This post contains affiliate links.
This post is going to talk about how to make and use a jig for placement when engraving items with a Glowforge laser. Keep reading to learn more! The Glowforge can do so many different things, it's overwhelming, and one of the coolest things is its ability to engrave onto existing products, allowing you to personalize items like flasks, marble coasters, journal covers and more.
The Glowforge does include a camera in the lid, allowing you to have a virtual view of the cutting area while on your computer, but it's also an extreme fisheye lens, which causes some distortion and can make it very difficult to place images accurately and have them appear exactly where you expect them to.
The solution to working within this limitation is a simple as creating a jig, and I'll walk you through how to make and use a jig now.
Designing a jig for the Glowforge
My example product is going to be an anodized aluminum dog tag. I love these tags, because I can buy them in bulk and there's no additional work needed to engrave on them; the laser isn't actually “engraving” but it is instead removing the layer of color from the tag, revealing the silver aluminum underneath.
This is a very simple jig to design, so some project may be more complicated depending on their shapes.
Carefully measure your item, and make a box to that size in your vector software. (I'm using Adobe Illustrator, but Silhouette Studio, Corel Draw, Affinity and Inkscape are also popular)
A simple rectangle works here, since I just need the basic shape, but depending on what you're working on, you may need more detail for placement. As long as I know where my edges are, and I design to avoid the hole, I'll be fine!
Here's my design (The XOX, Me) and the jig layout. The blue box will be the jig itself, and represents the edges of the tag. The black line is to show me where the edge of the hole is on the tag, and then the red is my actual engraved design.
It's important that you define these things as different colors for the next steps once we upload.
Save as SVG and upload to Glowforge.
Creating the Jig
You can make a jig out of almost any material, even paper! I prefer to use scraps of Baltic Birch though, especially when I'm working on bulk orders. It really speeds up the process to be able to drop the piece in without too much tweaking or adjusting. (Moth Creative Studio on Etsy is a great source for Baltic Birch; they have great products, great prices, and fast shipping)
If you're just doing a single item, a piece of paper is really all you need to make a jig. Be sure to use your trusty honeycomb hold down pins to keep the paper in place, and then use very low power to score the outline of your jig on the paper.
Put your item in the exact right spot, based on where the jig outline is, and you're all set!
I keep a stash of scrap materials just for making jigs; sometimes it's a cut that didn't go all the way through, or maybe an engrave gone wrong. None of that matters because I just need enough space for the jig I'm making, so I can put all sorts of scraps to work. The most important thing here is that you pin the piece down well, so you're 100% sure that it doesn't move when you touch it. If it moves, all your work is for naught and you'll have to start over!
Double-check to make sure that your item fits in the area that's available, and then cut the jig!. You only need to cut the outside box (in this case, the blue rectangle) Once the cut is done, remove the cut out box. That's your jig.
Be very careful not to move the jig once you cut it; don't rely on what the camera shows you, rely on where the laser JUST CUT the box. Here's a shot of what the camera was showing me in the GFUI:
It may appear to be off by a half inch or more, but it's not, I promise.
Simply drop the item into the hole you cut, and you're all set! Because your file is lined up perfectly, and now you know precisely where the laser is going to cut, you'll get perfect placement.
Don't forget! Make sure you Ignore the cut line and only Engrave the content. You don't want to run a cut around the edge of your item!
Don't have a Glowforge yet?
You can save up to $500 on your own Glowforge! Get $100 off a Basic, $250 off a Plus, or $500 off a Pro when you use this link before buying. The discount will appear once you add the Glowforge to your cart. Consider me a resource if you have any questions about owning a Glowforge; you can always DM on Instagram, Tweet at me or send a message on Facebook!
Looking for more Glowforge info?
Check out my shop!
I thought you can’t engrave metal or cut leather with the glowforge?
Hi Ashley! The Glowforge cannot engrave on metal, but it can remove the coating from coated materials, like these anodized tags I used. And you can totally cut and engrave leather! It’s important to only use veg tanned real leather though, and not faux or chrome tanned. Those can create deadly gasses, so that’s no good. But standard veg tanned leather cuts and engraves beautifully (but OMG it stinks! lol)