment with the laser operator to assist in the production of your work - please keep an eye on your Snowhite messages.

The cut area of the machine is : 710mm x 970mm.

Material Guidance

The laser cutting process releases different fumes and particles depending on the material cut. Ensuring we only cut appropriate materials is important for the safety of the operators and prevents damage to the machine. For example we cannot cut PVC as when it is heated it releases chlorine gas resulting in hydrochloric acid which is toxic to humans and corrosive to machines.

Sheet Materials

You should be able to show a delivery note indicating the product was purchased from a company selling laser friendly products or from our approved suppliers list.


Please check the permitted materials list. It is safe to laser natural fabrics such as Leather, Cotton, Silk. You should be able to evidence what your fabric is. This can be done with a phone photo of a label attached to the roll from the store, a receipt and link to the online purchase. The information needs to detail the composition of the fabric.

Purchasing from a un-approved Supplier

If you want to purchase from your own supplier, or want to use an unusual material then you must provide a CSC technician with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the material for approval before it will be processed.

Permitted Materials

These materials are fine for use with our laser cutter.

However you must ensure that the material does not contain any substances from the prohibited list. For example woods that have been glued, such as Plywood, are not always laser cutter safe; depending where the material has been purchased from.

It is worthwhile having a test done before purchasing a large amount of material to make sure you are happy with the results.

  • Paper
  • Card
  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Mountboard
  • Polyester
  • Plywood1
  • MDF1
  • Cork
  • Acrylic1
  • Rubber (Not containing Chlorine)1
  • Laminate1
  • Leather (Real)1
  • Polypropylene1
  • Formica1
  • Fabrics (Natural & not containing PVC)
  • Anodized Aluminum2
  • Metal (Coated)2
  • Stone3
  • Rocks3
  • Marble3
  • Granite3
  • Ceramics3
  • Glass3

1These materials should be supplied from our list of approved suppliers. Plywood, MDF and Acrylic that is supplied from DIY stores is often inappropriate for laser cutting.

2Marking only.

3Engraving only.

Link to our Approved Suppliers
Prohibited Materials

These materials, or anything containing these substances, will not be processed in our machine under any circumstances. You must ensure the materials you provide are laser cutter safe.

  • PVC
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polystyrene
  • Lenticular Lens
  • Faux Leather
  • Vinyl
  • Rubber (Containing Chlorine)
  • Fiberglass
  • Printed Circuit Board
  • Carbon Fiber
  • High-Density Polyethylene
  • Metal (Uncoated)
  • Fabrics (Containing PVC)
  • ABS
  • Neoprene
  • Polyurethane

Top Tips

  • Upload a Illustrator PDF to Snowhite - choose ‘Printshop’ and ‘Laser cutter’ in the drop down menu
  • Leave your PDF as editable so changes can be made at production stage
  • Supply your material to the Creative Services Centre
  • Supply an extra piece of material so a small test of your design can be produced
  • Keep an eye on your Snowhite messages - be ready to pop in a check your test
  • Remember to delete any double lines
  • Remember to convert any text to outlines
  • Make sure your document size is the same dimensions as your material - measure!
  • Delete objects from the pasteboard - the laser will try and cut them!
  • Make sure objects have no fills and just a stroke applied
  • Don't use white filled boxes to hide objects / create shapes - the laser software sees all objects even hidden ones.
  • For a raster engrave you can supply a Photoshop image set to Greyscale saved as a PDF
  • Remember to allow 7 working days from submission of your artwork
  • 'Expand' your Illustrator live trace and have a tidy up
  • If you want to try an unusual material get hold of a Material Safety Data sheet first before buying

Template Download

Download this pdf and open in Illustrator

Starting your Design in Illustrator

In Illustrator choose File > New. Make your New Document Profile = Basic RGB and alter the width and height options for the size of your material.

The parameters of your design for laser cutting must be or within 707mm x 964mm.

The easiest way to visualize how your artwork translates to the finished cut is to imagine laying the pieces you want to make on a sheet of paper, then drawing around the edges before taking them away. Your design should look like the lines left on the paper.

The color of the line you draw determines what the laser cutter/engraver will do - see diagram.

All thickness of all three options are thin – approximately the width of the laser’s beam.

Vector line engraving works in a similar way to cutting, but instead of cutting right through the material, the laser just marks the surface.

The laser will trace along the engraving line you draw. There are two different strengths available: kiss cut and engrave – with corresponding depth and darkness.

To make a Cutting line:
  1. Draw a line or shape.
  2. Then set the stroke weight to 1pt.
  3. Set the stroke colour to a RED swatch in the swatch panel. All lines must be the same swatch colour.
To make a Kiss-cut:
  1. Draw a line or shape.
  2. Then set the stroke weight to 1pt.
  3. Set the stroke colour to a BLUE swatch in the swatch panel. All lines must be the same swatch colour.
To make an Engrave:
  1. Draw a line or shape.
  2. Then set the stroke weight to 1pt.
  3. Set the stroke colour to a GREEN swatch in the swatch panel. All lines must be the same swatch colour.
Raster Fill Engraving:

Raster fill engraving is used for filled areas, the strength of the raster engraving ranges from black as the heaviest, down to very pale gray which is the lightest (or white, which is none). Vector shapes or a Photoshop image set to Greyscale can be used for raster engrave. To prepare your Photoshop image (Image > Mode > Greyscale) and save as a PDF.

