I remember well how my mother used to spend hours shopping for patterns to make our clothes. Although not a professional by any means, she was an excellent seamstress. I even remember the brands: Butterick, McCall’s and Simplicity. With these, she made everything from Halloween costumes to sport jackets. The patterns were only 35 cents in the 50s and 60s, but a good seamstress could make excellent money using the same pattern to make multiple copies of the clothes and selling them.
That is exactly what many laser owners are doing today. A quick look at websites like Etsy, eBay and Pinterest will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of interesting personalized products that are laser cut from wood, acrylic or plastic. Many of these are made from laser cutting vector patterns purchased through the Internet for a few dollars which they have turned into a cottage business.
In months past, EJ has featured several articles about the Maker Movement and showcased creations made by the owners of lasers in these cottage industries. Many are simple designs, but some are mind-boggling in their complexity and beauty. It causes me to wonder if I’m missing the boat!
The interesting thing is the patterns for these designs are usually available for anyone who is willing to fork out $5 for the file—and a great many patterns are free. Just go on their sites and download all you want. True, some of the websites entice you claiming their patterns are free and then manage to require a membership fee of some kind, but a great many really are free—no questions asked.
Laser patterns are nothing new to our industry. There have been several companies within our industry that have created and sold patterns that are available on CDs or by download.
The Victorian Doll House Pattern & Furniture CD from Laserbuzz contains laser-ready patterns for an elegant house with operational front French doors, an interior staircase and wraparound porch.
Laserbuzz (www.laserbuzz.com) is one industry-based company that offers laser cutting and engraving patterns. Laserbuzz started out featuring Christmas ornaments with images of dogs but now offers patterns in many different themes, including dogs, horses, military, doll houses and furniture, toys, clocks and much more. Individual patterns can be downloaded and cost about $25 each while entire packages come on CDs and generally cost about $295 for the package. These are professionally drawn and ready to open in CorelDRAW. Laserbuzz also has some unique “print and cut” items where you can print images on material using a UV or inkjet printer, then cut them out with the laser and assemble the pieces to form a 3D scene. Difficult to explain, but pretty cool. Laserbuzz also offers educational DVDs on how to vectorize a logo or a portrait for $35 and $45 respectively.
Digital Art Solutions (www.digitalartsolutions.com) is another industry source. For years, they have offered logos, designs and patterns that can be used in a variety of ways. Because they come as vector cutting files for CorelDRAW, they are easy to modify and make into anything you want. Currently they offer six packages of ready-made art for $295 each. These can be used to cut vinyl with a vinyl cutter or to cut wood, plastic or acrylic using a laser.
Laser Jump Start (www.laserjumpstart.com) has some useful projects. I use their BoxIt software regularly to make gift boxes and storage containers, and their programs that allow you to make flexible hinges (FlexIt and WrapIt) out of sheet stock are really cool. In addition to boxes and hinges, Laser Jump Start’s selection of programs allow you to create a wide variety of other projects like picture frames, jewelry, display bases, 3D models, 3D text, ornaments and more. Cost for the programs (which all work as a “macro” program that runs in CorelDRAW) range from about $90 to about $289 depending on what you want. They also have template packages for under $150 each. (For more information, read “Product Review: Laser Software Tools From Laser Jump Start” in the Nov. 2015 issue of EJ.)
This gift box is perfect for slipping some cash or a gift card into for gift-giving. The CorelDRAW file is free from www.3axis.co.
This is a project with a lot of possibilities from www.thingiverse.com. The pull-out shelves could be made to hold a variety of things.
Epilog Laser Sample Club (www.epiloglaser.com/resources/sample-club.htm) has a hundred or so easy-to-use patterns for products you can make and sell. I found great success with the laser engraved rolling pin and the wood clothes pins. The files are available in CorelDRAW format and they provide all the information you need to source and create the product. These are all downloadable and free.
