Monday, December 23, 2019

From Google Drawing to Lasercut Designs for the Glowforge

While I was a teacher and a technology and equity specialist in Vermont schools,  I always insisted on using the same tools my students had access to.  During that time,  I stayed away from a MacBook, because my students were using Windows based computers. At one point, I turned my laptop  into a dual boot (Windows/Linux) platform so I could improve my fluency with Linux and open source software. Open source software helped us  make more computers available to students.   In today's schools, Chromebooks have replaced Linux and open source software as the tool that makes it  possible to create 1:1 student:computer environments.   

The increase in access is great news, but provides some challenges as Chromebooks limit the tools students have access to. Not only do the tools have to be cloud-based, they also have to be free (or close to free) and have to meet student data privacy standards of the district.  Unfortunately, this is a presents a barrier for schools who are introducing laser cutters in their school's makerspace.

I've spent quite a bit of time recently looking for workflows that might help students and teachers work within those constraints.   (I've also spent quite a bit of time thinking how we might make changes that would reduce the number of constraints -- but that's for another blog post).  

The following is the first in a series of posts that I'm planning which increase possibilities for students and teachers using makerspaces in their schools.   The first few  blog posts in this series will include:

And for a wonderful set of short intro video tutorials to Gravit, check out John Umekubo's series here starting with his BASICS tutorial below

5) Creating Laser Cut Designs using Inkscape - Getting Started
6) Creating Laser Cut Designs using Inkscape - Next Steps

Inkscape Tutorial for Laser Cutter from Washco Utah Library Makerspace

From Google Drawing to  Laser cut Designs for the Glowforge - Getting Started

Why Glowforge? 

I've had my Glowforge Lasercutter for over a year now. It was one of the first consumer grade laser cutter to enter the market. This made it accessible to schools in both 'price' and 'ease of use".   I purchased the basic model at about $2000 during it's kickstarter phase. After using it for a year and watching other schools adopt the Glowforge, I can say that it definitely has a place in our schools.  I don't feel it eliminates the needs for some of the the higher costs lasercutters to meet certain needs in our educational landscape.   (more about that in a future blog post) 

The Glowforge has shortened the learning curve necessary to be able create using a laser cutter. The satisfaction and excitement of seeing your first product cut out of the laser cutter increases engagement and increases your motivation to learn more!  Once a student's motivation is at play, perseverance and grit kicks in and the learning process reaches places beyond expectation.  Some of the features of the Glowforge (especially its dual cameras has made it possible to get from point A (idea) to point B (product) much more quickly.   With other laser cutters, there is a lot more front loading that needs to happen.  Sometimes those skills are the goals (i.e. preparing for careers, and learning advanced design skills), but other times, the the amount of time and skills needed detract from your goals.  The Glowforge is the right tool for so many learning goals.  It is an accessible tool for younger learners.  It is an accessible tool for those just getting started.  It's an accessible tool for educators who don't have a background in design and tech.  And it's accessible  for those with a smaller budget. 

Why Google Drawing? 

Honestly, the right tools for the job when it comes to designing for a laser cutter include vector programs like Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. However, these program require quite a few hours to master and are not accessible to many students due to the cost or to the fact that most schools use Chromebooks as student devices.  There are few choices for creating with vectors that work with Chromebooks. is one of the few tool that works on Chromebooks for creating vector designs; it also has a free and Pro version.  However, it is not available in all schools.  

One tool that many students have access to is Google Drawing.  Many students have some degree of familiarity with Google Drawing already since it is part of the Google Apps environment that comes with their Chromebook.  Therefore Google Drawing it is an accessible tool in both price, platform, and ease of use.  

So let's give this a try. Here's what we are going to make.  In my case it's an ornament for my grandson, Cedar.  But this project could be used for creating suncatchers or badges.  This project was designed as a skill-builder that will lay the foundation for future laser cut projects. It also allows for personalization - which is a great motivator in any learning experience. 

That being said, Google Drawing is not the perfect tools for the job, and it does require some work arounds.  So in this tutorial I'm going to share what I learned when I challenged myself to create a laser cut design for my GlowForge using Google Drawing. 

We'll use primitive shapes available in Google Drawing and manipulate color in a way that will make it easier for an SVG picture converter to successfully create a file that can be cut on a laser cutter.  We  will also use the WordArt feature of Google Drawing and a Stencil font to cutout text in a laser safe way - so the centers of letters do not fall out. 


  • I'm not a design teacher and this worfkflow may not work with other laser cutters. 
  • This was not meant to suggest Google Drawing as the ideal tool for the job, but simply an accessible tool.
  • Lasercutting cardboard requires care and supervision as to prevent fires. You can complete this lesson by skipping the cardboard prototype and moving directly to cutting wood or acrylic. 
  • Glowforge does not have a cardboard cutting setting, but with a little digging you can find them online.

For this first tutorial, I will strongly suggest that you stay within the constraints of using fonts and shapes found within Google Drawing.  In the next tutorial, we'll learn how to find and use other shapes and fonts. It was my goal to help you build confidence with some basic entry level skills and end up with a fun project that you could be proud of.

So let's get started. 

The following is a lesson I recorded for those of you who would prefer a step by step walkthrough followed some highlights of the workflow. 

Workflow highlights

Use primitive shapes to create your design. (Do NOT import images. Yet!) 
Feel free to also use symbols!  We'll play with in Tutorial 2.

Feature Request to Google:  Please add the ability to merge shapes.

Use Word Art to add text! 
Change the font, but for this tutorial- Limit your text to STENCIL fonts so the 'holes' in your letters don't fall out when cut. 
We'll learn how to work around that in the next tutorial.

Use color to create a design that has two contrasting colors (silhouette look)
Make the borders or all shapes and Word Art TRANSPARENT. 

Download your Google Drawing as a PNG. 
(Note: even though it looks like you can download in the SVG format, this will most likely NOT work for many designs such as this one because of overlapping cut lines and the inability to perform a true merge of shapes. I explain this more in the video tutorial)

Using a site like  Picsvg  to convert your PNG to an SVG

Import your PNG file into PicSVG and play around with different settings until you find a setting that will create a clean look that will import into your GlowForge.  Export the file as an SVG.  I demonstrate some settings that will and won't work well with explanations of why they won't work at this in the video tutorial.

Upload the SVG file into your Glowforge software. 
Play with size and placement of your design. 
Add the right CUT  settings for your material. 

I use cardboard to prototype with then cut the final project in Glowforge's 1/8 inch poplar.
Take necessary caution when using cardboard.

And voila!
You know have a fun artifact that is evidence that you have the gained the foundational skills necessary to create a basic design in Google Drawing that can be cut on a Glowforge laser cutter. 

In the next tutorial,  I'll show you how to personalize your project with images and fonts outside those available in Google Drawing!  Here's a sneak preview of my second ornament personalized for my grand daughter.  

Ready for Part 2?  Here you go!


  1. I learning something! (not a surprise on your blog. :)
    Those pesky shape lines and lack of merge. But, you are right that Drawings opens up the door for anyone to design with the laser cutter in mind. I promote Drawings for design into Tinkercad as well. I will definitely bookmark picsvg. I don't have the background in vectors to make use of Gravit, but good find!

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  2. Also, with your workflow, I wouldn't hesitate to import quality svg. But, you'll prob get to that in the next post. I'll wait..... :)

  3. Also, with your workflow, I wouldn't hesitate to import quality svg. But, you'll prob get to that in the next post. I'll wait..... :)

    1. To import quality SVG in Google Draw you'll have to convert them to *emf files using Cloud Convert.

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