CorelDRAW X4 Working with Laser Jigs: Part 3

Copyright © 2009 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in February 2010, Volume 35, No. 8 of The Engravers Journal
     
Figure 1: The 12" x 12" acrylic pen jig, created in part 2 of this series (Jan. 10), will hold 18 pens for laser engraving.

 

  Figure 2: The red rectangle shows the engraving area on the pen.

     This is the third and final installment of our article series on creating jigs for a laser engraving machine using CorelDRAW. In the first article, we talked about how to create a jig for a single item. This article showed the steps for creating a jig to hold a single pen in place on the laser’s worktable. Creating a jig like this allows you to consistently place the item in the same position, time after time, which can help you reduce labor and increase productivity.
     While a single-pen jig allows you to quickly position text and graphics, it isn’t the most efficient solution when engraving a quantity of pens. The problem with a single-pen jig is that the operator has to stand at the machine and continually load and unload items as they are engraved. As we all know in today’s climate of engraving, the real efficiency comes from the ability of the operator to place a large number of plates or other items together and gang up the job into a multiple setup.
     Part 2 of this article series looked at resolving this problem by showing readers how to make a multiple-pen jig using CorelDRAW and a sheet of acrylic. This type of jig will allow your machine to run uninterrupted for a prolonged period while freeing you up to work on another job. Figure 1 shows the finished jig that was created in the second installment of this article series. This final installment will examine how to create a job setup to determine where the engraving will appear on the pens.
     The most important step to remember when you are creating a jig is to use the same CorelDRAW setup that you created the jig with to help position the text on the item. For example, if you are creating a jig out of Plexiglas, you typically need to create a rectangle to hold the pen. Once the rectangle is engraved in the acrylic sheet, do not delete the rectangle from the CorelDRAW layout. Instead, you can use that rectangle as a template for placing the text.
     The next step is to position the pen relative to where the engraving will be. As discussed in part 1 of this article series, this is where the red dot pointer feature on your laser engraving machine can come in very handy. Create a box in your job layout that outlines the area to be engraved, turn on the red dot pointer feature and send the job to the laser. The red dot pointer allows you to see the path of the laser without actually engraving the rectangle. Note: Laser manufacturers often have different ways of activating the red dot pointer on their machines. Check your laser manual if you are not familiar with how to use this feature on your laser. As shown in Figure 2, the pen in this example has a lasered logo on the cap. Although the logo is engraved in the middle of the pen cap, the actual engraving area is from the top of the gold clip to the start of the brass ring, as shown by the red box in Figure 2.


     
Figure 3: These two guidelines represent the engraving area in the software and are also
used to engrave the guidelines on the jig.
   

Figure 4: The two lasered lines on the jig indicate
the margins of the engraving area.


     Now that you have decided where the engraving is to be positioned, you need to position guidelines in the software to designate the engravable area in the job layout and then laser engrave these guidelines to denote the engravable area on the jig itself. Note that it is important to keep this relationship between the job layout and the actual jig so that when you place a pen in the jig, it matches up with the setup of your job. Figures 3 and 4 show what we are trying to achieve. Figure 3 shows the guidelines that were created to indicate the engravable area in the CorelDRAW job layout and Figure 4 shows the guidelines engraved on the actual jig.
     You can use a couple of different methods to create the guidelines for the text in the CorelDRAW layout. One of the preferred methods is to use CorelDRAW’s Position Tool located in the Transformation command. To access this go to ARRANGE | TRANSFORM | POSITION. Next, draw a rectangle and place it in the job layout to signify the left margin of the engraving area to be used for the pen. Figure 5 shows the position of this guideline.
     Now you need to create a duplicate of this guideline to denote the right margin of the engraving area. In this example, the engraving area measures 1.5" from left to right. To create the second guideline that represents the right margin, select the first guideline that you created. Next, check the Relative Position feature found in the Position tab located in the Transformation command, as shown in the blue box in Figure 6. Now in the H: input box type in 1.5", as shown in the red box in Figure 6, then click on the Apply button. This will create a second rectangle that is 1.5" inches away from the first guideline. Figure 7 shows that the duplicated line has now been created at the H 4.875 (3.375 + 1.5) position. The V position remains the same.

       
  Figure 5: Use the Position tool located in the Transformation command to draw a rectangle that signifies the left margin of the engraving area.    

     Once you have created the two guidelines to be used to designate the engraving area, you need to duplicate these lines so that the rest of the rectangle boxes in the jig layout have a similar set of guidelines. As discussed in part 2, the pen jig template consists of two columns of rectangles, each measuring 5.5" inches long with a .5" margin between the columns. The adjacent rectangles are 6" to the left which means the two line markers are 6" apart. To create the next set of guidelines, first select the two original guidelines (that indicate the engraving area that we just created) and check the Relative Position check box in the Position tab of the Transformation command. Next, type in 6" in the H position field and click on Apply to Duplicate. The result is a duplicated set of guidelines positioned 6" inches away from the first set.


