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Laser Engraving & Cutting

A guide to PPLD's laser engravers/cutters

What is Color Mapping?

Color mapping is a method of assigning different speed and power settings to different parts of an image based on colors. For example, you could make all red pixels engrave at a much higher power than blue pixels, which would make the red areas of your design much more pronounced.

This works with both engravings and cuts, so you could have a single job cut through some areas with stronger settings and use weaker settings to create outlines or perforations in other areas.

When to Use Color Mapping

Color mapping is useful in two situations:

  • When you want different settings applied to different areas of a design,
  • When you want to control the order that sections are engraved and/or cut.

In the first situation, color mapping can be used to save time by not needing to set up multiple jobs. For example, in the below project, there are three different levels of shadings for the stars, due to each type having their own speed and power settings.

Additionally, vector edging is used to create a border around the stars, while a different vector setting is used to cut out the entire object.

The design was created with the intention of using color mapping, so each piece was colored based on which setting would be used.

Raster settings:

  • Red stars (RGB 255/0/0): 100% Speed, 20% Power
  • Green stars (RGB 0/255/0): 70% Speed, 70% Power
  • Blue stars (RGB 0/0/255): 40% Speed, 100% Power

Vector settings:

  • Magenta edges (RGB 255/0/255): 50% Speed, 30% Power
  • Yellow border (RGB 255/255/0): 20% Speed, 100% Power

The project could have been completed without color mapping, however it would have required at least three separate files (one for each type of star) and four jobs (one for each engraving and edging, and one more for cutting out the square).

In the second situation, color mapping is used to assign colors to your design based on the order that you want areas to be engraved. In the below project, we can save time by engraving each of the columns one at a time (see Raster Optimization for why this happens). This works because the laser goes through each mapped color in order, one at a time.

This works well for vector lines as well since you can use color mapping to cut interior lines first and then exterior lines last.

Important Notes About Color Mapping

There are two things to keep in mind when setting up a color map:

  • First, any color pixel or line that has not been mapped will use whatever settings are specified in the General settings tab.
    • This can create problems and increase the risk of fire if the General settings are set higher than what is recommended for the material. Therefore, it is very important to double check that all colors are properly mapped. 
    • As a precaution, you can set the power in the General settings to 0%.
  • Second, Color Mapping is an exact match, and there is no tolerance.
    • If a setting is mapped to pure red (RGB values of 255,0,0) then a red with RGB values of 254,0,0 is considered a completely different color and will not use the same mapped settings.
    • This is very important when working with raster images as they often have a gradient around the edge.
    • The blue dot shown on the right is actually comprised of several different shades of blue. If the main blue shade from the center of the dot was the only shade mapped, then the other shades of blue around the edge would default to the General settings.
    • This is less of an issue with vector lines, but it is still important to double check its RGB values.
    • If you are using six or fewer colors in your design, it is recommended to use colors where each of the RGB values is either 0 or 255 to make mistakes less likely (see the table below).
    • Note that pure black (RGB values of 0,0,0) is not available for color mapping. Anything left as black will default to the General settings.
RGB Value Color
255/0/0 Red
0/255/0 Green
0/0/255 Blue
255/255/0 Yellow
255/0/255 Magenta
0/255/255 Cyan


Setting Up a Color Map

Once you have set up all the colors in your design, go to Print and open  the Epilog print driver settings.

  1. Go to the Advanced tab, select the material you are using, then hit Load. Or, simply change the General settings to 0% power for both Raster and Vector.
    • Using the preset or turning the power to 0% helps protect the machine and your material from damage if there was an issue with the color mapping.
  2. On the General tab, change the Piece Size to match the size of your artboard / document.
  3. Go to the Color Mapping tab and select the Color Mapping box.
  4. Delete any preset colors by selecting them and pressing the minus button.
  5. Set the [R]ed, [G]reen, and [B]lue color values for the color.
  6. Set the Speed, Power, and Frequency (if applicable).
  7. Choose Raster or Vector - you can have it do both, however it would be very rare for you to want the same settings for both rastering and vectoring. Air Assist should be left on in most cases.
  8. Press the plus icon to add it to the list of mapped colors.
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8 for any additional colors.
  10. Press OK to close the print settings dialog.

If you need to edit a color's settings, select it on the list, change the settings, and then click the right arrow below the plus icon to update the setting.

It is very important to double check your settings before sending a color mapped job to the laser. The most common errors when trying to use a color map are:

  • Not checking the Color Mapping box in the upper left.
  • Not clicking the arrow button to add a new color to the list.
  • Not mapping all colors or using proper settings for non-mapped colors.