This post incorporates some of my favorite things: art and collaboration*! Laura, of Laura Lynne Art, was looking for help with how to make her art into a puzzle. In the past, she has made puzzles by painting directly onto a store bought one, but lasers could make the process smoother. It’s always easier cutting after something is painted rather than painting each individually cut piece!
Instead of painting directly on wood, Laura decided one of her paper cut prints might work better for this puzzle test. (I totally understand – original art in a test run is always a dicey prospect.) Because paper can singe in the laser (as discussed in Week 66: Tips for Cutting Paper), the paper needed to be sealed. That way any burning residue can be easily wiped away. With Strathmore’s instructions on how to mount artwork to wood as a guide, Laura went to work prepping the material. She used Golden Matter Polymer Varnish to seal the 1/8 inch Baltic birch plywood, and Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish to glue and seal the image.
My part was to get the vector puzzle ready. Luckily my fellow laser cutters have made the job easy; there are plenty of vector puzzle generators on-line. All you have to do is plug in your dimensions, tweak the settings they give you to your satisfaction, and you are off and running! A quick Google search yielded plenty of results, and I tested out two of them: Draradech’s Puzzle Generator, and Wolfie’s SCG Puzzle Generator.
Things to remember when looking for a laser-friendly puzzle vector:
Make sure the lines for the puzzles pieces are not individual pieces, but instead are cutting columns and rows. This will save you excessive laser time and material removal because it doesn’t cut each line twice.
- The space between the pieces may be looser than in a store bought puzzle. Because there is no inside or outside to each puzzle line, you can’t adjust for kerf to make a tight fit.
Draradech’s Puzzle generator was simple and straight forward, and I liked the basic design of the output. I liked that the tweaks you make to the puzzle are visible in real time. Files are laser ready when downloaded – the only tweaks I did were rounding the outside corners of the puzzle and making it red, which is the cut color for my laser.
Wolfie’s SVG Puzzle Generator has more options. You can choose funky tab shapes, though the laser friendly status may be tested on some of them, like the Christmas trees. I thought the pentagon shape was fun, which is why I ran a small test with that! A drawback is that you can’t see your puzzle in real time as you put in your preferences, but it does tell you the size of each puzzle pieces, which is awesome. (The first run I did with Draradech’s I didn’t realize I had only made the individual pieces a half inch big until I opened up the rulers in Illustrator, which would have obscured the whole design.) I also liked that I could choose “Red” as a line color, which is the color my laser uses for cutting. One less step. The file was nearly laser-ready – there were two empty layers that said “< title >” for some reason, and the lines were a little too thick for the laser. Once again, I rounded the corners afterwards.
Overall, I’m please with how easy this was – the prep work and the blog post writing were harder than getting the vector and cutting. We did end up papering the puzzles before cutting as well – that also makes clean up easier. But, of course, then you have to depaper all of them at the end. One other tip – masking tape is your best friend when you want to get the newly cut puzzle off the laser in one piece!
*Got an idea? Interested in collaborating on a post? Email either Jen or Ryan through the contact page!