View Full Version : Day 1: Ready to Quit

Steve Clarkson
11-20-2008, 3:37 PM
"Works just like a printer....." Hahahahaha!

OK, so anyone interested in reading about my first day with my new laser can read on.....

So it arrived off the truck in perfect condition. It upacked without a hitch. It set up just as easily.....until it came time to install the drivers. Little did I know that I had the 64 bit Vista (OK, why doesn't Epilog put the beta version on the disk that comes with the laser.....hasn't it been a beta version for like a YEAR?). By the time I figured out I had a problem, tech support had gone home to sleep for the night (disappointingly, I left them a voicemail and it hasn't been returned almost 20 hours later.....guess the tone of my voice wasn't desperate enough!). So I went to bed.....with visions of sugar plums and Dee's acrylic ornaments dancing in my head.

So my Epilog rep shows up promptly at 8am and gets my driver installed and laser up and running. He was only planning to be here for 4 hours, so after we went through basics (cleaning, assessories, techniques, etc) there was only an hour or so of engraving time left.

Well, EVERY single project we tried......FAILED! I had about 10 things I wanted to do and we had time for maybe 5. The first was a LaserBuzz car......it engraved beautifully and cut through the sheet of baltic birch like a hot knife through butter. But when I lifted it off the table.....only about half of the pieces fell out. Not sure why only half cut through, but it's obviously a Corel issue (I'm guessing a color mapping issue), not an Epilog or LaserBuzz issue. So on to the next project.....

So I had the cute acrylic box that I got off the Creek. I changed the name on the lid (how could I screw THAT up?) and figured it would be an easy job to send to the laser. Oh yea......the laser.....well, it got hung up processing in Corel (requiring TWO reboots) and never even made it to the "preview" screen, let alone, the LASER! So, on to the next project.....

And so it went.....one failed project after another. My photo engraved on a marble tile was SO BAD that I wouldn't even give it to my own mother (and I'm her "son that can do no wrong"!). The facial features were non-existent (and yes, I have PhotoGrav 3.0.....and NO, it didn't help one bit on this one!). So my question is......is there any way to salvage a piece of marble that has been engraved? Or do I just start stacking them in the corner of my basement and hope that I die of old age before the house sinks due to the weight of 50,000 12x12 marble tiles on my basement floor?

Well, I'm not REALLY ready to quit......and I KNOW things could have been worse (my laser COULD have arrived without the actual laser tube installed).....and I'm not really posting this seeking help on any specific issue (it's just theraputic so I don't go canvassing the neighborhood looking for a cat to engrave)......and I know that it WILL get easier as I get to learn Corel and rekindle my relationship with my laser.

So I'll go to bed tonight dreaming of laser engraved sugar plums knowing that tomorrow is a new day........with 41 Epilog Sample Club projects waiting for me to conquer!

Phil Garcia
11-20-2008, 3:45 PM
and I thought I was having a bad day...Good night... tomorrow is another day... keep smiling:D

matt heinzel
11-20-2008, 3:49 PM
Wow sorry to hear you had a such a bad first day! Where did you get your marble from I'm looking for some to work with.

Tim Bateson
11-20-2008, 3:49 PM
Steve, When my laser arrived, I watched the UPS driver push it off the back of the truck, falling 4 feet to the ground. Other then a bent exhaust port it did run fine.
Keep at it. You will waste material, but when you get it right people will think your an artist.

Belinda Williamson
11-20-2008, 3:51 PM
Keep your chin up Steve! As Scarlett would say, "Tomorrow is another day." You'll be turning out beautiful work in no time and today will be just a very small bad memory. Oh yeah, now might be a good time to ask your wife for a much need shoulder rub, neck/back massage. Follow that by a nice slug of Maker's Mark just for good measure.;) I know how tense one can be after a day like yours . . . I've been there.

Scott Shepherd
11-20-2008, 3:54 PM
Welcome to the world of lasering. Get used to it :)

I remember running the Eifel Tower file for over 1 hour of vector cutting time, only to do the same as you- lift it up and have only a few pieces drop out. The honeycomb grid kept it from cutting all the way through, so to get the 100's and 100's of little pieces out, I'd have to cut and poke them all out.

It ended up in the dumpster and I've never tried it again :)

Dave Coble
11-20-2008, 4:03 PM
Steve, that's some funny stuff brother!! I say that in a tone of laughing with you as I was there not too long ago myself. You will be amazed though, I'd rate it as a moderate learning curve (for each type of job) but then you will make notes and tweak the process and your workflow until you have it mastered. It won't be long until you are banging out some awesome work that will not only amaze everyone else...but it will amaze you as well.

