call: (678) WAY-SAW4
email: info@bigbluesaw.com

Loading

Big Blue Saw Blog General Updates

The Difference Between Vectors and Bitmaps

You may have noticed a new writing style here on our blog, so let me introduce myself. My name is Julie Simancek and I am the customer advocate for Big Blue Saw. I'm also a jeweler who specializes in non-traditional materials and a combat robot enthusiast who was a member of the Chaos Corps team from Battlebots Season 2. On a fairly regular basis I can be found fighting 1lb and 30lb robots at smaller competitions in the south for the team Near Chaos Robotics. 

As the customer advocate I wear several hats throughout the day, but one of biggest parts of my day is answering emails about design files that won't upload to the website correctly. Sometimes those files have specific issues that I help customers out with. But recently we have seen an increase in file issues and questions that stem from a lack of easily searchable information on how file types and extensions impact making real objects with the waterjet and laser cutter.
 
So lets talk about file types and extensions so your next waterjet cut part can sail through the quoting process and get cut faster. 
 
There are two types of images in common use, (1) vector and (2) bitmap/raster. I am going to show you both kinds of images and how to work with them to get to cleanly cut pretty waterjet cut and laser cut parts. Knowing what type of image you have and how it will be used can make a big difference between getting the part you need and getting a part that won’t function the way it is supposed to.

Bitmap and raster images are usually good for showing me what you want the finished part or project to look like. For example, if I were cutting out snowflake ornaments for a specific Christmas tree design, a JPEG image of the tree with the different snowflakes on it gives me a great idea about how they should function, and a rough idea of scale.

For the actual snowflakes themselves through, you would want me to use a vector based file like a DXF to cut them out with. Vector images are good for keeping sizes locked down and curves smooth.

 

Images that show me what your project should look like when completed:

  • JPEGs
  • Bitmaps
  • Hand Drawn Images
  • Assemblies from CAD programs
  • PNGs (with embedded bitmaps)
  • Bitmaps
  • Anything you’ve scanned on a scanner
  • Cell phone pics
  • PDFs with bitmap images embedded or flattened PDFs.

 

Images that I can use or convert to cut parts with:

  • DXF
  • DWG
  • EPS
  • SVG
  • AI
  • STP
  • STEP
  • SLDPRT
  • PDFs with vector images embedded

 

Raster images like bitmaps are made up of lots of tiny pixels. Think of them like the dots in a newspaper image or like a printed photograph. If you take a raster image and scale it up dramatically it becomes pixelated. The software that is scaling it up doesn’t have the information to fill in the details in between those dots to keep the image crisp and clean.

 

 

This is just like taking a photograph and photocopying every copy of a copy multiple times while playing with the scaling tool on the photocopier. Eventually the image starts to break down.

Ideally you will have an image that is a vector image. The reason why is that vector images keep all of the mathematical formulae that tells the software where all of the curves and lines are in the file. Every time you open a vector file, the software you are opening it with recalculates all of that math. Having the locations of the lines in your file locked in by that math means that different software programs can read and convert that file to different file extensions with minimal to no loss of resolution between programs. So you don’t have to use the same design software that I’m using to get your part to show up correctly.

 

Vector images also have one really convenient feature, they can be scaled up or down to any size without losing resolution. Since all of your drawing's features are described in mathematical terms, any software you use to change the the size will recalculate where to place the curves and how large they need to be every time you alter your file. The downside is that vector images can get really really large, particularly when they contain a lot of detail.

So on to an example. Let us say that you are new to CAD files, but you really want to make your niece a puzzle of the USA where all the states fit together. Learning CAD software is going slow and if you were to slog through drawing every state your niece would be 18 by the time you finished not 8. Not to fear, the internet can help you get the file you need. Just search “Map of the USA black and white vector file.”

 

Thanks to the internet search algorithms, the first 3 options look like solid leads on getting the state shapes you need.

Now you know that you don’t want state outlines that are recognisable, but not too detailed. Tiny details on parts smaller than 3” may be unnoticable on the part, but will run up cutting costs and may make tiny peninsulas on the pieces that are easy to break off. You also want an image that shows the states slightly separated. Our quoting and cutting software isn’t setup to do same line cutting, so you’ll want to make sure there is some space between the parts. Looks like the second search result had exactly what we need.

This website offers offers some great options for the file format. If you are going to alter Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, and Maryland in Inkscape so they cut well, you want to download this file as an AI. Then you can open it in Inkscape, make your alterations, and then Save As a DXF. You may need to open it in LibreCAD and clean up some extra lines to get it to load, but luckily both Inkscape and LibreCAD are free. (Read our article on designing for Big Blue Saw using Inkscape, then take a look at a more advanced example.)

If you see exactly what you want in the file off the internet, and you can download it as a DXF or DWG format. Do that! DXFs are what the software and machines here read. So when you upload a DWG or a PNG file to our site, you can be assured that a program in the background is converting it to DXF for quoting, ordering, and cutting. Most of the time, that conversion goes smoothly, but sometimes parts get scaled wrong or endpoints become disconnected. Starting with a DXF can head some of those issues off at the pass.

