Preparing Photos For Laser Engraving

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Preparing Photosfor Laser EngravingEpilog Laser16371 Table Mountain ParkwayGolden, CO 80403303-277-1188 -voice303-277-9669 -

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Tips for Laser Engraving PhotographsThere is a lot of interest in laser engraving photographs, but sometimes users getdiscouraged when they can’t produce the same quality images with their machines thatthey see on display at trade shows. The following information will provide somestrategies for experimenting with photos so that you can become comfortable laseringphotos for your clients. Keep in mind that there is no one “correct” method of engravingphotos. A lot of it is personal preference learned through experimentation, but there area few techniques that virtually anyone who laser engraves photos will find useful.Give these strategies a try. We’ve tried to break down the process into small, easy tounderstand concepts, that can be used individually or grouped together. When you’regoing through the instructions, make your own notes and keep samples that you like soyou can refer to them the next time you engrave a photo. These notes and samples willbe a great resource to you in the future!Don’t worry about becoming an instant expert. Try one thing at a time. Takenindividually, these concepts are pretty easy to follow, and once you understand theindividual concepts, putting them together becomes quite easy!¾ Getting Started - The first thing you should do if you are new to photo engravingis set aside some quiet time to practice and get familiar with the process. Thereare probably some concepts here that are new to you, so it will be beneficial totry some of these ideas without distraction.¾ Different Materials - A single photo is going to engrave differently from onematerial to the next. Many users like to use black marble for their photos. Blackanodized aluminum, black plastic, clear acrylic, and wood are also popularmaterials, but they all engrave differently and you will need to compensate for thematerial.¾ Artwork – Not all photos are going to engrave well. Photos that laser best arephotos that contain a wide range of light to dark shades and everything inbetween. Photos with large areas of a single color typically do not engrave well –especially when working with wood.Page 2 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008¾ Software – Virtually any graphics software has the ability to modify ascanned or digital photo to work with the engraver. This tutorial addressesonly CorelDraw and Corel Photo-Paint version X4, but the principles andtools apply to other packages such as Photoshop, etc.There are third party software packages available that are designedspecifically for preparing photos for laser engraving: PhotoGrav andCadLink’s EngraveLab called PhotoLaser are two of the more popular.These software packages cost 400 to 500 and have some nice featuresthat may make your photo manipulation easier than using Corel alone.PhotoGrav or PhotoLaser are designed to make the photo process amatter of a couple of mouse clicks instead of going through the processeslisted in this paper.¾ Engraving Resolution – Most photos look better if they are engraved at lowerresolutions than standard engraving projects. Resolutions of 200, 300 or 400 DPIare commonly used. The resolution that you use for engraving is important toknow before you start the manipulation process because some of the processesused to manipulate a photograph are resolution dependent. Because of this, andbecause most users engrave photos at 300 DPI, all of our processes are going toassume that we are going to engrave at 300 DPI. But don’t worry too much aboutthis. It’s nice to know that there is a difference, but it’s also doubtful that you oryour customers will be able to tell if you processed a photo at 300 DPI andengraved it at 200 DPI.¾ Dot Gain - Taken together, the adjustment of the variables discussed above(material, the photo, engraving resolution) can be grouped together and given aterm that’s familiar in the printing industry – dot gain. What we’re really doingwhen we adjust a photo is just adjusting the number and spacing of the dots toproduce an image that is pleasing to the eye. Since different materials handledots differently, we need to take that into account by adjusting the dot gainAlthough for laser engraving, we’re almost always trying to reduce the number ofdots, we almost never try to gain dots.If you try to think about processing a photo for laser engraving as reducing thenumber and spacing of dots it may help make your life easier when engravingphotos.Page 3 of 34

Lasering PhotographsTable of Contents¾ Determining the suitability of a photo for engraving¾ Acquiring a photo¾ Cropping Crop ToolCutout LabMask ToolsCreating a VignettePlace Inside a Container¾ Sizing¾ Softening the Intensity of a Photo Adjusting contrast and brightness¾ Inverting a photo¾ Converting to 1-bit¾ Printing¾ Photo murals on tilePage 4 of 34November 2008

