Laser Engrave Wood Rounds – Healthcare Worker Tribute

We’ve shown you a few techniques using various materials with our xTool P2 laser, but today is all about laser engrave wood rounds! Hubs cut these rounds out over 30 years ago to make into lazy Susan’s, which obviously didn’t happen! So we’re going to repurpose a few to show you some cool laser engrave and score DIYs. You can find birch wood rounds on Amazon, but if you have a laser, why not cut your own?  After all, the xTool P2 Co2 laser can cut, score and engrave!

Wood round inside the xTool P2 laser for Laser Engrave Wood project

Our first laser engrave DIY is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of healthcare heroes everywhere. They work tirelessly in the trenches, in busy emergency rooms and recovery areas to keep our healthcare system running smoothly and to comfort us when we’re not well.

These people show endless compassion, dedication, and strength, and they inspire us all. 

Reflecting on my own journey of recovery from an illness last June, there were so many people who were integral in my healting process. From my husband to the paramedics, emergency responders, doctors, nurses, specialists and all hospital staff, they all played pivotal roles.

My Personal Support Worker, Noreen, has been a big help in helping me find my new normal. Although this particular project is dedicated to her, this laser project is a way to say thank you to these amazing people who help others every day.

If you’ve been a longstanding reader, you’ll also know that healthcare workers helped us through a very difficult time when both our moms suffered with Alzheimers (see Renovating for an Aging Population for the start of our journey). So we really can’t thank them enough for everything they do. It’s one reason we proudly donate revenue generated from this blog in support of research at the Alzheimers Society!

Watch the Video

Start in Procreate

As usual, the design process starts on my iPad in Procreate. I created a circle on one layer, then drew all the symbols on subsequent layers. It keeps it easy to select and move around the canvas. I duplicated most of the symbols to fill in all the blank spaces.

Drawing laser engrave wall art in Procreate showing different layers

Procreate is great for mirroring images. You just have to remember that you’ll have to copy, erase, and replace any text so it can be read on the mirrored version too.

Numbers that are mirror imaged in procreate on the side of a drawn ambulance

It may be small, but everything should be legible!

Screenshot from Procreate of the finished ambulance with corrected mirror image text

Once the artwork is complete, you can add a name to personalize. Hand write it in Procreate or find a font you like. If you cut this part out of wood on the laser, you’ll have to paint it. Cutting it out of acrylic makes it stand out and saves time with paint.

The name Noreen drawn in Procreate

When I export the file, I leave the circle around the artwork unchecked (I’ll recreate that later to use with a clipping mask).

Vectorize in Inkscape

I love Inkscape for vectorizing files into SVGs so they can be scaled to any size I want. Once imported, click Path > Trace Bitmap and the panel comes up on the right side of the screen. I keep all the defaults and apply.

Healthcare worker tribute artwork in Procreate showing the steps to trace bitmap to vectorize it

If you’re new to Inkscape, just remember that you have to drag the vectorized version away from the original. Then you can delete the original.

Lastly, save it as an SVG: File > Export. I’ve been saving my files as a ‘Plain SVG’ to bring into illustrator to finish. Once day maybe I’ll learn more about Inkscape so I can complete all the steps there.

Saving the Laser Engrave Wood file as an SVG in Procreate

However, I feel like I’m finally getting to know Illustrator, so in the interest of time I revert to what I know.

In Illustrator, I draw a new circle around the artwork to create a clipping mask. Make sure the circle is in front of the artwork. Then select everything and hit Control + 7. That will remove everything that is outside of the circle. If you like you can create and outline of the name so you can score it onto the wood for placement. Or you can wing it like me.

Finalize the File

Import the SVG into Illustrator. Note the blank space where the name will go. If not adding a name, be sure to fill your whole canvas with artwork before you export from Procreate.

SVG file in illustrator

Now’s your chance to round the dimensions of the artwork to just one decimal. This is important in case you want to sell the SVG so you can put the size in your description.

Since this is an engrave file, change the colour of the fill to red – or whatever colour you assign with the engrave function of your xTool P2 laser.

Colour of artwork changed to red

Create your pattern

Draw a circle around the artwork, bring it to the front.

Circle around artwork representing the clipping mask

Use the shape builder tool to delete anything that falls outside the lines. This works well if you only have a few things extending past the perimeter.

By holding down the Alt key (or Option key on a Mac), a minus sign appears. Hover over the part you want to erase until you see the hash design, then click.

Then you can remove whatever extends past the circle. Now everything is contained within the circle.

Artwork cropped around clipping mask

Add a Name

If you like, you can place the name into the artwork. We’ll also put a copy on the artboard to cut.

I like to make the score slightly smaller so it can’t be seen once the name is added on top.

Name place into the engraving artwork

To do that, select offset path. Since we’re wanting to make it smaller, type in a negative number like -.01.

