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My main concern is conferting bitmap files to vector graphics files that will work with the laser. I'm told that the "trace" feature of Illustrator can do this. In other words, I want to, using a flat bed scanner, scan in "object" and convert it to some sort of vector file that will work on the laser.
Yes, it would. Just like Corel Trace. Of course you will still have to do manaul cleanups here and there...
The industry "standard" for laser engravers is Windows running Corel Draw. Corel does not make a Mac version anymore. So in order to use the industry "standard" I'd have to load some sort of virtual windows software, a copy of windows and a windos based graphics program on my Mac. Doable but not optimal for my business because of budget constraints.
Bootcamp comes free with your Mac, Windows Vista Home costs a meagre 129 Euros (maybe the same in USD) or maybe you still have your old XP somewwhere, older versions of CorelDraw can be had for around 150 Euros and all of it certainly is tax-deductible as a business investment. Should by all means be doable somehow, but of course with Bootcamp you realyl have to reboot to switch OSs.
The rest is in the dark - ultimately you may not at all need Corel Draw but just a way to generate a proper control/ job file in the language the laser cutter uses. It may possible to find some external tool that can use PDFs or EPS files and control the unit, so as a first thing try to find out what the cutter actually wants as input...
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help as best you can without getting too frustrated while reinventing the wheel
Woodchip, it sounds as though you are trying to reinvent the wheel, just to perform your plotting operation on a Mac.
after working with the PC for 20 years, I switched to Mac and have never looked back
Look, I have absolutely no OS-favoritism axe to grind. But you are, in fact, "looking back" right now! "Switching" to MacOS has limited your options for expansion into another area of interest.
(This "switching" language continually amuses and puzzles me. People "switch" from Draw to Illustrator, or vice-versa. People "switch" from MacOS to Windows, or vice-versa. What, do they throw away the "switched from" computer or software? Is there some law that says you can only use one drawing software, or that you must do every function in your shop on one CPU?)
There are no laser engraver manufacturers out there that support the Mac platform. LaserProNA does have a driver that will work with a Mac if the Mac is loaded with Adobe Illustrator.
That sounds like a contradiction. LaserProNA is a laser engraber manufacturer, and you say they offer a Mac driver. Does that driver only work with their equipment? If so, are you willing to limit your hardware options to just one source, just to be able to do everything on MacOS?
Why would a "driver" require you to use a particular graphics software? Typically, software for plotting devices can interpret a handful of common file exchange formats (as opposed to some graphics software's native format), such as .eps or early-version .ai, and provide at least a basic interface for previewing, positioning, scaling, step-repeating, etc. Are you sure the "driver" you are referring to is not just some convenience software, like a custom color library for Illustrator, or merely a plug-in to allow you to invoke the driver within Illustrator's print dialog?
Personally, I think you are making a huge mistake by so doggedly insisting on doing everything on one computer platform (let alone one computer box). Why kick against the thorns? You are just limiting yourself and complicating matters--not things to do if you intend to make money with this.
I took a look at laserprona.com. It brags alot about their $250M size. Doesn't show a driver download link. Doesn't show suggested list prices for their equipment. Makes you fill out a form just to find their resellers. Can't find any reference to their must-use-AI-MacOS-driver.
Might be great equipment. But production equipment is only as good as the software that drives it. Do you really want to limit (imprison) yourself to this one vendor? What if they go out of business? What if they stop making and supporting the driver you reference? What if they just stop developing it next time Illustrator ships a new version?
My main concern is conferting bitmap files to vector graphics files that will work with the laser. I'm told that the "trace" feature of Illustrator can do this.
Let's get this part straight: First, there is nothing special about auto-tracing software. Nowadays, you can even perform that function on the web. Auto-trace features have long existed in just about every vector drawing program. Illustrator only just recently acquired one, and it is a particularly tedious one, because its belatedness behooved Illustrator to try to "advance" autotracing with a plethora of tweaks and twiddles that will likely not even apply to your purpose (you're not going to be engraving in 256 colors, for example), and by implementing it as yet another (slow) "live effect" within Illustrator. Both of those aspects of Illustrator's autotrace features are likely to cost you time in a production-oriented setup.
