Using Lightburn for Laser Cutting
When you get your laser all set up and ready for cutting, the next question is how to convert your design into gcode the machine can understand. There are many different programs available that can achieve this task, but today we’re taking a look at Lightburn. At $40 for the gcode version, Lightburn is priced quite reasonably, considering how many features it offers.
To get you started as fast as possible with Lightburn, let’s take a look around the interface. (1) In the middle, you can see a representation of the work area that you have defined for your laser. This is where you put your design and can arrange everything. (2) On the left of the screen is the toolbar for making your design right in Lightburn. You can create lines, shapes, text, and then you can combine multiple shapes into one or subtract them from each other. You also can create patterns if you need multiples of an object. (3) Above the work area, you have the properties of the object that is selected. Here you can adjust things like size, font, and more. (4) Above that, you have some more tools like opening, saving, copying, zooming on the left, and some tools to help with the alignment of the different objects on the right.
When we move to the right of the screen (5), we can see the overview of all the layers. A layer in Lightburn is a collection of shapes that all have the same engraving or cutting settings. By separating your design into multiple layers, you can engrave and cut with different settings right in the same file. To change the layer an object is on, select it first, and then choose one of the colors (6) on the bottom of the screen. Below the listed layers, you have a short overview of the laser parameters for the selected layer, and by double-clicking on the layer, you can open a more detailed window.
If you have your laser connected directly to your computer, you can control it in the other tabs (7) that are available instead of the layer overview. In the bottom right of the interface (8), we find some more controls for the laser if one is connected to the computer, but also the button to export the gcode (9) to use it with a different controller. If we switch this panel over to the Library panel (10), we can save cut settings as profiles, that we then can apply to our design and save some time the next time we use the software.
Once you get comfortable with the software and find that you want the panels arranged differently, you can also drag them to a different spot, or completely hide them from the “Window” menu in the top bar. I, for example, like to have the Library visible at all times, so I dragged it to a different place.
Of course, you are not limited to drawing your designs inside of Lightburn, but you can also import many different formats, such as SVG, DXF, Adobe Illustrator files, or even images. When you import an image, you can either engrave it as a greyscale image or convert it to lines, if it is a logo or something. The tools to do that are located in the “Tools” menu in the top bar. When engraving the image, you also have the possibility of choosing different methods. We have a dedicated article and video for that, that goes into much detail.
Another great tool available in the top bar is the preview. You can also reach it by pressing ALT+P on your keyboard. Inside, you get an estimate of the time it will take to complete the lasering, and you also get a graphical representation of exactly how the tool-paths will be.
Before you can export the gcode you created, you do have to choose the controller your laser is using. Lightburn has profiles for Marlin, Smoothieware, Grbl, CanCam, FabKit, and Gerbil in the standard version. If you have a different controller, feel free to reach out to the Lightburn staff, and they can likely help you get everything set up.
I hope that this overview helped you to get started with Lightburn. Once you get the hang of it, it is quite fast to work with Lightburn, thanks to the Library and all the great tools. So now all that’s left to say is Happy lasering!