Closeup of offset path panel

This will give you a double line.Double lines from offsetting the path inward to make the name slightly smaller

Double lines from offsetting the path inward to make the name slightly smallerNow we’ll have to delete the outer line, leaving the inner one. Select the direct selection tool and click on a node on the outside line. Hit the delete key.One node of outer double line selected so it can be deleted

Note that depending on your font, this may not delete all the double lines. In that case, select a node again and delete as required.

Shows that not all double lines are deleted from artwork

Change the name to blue to identify it as a score. Also, turn it into a compound path to keep it all together (Ctrl+8).

Name change to blue layer

Unite elements, if necessary, to take care of any overlaps so the laser doesn’t skip those areas. This is especially important if you’re working with a text.

Compound Path

If the rest of the artwork isn’t already compounded, select everything that will get processed together and also make it a compound path (Ctrl + 8 for the shortcut).

Grouped items on the canvas to prepare laser engrave wood SVG

Finally, group it all together. Save your source file. Then copy it to a new canvas and save it again as an SVG.

Final Checklist:

Here’s a final checklist I use to make sure I remember everything before I export it as an SVG before laser engraving.

  • Paths united
  • Sizes rounded to only one decimal place
  • Colour assigned: Red = Engrave, Blue = Score, Black = Cut
  • Compound paths: select all same colours > Crtl 8 (don’t make a compound path where colours need to stay separate – only group same colour elements
  • No overlaps
  • Grouped: Group everything that’s going to stay together

Laser Engrave Wood in XCS

Open the SVG in xTool Creative Space (XCS) and drag it onto the canvas.

If it comes in looking like a score file on the canvas, as shown above, change the processing type to ‘engrave’ instead and you’ll get the fill back.

Red artwork selected for Laser Engrave Wood and given an engrave function in the settings panel

Red artwork selected for Laser Engrave Wood and given an engrave function in the settings panel

Ensure all the elements are in the right layer: red layer is engrave, blue is score and black is cut. I also change the layer names (lower left) to their respective functions so there’s no confusion. Since our wood rounds are already cut, you’ll notice there is no border to cut in this particular file. If I was cutting the wood round, I’d have another cut layer to process.

Creating the layers for Laser Engrave Wood

Now select all the elements that are score and engrave and group them together. That’s so if you have to resize to fit your wood round, everything will scale together (just make sure your size is locked in  XCS so it constrains the proportions).

Settings

For my particular project, I set engrave to 40 power, 200 speed and 1 pass. For the score element, I set it to 20/100/1.

Sidenote: I set the name that will be cut to ignore (not shown) – or you can drag it completely off the canvas. As mentioned, you can cut the name from acrylic or wood.

Group artwork to Laser Engrave Wood

Insert your wood round into the laser. Connect your machine, refresh so you can position your artwork on the wood round.

Close View Camera

Since we’re printing on a pre-cut wood round, the close view camera is going to save the day! I capture a shot at each of the areas where the artwork meets the wood round to ensure it’s exactly within the perimeter of the wood!

Then you can click the green process button on the lower right side and engrave away.

I want to remind you again to keep fire safety equipment within reach! Engraving can easily cause a fire if your settings are too high or speed too low so be prepared. In the FAQs below there is a link to a test array you can do to test the best settings for engraving. Everyone’s machine is different, so find the best settings for you.

Engraving the Wood Round

Since this is a scrap of plywood with a lot of grain, it’s not the best choice for laser engraving. The best woods to use for engraving would be Cherry, Alder, Maple and Mahogany.

However, this exercise was more about finding out how good the close view camera is for positioning.

On that count, it was a huge success. The close view camera perfectly positioning the artwork on the wood round!

Be prepared to spend a lot more processing time waiting for engraving projects to finish. This one took almost 40 minutes.

We haven’t upgraded to XCS 2.0 yet, but there’s a feature that allows you to play around with the plotting of the processing to potentially speed things up. We’re still holding off until it’s fully out of beta, but that sounds like a great feature to have!

Laser Engrave Wood Rounds

Here’s how our laser engrave wood round tribute to our healthcare heroes would look on better wood! If you read the FAQ’s below, there’s a trick to getting a really dark engraving on wood that’s not so perfect.

Do you have a story about a healthcare worker that’s near and dear to your heart too? Leave us a comment!

Here’s another engrave file I designed using the steps above from artwork I created a few weeks ago. You may remember this frog pattern from How to Design Your Own Fabric. Turns out it makes a cute laser engrave project too!

However, we have something REALLY innovative if you want to try engraving. Check out this Word Art Design tutorial!

How to Create a Score File

Next time, we’re going to show you another laser engrave wood round with score art instead of engraving. But we have a huge time saving trick for designing a score file for the laser. If designing SVGs for your laser is something that interests you, you won’t want to miss this (you can subscribe here to our newsletter if you haven’t already).

Pin Laser Engrave Wood

Pinning is always welcome and appreciated. Pinnable image for laser engrave wood

Laser Engrave Wood FAQs

Below are some of the commonly asked questions about laser engraving wood.

