Various graphics and vector software can be used for creating images for the laser cutters, CNC, and vinyl cutters. Generally speaking, vector files are used for any kind of cutting, as the cutting tool can simply follow the vector paths. Raster images are used for laser engraving and can be vectorized in files that can be used for cutting.
Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) is one of the industry-standard software suites for creating media of all kinds. While the Creative Cloud has a large number of programs, the two that are most useful for creative projects for the laser cutter are Photoshop and Illustrator.
Pros: Adobe CC is the premier software for graphic design professions and is incredibly powerful. Additionally, Illustrator is available at all makerspaces for use with the laser cutter, so images made in Illustrator do not need to be imported into different software.
Cons: Adobe is not free (PPLD has limited copies available for patron use, see below). It also has a steep learning curve and can be difficult for people unfamiliar with the software to use efficiently.
Personal subscriptions can be purchased from Adobe's website. Student & educator discounts are available.
A variety of video tutorials are available through LinkedIn Learning (login link below). These tutorials cover everything from learning the interface to very advanced concepts and techniques. Users new to Adobe products should start with the One-on-One: Fundamentals series.
Additionally, Adobe has detailed user guides for all of their products.
GIMP is a free image and photo editor that is available on almost all operating systems. GIMP gives users an easy way of resizing, recoloring, cropping, rotating and otherwise manipulating images. Additionally, GIMP can work with transparancies, layers, and almost every type of image file available.
Pros: GIMP is, essentially, the free alternative to Photoshop. While it may not be quite as powerful as Photoshop, it will work for most users' needs. Most basic functions (e.g. resizing an image) are easy to do.
Cons: Because GIMP can do a lot, there is a fairly steep learning curve, especially for people new to graphic editing. For people used to Photoshop's layout, a lot of functions require learning a new interface.
GIMP can also be downloaded directly from their website:
Video tutorial series on learning the basics of GIMP are available through LinkedIn Learning (login link below). The tutorials cover concepts from learning the user interface and basic functions to more advanced topics such as working with layers and filters.
GIMP.org has a variety of tutorials that are categorized by topic.
Inkscape is a free vector graphics program available on most operating systems. Inkscape can quickly create and edit line art and clipart, vectorize images, and export vector files into raster images.
Pros: Inkscape is a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Creating basic projects is typically fast and simple. Inkscape's vectorization module is one of the easiest and most effective available.
Cons: Because vector images are a completely different way of creating images than raster, there can be a learning curve for new users. Makerspace machines do not always work well with Inkscape, so often the files have to be exported into PDFs or imported to Adobe Illustrator before sending to the machine.
Inkscape can also be downloaded for free directly from their website:
Video tutorial series on learning the basics of Inkscape are available through LinkedIn Learning (login link below). The tutorials cover concepts from learning the user interface and basic functions to more advanced topics such as working with layers and filters.
Inkscape.org has a variety of tutorials in both written and video format.
Microsoft Paint is one of the most basic raster image editors available. It works well for basic shapes or lettering. The major drawback is that it cannot handle transparencies or high-DPI images.
Paint comes pre-installed with every version of Windows.
Paint.NET is, in many ways, an enhanced version of Microsoft Paint. It offers many features that Paint does not (including transparency and layers), but is not as complex as GIMP or Photoshop.
Paint.NET can be downloaded for free from getpaint.net
XnView MP is an image organizer, but also has many basic image editing tools such as crop, rotate, color adjustments, and format converters.
XnView MP can be downloaded for free (for personal use) from xnview.com