Trotec Laser DIY Samples (https://www.troteclaser.com/en-au/knowledge/do-it-yourself-samples) is a collection of free CorelDRAW files for making 2D and 3D projects you can sell or do just for fun. Trotec’s DIY projects are available for a variety of materials and come with complete instructions and template files that you can follow directly.
Although the logical thing to do is look for “laser ready” patterns, the truth is, many of the patterns available are labeled as CNC or scroll saw patterns but they can easily be made suitable for lasers and will run in the newer versions of CorelDRAW.
One thing you should know, however, is that most patterns are created in a .DXF format which you might not be familiar with. This type of file is often used with CNC machines and glass tube lasers. If you are not familiar with CNC (computer numerical control), it is a machine much like a rotary engraver except it has a cutter that looks like a drill bit and can cut foam, wood, plastics, etc., in all three dimensions—left, right and up and down. A lot of things we do with our lasers can also be done with a CNC and vice versa.
This is important because most of the downloadable files for either CNC, scroll saw or glass tube lasers are in a .DXF format. Except for the Epilog Fusion lasers, I doubt any of the lasers we use can run off this type of file. Fortunately, many of the companies that sell these files also offer them in other formats such as CorelDRAW, Illustrator and PDF. Files not created by graphics programs like CorelDRAW or Illustrator but by a CAD program don’t always import into CorelDRAW correctly, and if you are running an older version of Corel, they won’t import at all—at least not in anything usable. CAD files such as .DXF are created very differently than those from a graphics program and those differences can cause problems. Fortunately, the later versions of CorelDRAW and Illustrator do a pretty good job of opening these CAD files. This means the patterns from pattern companies and the hundreds of individuals who offer them in .DXF only can still be imported and used most of the time.
I know, you are waiting to see more free stuff and there is a lot of it. I’ll get to those, but first I need to show you how inexpensive many of these files are.
We’ll start with Andrey Zhuravlev’s website. His piggy banks were featured in the “Cool Jobs” section of EJ’s E-News in July 2019. The website for his business is www.wood-toolbox.com. There you will find a large assortment of wood and acrylic products you can purchase the files for that come in various formats, including .DXF, .CDR, .PDF, .AI and .SVG (Inkscape) formats. Some are free, but most cost between $5 and $15 to download.
Next is Ivan Bilous’ Etsy website. You met him when some of his designs were featured in the “Cool Jobs” section of EJ’s May E-News. His website is www.etsy.com/shop/vectorpainter. There you will find a wide selection of 3D patterns for cars, trucks, planes and much more. All come in the .DXF, .AI, .CDR and .SVG formats and cost from $1.50 to $12.00 each. Ivan will also custom make design files to order.
Ornate wall panels or decorative sheets take hours to create. A free download from www.vectorgraphicart.com can provide them in minutes. Use them for a napkin holder, LED lamp, night light, etc.
If you like bugs and doll houses, you’ll love makeCNC (www.makecnc.com). It is loaded with all kinds of patterns for 3D bugs, dinosaurs, fish, animals, village houses for Christmas scenes, model railroads and much, much more. Prices run around $6-$10 per pattern. Some, like the model railroad structures, run about $70 but that is for ten buildings. (Be sure to read the copyright policy if you plan to make more than 50 items from each pattern.)
I have used a number of templates from DXF Projects (www.dxfprojects.com) and found them to work well. They come in .DXF files (obviously) so they have to be imported into CorelDRAW but once there, they are easy to work with. Although their doll house and doll house furniture carry a price tag of $12 to $25, there are over 1,000 images that are totally free—no registration required—just click download. Of course, there are lots of ads so be careful not to click on the wrong “Download” button unless you actually want what they are offering.
CNC Cookbook (www.cnccookbook.com) doesn’t have hundreds of templates but they do have some nice ones and they are all free. These can be used in a number of ways and like all these patterns, the size can be altered to whatever you want without affecting the quality of the drawing. I especially liked the signs and have made several of them. One of the nice things about this website is you can give them your email address and then download all of their templates at one time. (Locate the free files by clicking on Learn, CNC Projects, Download DXF Files to Cut.)
