Intro to Adobe Illustrator

We will spend a few minutes to go over some basic concepts in Illustrator.  This is an introduction so you can layout your artwork and set it up for the desired laser (cut or etch) effects.   To begin, download the template files.


Layers are the way we organize artwork in Illustrator.  They work like transparent sheets of paper that are stacked, one above the other.  If all the art is transparent, we can see everything to the bottom of the stack.  Alternatively, if there is a black box on the top layer, that will hide everything below it.

At any time, you can make a layer “Visible” or “Invisible” by clicking the eye on the left of your layer name.  You can also “Lock” a layer which prevents the artwork from being moved or deleted.  This is helpful when you want to keep a template layer fixed in place, but create art on a different layer.

When first opening the file for today’s workshop, there are two layers: template and artwork.  The template layer should be locked, but if not click the spot to the right of the eye to reveal the “Locked” icon.  When a layer is locked, you cannot edit the art on it or create new art.  This will keep the individual elements of the notebook template from being edited by accident.

Begin by clicking the “artwork” layer.  If you draw shapes or create text, they will automatically be placed on this layer because it is highlighted.

You can create new layers by clicking on the sheet icon to the left of the garbage can.  This is helpful if you want to keep things separate for easy editing.  For instance, you can have one layer for text, one for raster (etch) art, and one for vector (cut) art.

The Selection Tool and Resizing Objects

Screenshot 2016-04-14 14.14.11.png

When you want to resize, rotate, or edit the stroke or fill on an object, you will first need to choose the Selection Tool (V) first.  You can do this two ways:

-In your tool panel (left hand side), click the black arrow on the upper left.

-Hit the V key on your keyboard.

Once you have chosen the Selection Tool, you can click on your art and move it around.  To resize, hover on one of the outside corners until a two sided arrow appears.  If you hold down SHIFT when resizing, your proportions will remain the same.  If you do not hold down shift, you can manipulate the length or width alone.

Creating Original Art with Shape and Text

You can draw just about anything using the Shape tools.  The default is a rectangle, and can be found in the Tool menu on the left side.  (Shape is fourth down on the right)  If you click and hold the Shape tool, a menu will appear with more options, like Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon and Star.

When one of the Shape tools is selected you have two options:

-Click and drag to create a shape by hand

-Click and release to enter dimensions and other options in the pop-up menu

The text tool is a T which is right above the Shape tool.  When it is selected, you should click once and begin typing.  When you are done, click ESCAPE on your keyboard.  Then, when your Selection Tool is highlighted, you may resize text using the same technique described in the previous section.  If you are resizing the text box and the text size does not change, delete the box and create a new one.  

You can find new fonts in the file menu by clicking Type - Fonts.  Your text box must be selected in order for the new font to be applied to existing text.

Finding Images & Text to Etch on your Notebook

You can use just about any image to etch on your notebook, from your own photo or sketch to a logo or illustration you find online.  The variety of images will have different appearances once you laser etch them.  For instance, something with a white background will have high contrast of etched areas, which have been burned, and the untouched wood.  Try searching for silhouettes, logos, or vector art for an example of this.  

High contrast images like Silhouettes and Logos will be the quickest to raster because there is little change in contrast.  Alternatively, a photo with a lot of detail will take a longer time to raster because the laser must adjust contrast levels while printing.  A pattern that covers the whole notebook will also take some time to print since laser will have to cover that whole area, dot by dot, to recreate the pattern.

In the next section, we will use Live Trace to make the images you’ve chosen compatible with the lasers.  This will eliminate pixels in the final image and convert your images to Black and White or Grayscale.  The result will not look exactly what you see on screen, but you can tweak the settings until you are happy with them. 

Finding Text art on

DAfont is a great resource for finding free fonts that can be used as art on your notebook.  Since we can’t install fonts on TechShop computers, you’ll instead use the Preview feature on the website and copy it into Illustrator.  Then, use Live Trace on the font image to create art.

Go to  Here, you can browse fonts by theme to find just about anything you can think of.  If you type your text in the “Custom preview” box, you’ll be able to see how your text will look in each font.


Once you find a font you like, there are a few steps to bring it back to Illustrator:

-take a screenshot using the keyboard to hold down CTRL + Print Screen.  

-open the program Paint and hold down CTRL + V to paste.  The entire screen will be pasted into your Paint window.  

-use the selection tool to highlight the TEXT ONLY.  

-CTRL + C to copy, and go back to Illustrator.  Here, press CTRL + V to paste.

-use Live Trace to prepare the image for laser etching.