Laser cutters use data files to get the pattern they cut or engrave. Dremel laser cutters use standard file formats, so you have lots of software options. Depending on your needs, you can use a high-end application with lots of features or a free and simple one.
Types of laser cutter files
Laser cutters do two types of jobs. A cutting job cuts a piece of material to a given shape or puts precise holes in it. An engraving job creates a relief image in the material. You can use the same kind of files with any suitable material, such as acrylic or wood for laser cutter jobs.
The two types of jobs need different kinds of files. For cutting, you need a vector file. This kind of file defines lines, points, curves, and shapes for the cutter to follow. It can scale up and down as much as necessary without getting blurry. The SVG (scalable vector graphics) format is ideal for this kind of work. It can describe complex patterns in a very small file.
For engraving, you want an image file. It consists of pixels that make up a picture. You can use the JPEG or PNG format to engrave images. Generally you'll want to work with a black-and-white image.
You can use PDF files for either engraving or cutting. However, you can't use the same file for both. PDF is a very versatile format, and a file can internally use images, vectors, or both. If you create a PDF with vector software, it will be suitable for cutting. If it comes from image editing software, it's usable for engraving.
It's possible to do cutting and engraving in the same job. This requires two separate files, one for the cutting part and one for the engraving part. If you export both files from the same workspace, Dremel's laser cutter software will combine them correctly.
Choosing the right software
These four file formats — SVG, PDF, JPEG, and PNG — are all widely supported. That gives you lots of software choices.
Vector data software
For creating vector files, Adobe Illustrator is a favorite choice among professionals. It has many features, precise measurements, and good support.
There are many CAD applications which are well-suited to laser cutting. TurboCAD is a powerful design application which can export data to any of Dremel's supported formats. Some CAD applications, such as AutoCAD Inventor, do an excellent job of creating vector data but require extra steps to export a supported format.
The hobby laser cutter enthusiast may want something which is less expensive and easier to learn. Many open-source applications are available at no cost. The Draw application in Open Office (or its near-twin, Libre Office) will work nicely for many purposes. SVG-Edit is a browser-based editor that creates SVG files, and there's literally nothing to install on your computer. Inkscape is a popular cross-platform vector graphics editor, powerful enough that some professionals use it.
Image data software
For creating or manipulating images, there are even more choices. Adobe Photoshop comes first to everyone's mind, for good reason. People who don't like its price can use the less expensive Photoshop Elements or the free Photoshop Express.
In the open-source world, Gimp is just as well-known and has lots of powerful features. Its user interface isn't quite as elegant as Photoshop, but it lets you do everything you need without spending money.
For engraving, you don't need subtle colors and gradients anyway. So the home laser cutter user may find that something like Microsoft Paint 3D is a completely usable choice.
The choice is yours
What is the "right" software for creating your engraving and cutting files? The answer depends on your needs and preferences. If you just do an occasional job as a hobbyist, whatever software you're already familiar with may do everything you need. If you're running a business, it pays to invest however much is necessary in software. Don't disdain free software just because it's free, though. Dremel's support of standard file formats gives you many choices. Dremel DigiLab laser cutter software makes it easy to cut or engrave your designs. Watch the video to see how simple it is.