When it comes to 2D CAD for laser cutting, there seems to be a real lack of software that is feature-rich and capable of exporting files in a format ready for laser cutters. Some of the vector desing tools that come to mind are Inkscape (free and open source) and Adobe Illustrator. However, those are not real CAD tools, because they lack many critical features that engineers are looking for - such as the ability to specify dimensions for more complicated nonstandard geometries. On the other hand, there are the real CAD tools such as SolidWorks and Fusion 360, but they are often very bad at exporting the model in a Vector format which you can send directly to a laser cutter. In this short tutorial, I will explain the method that I find to work best, which involved a combination of Solidworks and Inkscape.
- Desing the 2D model in SolidWorks as a SolidWorks part file (not an assembly).
- Export the 2D model in DXF format, by choosing DXF in the "Save as" window. An options pane will appear on the left side of the screen, so don't forget to click OK there in order to complete the save process. After this, another window will open which will give you a preview of the DXF to be saved. In this preview you may see some extra lines that you don't need. You can remove those auxiliary pieces directly from that window by selecting each and clicking "Remove Entities".
- Open Inkscape then go to "File">>"Document Properties" and under Custom Size type the width and length dimensions for the bed of your laser cutter. Also in the Document Properties window, you may wish to change the default units from Pixels to cm or mm.
- You can now import the DXF file for your model by going to "File">>"Import..." or by pressing Ctrl+I.
- Position the imported vector graphic at the desired location.
- With the graphic selected, go to "Path">>"Object to Path"
- Change the width of the contours to 0.001 inch by selecting the object(s) and going to "Object">>"Fill and Stroke">>Stroke Style. (Very Important because otherwise, the laser cutter driver will ignore the thicker contours!)
- Save the file as SVG and then save it again as a PDF, which you can then sent to the laser cutter from any PDF reader.