Second, autotracing is not the "magic bullet" most who are new to it think it is. It is not a "conversion" in the sense of one file format's language being translated into another's. It's a software routine that tries to emulate what a human does when he traces a photograph with a pencil onto a piece of tracing paper. Such tracings--if pleasing--always involve human value judgements and interpretation. A human recognizes a roughly circular blob of pixels as "supposed to be a circle". A human recognizes an edge of jagged stair-steps as "supposed to be a straight line." Autotracing features don't.
So in almost all situations, (especially those applicable to plotting) autotracing results are inferior to manually-drawn paths. Autotracing is a trade-off of smooth and accurate results for speed. Relying on autotracing for laser engraving is just like relying on it for vinyl cutting. You can easily tell when someone has resorted to autotracing of a logo, for example, in making a vinyl sign. The edges are jagged and wiggly. A sign guy can get away with that, becasue the sign is designed to viewed from some distance. Your engraved plaques, viewed up close, may not be so forgiving. I'm just saying, autotracing may often fail to yield the capabilities of your device--and require more time in the process.
The industry "standard" for laser engravers is Windows running Corel Draw.
Cutting yourself out of the standard practices of a given industry can severely limit (at worst) or needlessly complicate (at best) your competitiveness, equipment and software options. (And collaboration: You attend a laser-engraving trade show or conference and everybody there is speaking Draw/Windows, while you sit like a virtual wall flower with a pouty-faced MacOS chip on your shoulder.)
* You're going to spend some serious money in this. It's a vertical market.
* The cost of a modest Windows box (or one you already have) will be a minor part of that cost.
* Most providers, manufacturers, and software publishers in that industry are vastly more Windows-oriented.
* This is a retail thing you're about to get into. That means you need to be competitive. That means you need to maximize your options, not limit them due to some emotional dedication to MacOS.
Get (or keep) a Windows box to drive the machine. Keep it lean and clean (not cluttered with every web/graphics/email/office software you use for every other aspect of your business). Let it be dedicated to that task. Do your design work in Illustrator on the Mac if that makes you happy. Save or export the file in an appropriate format, send it to the cutting station (the Windows box) and print the job.
That way, a web or email or network or font or application corruption problem with your software-cluttered main design workstation doesn't cripple your engraving production. When you do repeats of a previous job, you don't even have to involve your main workstation. When you do long production runs, you don't tie up your design station. When you want to, you can have someone else nurse the engraver along, while you do other things.
Well, I think these are some of the longest posts I have seen in a while. JET has some very good info. I especially agree with his last two paragraphs. The only thing I want to comment on, forgoing any OS discussion, is the scanning of line art. If you are going to scan reflective line art (Black image on white paper) and then trace in Illustrator, be it auto trace or with pen tool. I would make sure you are scanning to1200 dpi at 100%. This should give you high enough res in a scan to auto trace to vector. I find the Tracing>Preset>Lettering gives good results tracing line art to vector and you can adjust Threshold accordingly. If there is any aliasing in the 1200 dpi raster image being vectorized this preset seems to follow it very closely.
Thank you very much for your detailed response. I think I came to the right place to find real answers.
As I said, and it should be obvious to you folks that do this for a living that I'm still learning all of the ends and outs of the graphics business. There are a lot of the basic things that everyone takes for granted that I need to learn from scratch, including the definition of terms etc. But I'll get there.
I have looked into both Parallels and Bootcamp. There's pros and cons to both of these virtula windows programs for Mac. And if that's the way Ihave to go that's what I'll do. But thanks for presenting that idea again. I've heard from various other folks on other forums that have done just that with their laser engravers, some using Illustrator and other using Corel Draw, with their Mac.