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Determining the suitability of a photo for engravingThere are several considerations that need to be taken into account whendetermining whether a photo is suitable for engraving:o Ideally a photo will show many gradations of color from light to dark.o The photo will show good focus and definition of detail.o The photo should have good contrast and focus.o It should be interesting. By this we mean that it should have a number ofdifferent elements to look at. In the photo below the hands break up theface and hair and the face itself is nicely shaded with features that arevery distinct.This photo is excellentfor lasering becausemost of the photo is agradient pattern of lightto dark. There is notmuch in the way of bigblocks of color and thereis a lot of detail to makethe photo really popwhen lasered.o In contrast to the photo above, the next photo is not as suitable forengraving.Page 5 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008This photo will only engrave wellif the black background is takenout. Leaving the backgroundintact will detract from theengraving by producing a largearea that contains nothing tolook at.With that said, this photo canactually be saved with a littleprocessing that we will showlater on, but in general, photoswith large blocks ofuninterrupted color will notengrave well without somemanipulation.Page 6 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Acquiring a PhotoEither scan an actual photograph, or download a photo from a digital camera.o Scanning Resolution – Scan your photos at the resolution you plan using forengraving. If you’re going to engrave at 300 DPI there is no reason to scan at ahigher resolution.o Color or B/W – Scan your photos in color mode if possible. You can even scan ablack and white photos in most scanning software. There are subtle advantagesto using color that will be explored later.o Digital images - Make sure you get the highest resolution digital image you can.Low resolution photos from the Internet are almost never suitable for engraving.If you look hard you can occasionally find high resolution graphics on theInternet, but the vast majority of images are low res and too small in size to beuseful.o Size - Get the largest size image available. Simply stretching a photo in Corel isgoing to reduce the resolution of the image and if the photo is stretched too far,the photo will become too pixilated to engrave. We will show how to properlystretch a photo later on.Page 7 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008CroppingDepending on the photo and the project there are a variety of ways to crop aphoto. This part of the tutorial will show several techniques that are commonlyused.The simplest method is to use the Crop tool in Corel.Select the Crop tool, click and drag your mouse across the area you want to protectand then release your mouse. Double click in the protected area and that’s all there is toit. The Crop tool only allows you to crop a rectangular area, but it is a very useful toolfor many applications.Page 8 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Cutout LabSometimes cropping involves getting rid of an irregular area of the photograph. CorelPhoto-Paint provides a very simple tool to do this. Either open Corel Photo-Paint orselect the photo in CorelDraw and click on the Edit Bitmaps button in Corel:Clicking the Edit Bitmapsbutton takes your photo directlyinto Corel Photo-Paint.IN Photo-Paint, go to Image, and then click on Cutout Lab.Page 9 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008We’re going to use a different photo to show how to use Cutout Lab to crop out the bigdark area of a photo that we know will not engrave well.Use the Highlighter Tool and trace around the outside edge of the area you want tokeep. Notice that you can change to size of the Nib. This helps to easily define the areayou are going to crop.After outlining the photo, use the Inside Fill tool and click anywhere inside the area thatyou want to keep.Inside Fill ToolClick on Preview to see your results.Page 10 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008After clicking onPreview you can usethe Add Detail tool orthe Remove Detail toolto fine tune your photo.After using the Addand Remove filltools to refine thecutout, the photolooks much betterand is ready foruse.Click Okay to viewthe finished photo.Save the finishedphoto form PhotoPaint and import itinto CorelDraw.Page 11 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008You now have acropped photothat’s ready touse.Page 12 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Mask ToolsPhoto-Paint offers a number of tools that allow you to crop in many different ways.These tools are called the Mask tools and are found in the Mask tool fly out:The Mask tools require a littlemore effort to use, but it is worththe time to look into them.You will gain an understandingof how they work when we usethe Ellipse tool in the nextsection.Page 13 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Creating a VignetteA vignette is an image that has been cropped in a way that produces a soft featherededge to the area being cropped. This is a little more involved method of cropping, butthe effects created are very pleasing.It’s necessary to carefully follow the order of these next steps. Until you gain anunderstanding of what the steps do, following them in order will make this a very easytask.First, open a photo in Photo-Paint, or select a photo in CorelDraw and use the EditBitmap button that we used earlier. The next step is to setup Photo-Paint so you canmodify the photo.First, Click on the Mask menuand make sure both MaskOverlay and Marquee Visibleare activated (they should havea check next to them).Next, select the Ellipse Masktool from the Tool Bar. Mostusers use the Ellipse becauseit provides a nice oval withwhich to frame the face.With the Marquee tool selected,your marquee tool options willappear. Click on the NormalMode tool (next to the wordMode).That’s all the set up you have to do.Page 14 of 34Set your Feather Mask Widthto 99.