Trust me.

Martin Boekers
11-20-2008, 4:06 PM
Boy oh Boy!!!
You jump right in!
Starting with vector cut-outs then photos on marble!

Seriously though it's good to hear some excitement! with your sense of humor (oh you will lose that if you keep playing with photos on marble), you ought to contact Epilog and see if they'll have you do a blog page

I can see it now.....

The life and adventures of Steve Clarkson, Engraver!

It will get better, I tell that to myself so often I'm actually starting to believe it!

Good luck,


Joe Pelonio
11-20-2008, 4:33 PM
Sorry to hear about your problems, which are unusual from what I have heard and seen with Epilog. It does make me happy with my decision to keep XP.

I might suggest that you start at the beginning, walk before you try to drive,
and stick to clipart and scrap materials until you get things sorted out. I hate to se you waste expensive material doing complicated jobs and photos which do have a learning curve.

Nancy Laird
11-20-2008, 4:38 PM
Reading this makes me VERY happy that I don't have an Epilog machine. I also agree with Joe - stick to simple stuff and learn what the machine can do before you start wasting materials.

Margaret Turco
11-20-2008, 5:05 PM
Hey Steve, I was lucky because I got to learn on somebody else's machine, but I still keep a notebook nearby so I can write down settings for different materials as I figure them out each time. I don't have photograv so I have not had success with tile yet (ceramic w/color fill) but got some sample lasertiles to try one of these days. I just cut a bunch of ornaments for a local museum out of birch plywood and not all of them cut out clean either. Plywood can be kind of inconsistent to cut. Don't be discouraged though, you will be learning how to do new things every day. Good luck tomorrow!

Scott Challoner
11-20-2008, 5:46 PM
I had one of those days yesterday too, and I've been at this for two years now. Just remeber to see each failure as an opportunity to learn.
I've learned (failed) a lot and once in awhile I make something I can sell too.

Dave Johnson29
11-20-2008, 6:10 PM
"Works just like a printer....." Hahahahaha!

Sorry to hear about the first-day blues, but hang in there. The problem is you are thinking ahead of the progress. Before one step is complete you are already thinking 3 or 5 steps forward and then when there is a glitch way back there, you are disappointed.

one!). So my question is......is there any way to salvage a piece of marble that has been engraved? Or do I just start stacking them in the corner of my basement and hope that I die of old age before the house sinks due to the weight of 50,000 12x12 marble tiles on my basement floor?

OK, the good news is "yes" Well, "yes" to reclaiming but it will require some elbow grease. You need to buy some stones, HF has some diamond ones...


Requesition the laundry tub and drop the marble in the bottom and add water to about half way up the marble. Starting with the coarsest diamond splash water onto the stone and rub at it until the laser-mark has gone. Drop down to the fine diamond and rub at it until the scratch marks are all as fine as they can be. Plenty of water to keep the diamond from clogging.

Go to the hardware store and get some of this stuff in grades 400, 600 and 800


Using water as the lubricant, a sanding block for a flat surface...


...then have at it. When it is as smooth as it can get then use splashes of engine oil, any grade, and that will effectively double the fineness of the wet dry. Clean and let the surface dry to see how smooth it is as it will look great when wet. :)

Finally, dry and clean it all off and use fine-cut car buffing compound and an electric buff, or by hand if you are still feeling enthusiastic. :D

With practice you will find the minimum number of "grade" steps to get what you want. It sounds a lot more work than it is. Do not be tempted to use electric sanding or polishing with water. If you have a decent size air compressor then use something like this...


OK, I know I am tossing in a lot of HF but I am using their pics for Steve to see what he needs to get. All of this stuff is available at Lowes or others as well. I figure it just helps to see what I am talking.

Deane Shepard
11-20-2008, 6:12 PM
Sorry you had a tough day. I remember my first day involved some uncooperative software, which was eventually traced to another USB device on my system that was interfering. I could have run a hundred jobs and none of them would have worked right. Based on that, I would offer a suggestion: Instead of going "on to the next job," pick whichever job you want and fight that one through to the very end, as in it works and it's right. Chances are you will learn things in doing so that will make the NEXT job, when you get to it, go a lot smoother. There is a learning curve and you have to get a ways up it before things smooth out. However, I don't think I will ever stop learning new things about what the machine can do. I constantly see things here on the Creek that I realize I knew part of, but someone's example or advice made the rest of the project pop into focus. So pick one of those projects (and I would try to make it an easier one on cheap materials) and wrestle that one bear to the ground, THEN go on to the next job. Remember, you bought the laser, it isn't on a daily rental so you can take your time and enjoy the journey.