And yes, I'll be attending the Long Beach, CA, vendors fair this week to have a look what sorts of files each of the engravers will take and or need. I really messed up this past couple of years mainly because I never thought to ask that basic of questions. Maybe if I had done so this issue wouldn't be so difficult.
All of my experience with graphics has been with Adobe products, and that's why I am leaning more towards Adobe than anything else. Now if that means I have tunnel vision, so be it. I'll just have to learn how to use it for what I need to do with it vice working with digital photos only.
By the way, I do have a PC that I can use as a dedicated laser unit computer interface and had been thinking along those lines since this "business addition" came up. I also still have an earlier model of Photo Shop loaded on it.
Thanks again for all of the great information and suggestions. If you can think of anything else that might help, please do not hesitate to pass it along.
Right out of the chute let me just thank you for taking the time and making the effort to write down your thoughts. I've read each comment thoroughly and have taken your entire note to heart. No worries.
I'm not hard over with the Mac. Let me explain. I made the switch to Mac because of all the problems and issues having worked with the PC in both the government and private sectors of the military, aviation and international trading and swore that if and when I got into my own business I'd switch to Mac, which I did in 2006. Now, let me say again, I'm not hard over on the Mac or OSX. But, I still do a LOT of international travel, with a business in the states, and a companion business in Asia. Carrying one, vice two, computers through any international terminal is........ well, combersome. Along with that, having to learn some additional software in order to do something that could or can be done on one machine is just adding additional work which equates to money.
With regards to LaserProNA, you didn't see the Mac driver on their website because it is new and they haven't gotten it posted as yet. I'll be meeting with their rep in SoCal sometime the first week in August. And no, I'm not hard over here with any one laser company either. But there are a lot of features that the LaserPro has that other engravers do not. And that will determine which unit I purchase. As a business operator I think you understand capital expenses. And expanding my business to include laser engraving IS a capital expenditure, so I'm going to do it right. That's where you and the rest of the great folks on this, and the other forums that I'm using to get information on, are really helping me out. And I thank you all for that help an advice.
I think I mentioned that this has been a two year research project so far and if necessary I'll take another year of research just to get it right before laying out the big bucks for an engraver plus software. And if that means dusting off my old PC, cleaning the hard drive of everything except the operating system and Adobe Illustrator, or whatever windows based software package I decide to buy, then so be it. Business is business. So I do understand and appreciate your comments along these lines. No worries.
Tracing. It's here that your comments really got my attention as I'm totally in the dark about what this is and what Adobe Illustrator can and can not do. My customer base "wants" me to take a crest, or military patch if you will, and put that "patch" on a wood object, be that a presentation plaque, a photo board, a wood pen, or a shot glass. In addition, because I live and work in Asia part time, there are numerous and various asian characters and symbols that I've been asked to do the same thing with; mainly in Japan where they have family "house marks" that sort of look like our old wild west cattle brands. None of this is trade marked, so I don't have to worry about that issue, well, not totally. It's just getting it from a "patch/crest/symbol" into some sort of format that will "print/carve/engrave" on an object. Is tracing the answer? If so, are there Adobe, or other, software packages that will allow me to do this via PC and or Mac? Auto trace is not a magic bullet? OK then, how do I do this?
Sincerely appreciate and totally understand your comment about "cutting myself out of the standard practices". But that does not mean that I have to go along with them, bow down to them and or use my own hard earned money to just go along with the heard. Now, after research, asking and getting answers to my questions, such as what I've seen here with you and everyone elses responses, if I have to go with the "standard practicies", OK, so be it. But I will run to ground, BEFORE spending the money, everything I can think of in the process. Again, thanks for reminding me of that as well. No worries.
