Laser engraving a bitmap image using Illustrator

Do you have an image that you’d like to laser engrave on to the surface of a material such as timber or plastic? If it is an image that has a lot of detail and you would rather not just engrave the outlines of the shape (using the image tracing tool), then follow this tutorial!

Step 1

Find the image you would like to use. It should have good contrast. Once you have a suitable image, copy it to the clipboard. For this tutorial, I will use the image show below (left). It will end up looking like the image shown below (right).


Step 2

Open Adobe Illustrator and click File > New to begin working on a new document. Make sure you change the Profile to Basic RGB, then change the document width and height to suit your preferences and click on OK.


Step 3

Click on Edit > Paste to paste in the image that you copied earlier.


The image should appear in your document. Resize the image to suit your preferences.


Step 4

Grab the Selection tool (the black arrow) and click on the image to make sure it is selected. Then click Image Trace on the top toolbar (if you don’t see this option on the toolbar, click Object > Image Trace > Make). If you see a warning message telling you that image tracing may take a while, just click OK. It may take a few seconds to process the image.


Step 5

After the image has been traced, change the Preset from Default to Shades of Gray. You can do this from the toolbar. Illustrator will take a few seconds to process the image (or longer depending on the size and quality of the image).


And that’s it! The image should look like the one shown below. Now when you send the document to your laser cutter, it should engrave the image using a different laser engraving intensity for the different light and dark parts of the image.


If you need to do any other editing, such as changing the shape of the image then it is best to do this in a photo-editing program like Photoshop before copying it into Illustrator. Remember, Illustrator is not a photo-editing program – it is a drawing and illustrating program.

Download the PDF file
Download a PDF copy of the instructions.