ULS M-360

Stephen Beckham
11-20-2008, 6:25 PM
Hmmm... CAT? :confused:

Here Kitty, Kitty... Daddy's got a new trick to show you.... I promise it only hurt just a little bit...

(It's okay - his front claws were taken off already...) :rolleyes:

Steven Wallace
11-20-2008, 8:40 PM
As one Steve to another welcome to the fold lasering. In other words you're preaching to the choir. Even the old hands will tell you that your confidence will be tested with every project. I check and re-check everything I do. Wait until you have your first customer bring you their heirloom piece that is irreplaceable and ask for you to laser it. You will learn about the "oh no second". That is the time from which your finger hits the start button and your eyes see this first sign of "what the heck is that doing there". All I can echo is every job is a learning experience and keep notes. Also, don't hesitate to ask the saw mill creek choir for assistance in here, they have saved my bacon more than once and no use making their mistakes on your material if you don't have to. Greatest bunch of people I have had the honor of chatting with is right here. Have fun and realize you will be searching for that cat soon as you have everything you own in your house engraved.

Frank Corker
11-20-2008, 9:18 PM
No worries Steve, this is that learning curve I mentioned, remember the old walk before you can run. I know the thrill of wanting to just get out and start creating stuff is incredibly strong, despite your bad first day, but here are a couple of suggestions. (I know, most have been said but I'm going to say them again)

Don't go for a full size image on a big piece of marble or granite. At the moment, one or two are 'expendable'. Divide them into quarters. 4 times more to engrave. Small images 4"x4" at various speeds. Try the recommended and if you don't like it, reduce the power and try again in the next segment. Engrave text, vary the sizes. increase the power, reduce the power, you will be engraving a permanent reminder which you will be able to see and then understand.

Wood. Don't go for the full box, waste of time for the minute. Try sectioning the area off into small segments. Cut circles. Cut squares. In the centre of each type in the speed, power and frequency you are doing them at. When you find the right one, keep it and stick it on the wall.

Acrylic is pretty much the same as what I said above. Doing these tests will allow you to get an extremely good idea of what will happen with the rest of the sheet. Engrave patterns first, they are much less soul destroying then images are. Images take practice. You are still learning to walk.

Learning how to make the computer go to a specific point is just as interesting as engraving a picture, but worth twice as much to you.

Sounds condescending but I'm not trying to be, it's a sound bit of advice which is well worth thinking of.

Steve Clarkson
11-20-2008, 11:30 PM
Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. Much appreciated.

Just two quick clarifications.....one, I'm very happy with Epilog and my laser....no regrets whatsoever. Secondly, I'm really not too upset.....more disappointed. I wrote my little tomb more as a way to take a time out from ruining every laserable piece I have in my basement.

I don't expect to join the major leagues on day one and I don't expect to be a Frank Corker on Day 2 or even Day 2,222 (and Frank, that advice was "don't FLAME POLISH before you can RUN"!).

Like I said, I was just a little disappointed that none of my files were laering as I had expected. I chose what I thought were simple projects to do (all prepared and shared by Laser Gurus).....and of course, I just couldn't resist doing my first black granite photo (don't worry, I'll post the pic later!).

Although disappointed with the output from Day 1, I know the days ahead will be rewarding and always challenging (why else would people with YEARS of experience STILL come here for advice).

I also know how lucky I am.......because my biggest problem was a computer glich that was resolved in less than 12 hours.....how lucky am I that my laser didn't fall of the truck when it was delivered?!! I know that others on here have WAY worse stories than mine.

I also wrote this for the people on the Creek.....this place is great for getting clip art and Corel help and answers to all questions laser.......but it's nice every once in a while to read a little laser humor......especially at someone else's expense.....for once!

Thanks again for all the comments and suggestions. I'll bet you're all just dying to read what I write about Day 2............

Bob Keyes
11-20-2008, 11:33 PM

We've all been through these trials. Keep at it and it will all pay off. Keep a notebook even of the things that don't work.

One thing on the marble. I got 4" white tiles from Lowe's (.14 ea.). Paint them black. When your picture looks good on them you are close to right for the marble. Also, you will find that most of your work for marble is in the brightness and contrast adjustments of the picture before you ever get to Photograv. It needs to be high contrast to the point of being really objectionable. I also always convert to gray scale before doing any adjustments. It just makes it easier to see the contrast changes.

Good luck and never fear. You'll make it fine.