If I have to go with a windows software package to do the job, doing as you suggest with a dedicated windows "box" is the only smart way to go and I can do that, What I have to do is "get smart" on a graphics package that will do the job as stated above. And then I have to learn how to use it. I've even looked at just "farming" out graphics and conversions to someone and then do the engraving myself. Of course I could farm the whole issue out but that defeats the purpose again.
Adobe Illustrator is not an easy package to learn. I have learned Adobe Photo Shop Elements 6 though, which, please correct me if I'm wrong, will not do what I've been asked to do for my customers. I have also downloaded a trial copy of Illustrator and have been spending a lot of my spare time trying to learn to do what I need to do with it. It's slow, because of me, and very painful, also my problem, but............
Once again, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to respond to my note. Your comments were spot on target and I will add them all to my data base and use them when making an most informed decision.
Thank you very much for your comments to my note. And yes, I totally agree that these are probably some of the longest responses that I've seen here, or on any other forum that ever visited. Rest assure that because I've gotten such great advice and spot on comments to my original request for info, I'll be visiting this forum quite regularly, especially if I continue on with Adobe Illustrator.
With regads to your comments on increasing the scanned resolution, that's one area again that I never thought of. My thought was that when you "converted" to vector all of those jagged edges would go away. WRONG! It's direction and advice like this that I need a TON of if I'm going to satisfy my customers needs.
Once again, here is what my customer is asking of me. They want to take a crest/military patch type item, and laser engrave it on another item, such as a plaque, photo board, wood pen or shot glass etc, etc, etc. All I'm trying to do is get that "patch" from spot A to spot B on an item of my customers choice. Seems simple when you look at it like that but..............
Adobe Photo Elements is my only graphics package that I have currently loaded on my Mac. I do have a trial copy of Illustrator but still haven't been able to make it do what I need it to do. Learning the software is the obvious answer.
But now that I know there are some very knowledgable folks on this forum, such as yourself and everyone else who has responded to my initial call for help, I will be coming back here to ask my Adobe questions.
The next time you get a chance to talk with a rep. You should ask them how exactly the driver works. Does it work like a printer driver or is it a dedicated peice of software that imports certain file formats to output to the machine.
If its the former then just about any vector software should be able to output to the machine. If its the latter then just about any vector that can export the same formats will work. And if it is the latter which formats?
I think you may be over complicating the issue and a few questions to your rep should put your mind at ease. I also recommend that you see a demo of it working on the system and software you decide to go with. There is nothing wrong with Draw nor Mac's so which way you go I think will be more of a personal choice than it will be what will or won't work with that machine.
When you do get it all set up and your happy with it, lets us know how you made out.
Edit one last thing i thought of, it may be possible that the driver is a plug-in for a certain vector program. If it is which program?
Anyway, thats all i can think of. So...
Thank you for your quick response and very informative note.
Yes, this was a mistake that I made from the get go with regards to asking the proper questions as to which format the laser needs. There is a big graphics/sign/laser/etc expo going on this week in Long Beach, CA, that I will be attending to take care of this problem once and for all. From what I'm reading about this expo, all of the major laser engraver reps will be there. Should be able to run this issue to ground.
And yes, I am overly complicating this. My only response is that I'm new. And new people make these kinds of mistakes. Thankfully there are avenues, such as this forum, where new folks can make these mistakes and get answers without costing anything.
The one laser company that has sort of caught my attention, mainly because they have a couple of functions with their laser that would make my operation run a lot more smoothly, has been the Laser Pro folks. They are also the only company that I have found that has come up with a plug in for the Mac so it can talk with Illustrator and Illustrator only. That is a $300 addition to the actual laser. But here again, I'm not hard over on using a Mac and or going with the LaserPro people.
My bottom line is getting the most out of my limited capital expenditures budget for this year while meeting my customers requests. I think you could say..... the old KISS principle within real monitary restraints.
Thanks again for your comments. And if you think of anything else that could help me along, especially with regards to Illustrator and how it will do what I need to as stated previously, please do not hesitate to forward it. I'd sincerely appreciate it!