SM1 Laser (1600 mW) and working with Lightburn

Hello all; please excuse what will be a lengthy post so it will appear in stages. I finally found enough time to spend some of it with the application (Lightburn) that was written exclusively for laser users. My first issue was getting it to talk to SM1 but I suspect that the difficulty connecting was mine on two fronts.

I could not get Lightburn to accept or pass on any commands to SM1 via my Macbook Pro. It needed the USB/Serial port connected before opening the application. There may be a way to save the machine configuration but as yet, I have not found the Mac version. The baud rate was supposed to be 250,000, so I was given to understand but in the event, Lightburn appears to be happier at 115,000 baud on the Mac.

Having got the Mac and my SM1 talking to each other through Lightburn, I want to look briefly at the Lightburn GUI along with a cursory glance at the facilities it offers. I have some video that needs to be processed before I upload it and some additional screencast material, which also needs to be processed to reduce the huge memory overheads. I will also post some example lasered plywood image files so that people can assess the quality of Lightburn’s output for themselves.

Onwards! First the image below is a screen shot which provides the reader with an overview of the graphic user interface and I will discuss each section and the available commands in this portion of this post.

The graphic interface screen on loading the application is clear to read and many of the icons used will be familiar to users of computer software that incorporates any aspect of design and arrangement of graphical or written elements.It needs to be understood that Lightburn is a 2.5D application. It will assist you to represent 3D but only in a single flat plane. Initially, the GUI may look busy but it is logically arranged and further choices lay behind the tabs which are visible in the sections with the red title bars.

Being a true cross platform application, it operates like Mac software in that you can set the preferences from the title of the application on the menu bar. Another setting that is not obvious from this view but very useful is that you can set up the grid spacing and divisions and how visible the grid lines are. I set the grid for 1cm lines and made the lines as feint as possible. I also specified that the grid should extend to 13cm square to mimic the maximum area available on the Snapmaker 1 table.

The next image of the same GUI has a highlighted area encompassing the first ten icons from left to right; under the Apple menu bar. The highlighted icons represent file operations and appear in the following L-R order… New - Open - Save - Import - Undo - Redo - Copy - Cut - Paste - Delete.

The following GUI image includes the next five highlighted icons which control what the operator sees on the work area of the screen (e.g. my own 13cm squared SM1 table). The icons from L - R represent the following actions to adjust your view: Pan/Drag View - Zoom to Page - Zoom In - Zoom Out - Zoom to Frame Selection.

Those icons are followed by a camera, which if it is a USB camera, can be used to adjust the background. My computer’s built in camera can be controlled by Lightburn. The next icon is a computer monitor and this represents a means to access the preview of what your work will look like. I can provide some video footage after I have reduced the file size. This icon is arguably a really important icon, if like me you ended up round-tripping from Luban; to any external applications to assess whether the GCode for you work required adjustment before being sent to the Snapmaker.

The next image demonstrates what pressing the preview icon produces. It is a subsidiary screen which overlays the main work area once it is invoked.

The most valuable aspect of the image preview after the file has been processed by the software is the ability to delineate the layers in the order they have been specified. This can show you when a file is being cut in the wrong order. You can select speeds for replay that are real time divided by 10, 5 or 2 then 1x all the way up to 40x speed. have highlighted the distance I had to have the laser beam on in order to carve the image into a 2mm plywood coaster. This was a .svg image comprised of hundreds of separate segments.

You will see that the highlighted distance to be cut was 4062mm which is just over 4 metres. Just under 3/4 of a metre was movement of the module only. The time spent cutting was a very speedy 2 minutes and 41 seconds. This equates to around 3 cm travelled every second. There is a video of the engraving process once I have processed the file to reduce the massive size.

The next image is a sample file of the .svg file of the owl seen in these images and engraved onto a 2mm plywood coaster… There are very slight scorch marks from the smoke but after I reduced the power from 100% to 50%, the smoke marks were no longer an issue. All comments are welcome.

OK, that is the first instalment of what will be a very lengthy post. It is provided in the hope that it will help other people who want to try the laser module and are not sure what they can do.

DISCLAIMER: I will say at this point that I am not employed by the Lightburn company nor do I know any of their personnel. No Lightburn employee has offered me any inducement to write what I have written. It is all my own work and therefore it is also my own opinion. Please do feel free to disagree with anything I have written.