   
Figure 6: Use the Position tool in the Transformation command to create a
second guideline signifying the right
margin of the engraving area.
Figure 7: The duplicate guideline is now in the correct position. Figure 8: The vertical number in the Position tool should be -1 in order to duplicate the markers vertically.    

     Next, you need to duplicate these guidelines vertically in each column of the template. To do this, you need to know the distance between each rectangle. From last month’s article, we know that there is a distance of 1" between rectangles. Because you will not be manipulating these guidelines any more, an easy and quick way to duplicate them is to group them together using the LINE | GROUP command. Then, when you select one set of guidelines, the others will be selected as well. Once you have selected the guidelines, make sure the Relative Position check box is checked as shown in the blue box in Figure 8 and then input a -1 in the V: input box as shown in the red box in Figure 8. Next, click on the Apply to Duplicate button until all of the guidelines have been inserted.
     Figure 9 shows the completed job layout, including the rectangles that were created to cut out the jig and the new guidelines that you can engrave onto your jig to help position the pen. You will also use these guidelines to position the text and graphics to be engraved on the pen. Figure 10 shows a pen superimposed on the jig to give you a better idea as to how the guidelines match up with the pen. As you can see from this photo, the guidelines are inside the two brass inserts.

     

Figure 9: The completed job layout including the rectangles that were used to cut out the jig and the new guidelines indicating where to line up the pen.

    Figure 10: A pen superimposed on the rectangle cutout illustrates how the guidelines line up to define the engraving area.

     Figure 11 shows the completed jig after the rectangles have been cut out and the guidelines representing the engravable area have been engraved. The width and height of the cutout rectangle has also been lasered into the jig for future reference.
Creating the Text
     Now that the jig has been finished, you can either save the jig template and enter text later or enter “placeholder text” now. Placeholder text is essentially text that is created at the desired size and in the desired font that you will be using. Once the placeholder text is saved with the jig template, all you have to do is edit the text or use the Find and Replace command. Note that it is a good idea to place the placeholder text on a separate layer, which you can label “Text”; if you don’t want to use the text for a certain job, you can just disable the layer.
     When it comes to positioning text, there are a couple of ways to do it. Some engravers prefer the so-called “eyeball it” method which involves moving the text around the engravable area until it looks right. If you want a more precise method, there are two other options you might wish to use. The first is by using the Transform command. Looking back at the job layout in CorelDRAW, you can see that in this example the centerline of the engravable area is at 11.5", the left margin is 3.375" and the right margin is 4.875" (Fig. 12).
     When creating “placeholder text” it is often a good idea to fill up the entire engraving area with text. If you are going to do this, you need to decide the maximum number of letters that will be used in a line. This example includes 13 characters that fill up the space. If a job requires more than 13 letters, you will have to condense the text. Note: Make sure the text is center justified.
     All you need to do now is place the text in the box so that it is centered. To do this, click on the center handle placement as shown in the blue box in Figure 13 and uncheck the Relative Position check box. Finally, enter the placement values as shown in the red box in Figure 13. The horizontal position is 4.125" and the vertical value is 11.5".

     
Figure 11: The finished jig that includes the lasered guidelines and the size of the cutout rectangles.   Figure 12: The red box shows a guideline marking the middle of the box.

Using the Dynamic Guidelines
     Sometimes you may not want to use the Transformation command to position your text, especially if you do not want to figure out the numbers required for vertical and horizontal positioning. In this case, you can also center text inside the rectangle by moving the text inside the box using the Dynamic Guidelines feature. To use this technique, turn on the Dynamic Guidelines feature by clicking on VIEW | DYNAMIC GUIDELINES. You will also need to click on the Snap To Objects feature. When both of these features are turned on, a line will appear at the center of your text when you click and drag the text to the center of the rectangle. This indicates that the text is placed in the middle of the box. Figure 14 shows a blue line that appears in the middle of the box and the text line. When you release the text line, it will be centered in the engravable area.
     Now that the placeholder text has been positioned, you can save the job. The next time you need to laser engrave pens, all you need to do is to position the jig on the laser’s worktable, snug it up to the top left hand corner of the worktable rulers, and then open up the jig job. Enter in the new text and you are all set to laser engrave a batch of pens.

     
Figure 13: The “placeholder text” fills up the engraving area.   Figure 14: You can also use the Snap To feature in the Dynamic Guidelines command to position text.

     This concludes our three-part article series on working with jigs for laser engraving. Jigs can make your job much easier and more productive, especially when engraving odd-shaped items, which can be difficult and time-consuming to set up so that everything is “just right.” Using jigs will also save you money since, once set up, you will no longer have one or two “mistakes” before the positioning is just right. Creating jigs to hold one item at a time is fine, but keep in mind that jigs made to hold multiple items make it much easier and faster to laser engrave a large quantity of items. The next time you find yourself having to spend a lot of time setting a job up, maybe it is time to look at creating a jig.



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