  • Light grey areas - Light raster fill engraving
  • Medium grey areas - Medium raster fill engraving
  • Black areas - Heavy raster fill engraving
Using text

Any text you use in your design file needs to be converted to outlines. This way the laser cutter will follow your design correctly, regardless of whether or not it has the font installed.

This is as simple as selecting your text and then choosing Type > Create Outlines from the top menu. You won’t be able to edit the text once you’ve done this, so do it last after your spell check.

Using images

To create vector artwork of an image, you’ll need to trace the image you want to incorporate into your design. You can do this by selecting the inserted image and using the Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options command. You’ll see there are several tracing options so try out a few until you find the one you want.

Next, you’ll need to use the Object > Expand command. If the trace has worked correctly, vectors should appear around all of the individual parts of the traced image. There will also be a clear rectangular box around the outside of the traced image – select this with the ‘Direct select’ tool and remove it.

Removing double lines

Sometimes if you are using the ‘Live Trace’ option it’s possible you’ll end up with cutting lines sitting one on top of the other - they may appear darker or slightly thicker.

You need to change these double lines into a single cutting line. Otherwise the line will literally be cut twice – which is not the best for your material, or the machine.

To remove double lines, select them using the ‘Direct select’ tool, then hit delete once or twice. This should leave behind another line. By removing double lines you’ll achieve a better result.

Sometimes lines too close together on some materials may cause the shape to be very fragile or to burn away completely so this is worth considering.

Removing Duplicate Lines in Illustrator - Tutorial

Another technique that is quite quick, though only works on certain files is to use Illustrator's 'Pathfinder' panel, which can be found through selecting it in the 'Window' menu.

You need to: Select All > Ungroup > Exclude (in Pathfinder panel) > Outlines (in Pathfinder panel)

Exporting from Illustrator

Once you are ready to export:

  1. In Illustrator go to FILE and then SAVE AS.
  2. In the FORMAT drop down select ADOBE PDF (pdf).
  3. In the ADOBE PDF PRESET select HIGH QUALITY PRINT. Untick ‘Optimize for Fast Web View’. And then click SAVE PDF.

Uploading to SnoWhite


  1. Login with your University username.
  2. Go to SUBMIT FILE and select 'Choose File'. You must upload a PDF. If you have multiple files that are going on the same media you can combine your PDFs using Acrobat or Preview; see this guide. Please ensure the PDF version is no higher than 1.4 (Acrobat 5.0).
  3. Select the TYPE & MEDIA. Selecting different types will filter the media drop-down.
  4. Set the COPIES. By default it will be 1, adjust if you need more.
  5. Media Specific Options:
    1. LENGTH (Fabric only). Input the exact length of your artwork.
    2. MOUNTED (Paper only). To have your print mounted on foamboard, at extra cost.
    3. BLACK INK (CTF only). Choose between 'Matt Black' and 'Photo Black'
  6. Add any relevant comments such as the source colour profile or custom dimensions, or leave blank.
  7. Set the PAYMENT METHOD. The default is ‘Online Store’, but you can select ‘Subproject Code’ if you have a budget code you want to use.
  8. Click SUBMIT JOB. Your PDF should start uploading. If there is a problem please follow the instructions provided in the error message or contact us for assistance.

Paying on the Online Store

First you must upload your job. Then you must wait for an admin to create a payment reference for your job. You should receive a notification email to indicate this, or you can check your SnoWhite MY PRINTS for a pending payment reference.


  1. Login with your University username.
  2. Go to MY PRINTS.
  3. Then under the heading 'Pending Payments' click PAY HERE.
  4. You will be taken to the Online Store where you must input the cost, add it to your basket and proceed to the checkout to pay for your job.
  5. When you have paid, a SnoWhite technician will check and confirm your payment and then they will set your payment reference to 'Paid' and any associated jobs will be moved to 'Processing' where production will commence.

Collecting your Job

When your job is complete it will have the 'Printed' status in SnoWhite. You can then make an appointment to collect your job: Book an Appointment

Collection locations:

FABRIC - Digital Textiles (1019E)
PAPER - Creative Services Centre (1071E)
SPECIALIST - Creative Services Centre (1071E)

External Cutting

Sketch Laser Cutting

Tutorials & Techniques

Tracing a Line Drawing - Lynda
Laser Engraving Acrylic - Cutlasercut
Removing Duplicate Lines in Illustrator


Approved Suppliers
Lasercut inspiration:
Rob Ryan - Inspiration
Brian Dettmer - Inspiration
Heritage Inlay - Inspiration
Fabric Laser Cutting - lasercutit
Lamps - inspiration
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