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I have a couple of short video presentations that will help to support the previous material. The following video shows the preview button and what it demonstrates at 10x normal display speed when it is showing the path that the laser beam will take. This preview was generated when the laser beam was set to line mode, which permits the laser beam to follow each piece separately rather than scanning across the whole image. The background noise is the laser module working while I was displaying the preview on my computer. It is at the following dropbox link:

The second dropbox link is to a video showing the cutting process on SM1. It is relatively quick and quiet. This was a second pass because the first one was not sufficient. After this I changed the power setting from 100% at 3000 mm/min to 50% at 700 mm/min for the final result. The only other item of note is the jig which I made especially for etching these 98mm square coasters of 2mm plywood. Each coaster is held in 2mm space provided and it does not move despite the rapid and jerky movements of the table.

Nice!
Thanks for sharing!
Gotta try that out!
-S

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It is free to use the full software for 30 days and relatively inexpensive. There may be a fee to renew the license annually. I like it a lot and its very logical flow and superfast speed is a game changing decision for me. You can design in the software and it includes very useful flood fill as well as line and line + fill options. I should have a basic screen cast up in a few hours.

I’d tried playing with Laserweb a little but just got too busy to get the SM profile set up correctly to make it work. This seems much simpler.
-S

I am all for simplicity and logic and if you have ever used any software that has a design element for graphics or words, Lightburn is really easy. I have struggled with Luban thinking I must be getting stupid in my dotage but I have learned to use this really fast. Once I got the correct baud rate for SM1 (115200) everything else just fell into place.

The Lightburn company don’t have a lot of experience with Snapmaker but I set mine up in a few clicks on the manual set up and I have no real understanding of computers, numerical control or GCode. The results speak for themselves. There are many little wrinkles to learn so that I can become expert with the software but there are several really excellent video tutorials.

The documentation is fantastically well written too.
There are new docs being provided:
https://lightburnsoftware.github.io/NewDocs/

The old docs on Github are here:

Video Tutorials are here:
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=lightburn+tutorial

that should keep you going for today.

Thanks for the great information. One clarifying question: does Lightburn have to connect directly to the SM via USB? I have my printer stuck in a storage room in the far corner of the house and use Octoprint, Wifi, or a USB drive for sending jobs. Would switching to Lightburn require having the PC using it sitting next to the SM?

I am not sure yet, Chris. The files it produces (.nc) may need a tweek to use a USB stick. I don’t know much about adjusting GCode yet. Other folk do and you may be able to clarify what is needed with @Hauke or @sdj544 where that issue is discussed.

I have been using the standard USB A ~ B connection supplied by Snapmaker. I know that Easel produced .nc GCode that could run from a USB stick. My experiments as yet have not produced any .nc file from Lightburn which has run from a USB stick. I am fairly sure the code needs a small modification to make it run. However, the Lightburn software is such a blessing to use after Luban, that I would not mind if its files never ran from a USB stick.

Post the gcode you’ve saved from Lightburn.
I got f-engrave to work with a few simple tweaks.
Like to check it out.
-S

Oh, Thank you, S. Here are a couple of files headers and footers. edit I forgot to say the files contain several layers and fit inside 98mm squares.

testimage1gcode.gc
Henna Vector

testimage2gcode.gc
testimage2

The GCode files are plain text files (RTF format) which I have linked to my dropbox and the links follow…

File 1: https://www.dropbox.com/s/gpde1hwl2wgo0s6/testimage1gcode.gc.rtf?dl=0

File 2: https://www.dropbox.com/s/hx1d2zxym0rygmo/testimage2gcode.gc.rtf?dl=0

It looks fine when you bring it into Luban.

But right off the bat, the cut speed is at 6000mm/min. I think max travel speed is 3000. Eventually it does change to 800. And where a Luban created file alternates moves with laser turned off and on, these files have the laser on the whole time. Not sure what would happen if you tried to print like that. Might be fine. For major moves it does turn off.

If you can fix the speed setting in Lightburn (or do a find & replace in textedit) you could try loading the file directly. Just have to rename them with an .nc suffix. And have your hand on the power switch when you run it.

There’s also a command in there to turn off coolant which doesn’t affect the SM.

They definitely seem to need more work or different settings.

For comparison I created this file in vector mode in Luban:
testimage1.nc (940.1 KB)
Not sure what all the extra misc. gibberish at the start is. Maybe it’s an image for the preview on the controller? When I’ve modified cnc files I’ve just deleted it and had no problems.
-S

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Here is an amateur video screencast of some of the GUI features of Lightburn. It is around 27 minutes long so if you can stand me droning on, you may be able to gather something of interest to yourself. The video quality was reduced from 60fps and 4k to 720p 30 in Handbrake to keep the file size down. Ensure that you have selected HD 720 when about to play the video. As always, your comments are welcome.

