Using Inkscape to Make Templates for Cutting Machines

 As with most technology, cutting machines have become more and more affordable as time goes by. These machines offer immense versatility to scrapbookers, greeting card makers and to just about anyone who produces craft products from paper and card. Users are able to produce professional results easily by automating the cutting process, cutting out designs that would be too complex to achieve by hand.

The files these cutting machines use as their templates are vector line files, and there are a wide range of different types. Many of them are proprietary formats used by specific machine manufacturers. These formats can make it difficult for users to easily produce files for use with different machines.

Fortunately, some options make it possible for enthusiasts to produce their own template designs for cutting machines. You may already be familiar with Sure Cuts A Lot, software that allows you to produce files in formats for a wide range of cutting machines.

In addition to producing your own files directly within the application, you can also import other vector file formats, including SVG and PDF, that have been produced in other software, such as Inkscape. In many cases, however, it's possible to save a file in Inkscape into a format that the supplied software supplied is able to import and convert.

The following pages offer some general tips for using Inkscape to make templates, including more information on saving files from Inkscape for use with various cutting machines. The success of using files from Inkscape will ultimately depend on the cutting machine software you use. You may wish to check the documentation of your machine's software to see whether it can accept any of the file types that Inkscape can produce.

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Convert Text to Paths

Convert Text to Paths in Inkscape
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

A cutting machine reads vector line file paths and translates them into cuts in the paper. Designs you want to be cut must be paths. If you have included text in your design, you'll have to convert the text to paths manually.

This is very easy, however, and it only takes a few seconds. With the Select tool active, click on the text to select it, then go to Path > Object to Path. That's all there is to it, although you'll no longer be able to edit the text so check it for spelling mistakes and typos first.

We'll show you on the next page how you can overlap the letters of the text then combine them into a single path.

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Combine Multiple Shapes to a Single Path

Combine Multiple Shapes to a Single Path in Inkscape
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

If you want to cut overlapping letters, you can do that without combining the letters into a single path. Combine the letters will reduce the amount of cutting that most machines must do, however. 

First click on the text you converted to a path. Go to Object > Ungroup to make each letter an individual path. You can now move the letters together so they overlap and visually form a single unit. We also rotated our letters a bit. You can do this by clicking on a selected letter to change the corner grab handles to double-headed arrows that can be dragged to rotate the letter.

When the letters are positioned the way you want them, make sure the Select tool is active. Then click and drag a marquee that completely encompasses all the text. You should see a bounding box around each letter that indicates that they're all selected. Hold down the Shift key and just click unselected letters if any letters aren't selected. 

Now go to Path > Union and the letters will be converted into a single path. If you select the "Edit" paths by the nodes tool and click on the text, you should be able to clearly see that the text has been combined.

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Saving Different File Types

Saving Different File Types in InkscapeFile
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Inkscape can also save files in other formats. If you have cutting machine software that can't open or import SVG files, you may be able to save an Inkscape file in another format which you can then import for use with your machine. Some common file formats that can be imported and converted are DXF, EPS and PDF files.

Ensure that all objects have been converted to paths before proceeding if you're saving to DXF. The easy way to ensure this is to go to Edit > Select All, then Path > Object to Path.

Saving into another format from Inkscape is a very straightforward procedure. Saving your file as an SVG is the default action. Just go to File > Save As after it's saved to open the Save dialog. You can click on the "Type" drop down list there and select the file type you want to save to – your choice will depend upon your cutting machine software. The software's documentation should include information on compatible file types. Unfortunately, it's possible that Inkscape may not be able to save a compatible file type for your machine.