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008At this point we’re ready to select the area we want to keep and create our vignette.Move your Ellipse Marquee Tool to a starting point on the photo and click and holddown the mouse. Then, drag a circle (ellipse) across the face in the photo. Move yourmouse around until the marquee defines the area you want to keep and then releasethe mouse.Photo-Paint does not allow you to easily change the selected area. One of the easiestways to select the area you want is to start from the middle and hold the shift key whileyou drag your mouse. This will generate a marquee from the center. Practice a coupleof times until you get used to it.When you release your mouse, the mask will show up.The mask shows up as anorange overlay. It’s important tounderstand that everythingunder the orange overlay Maskis protected and cannot bemodified. This will be importantfor some applications later on.Notice that the oval around the face is fuzzy. This is a result of setting the Feather valuefrom the previous page to 99. If you want a sharper edge, you can lower the feathervalue and redraw the mask, or, if you like where the mask is, go to the Mask menu,Mask Outline, Feather and the Feather dialog box will appear.Page 15 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Use the Feather box to makeadjustments to the mask.Double click on the eye icon toview your changes.Once you have the vignette the way you want it to look, you’re ready to delete thebackground and save the image.To delete the background area we need to invert the mask. Remember that everythingunder the mask is protected. Now we’ll protect the face, and delete the background.To invert the mask and protectthe face, just click on the InvertMask button.Alternatively, from the Maskmenu, click on Invert.Now the maskshows the areathat willbecome ourvignette.Page 16 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008To delete the background, click on the Fill tool (the little paint bucket):Move the Fill tool anywhere on the photo and press the Delete key on your keyboard.Your photo will now look like this:That’s it! You have quickly andeasily eliminated thebackground and you now havea lovely photo with softfeathered edges ready forengraving.You can now save the photo as a .bmp and then import it back into Corel. It’s ready forlaser engraving!Page 17 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008The only setting you may need to change is when you delete the background.You may need to change yourbackground color so that whenyou press the Delete key youcreate a white background.When you press Delete and itcreates a background otherthan white, press Ctrl Z to undothe Delete.Double click on the twooverlapping squares that arethe Background color icon.Don’t click on the single square.You should get the ForegroundColor window. Move the sliderbar all the way to the top tochange your Background colorto White. Once you move theslider bar up to the top, theName will change to White.Click on OK.After clicking OK, go back to your photo and then select the Fill tool again and pressDelete. That should give you a white background and you can now save the photo.Page 18 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Cropping with the Place Inside Container PowerClip toolThere is one more method of cropping that is popular. This is done in CorelDraw and isvery easy to perform.For this example we are going to place a photo in an irregularly shaped object – apentagon.First, place the object over the area of the photo that you want inside the object.Next, select the photo and click on Effects, PowerClip, Place Inside ContainerYou will see a large black arrow.Use the arrow to click on the outline ofthe container object. You may have tozoom in to select the container.Page 19 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008You have now cropped a photoinside a container. You can usea container of any shape youcan create.Page 20 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008SizingNow that you’ve cropped your photo and it’s in the form you want to use, we can nowsize it.The photo below was downloaded from a digital camera. This sizing process is usefulfor any photo whether it was acquired from a camera, was scanned or came from theInternet. We’ve imported the image below into Corel and we want to engrave this photoonto a plaque. As you can see, it’s about the same size as the plaque, so we need toshrink it. For most objects in Corel you would grab one of the corner handles and shrinkor expand until it looked good. With a photo we need to take more care.o Before sizing the photo, make a duplicate of it first and move it to the side.Because we’re going to manipulate