(Thanks to Becka Lawson for writing this after her visit to DoES)
Turning on and preparing the laser cutter
Turn key (on the right side of the machine) to start laser cutter - it makes a lot of noise so you'll know when it's on. Leave for 5 min to warm up. If it beeps press escape to reset.
Open window to vent. There is a black bin with a lid on it to the left of the machine; DO NOT put any rubbish in here as it is to do with ventilating the fumes from the machine. Hang the white ventilation tube out of the window, ensuring it faces upwards.
Pick material (offcuts under machine or buy stuff) from the drawers beneath the machine. The top drawer contains offcuts from previous projects – useful if you are just experimenting with ideas. Materials are also available for purchase, but you are welcome to bring your own if you wish. Place material (eg acrylic or plywood) on bed, metal mesh inside the machine (open lid right up). The maximum thickness that the small laser cutter can cut is 5mm.
To move the laser head, you press the arrows surrounding the Z button on the laser cutter (doesn't always work, hold down for a bit to get it to move and before this works you might need to hit escape to clear selections - should have 4 lines on display, top line "File LASER" when it is ready to move).
Set the laser focus by moving the laser head (the part that points down) to somewhere clearly visible and DIRECTLY ABOVE THE MATERIAL (as you need the laser focus to be on the correct height for the material that you are cutting) then place the brown plastic square that says "ruler" (which should be hanging on screw on front of the laser cutter) vertically on top of material. Adjust the bed so the TOP of the 'ruler' is level with the top of the flat piece of metal perpendicular to the head of the laser head (which is the bit with the yellow warning about the laser). If this needs adjusting use the small tool (attached to the power key by a green cable-tie) to rotate the nut on the bottom right of the metal tray (there are 4 bolts on each side of the bed holding it together) so the whole tray goes up or down. You might need to rotate it around several times, it's just mechanical. You MUST remember to remove the ruler when you are satisfied that the material is at the correct height for the laser – do NOT leave it in the machine!
Easiest to create your drawings using Inkscape. Use 0.1mm line thicknesses throughout. Make sure that, at a minimum, lines to be cut are coloured differently to lines that are to be engraved as you'll need to use different speed and power settings for these. Colour nearby parts in different colours so that the laser doesn't overheat the plastic and start burning when it tries to cut lots of lines near to each other (the Laser Systems software cuts each colour in turn, use as many colours as you need).
If you have text that you want to engrave or cut, remember that it must be transformed into an object. In Inkscape, this is done by highlighting your text and clicking path>path to object. Note these objects may then not be "watertight" so need to correct for this by smoothing in the Laser Systems software, see later.
Using the laser cutting software
Transfer your Inkscape file to the local pc (password bubblino) using Dropbox or Skybox etc or create the file on the local PC itself. Change file to dxf in Inkscape (or maybe go from Inkscape to Corel then to dxf, this might work better). Open laser cutter software (Laser Systems 5.3) which crashes a lot (maybe try switching off the laser cutter and on again to get it going) by clicking on the blue "spark" icon on the taskbar. To open your document in Laser Systems, go to File-Import (NOT File-Open) and select your dxf document. The Laser Systems software crashes a lot, so don't worry if it doesn't import your file first time. You may have to close and reopen the software several times – ensuring that your drawing file isn't open anywhere else on the PC seems to help! However, it is just temperamental.
Check your file still looks OK - some extra lines may have appeared that weren't visible on your Inkscape file (on hidden layers) so delete them. More subtly, if size matters double check it is still the correct size because the Inkscape to dxf conversion often seems to mess with the size. If the size has changed then select all of your drawing and use the left side graph/ruler icon which tells you the current width and height in mm and change these to whatever it should be (go back to your Inkscape file, select all and check size).
The black rectangle (probably in the bottom left relative to your drawing) shows the maximum extent of the laser cutter bed. Drag your drawing so it is on top of this rectangle. If your drawing is bigger than the bed then you'll have to rescale it so it fits inside.
Set the speed and power settings for each line (see box on top right) are dependent on which material you are using - what it is and how thick it is - see the DOES wiki wiki.doesliverpool.com/LaserCutter for settings other people have used. There is also a whiteboard behind the main door with suggested speed and power settings, e.g. cutting 3mm acrylic is 7/50 and cutting 5mm acrylic can be cut at 4/50 (speed/power) and can be engraved at 220/20. Engraving requires higher speed and lower power. There is rarely any need to increase the power above 50. Corner speed may be irrelevant for acrylic, however may matter for less durable materials such as cardboard (where I think you want it to be slower).
Order the lines in the order you want them to be cut (so can select and move the lines up and down, again top right box) - the top line here is the one cut first. Do the engraved lines FIRST because these don't go right through the material so nothing should move when these are cut. Sometimes when you cut right through the part will fall down a bit so any subsequent cuts might not be perfectly aligned.
Send file to laser cutter
To send the image to the laser printer, click DOWNLOAD near the bottom right of the Laser Systems screen. Click “Del All” to delete the previous project sent for cutting, then click “Download Current” to send your document to the laser printer. Once all the boxes that appear disappear, the document has been sent! If any error messages pop up concerning engraving and polylines, just click OK to get it to finish the download then you need to go back to the file on the pc in Laser Systems and select all the text (which is the bit that will have holes in) and go to top menu, Tools - Unite Lines with default tolerance and it will connect all lines then resend to printer. Hopefully this time around it won't give you any error messages.
Place acrylic and set laser cutter head position
Might be best to put the acrylic right against the edge of the bed if your drawing has a straight line. The rectangle on the PC screen is not oriented the same way as the bed of the laser cutter, the mesh bed is orientated 90 degrees to the left (ACW) relative to the screen. To get the laser positioned to the top left corner of the rectangle on the screen, move the laser cutter head to the bottom left corner of your material (is the nearest corner on the left relative to yourself). Press the arrows on the laser cutter next to Z button to move the head so is EXACTLY in the corner where you want it to start cutting and press escape to get out. It helps if you put the material in roughly the right place to start with. You can't move the laser head off the bed so don't worry about going too far.
Now press "test" and the laser head will move in a rectangle to show you the extent of the area that will be cut (this can only be done after you have downloaded your file to the laser cutter; before that point it will show you the extent of the previous file) so you can check if it falls out of area (ie off the material). If necessary readjust the position of the head again (use the arrows as before, if it beeps then just press escape) and/or change the size of your drawing so it will fit onto the acrylic.
When ready close the lid (it won't cut if it is open) then press the start button (start/pause next to test button) to start cutting.
You must stay by the laser cutter and keep checking to make sure it doesn't catch fire - if it does press pause (and you can open lid to blow out any flames). Do NOT press stop otherwise it will start again from scratch. If necessary use the emergency stop button. There should be an internal light so you can see inside but the bulb currently seems bust (button next to emergency button).