Vector Graphic Art (www.vectorgraphicart.com) is another source that has thousands of templates free for the downloading. I did have trouble downloading some of the drawings for reasons I haven’t figured out, but most of them downloaded without any trouble. Many of these drawings are available in multiple formats, including .CDR which saves a step or two but the .DXF files work fine as well. One pattern I have used a number of times is a ruler. I add my company information on it, cut it out and include it with orders. People seem to really appreciate a wood ruler. (I use 1/16" veneer to make them.)
These model cars are typical of the types of projects from www.vectorpainter.com. They would be great to sell at Christmas, at flea markets and online.
The Amee House (https://www.ameede.com) website has a host of usable items for the home or office. While most of the free templates online are 2D, these templates are designed to use the same thin woods (or acrylic) to make things like napkin holders, coffee pod racks, wine racks and magazine racks. My favorite by far is a wall hanging that holds 300 little Matchbox toy cars and is made like a tractor trailer. It requires thicker wood to make, but it’s great just the same. And the best news of all—all of these patterns are free.
Thingiverse (www.thingiverse.com/tag:lasercut) is a site that operates like a community of people from all over the world who share their digital design files. These files cover everything from models to clocks to a really cool bit holder cabinet made from acrylic. Although designed to hold CNC bits, it could be modified to hold router bits and a host of other things as well.
In researching this article, I downloaded several free templates from DXF for CNC (www.dxfforcnc.com). Although they offer about 120 free downloads, most cost $4 to $30, depending on the complexity of the item. This is the only company I saw offering a free 53-page PDF catalog of their artwork. They even offer a deal if you want to buy everything they offer for $1,079. I mention this just to emphasize how serious the CNC crowd is about their drawings.
Then there is 3 Axis (www.3axis.co). This company offers thousands of free templates for doll houses, games and 3D creations for the home or office, and many more. Plus, they offer most of their designs in CorelDRAW format as well as .DXF. This is another site with multiple “Download” buttons so be careful which button you click on.
Most of the images from these companies are royalty free which means you can use them personally and commercially. Be sure to check on the Copyright Agreement, however, before you make thousands of something. One company allows you to make 50 and then you have to buy a new license, and some images may have specific restrictions as to how they can be used. Of course, using any logo carries a risk if you don’t have permission from the company, and as for colleges and universities, don’t even think about it without the proper license. Artwork by Disney, Hanna-Barbara, D.A.R.E., Harley Davidson, Pop-Sockets and similar companies is strictly hands-off without a license. Many people’s names and quotes are also protected. I once did an engraving of the blueprints for the Titanic. Who would have thought there was still a copyright on something that old, but there was, and there still is. We tend to play a little fast and loose with many copyrighted or trademarked images as many companies will look the other way if you only make a few items, but not all are that accommodating and consider your using their images as theft. They can not only sue but can literally come in and take your equipment and lock your doors! Don’t let a $10 order tempt you to make what might be the biggest mistake of your life.
Now that I have scared you half to death, I can assure you there are millions of images you can use legally in any way you wish. Most of the patterns provided by the companies in this article fall into that category.
Patterns you can download and use with your laser are great. Obviously, they save a ton of time work on your part. However, sometimes I am just looking for ideas and I don’t want someone else to do the work for me. There are a great many other places you can do that. My “go-to place” is www.bingimages.com. There are millions of ideas for products on this site. Just remember, a great many are protected so use the idea, not the actual product. Another site is www.images.google.com and, of course, all the sources discussed in this article. I also like to peruse those mail order catalogs with all the “things you can’t live without.” They often have products that have been laser engraved or printed that I can use as an idea for a new product. I am careful, however, not to steal their product, just the general idea. I even keep a 3-ring binder where I cut out things I like and keep them. Periodically, I go through the binder to find something new or different to make.
In any case, the sources that make it easy to be creative with your laser are out there—and there are tons of them. This is something to keep in mind as the holiday season is approaching (and approaching fast). Think about all those customers who are looking for gifts that are unique, interesting and personalized. Then put those sources to work!