How to Inkscape for Ponoko Newbies – Trace an Image

Here at Ponoko we know that there are SO many of you who are really excited about designing your own products. But there are some hurdles to get over, and the first that usually stumps people is actually getting your design into a form that can be made into something real. For those of you with design skills and experience using Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw it’s not such an issue. But for all you newbies the team here at Ponoko are studiously working on more How-To’s to help you expand your creativity.

One tool we are going to put a lot of focus on is Inkscape since it has some neat features for you new Designers that I know you’ll like. I know I do. The most obvious are:

A: It’s FREE!

B: It runs on Mac OSX and Windows. In fact I run it on both and it seems to be identical even.

and C: It’s FREE.

In my opinion, software is created to do something for me. Whether it’s sending an email or creating beautiful and unique jewellery NOT take hours of my time before I can even get a result from it. So normally when I get a new software package to use, I try to just do what I want rather than completely read the manual. While I’m sure that’s a bit frustrating for software developers who are probably shouting, “Read THE MANUAL Steven!!!” at their screens right now, I think a lot of people do this.

So if you are that way inclined and would like to get a quick win with Inkscape my very first suggestion is that you try tracing an image using the video at the bottom of this post. It is included in the Instructable that Dan and John created. Using the videos, the Making Guide in the Inkscape Starter Kit, and a lot of playing around my son and I were able to design our first piece of jewellery on Ponoko earlier this week. It took us quite a bit of time to get the image where we wanted it (mostly because of my lack of experience with Inkscape) and to then get it into the .eps version for Ponoko, but we did get there eventually. And it was very satisfying when we finally uploaded the completed .eps file to MyPonoko – a bit like having our first baby.

Here are some simple points that we came up with during the process that I think might make it easer for you to get the results you want without spending the same amount of time that I did. (Thank goodness for school holidays).

1. Choose a simple image! It can be tempting to want to trace something complicated but it can be depressing if it takes too long to get a first result. Especially if working with kids. Following the video below will really help. Please note the video pauses after about 10 seconds you just need to press play again to get it started. I find it’s easier just dragging the video slider to the point I’m working on so I can focus on that point in the process.

2. In the Ponoko starter kit it mentions that you MUST have your lines a certain color and stroke width so that the laser cutter knows to Cut, Raster or Engrave. But, I suggest you don’t do this UNTIL AFTER YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR DRAWING AND FITTED IT TO THE INKSCAPE STARTER KIT TEMPLATE. We started changing the lines as we worked but discovered after much drawing that the line widths we’re seemingly changing automatically. VERY FRUSTRATING! But when we left it to the end it was actually very easy to select and change the lines as a group. Knowing this would have saved us a lot of time. John and Dan created another video below that is very helpful with this and I suggest you watch that too.

3. Another reason NOT to change the lines for the Laser Cutter while you are working on your drawing is that they become so darn small that you need to use the magnifying tool to see them and then you can’t see the whole picture. You can avoid this by just drawing in a stroke width you like and changing them all at the end for the Laser.

4. When converting you lines to the right color and width for the Ponoko Laser you’ll need to set the RGBA values in the “Fill and Stroke” window. Within the Starter Kit it currently mentions only the RGB values. This only gets confusing if like me you start setting the A to 0 when thinking it’s the B. This causes your lines to disappear (and your kids to scream). You need to keep the A at 255 (as shown in the video above and image below).

strokepaintinkscape.JPG

With this much information you should be really dangerous now. Especially if creating customized jewellery, stencils, holiday decorations or any other 2d object is your first goal! Dan is putting together a new Instructable on a piece of jewellery he’s made and we’ll have that up for you to look at very soon.

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10 Responses to “How to Inkscape for Ponoko Newbies – Trace an Image”

  1. Alan Says:

    Regarding 3) even if you make the lines so small you can’t see them anymore, you can go View->Display Mode->Outline to show all lines in an appropriate display width (note that this does not change the lines themselves or the file being worked on, but only how the lines are displayed on the user’s screen – and this can easily be changed back again).

    I’d also highly recommend the Inkscape manual, which in HTML form is included with the application (Help->Inkscape Manual), and can be purchased at a reasonable price on PDF. We took the PDF to a bureau to get printed and bound two-up double sided. This has saved our bacon with Inkscape on a number of times, as well as showing us how to do many new things we would not have found otherwise.

    Inkscape truly is one of the more impressive open source consumer applications out there.

  2. Steven Says:

    Thanks Alan for that tip, if you’ve got any more keep them coming. I’m really starting to like Inkscape too. It took a while to get into it, but I think that’s more of a reflection of my lack of knowledge in any graphics tool, rather than anything to do with Inkscape.

  3. Billy Says:

    Regarding 2), your line widths (strokes) were most likely changing automatically because you were scaling your objects. In a vector art sense, this is useful as it maintains the overall appearance of your drawing. For this more technical work, it doesn’t help. Thankfully, line scaling can be disabled – go File>Inkscape Preferences, then go to the “Transforms” section and uncheck “Scale stroke width.” Or you can just change everything at the end, as you originally suggested.

  4. HOW TO - Use Inkscape for laser cutters Says:

    [...] Ponoko put together a guide on how to use the free and open source design tool Inkscape for use with high powered lasers (one of Ponoko’s services) – Link. [...]

  5. links for 2008-01-23 at Link Right 2 Says:

    [...] How to Inkscape for Ponoko Newbies – Trace an Image | Ponoko – Blog Add this to my list of things to read. Should come in handy when I get ready to use the laser cutter at work. (tags: laser cutter inkscape howto toread todo) [...]

  6. anton - links for 2008-01-23 at antonolsen.com Says:

    [...] How to Inkscape for Ponoko Newbies – Trace an Image | Ponoko – Blog Add this to my list of things to read. Should come in handy when I get ready to use the laser cutter at work. (tags: laser cutter inkscape howto toread todo) [...]

  7. Ponoko vs. Transformers | Ponoko - Blog Says:

    [...] A few weeks back I wrote up my experience in using Inkscape with my kids to design a piece of jewellery with Ponoko. Now I can show you the results. They actually arrived pretty quickly but I’ve been messing around since then trying to work out what to use for the chain. We ended up going with the thin black leather, thought it gave the kind of “tough” look the boys wanted. Needless to say they were very happy with the results. They’ve already given some away to their friends and are quite keen for me to “make them some more Lego”. It’s definitely a case of “what have you done for me lately?” in my house. [...]

  8. The Ponoko February Design Upload Competition | Ponoko - Blog Says:

    [...] Check out our Forum Check out our Instructable on designing a 2D object using Inkscape (includes video). Check out some other tips on How to Trace an Image in Inkcape to create your own design. [...]

  9. clara Says:

    I have just instal on my computer inkscape and I download the templates from PONOKO’s web. But when I try to open the templates with inkscape its imposible. The new program seems dont recognice the templates. I dont know what to do. I was working before with the demo of Adobe Illustrator and I didnt have any problem. Can you help me?

  10. Edgar Says:

    Hi, there, I’m also a newbie in this, but I’ve found a few things that may be of use to everyone;

    You can draw your own gearwheels using this Site:
    http://woodgears.ca/gear_cutting/template.html

    You can then convert the downloaded .hpgl file, to .dxf, using a freeware comand line proggy, HP2XX,
    http://www.math.utah.edu/docs/info/hp2xxinf_1.html#SEC3

    or the also free media convert
    http://media-convert.com/

    I have Ubuntu Linux, so I then use QCAD to take off the 2 diametral lines, all free, for Linux users :)

    Save on .dxf, convert to .eps, all the gear wheels you’ll ever need cut!