Step-by-Step: How to Create Hand-Drawn Vectors for Lasercutting

Guaranteed way to get a completely free vector image to use in your work 🙂

Laser-cut hand-drawn flower vector
Laser-cut hand-drawn flower vector

The previous article described how to use ready-made stock vector images for lasercutting work, but sometimes (depending on how the artist created the original image) it can still take several hours of ‘tweaking’ to make them suitable for your own project.

What if you already know the sort of design you want, and could draw it quickly by hand but you’re stuck with using a mouse or trackpad that doesn’t quite do the job? This article will show a quick way to create hand-drawn vector images for your lasercutting projects, that you know will be exactly right for your work because you created them. Plus they’re original and you don’t need to pay anyone for the rights to use them!

You will need:

  • White paper
  • Thick black pen (e.g. a Sharpie, or I just get cheap markers from Wilko)
  • Drawing software (e.g. I use CorelDraw, or you could use Illustrator or others)

Step 1: Use the thick black pen to draw your designs.

Flower shapes for lasercutting, drawn with a thick black pen
Hand-drawn florals: thick black pen on white paper.

Step 2: Scan or photograph your hand-drawn image, and save it somewhere that you’ll be able to retrieve it from your drawing application.

Step 3: Open your drawing software and import the image (in CorelDraw use Ctrl + I, and in Illustrator I think it’s File > Place)

Photo of hand-drawn flowers has been imported into CorelDraw
Photo of hand-drawn flowers has been imported into CorelDraw

 

Step 4: Now you basically need to get the software to turn your photo (millions of pixels) into vectors (hundreds of coordinates), so you’ll be able to create a design that your laser can cut. In CorelDraw you can do this by selecting the image and then go to Bitmaps > Quick Trace. (In Illustrator it’s called Live Trace.) The software then simplifies blocks of colour and turns them into separate objects:

The black parts of the image have automatically been changed into black objects with smoother outlines.
The black parts of the image have automatically been changed into black objects with smoother outlines.

 

Step 5: (Optional) The software doesn’t always get the conversion exactly right, so you might end up with an object made up of a couple of layers of colour (in the case below, there is a solid black flower outline, with some grey petal shapes on top of it, instead of being made of thin black outlines). In CorelDraw it’s easy to ungroup the object (Ctrl + U), and then highlight the group of object (e.g. the flower in this case) and go into Arrange > Shaping > Back Minus Front.

Left-hand flower looks like one object ready for lasercutting, but it's actually made up of a big black shape with six grey shapes on top of it.
Left-hand flower looks like one object, but it’s actually made up of a big black shape with six grey shapes on top of it.

 

Hand-drawn flower vector ready for lasercutting. Grey shapes have been removed, so the flower is now one object made of black lines.
Grey shapes have been removed, so the flower is now one object made of black lines.

 

Step 6: (Optional) If you want, you can copy shapes and/or move or re-size them until you have the design that you want.

hand-drawn florals combined.gif

 

Step 7: If you want to cut the shapes then make sure they have a thin or hairline-width outline, but if you just want to etch the shapes then they don’t need the thin outline:

Hand-drawn flower vectors with thin blue outlines, ready for laser cutting
Hand-drawn flower vectors with thin blue outlines

 

Step 8: (Optional) If you have combined several shapes in one design, you may need to ‘weld’ them together before you cut them. The laser cutter will cut anything that has a thin outline, and so in the example above, the three flowers would be cut out separately. To make sure the laser sees all of the flowers as one design and not as individual objects to cut out, you can use the ‘weld’ function (in CorelDraw it’s Arrange > Shaping > Weld.)

Hand-drawn flowers with one outline, ready for laser cutting
Hand-drawn flowers with one outline (compare the middle flower with the previous picture), ready for laser cutting

The design should now cut properly.

Laser-cut hand-drawn flower vectors
Laser-cut hand-drawn flower vectors (smaller and larger versions)

Using Stock Vector Images to Fast-Forward your Lasercutting Business

How to fast-forward your lasercutting business using vector stock.

Gold deer silhouette card (credit: craftsmanspace.com)
Gold deer silhouette card (credit: craftsmanspace.com)

If you have a laser business it’s often hard to find the time to create new designs when you are already busy with making existing products. One way to save time is to use existing “stock” images, to help fast-forward the design process.

There are many stock image services online where you can find existing vector designs, created by professional designers or independent artists. And each of these websites has a huge range of images, suitable for just about every occasion.

Just do a search for “royalty free vector images”, and you’ll find examples of services like Shutterstock, iStockPhotos, Adobe, Dreamstime, Vectorstock, etc.

Screenshot of search for free vector images for laser cutting
Screenshot of search for vector images

Note: Although these images are ‘royalty free’ (you don’t have to keep paying every time you use them in your own products), the designs do usually cost something to actually buy in the first place.

There are also different types of license that you purchase. It is often free or fairly cheap (e.g. $1USD, or £1GBP per image) to download an image if you are just buying it for your own personal use. However if you want to sell products with these images on them, you usually need to buy an ‘extended’ license, which lets you make multiple copies of the designs and sell objects which include them.

Screenshot of choosing a vector image license in Dreamstime
Screenshot of choosing a vector image license in Dreamstime

Luckily, there are also a few rare sites and collections which include free royalty free images (!) for commercial use. In other words, this is where either the image is out of copyright, or the artist has given permission for other people to make multiple copies of their designs and sell objects that include it.

Examples of some of these sites include CraftsmanSpace, Vector4Free, FreeVectors,  BUT be careful again that the license allows commercial use (i.e. it lets you copy the image and use it on products that you sell).

Screenshot of a free vector on craftsmanspace.com
Screenshot of a free vector on craftsmanspace.com

Once you’ve found a suitable vector image on the website, here are the general steps you will need to follow:

Step 1: Download the image and save it in a folder or system where you’ll be able to easily find it again (e.g. create a folder called “vector downloads for commercial use”).

Step 2: Open a new document in your drawing/design software (e.g. CorelDraw).

Step 3: Import the saved vector into the new document.

Screenshot of free vector image imported into CorelDraw
Screenshot of free vector image imported into CorelDraw

Step 4: Then depending on your laser system: if you want to cut the image, make sure it has got hairline (or very thin) outline, and if you want to etch the image, make sure it hasn’t got the thin outline.

Gold deer silhouette card CREDIT CREATIVE COMMONS
Gold deer silhouette card (credit: craftsmanspace.com)

So that’s it. Instead of spending hours drawing and tweaking your own designs (when you could be doing some lasercutting), just search for a vector that you like, make sure that you’ve got the rights to reproduce it commercially, and download it into your drawing software.

Hope you find this article useful – if so (or if there’s something else you think I should have mentioned), please feel free to comment or use the Contact page. Cheeers.

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