the photo it’s always good to have theoriginal close at hand so we can start over if we want to.o Decide on the size the photo needs to be. Select the photo and use one ofthe corner handles to determine the appropriate size. Make a note of thesize you want the photo to be after shrinking and then use Ctrl Z to undo itback to its original size.Page 21 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008You should be able to see the size and location of the photo in the upperleft corner of Corel. The following screen shot from Corel shows that thesize we want the photo to be is 3.125” x 2.528”.o We’re now ready to size the original photo. Select the original photo and click onBitmaps Resample in the Corel menu bar.Page 22 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008The Resample window comes up and, as you can see, there are two mainparameters that can be changed; Size and Resolution.It’s usually advisable tomake sure Maintainaspect ratio isselected. You will seein the next screen shotthat this forced theHeight to be a veryslightly different size,but the difference is sosmall (0.006 inch) youwill never notice it.Input the size (3.125 x 2.528) that we want the photo to be.After setting the size, set the resolution. Since we’re going to engrave using 300DPI, set the resolution here to 300 x 300.Click OK and you will go back to your Corel Page.Page 23 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Notice that we now have a photo that fits the plaque with the original photo off to theside.Page 24 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Softening the Intensity of a photoIt is frequently the case that the photographs you want to engrave get washed outbecause they are too intense for the laser. This is because most photos are designed tobe exceptionally high quality images and there is a lot more information than can beprocessed in a 300 DPI engraving.This process can be performed before or after cropping and sizing with the exception ofa photo inside a container. For this one process you will need to soften the photo beforeplacing it in the container.To soften a photo we want to just lighten it so it doesn’t look washed out whenengraved. You can do this in Corel or Photo-Paint.You need to make sure the photo is in the correct format before you can adjust theintensity. In Corel, select the photo and go to Bitmaps. If the Image Adjustment Lab isgrayed out, you will need to click on Convert to BitmapSet the Resolution to 300 DPIand the color mode to RGBColor (24 bit), and then clickOK. This will convert your phototo a mode that can be adjusted.Page 25 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Select the photo again and go back into the Bitmaps menu.Click on Image Adjustment Lab.The Image Adjustment Labhas a number of settings thatcan be changed. Usually, justchanging the Brightness andContrast are enough to softenthe photo.Page 26 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Usually increasing the Brightness (we increased it to 30) and decreasing the Contrast(we decreased it to -20) is all that is needed. The photos below show the before andafter effects.Before adjustmentAfter adjustmentPage 27 of 34

Lasering PhotographsNovember 2008Inverting a PhotoIf you are engraving a photo on dark material like black marble or black anodizedaluminum you are going to need to invert the photo before sending it to the engraver.Inverting is nothing more than converting it into a negative; although this can causecomplications if you decide you want to invert the photo after all of your otheradjustments have been made.It’s usually best to invert the photo in the early stages of processing,so take the material you are going to engrave on into account beforeyou begin!Many users have difficulty with negatives until they try it out a couple of times, so it’shelpful to know how the laser works if you need to think about a negative (inverted)image. The way the laser works is that it fires wherever there is a dot in the artwork. Formost engraving materials like wood or acrylic you are creating a dark mark wherever thelaser hits the material. On material like black marble you are doing the opposite – youare creating white wherever the laser fires, not dark. Inverting just changes all of theblack dots to white and vice-versa.Inverting a photo is quite easy. In Corel, select your photo and t

Photo-Paint provides a very simple tool to do this. Either open Corel Photo-Paint or select the photo in CorelDraw and click on the Edit Bitmaps button in Corel: IN Photo-Paint, go to Image, and then click on Cutout Lab. Clicking the Edit Bitmaps button takes your photo directly into Corel Photo-Paint.

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