Link is here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/r533p16ysvbex2c/LB%20GUI.mp4?dl=0

Great! Thanks S. Will do this later. I am not sure about the speed setting but I will bear your comment in mind. I guess I had set it because I could. There should be a technical specification for all of the Snapmaker hardware (I don’t mean the abridged sales patter) and it should be available to users so that we can determine what we need to do to improve matters.

Another small sample from Lightburn. I wanted to engrave a small amount of text on a 2mm plywood coaster. The surface was left unfinished (I usually smooth the surface before etching to get a well finished look) and it is noteworthy that these particular coaster blanks are fairly roughly finished.

Below is the coaster image:

What follows is a close up of the text:

The noteworthy things are…

  1. This text took 70 seconds to produce.
  2. It is placed where I wanted it to be.
  3. It was produced while adjusting settings from fill to flood fill.
  4. It has good contrast and minimal edge burn.
  5. The characters are well defined and sharp.
  6. The finish on rough wood is excellent.

In the close up, the scan lines are visible. The lighter areas were where I adjusted the settings in Lightburn while the laser beam was etching the surface. Leaving the settings to any setting preferred will produce very clean and consistent results. It is worth pointing out that each letter was produced as an individual component rather than all characters being scanned and produced together.

Looks great!
Got to get through some CNC projects and get back to lasering.
Only problem with 3 in 1 is the one thing at a time.
-S

(The subject matter could use a little work)

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The .nc suffix worked fine. Thank you for your help. It was greatly appreciated. I still need to look at speeds and power settings but I am happy that Lightburn can be made to talk to the SM1 through a USB stick. As for subject matter… I was working on something else. It is not quite right yet but the proof of concept is ok. I did not cut the image deep enough but will fix that next time around. I found a line art image that I really liked. It was unfortunately a .jpg file. I converted it to an .svg file in Super Vectorizer. http://www.svgvector.com/

I was happy with the conversion and burnt the image in a single pass with Lightburn. I have some really lovely paints for wood that are completely safe for children and I use them on my kids toys. Before a product gets a non-toxic pass, it has to meet very strict standards with regards to off-gassing of VOCs and toxicity if ingested. Regardless, I was hoping to colour the laser etching and my sample shows that a deeper etch will work.

original .jpg file:

vectorized file:
female head shot_vectorized

Effort to colour laser etching:

Kids blocks painted to demonstrate colours:

I forgot to mention this S. I could open the file in Luban and Camotics but nothing was displayed.

I am not sure if you have followed this thread. I can confirm that you can run the files from a USB stick. @sdj544 was able to find the method and I have used it too now. it is changing the .gc file ending to .nc.

Thanks for the update! I’m beginning to wonder how much effort would be required to modify Octoprint to understand the laser and CNC components of Snapmaker. Then we could use whatever software - Lightburn for laser, Carbide Create for CNC, Cura for print, etc. and rely on Octoprint to manage job execution and management.

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No worries Chris; 3D printing is the one thing I have not managed yet. Far too much messing around for a beginner like me. The laser proved to be the easiest segment of the 3:1 machinery to get working out of the box. The CNC was not difficult but the engineer in me considered the spindle was somewhat overstretched and flimsy. Being limited to a 90mm build area is not what I wanted or can usefully use. The 1/8th of an inch diameter limitation on the endmill size permitted was also frustrating. (I am fixing that with the purchase of a new Carbide CNC machine)

I am not familiar with Octoprint other than in passing I think that I have heard it mentioned a few times. AFAIK it is an open source software for 3D printing. It may be stating the obvious but isn’t GCode similar across platforms? My SM1 was able to understand the code generated in Lightburn (directly from the USB stick) once the file type was changed from .gc to .nc. As for speaking to my machine directly from the computer, it does not present any issues now I understand my mistake in setting the baud rate wrongly.

You initially had wanted some means to use Lightburn at a distance. I note a whole group of Lightburn forum posts concerning WiFi so it is very likely to be possible. https://forum.lightburnsoftware.com/search?q=wifi

I see where you are heading with a job execution and management role for Octoprint. In my view, FWIW, the best tools all have a single use and are designed with that purpose in mind. Multifunction tools can tackle many jobs but in my experience they do none of them really well. When you look at the 800lb gorilla that is Fusion 360, you are faced with a learning curve that is way beyond what many beginners will want or need.

What I have found is that the single purpose of Lightburn, makes it a really easy to understand piece of software. It is also hugely capable and can run machines in a commercial environment. Carbide Create is also simple to understand, well laid out and it does everything that this beginner needs. When it no longer suits my needs, I will take a course and upgrade my knowledge and my software.