STEAMhouse Create Programme: taking new inspiration from laser cutting techniques

Reflections on my first attempts at laser cutting in the STEAMhouse Production Space

The process of upskilling continues. Have you ever gone on social media and seen a life-changing process condensed into 15 seconds to make it look easy? Me too! Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m learning super-slowly and that time is running out before the March deadline (when the Create Programme funding expires).

If you’d like a beginner’s introduction to actually using the laser cutter, rather than my musings on it, click here.

STEAMhouse has two Laser Cutter and Extractor machines. I’ve been itching to try one since my initial induction. Having said that, the thought of my exhausted brain learning more software was daunting. The Laser Cutter uses Beam Studio software as the interface.

Adobe Illustrator file screen show example design learning to laser cut STEAMhouse Birmingham production space Charlie Kirkham
My design in Adobe Illustrator where I move from a silhouetted papercut into a vector file

One of the problems in translating from hand drawn to digital is the loss of detail. I hope to get to grips with the laser cutters and build up to more intricate cuts on the digitally manufactured artworks. My experience turning hand cut papercuts into SVG templates has been invaluable here. Beam Studio is intuitive so far, which I am grateful for.

An amazing artist I recently discovered is Rogan Brown whose hand and digital papercuts are breathtaking. Looking at other artists’ works is an ultimate motivator for me to master the laser cutter.

Working with the STEAMhouse technicians means I can use the offcuts in the workshops rather than buying new materials for each test run. This is making such a difference as it negates the cash risk of buying different test materials that may not succeed.

SVG file imported into Beam Studio Flux learning to laser cut STEAMhouse Birmingham production space Charlie Kirkham
SVG file imported into Beam Studio ready for laser cutting

The process goes like this for me:

  • Hand draw something
  • Scan or trace the drawing to get it digitalised
  • Create a vector in Adobe Illustrator
  • Export a SVG file with any edits made
  • Import into Beam Studio
  • Alter the layers as needed to apply additional effects
  • Cut

The wooden cuts are very attractive and sturdier than their paper cousins. We also experimented with an aluminium offcut which has a beautiful silver and black contrast. The laser cuts are bold and elegant. It’s a medium I really connect with. Longer term the idea is to build up laser cut marquetry and add in 3D printed elements. That could be a really dazzling combination!

learning to laser cut STEAMhouse Birmingham production space Charlie Kirkham steps from hand drawing into wooden laser cut diagram

Any vector file can be user for laser cutting. Personally, I used Adobe Illustrator.

The line weight is critical to getting a clean cut, so they have to be 0.2mm or less, meaning hand drawn heavy lines need a bit of tidying up first.

Beam supports SVG, PNG, JPG, DXF, PDF and AI files.

The laser bed I work with is 590x370mm, most of my designs come in at a maximum of 300mm, which has been fine so far.

The technicalities include adjusting the focus and setting up the camera preview. The camera preview really impressed me as it allows the software (Beam) to ‘see’ the laser cutter bed. This is great for double passes or cutting extra out of a pre cut shape. It allows for accuracy of design onto surface.

The machine is very intuitive, I sent the cut from the laptop and it started it with a timer appearing on screen plus a status bar on the laser cutting machine itself.

Here are the results from my first try:

What do you think?

Let me know by commenting below. You can see more regular updates from the workshop via my Instagram.


STEAMhouse Welcome to STEAMhouse!

Virtual tour of the workshops at STEAMhouse Production Space

My portfolio site

Beam Studio Beam Studio – FLUX

Vector software from Adobe Illustrator

Laser Cutting Beginner’s Guide How to Get Started With Laser Cutting? – Beginners Guide – Maker Design Lab

Rogan Brown – Paper Sculptures

Rogan Brown’s work is currently on display at the Wellcome Collection, London Wellcome Collection | A free museum and library exploring health and human experience


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