So now you have your file, but learning Inkscape and altering it cut a great puzzle isn’t working out. Hey it happens. We do have a designer here that can alter your file to cut well that you can hire. Her fees for altering your file to a puzzle will be a lot lower than if you hired her to draw it up from scratch. Just send me your file and order particulars at info@bigbluesaw.com. I’ll get you a quote for her services and help you get to the ordering stage.

In the example above, I highlighted the EPS, PDF, and PNG formats all as viable ways to get the basic form of the puzzle downloaded. In my next articles I’m going to talk about those formats. They can be converted into DXF format for cutting, but there are some caveats to these kinds of files.

Forging New Signs with Ben Matthews of Moonlight Forge

Ben Matthews of Moonlight Forge recently sent us some photos of what he's made with help from Big Blue Saw. Among many other wonderful things, Ben makes custom gates and signs. When he needs lettering or logos, Ben turns to Big Blue Saw for help. We waterjet cut the design Ben's customers need from thin cold rolled steel. He hand forges all the other detail pieces as well as assembles and installs the whole thing.

Ben contacted us some time back about creating the lettering for the gate to a local cemetery. Working with Ben, we were able to come up with a design that looked good and would work well on the waterjet.

Big Blue Saw was able to waterjet cut the lettering from 0.125" thick hot rolled steel. Ben then fabricated the gate with the detail you can see in the photo below.

Here's a sign Ben did for the Valley Dental Health office.

He started by sending us a high resolution copy of their logo. 

Based on the logo and Ben's specifications, we were able to create a CAD design for the sign. Ben wanted this to be what we call a "type 4" sign: the lettering and shapes as positive space, with separate pieces for each element. This is the most accurate way to depict a sign with a logo, but also the most time consuming and tricky to assemble correctly. 

Fortunately, Ben is a professional and was able to place the parts accurately. The logo pieces were waterjet cut from 0.06 inch thick cold rolled steel A366/1008 by Big Blue Saw and finished by Moonlight Forge.  The background is made from reclaimed wood and more steel.

Assembling the sign from parts.

Assembled and ready to install.

Check out Moonlight Forge's web page on the CustomMade website for more examples of Ben's work. He's got great reviews there, too and looking at the photos of his work, I can see why. If you see something you like, be sure to let him know!

And if you'd like to see more signs made with help from Big Blue Saw, have a look at our Gallery of Signs and Stencils.

 
 
 

Giant Radioactive Monster Tells You Which Way The Wind Blows

Frank Leto of KOLO-TV wrote to us this month with a few photos and some kind words about some waterjet cutting we did earlier this year.

You guys made a design for a weathervane for me about 6 months ago. We finally put it together on the house this past Thanksgiving weekend. Needless to say it came out great and I’m attaching a photo of the completed project. I can’t thank you enough for making this project a success.


 

You guys are great! Everything turned out better than I expected!

 Zomboo’s House of Horror Movies is broadcast television’s longest running hosted horror movie show, broadcast every week for the last 17 years. When Zomboo decided to retire, he bought a retirement house and decided to make some pieces of art connecting with his years of doing the show. One interesting piece is this King of the Monsters Weathervane. The cut-out was made by the Big Blue Saw, then attached to a metal tube which fit over the support rod above the directionals. The detail is amazing and it’s a fun project. Thank you Big Blue Saw for making this project a reality!

 

Here's the original design:

Big Blue Saw waterjet cut this shape from 1/8 inch thick hot rolled steel.

Here's Zomboo himself with a close friend:

The installed weathervane:

Ready to create a weathervane from your own kaiju creature? Upload your design to our online system for instant prices and ordering.

Laser Cut Cake Topper

Need a cake topper for your wedding? Looking for something that embraces your unique sense of style on your wedding day? If you’re a maker like me, the options offered in most stores don’t quite meet your tastes. Here is how to make an elegant cake topper for your wedding laser cut from acrylic.

Because EVERYTHING'S better with lasers. 

The first step is to open Inkscape and type out the initials and ampersand as separate text boxes.

 

Don’t have Inkscape? You can download it here for free! Inkscape is a free imaging program that you can use to create everything from printed programs to vector files for cutting parts.

Now to find a font that suits my taste. For this I’m doing Mike’s M in a more masculine font, while for my J, I think I’ll go with more of a script. I’ve been really loving the current trend of mixed font styles for wedding things.

Then I used the pointer tool to scale and move them around into a placement that looks good to my eye.

See how both the letters and the ampersand are touching each other? That is intentional. When the laser cutter goes to cut these out, having the overlaps of the letters will allow all of the parts of the letters to be supported.

Speaking of support, now I need to plan out how this is going to sit on or in the cake. Making a base that sits flat on top of the cake would work, but I think I’d like this to float above the cake. So it will need a point like the one on a cupcake topper to plant into the top of the cake.

