This Glowforge tutorial will walk you through engraving a digital painting onto wood. If you’re new to Glowforge or just looking for a pinch of inspiration, my tutorial for engraving a digital painting on wood will hopefully work for you. Below I will share my process for downloading, preparing and burning a digital artwork, but overall the same process can be used for most image burnings, such as photos .
If you haven’t discovered this brand of high-quality laser cutters yet, read my guide to the best glowforge machines and catch up with my Glowforge Pro Review, the most powerful machine of the manufacturer. These laser “printers” can engrave, cut and mark on countless materials to create professional quality artwork, gifts, models and more.
If you have Glowforge Premium, the brand’s subscription service, it’s much easier to use the Glowforge app as there are simple shortcuts for creating cut paths and adding shapes. If you don’t have Premium, you’ll need to do more prep work in software like Illustrator, Inkscape, and Affinity Designer.
While Glowforge Pro might be too expensive for many, the mid-range model, the Glowforge Plus, is a great option. Take a look at our regularly updated deal tracker for the best Glowforge Plus price in November. Now scroll down for my Glowforge tutorial for engraving a digital painting on wood.
Glowforge tutorial: burn a digital painting
01. File format setting
To start, you need to make sure that your image file is saved in the correct format so that the Glowforge application can recognize it. I save my digital painting of a wood in PNG format, but if you have Illustrator or Inkscape you can save it as an SVG file. Glowforge also supports JPEG and PDF formats. I created this art in rebel 5 and converted the file in Photoshop to be sure. I have two images I want to use, so I’m doing the same for the second.
02. File upload
In the Glowforge app, I select Create New Design and from the drop-down menu I choose Upload File and select both images from the on-screen menu. The Glowforge app is actually quite flexible and you can upload art by selecting the Create Blank Design option and then dragging and dropping an image into the workspace.
Even easier, you can select everything in your digital art software, then paste using the keyboard shortcut (Mac command + V) to add the image directly to the Glowforge application workspace.
03. Resize Image
Along with your art in the workspace, it is worth noting a few small features offered by the Glowforge app. If an image is outside the printable area of the laser cutter, it will turn red, then blue when inside the cutting area. The rulers along the side and above the work area also show this, and they include an “excess area” or buffer zone.
I resize images to fit the space by simply dragging the corners. I automatically enabled the aspect ratio so that the images maintain their scale. If you want to disable this option and resize manually, you need to click on the ruler icon at the bottom left and uncheck the chain icon. Here you can also scale and position images more precisely using numbers.
I also enabled Snap Align and Distribute. This ensures that my two images snap to an invisible grid and maintain the same size, which makes life easier. This is a Glowforge Premium feature, so keep that in mind.
04. Material type setting
If you’re using Proofgrade materials, this step is as simple as loading the material into the Glowforge and letting the machine scan the QR code. If you are using your own material, you will need to click on the Find your material option in the top left corner of the app – I choose maple. You can search by type of material and select the one that interests you.
The advantage of using Proofgrade materials is that they are encoded with the correct speed, laser power and material thickness. Using your own materials creates a bit of trial and error, although you can start with those materials in the menu and change the settings.
The proof-grade materials are also pre-masked, which means a layer of thick paper covers the material which protects it and prevents burns. When burning a detailed painting like this, it can be fun to experiment with and without masking to see how the burn brings out the depth of the image and the pattern of the material.
05. Creating the cutting path
Now to create the cutting path. If you have Glowforge Premium, this step is very simple. Just click on the art and the Premium menu on the right will appear, clicking on the Create Outline option will generate a clipping path around the art at around 0.25 inches, the slider allows you to extend or to reduce this distance.
If you don’t have Glowforge Premium, you will need to create the clipping path in a vector application, such as Illustrator or Inkscape, by creating an offset path. This should be done before uploading your art.
06. Create a frame
For this project, I want to bring the paint/etching to the edge of the cut panel, so I don’t want the cut path to be outside of the image. I could play with the path’s outline adjustment settings to bring it closer manually, but I find it easier to create a frame using the Insert Shape option (Premium only) and then set it to Cut. I duplicate this frame and resize it to make it slightly smaller and this cuts a thin frame into the wood, I plan to reverse it so the bare maple rests against the etched image.
07. Understanding burning settings
In the left panel, clicking Burn under the small image brings up the settings menu. Here you can decide the engraving quality by adjusting the resolution and lines per inch (LPI). The basics are as follows: Draft chart uses a low LPI, which makes the process faster but less detailed, and can lead to jagged edges, which is better for simple line art. Graphic SD is slightly higher but still best for assembly line work. HD Graphics uses high LPI so it’s slower but delivers deeper, cleaner marks because it uses less overall power. My original painting is splattered and rough, and has nice depth, so I’m selecting HD Graphic – this means both prints will take an hour and thirty minutes.
Also note that this converts the image to halftone and there is a tag in the manual settings called “Convert to Dots” which shows the variable tone; essentially the dot density means it will burn darker.
08. Press print
Now all you have to do is hit the Glowforge’s big, lighted “Print” button, sit back, and watch it work. Even though this project will take a while to print, I like to keep watching and verifying that it is working properly. I actually did two passes, one with the Proofgrade masking and one without, the difference was stark: with the masking it came out lighter and a bit washed out, without it came out darker and the slight russet provides a leathery texture which I like. So experiment!
Tip: The masking paper can be removed with tape.
09. Final touches
Once finished I decide to mount and frame the prints. The small, narrow maple frames I created in Glowforge contrast with the dark, deep engraving. I mount this on complimentary dark green paper and frame in maple and oak frames. While I was buying these, I can now create easy models from these frames and mounting boards for all future projects.