For the top 10 laser engraving pro tips from someone who has been doing this longer than us, watch this informative video. Here are the time stamps if you want to narrow down what you want to watch first:

  • 0:37 1st Tip- Laser Engrave Against the Grain of the Wood
  • 1:24 2nd Tip- When to Use the Air Assist
  • 3:12 3rd Tip- Engraving Photos
  • 5:28 4th Tip- High Detail Laser Cutting of Wood
  • 6:54 5th Tip- Picking the Right Wood for Your Project
  • 9:21 6th Tip- Keeping Your Wood Flat in your Shop
  • 10:45 7th Tip- Getting Darker Engraving on Wood that Doesn’t Want to Engrave Dark
  • 12:55 8th Tip- Cleaning up/Avoiding Burnt Marks on Wood
  • 16:03 9th Tip- Connecting all Your Parts for One-piece Designs
  • 17:29 10th Tip- Kerf and Why it Matters

Preparing the Wood

How do you prepare wood before laser engraving?

To prevent charring on the surface, we recommend that you mask the wood with a special masking tape before engraving it. We like this Blue Man Transfer Tape product for masking. You just apply it smoothly, burnish it flat, then peel it off when done. It will save you clean up of the wood surface. 

How do you laser engrave wood without burning it?

Masking your project will protect the wood. Any burn marks will be on the masking tape – not your wood project. 

Should you wet wood before laser engraving?

You might think that wetting the wood would reduce scorching and perhaps it does, but it can also result in inconsistent marking of the wood if one area dries and another is more wet when you start the engraving. Wetting the wood will also raise the grain resulting in a rough surface that you’ll have to sand before you seal. 

If you do want to try wetting the wood though, we’d recommend using a fine mister bottle to spray the surface. Be consistent and do it fast so you don’t get an uneven drying pattern. 

Sealing the Wood

Do you seal wood before laser engraving?

We personally prefer to mask and not seal the wood. This is just anecdotal, but burning through sealer will just release more fumes. Even if it’s venting out the window, that’s adding to the air pollution produced by lasering. At least with a mask, the adhesive it sealed between the paper ad the wood. 

Should I seal wood after laser engraving?

It’s always a good idea to seal and protect your project after laser engraving. Remember that if you’re layering wood for food use that you must use a food grade sealant like an oil specifically made for the purpose. 

Do you oil wood before or after laser engraving?

Our rule of thumb is to never apply a combustible product to wood before engraving. Again, just like any wood sealer, we recommend leaving this for the finishing stages. Some oils can be flammable, so why take the chance by applying a hot burning laser to an oiled wood before engraving? 

Settings

What are the best settings for laser engraving wood?

Getting a great look when engraving is a balancing act of speed and power. If the power is too high and the speed too low, your wood will char – or could even catch fire. We never suggest engraving (or even scoring) at full power. Each machine is different. It best to test your settings on a piece of the same wood before you begin your project.  Doing a test array is always the most efficient way to test. Read this xTool tutorial on how to conduct a material test array on your wood.

Remember to always keep safety equipment nearby. At the very least, you should have a fire blanket mounted near your laser.

After Engraving

Do you sand after laser engraving?

If you are going to sand, we would recommend doing this to prepare the surface before you engrave to remove any imperfections and smooth the surface.  

Troubleshooting

How do you darken wood with laser engraving?

Applying a solution of borax or baking soda to wood before engraving can help darken certain woods like baltic Birch and light Maple. This video on using Borax to darken wood will show you how. You can also try defocussing your laser about 1-2 mm above the surface of whatever you’re engraving. Remember that the more you defocus, the larger your dot size is which can result in a blurry engraving of your graphic or text. 

There are stubborn wood that don’t want to engrave dark. For instance, bamboo is notoriously difficult to get a consistent dark engraving on. Other than trying backfilling with paint, or borax, try a two-prong approach. First is defocussing. Then you can create a score file and process it in addition to the engraving to score just around the edges. Using high speed and enough power to char the edges will provide more emphasis to your engraving artwork. 

4 thoughts on “Laser Engrave Wood Rounds – Healthcare Worker Tribute

  1. Wow, what a lovely tribute you’ve made. These laser cutters look quite complicated to get right but your step by step advice is very clear.

    • Thanks so much Julie! It’s definitely a learning curve and there’s still a lot to learn buy that’s half the fun! The other half is when the person you make it for loves the gift and she did :)!

  2. These are so special! You know this is near and dear to my heart, too! I’m delighted to be featuring your post at the EXTRA BIG Tuesday Turn About this week! Pinned!

    • I’m so happy to hear we’re being featured at the Tuesday Turn About Julie! I don’t know what we would’ve done without the help of healthcare workers, and especially PSWs, when our parents got Alzheimers. And now, I’ve found myself in need of help too. They are true everyday heroes :).

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