 

Using the rectangle tool I create a bottom support bar and a box for the point. Then using the Bezier curves and straight lines tool I draw the anchor point in the lower box.

 

Now I can delete the bottom box.

 

 

Now it is time to get all of these different parts joined so that the CAD software will read them as one part. To do that, we should change the view to Outline mode.

 

 

When you do this, you’ll notice that any shapes that have a fill become outlines. In the image above, the letters haven’t done this because they are designated as letters and not shapes. We need to change them to shapes so that we can merge them together and with the support bar and anchor point.

First you click on the letter, then go to Path in the menu bar and select Object to Path.

 

Now the M is a path and not a letter. Do this for the other letters. Then select each letter and go to Object in the menu bar, and select Ungroup. This gets rid of the last of the text formatting.

Now to get them merged. Select two of the parts.

 

Go to Path in the menu bar and select Union. This will merge them into one shape. Do this for the remaining parts.

 

 

Now save this as a DXF file in the File tab of the menu bar. I like to also save an SVG of the finished file for later edits.

So when Inkscape saves a drawing as a DXF, it sometimes adds extra lines in tight corners. So to clean up the file before I upload it to the website, I’m going to open it in LibreCAD and take a closer look at it. I’ll also re-save it as a R12 DXF file. This helps scrub out some of the background formatting so the file is a little easier for the quoting software to read.

 

 

All clean and pretty.

If I did have extra lines in there, what I would have done would be to click on the extra lines and get all of them selected. When Inkscape does this during a DXF conversion you’ll notice that clicking on the extra line also usually selects some of the lines around them. Leave those selected too and then go to the menu bar and open the Modify menu, and select Explode.

Now you should be able to select the extra lines without any of the connecting lines being selected. Select and delete the extra lines until none of the extra lines remain.

Now it is time to upload to the website. Go to the front page and click the orange Get an Immediate Quote Button.

In the Make a Part page I Click the Choose File button (red arrow).

Then I click the Upload button (blue arrow).

 

The next page the website will take you to is the materials list where you pick your material. But there are a few helpful tools on this page that you’ll want to know about before we rush on to the quote.

In the upper left you can see a rendering of my part. When you upload a file, the quoting software evaluates it to make sure that it is something we can cut. If there are unconnected endpoints, or doubled up lines, instead of taking you to the materials page, there would be an error message and an orange link at the top of the page to see a diagnostic of my part.

This part doesn’t have any errors, but we should first check that the sizing is correct. The part size is highlighted in the image below. If I wanted a cake topper that was larger, say 7 inches wide instead of the 6.5 inches we see here, I would click the Resize this design button (red arrow). The page that it will take you to will allow you to scale your part up or down proportionally.

Or if I wanted one cake topper in this size and a whole bunch of cupcake toppers that were smaller, I could place an order for the regular size one. Then go back, resize to 3 inches wide and then checkout with 100 of these that were smaller.

 

I like the size that this is, so I’m going to select acrylic for my material, and select the brushed steel/black acrylic material.

 

Click on the thickness, and it will take me to the quoting page where I can see pricing.

 

 

The quoting page has a few features you should check before clicking the Order Custom Parts button.

Firstly, double check all the measurements (highlighted yellow here). This is our version of measure twice, cut once.

Secondly, be sure that your part looks correct in the 3D renderings on the right (red star) and in the 2D rendering in the Part Details at the bottom of the page (red arrow).

If I wasn’t sure that I wanted the brushed steel/black acrylic, I can see what my part would run in other materials and thicknesses by clicking the Change Material button. That will take you back to the materials page where you can select other materials.

You can see the finished part below. I think it turned out great and works well.

Inkscape made it easy to create this design and has a wonderful community of users ready to help.

If I was to do this project again, I'd consider scaling the design down to create a bunch of cupcake sided toppers.

If you haven't yet, download design software from our recommended software page, and upload your design to our online quoting and ordering system today.

 
 
 

Audio Control Panel By Mystery Engineer

We received these photos from an engineer who, rather enigmatically, wishes to remain anonymous. So we can't tell you who he is.

We can tell you that this assembly was waterjet cut from 1/16 inch thick aluminum 6061, with Basic Finish applied. The front panel was painted white by our mystery maker.

There are 3 waterjet cut pieces: the front, back, and inner shelf.

The shelf is held in place using angle aluminum, as you can see in the photos below. (I would have suggested using nutstrip instead, as it saves the trouble of making a custom angle bracket.)

The front and back are held together with long standoffs. You can read about this and more types of assembly on our Construction Techniques page.

 

Have you created control panels you'd like to share? Let us know!

Login Form

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty!
Big Blue Saw
5.0 stars - based on 17 reviews
Waterjet and Laser Cut Custom Parts.
Address for correspondence only:
3522 Ashford Dunwoody Rd NE #145
Atlanta, GA 30319
Phone: (678) WAY-SAW4 (678) 929-7294