In this video I show you how I create the g-code for laser cutting and engraving, using LightBurn. I go over all the important features of LightBurn to get you started right away with your own designs. The Laser I’m using is the 10 watt module from Endurance Lasers
LightBurn Article by John Walker
Looking for an opportunity
So, you’ve bought and assembled your shiny, new CNC (in my case, a Shapeoko 3 XXL), and are ready to get to work. You bought a slew of bits to do any job imaginable, theoretically. So, whatcha gonna make?
Signs, boxes, desktop organizers, furniture, earrings, aluminum parts… The possibilities are positively mind-boggling!
For my wife and me, the primary goal was to make wooden products to sell on Etsy. We bought our unit in the fall, so had (overly) ambitious plans to make a bunch of Christmas themed items. Ideas, ideas… We needed ideas. I have an extensive graphics background (vector/bitmap) but, since we were already poking around on Etsy, why not save time (money) and use something someone else had already designed? (FYI: Dozens of reasons.) So, we keyed “Christmas CNC” into their search bar, and voila! 1,716 results.
Those Christmas tree ornaments looked wonderful. I had some really tiny bits which oughta cut the intricate detail, so we bought several pattern files, chose one design, and proceeded to cut. Pushing the feeds ‘n’ speeds to near bit-snapping levels, one stinkin’ $10 ornament in 1/4” ply took over an hour! Couldn’t make any money at that rate. Now what?
“Honey… I need a laser!” It wasn’t bad enough that I had just spent two grand. But which one? There were those Chinese K-40 types on eBay, but the beds were too dinky. What if I wanted to make something BIG?
Hey! They have lasers for CNC machines and 3D printers! Research, research, research…
Solution from J Tech
Several forum posts referenced a company called JTech, who had a plug-n-play kit specifically for my Shapeoko. After a few promises to the wife that we would soon be millionaires, and that I’d never ask for another dime, I placed my order for a 3.8 watt. In addition to the laser and wiring kit, I also took them up on their software recommendation, i.e., LightBurn, my main reason for writing here.
Before I continue, I must confess that I am no tech genius, so my words here are strictly a layman’s understandings. Proceed with due caution, please.
The instructions that JTech provided for LightBurn setup were pretty good, but I (and countless others) had one heck of a time understanding how the various Origin options worked. Several CNCs, including Shapeoko, use the back right for their 0,0,0 (machine “home”). To LightBurn (and the entire CAD world), everything to the left and closer to you from that point is considered negative space/coordinates, which LightBurn does not like. Try as users have over the millennia to convince LightBurn to provide what to them would be a more intuitive means of indexing, the LightBurn crew insists that it would not make good sense for them to do so. Actually, I understand this – now.
But, before you start slamming your spindle carriage (or laser!) into the rails, let me give you a tip that really helped me: When you set up your LightBurn macros per JTech’s instructions, add another line to the
“Use Laser” macro that reads $10=0. Then add $10=255 to “Use CNC.” This toggles the origin from back right to front left so LightBurn will now play nicely with your brain. Just be sure to hit “Use CNC” when you’re done with the laser, or your belt’s teeth will need a dentist.
Aside from the original problem, most of LightBurn works really well. They currently (June ‘19) have an acknowledged bug with their “Relative Z” option that is supposed to drop the Z per pass by increments relative to the current Z position, where you’ve just spent a great deal of time getting your laser into focus. Upon initiating the cut, the Z now rises all the way to the top (zero), effectively reducing your $500 laser to a
nice, bright flashlight.
Once you understand the Origin options, LightBurn does a fine job. Some users are entirely happy with it as a complete design and cut package with hopes that it will eventually operate their CNCs, too. At $40-ish,
it’s almost ridiculously underpriced for all that it does so very well. The support community is very active, and the company itself very responsive.
Looking for a new Endurance 10 watt+
As for the Christmas ornaments, we never made the deadline. That 3.8-watt laser, while excellent at wood engraving, was way too underpowered for production thru-cutting, even with 85 lbs of air assist. I now have my (soon to be poked out by the wife) eyes on an Endurance 10+ Pro.
Maybe Santa will take pity on the blind)