WWWIP 2019-2020: Kyle's Week 4 Progress
Hello fellow winter crafters! Kyle here with our fourth week of progress. Before the Holidays, I was wrapping up the digital pattern vectors with some final adjustments. This week I am cutting out the pieces in EVA foam. I am going to go into our process with the laser cutter, and I will also provide a few tips for Cricut and manual methods of cutting out pattern shapes.
In the first progress blog, we talked about setting up your canvas to match your printer or cutter. Now is the time to make sure that your canvas size is set so that you can print your patterns. We have our canvas set to 32”x20” for our laser cutter. If you are simply printing paper patterns and hand tracing them onto your final armor material, then you’ll want to set your canvas to the standard printer paper dimensions of 8.5”x11". Cricut cutters and other similar machines will have varying canvas size options, so be sure to check what yours is and apply it here.
Arrange all of your pattern pieces onto your canvas and allow about a half inch or so between each shape and the edges of your print space. Since I have a lot of different pattern shapes to keep track of, I group together all of the shapes that will fit together on a single canvas. I ended up having 3 sheets worth of patterns.
For those of you using a regular paper printer, you will likely have to divide some of your patterns between multiple pages. To help you line things up properly, I recommend creating guidelines on your patterns close to the runoff point of each page, so you will be able to visibly see where a shape will connect to itself after they print. You can do this with a line tool, and put it in the same group as your patterns so that it will stay lined up when you reposition the patterns to print the other half. Some editing programs may automatically print your larger files without the need to manually subdivide them as shown here. You’ll want to experiment to see what works best for you.
If you have access to a laser cutter, they will typically have specialized software. We have an Epilog brand laser cutter, and the laser settings can be adjusted within the normal printer preferences. So we’ll go to the main menu and select Print (or press Ctrl+P). Once the printer options window opens, we see that the printer wants to default the canvas size to 8.5”x11”. We will fix this and adjust our laser power at the same time by selecting the Setup button on the bottom left. This opens a second window, which allows us to select our Epilog laser among the list of available printers. But to adjust our laser settings, we need to hit the preferences button in this second window, which will open up a THIRD window.
This third window is blue, and contains all of the Epilog specific settings. Our laser printer can cut with Vectors, or engrave Rasters based on color values. Since we only want to cut, we select Vector in the Job Type options. Directly below it are the dimensions for our canvas. This is where we will change the Horizontal to 32” and the Vertical to 20”. Finally, to the right of this are the Vector settings. These three bars determine the speed, power, and frequency of the laser beam. All of them default to 50 on a power preset, but since I am cutting through high density 10mm EVA foam I want to slow the cut a little, increase the power to full, and up the frequency just a little so that the laser is hitting the foam more. After this I hit Ok in the third window, Print in the second window, and Done in the first window to save all of these settings. For some reason my computer won’t save the settings if I hit Print on that first window. So I hit Done instead, then I bring the Print window back up a second time and hit print.
If you are new to working with a laser cutter yourself, you will want to have help from someone with experience the first few times. Laser cutters use a concentrated beam of pure energy to melt/burn through the material, so there will always be an inherent fire hazard associated with them. I speak from experience when I say that things can catch on fire or start melting, so I cannot stress enough that you practice safety! It may not happen every single time, but make sure that you have a fire extinguisher ready in the worst case scenario, and always start with lighter laser settings and slowly work your way up on the power to see what cuts your material the best without melting it or catching it on fire.
If you are using Cricut, it has an online program that takes you step by step through the printing process. You can create an account and save projects within this web based program, it is quite easy! Additionally there are plenty of online tutorials to help you dive deeper into Cricut for patterning or any other crafting project.
So back to this project, I now have my pattern pieces laser cut into the EVA foam. With thinner foam sheets a couple of passes with the laser will likely cut all the way through, but this thicker foam is stubborn. Some pieces were cut close enough to be able to pop out easily, but others start to tear a little if I’m not careful. For the pieces that can be popped out, I push down on the piece itself and pull up on the material around it. This minimizes the chance of tearing because I’m stressing the foam towards the already cut side rather than trying to pull towards the side that isn’t cut. Since I’m going to be dremelling all of these edges I don’t necessarily have to have the cleanest cut anyway, but clean cuts will save you a lot of extra effort if you don’t need to sand the edges of your pieces.
For the pieces that still don’t want to pop loose, I use a combination of scissors ,extendable hobby knives, and X-acto blades to cut the rest of the way through. Scissors are quick and easy to use on broad cuts, and it will often times leave a slightly rounded edge which can look pretty nice and finished. However, scissors also tend to leave little burs and imperfections, so you either need a steady hand and sharp scissors, or be willing to do some light sanding afterwards. With a bit of practice, you can get pretty good at figuring out which pieces need the cleanest edges, and which ones you can get away with using the scissors on, but it is ultimately up to your own preference.
For more precision and cleaner cuts, razor blades are the way to go. You can still do pretty broad cuts easily with an extendable cutter, and finer cuts with an X-acto knife. The trade off is cost. You’ll have to make the investment in a cutting board, and the blades dull much quicker than scissors because they are not only cutting through your material, but also into the cutting board underneath. You can extend the life of your blades by purchasing a sharpening kit, and you can also typically buy blades in larger quantities online than in stores. Be sure to practice safety when using these blades, and also when disposing of them!
As you are cutting out your shapes, be conscious of the angle of your cuts. It is extremely easy to accidentally cut your edge at an angle when you wanted to cut it straight. Similarly, you may find that an edge you cut straight actually needs a bevel in order to attach to another piece. I recommend practicing both types of cuts on scraps, it can take the pressure off of you while you learn technique before going hard into a project and messing up your edges. But also don’t be afraid if you do cut an edge wrong, you can typically dremel sand that edge to fix it without having to recut the piece entirely.
Once all of your pieces are cut out you’ll have plenty of scraps leftover. I personally like to save them for a while before tossing them, just in case I need to recut something, add smaller details, or add structure to the insides of the armor. You can also use scraps to test out a process that you aren’t confident with, such as different types of sealing and painting, sanding, cutting, gluing, etc. I will typically separate out my bigger scraps from my smaller ones, and if I have a lot of different thicknesses of foam I may also separate them out by thickness as well.
Thank you all for reading this week’s progress, and we hope you’ll check back next week to see how we do some basic dremel sanding. Happy New Year!