Eric Allen
11-20-2008, 11:53 PM
I can't wait for the next installment:) You're doing what will ultimately make you a guru, burning everything in sight. Just so long as you learn from each one, it will make you better quickly. Honestly, I'll bet that's how Frank got where he is (muffin tins ring a bell Frank?:D ). As usual, Frank is spot on with his advice, learning the basic movements and the what and why behind what the laser is doing will let you advance quickly. Just a quick example, I rarely go with Epilog's recommended 500 ppi for cutting wood. I find better finishes around 400, sometimes below. Lighter edge burning and it still looks nice without too much of that "coin edge" effect. Have some fun, burn up some materials, treat it like a toybox while it's under warranty:). Oh, and read everything here obsessively:D Before I burn anything new, I search it here on the forum. Don't let that tile thing phase you, it's almost as big a pain as glass, similar function. My first glass piece sucked out loud, it's just part of the process:)

jeremy haneca
11-21-2008, 12:36 AM
im just gg to add to everyone else's dont worry about it..... it wil lget better.. i had some serious issues with vista as well but no epilog rep to help. good over the phone support with laserpro tho i found. anyway.. i got my machine like what, 2 months ago and im cooking with steam now. from one newbie to another.. IT GETS EASIER!! i just hope it stays that way.. lmao these things are like dominoes; tip one block the wrong way way and your stuck waiting until it finishes only to start again... good luck

Rodne Gold
11-21-2008, 2:41 AM
I tthink you started off right , with the challenging stuff.
Whenever I get a new machine or develop a new process ,I start at the impossible and work my way down. I then know the limits of the machine or process and what problems one faces with em.
If you start like that , the easy stuff is real easy...........

Dave Coble
11-21-2008, 2:49 AM
I agree whole heartedly with Frank. Take that one big piece and section it off to smaller areas for testing settings. I'm a bit more frugal though...I think I sectioned off a 12x12 granite something like 36 times - perhaps I went too far :rolleyes:

Anyway, you will be amazed that it really does not take that long once you zero in on one particular goal. I probably spent a week on just getting photos on granite to come out right...yes I know, I'm slow. But once I had it, I had it. Each application I have chosen to pursue has been less and less time consuming on the learning curve along the way. And you WILL make plenty of "learning" mistakes along the way which is why it's better to use practice material until you have your workflow somewhat consistent. I can't tell you how many times I went to burn something and after my 2nd or 3rd attempt at simply repeating what I did earlier and still no luck...then the light came on....duh (insert any number of stupid mistakes). And now Dave remembers to focus, or whatever, (almost) every time ;)

You will be there in no time!

Rodne Gold
11-21-2008, 4:47 AM
Well the first mission has to be to build up a sample range , so you need to spend a bit on trial and error stuff and materials.
I say at least a month or 2 doing samples till you "officially" open.....thats part of the deal.......thats why you need working capital of at least 3-6 months.........
When we got our first laser , I bought tons of stuff , anything that I could laser...often went to the supermarket and bought stuff there , like cheap cheese and cutting boards (wood , marble , etc) , kitchen utensils for cerdecing , material items and so forth. I also asked my suppliers for decent sample pieces (a4+) etc.

Darren Null
11-21-2008, 6:40 AM
What I did when I started out was raid the surrounding countryside for materials...skip fodder, stones from the beach, random bits of wood (melon crates from the local greengrocers were particularly rewarding)...you name it. Apart from not spending grillions on materials that I was quite possibly going to kill, I learned how to assess approximately how a given material was going to burn just from the look of the thing. There's no rulebook or perfect setting for a particular material: even a uniform-looking sheet of plywood will burn differently in different areas. Same goes for any natural material.

Of course, if you're going to buy stuff from laserbits etc and just burn names on, you can live without that- all you have to do is get the settings right for that particular material.

So. The first piece of advice is to scour the area around you and burn anything you can get your hands on (except flexible plastics...PVC is bad). Practice on stuff you can afford to kill- hone your skills and your ninja sense of what you can do. This should come naturally to a new laser owner.

The second piece of advice is to learn what sort of graphic will give you good results on your laser. It's not the same as printing, and it's not the same as web graphics. Often the ideal graphic for a particular material will look absolutely pants on screen in Coreldraw, but burns perfectly. You will get the best results (for most materials- wood'll do greyscale after a fashion) if you concentrate on pure black-and-white...you either burn a hole or you don't. Learn what to feed the laser. This takes practice and you just ain't going to get it on the first day, no matter how many techs you're surrounded with.

There's nothing definitive with laser engravers- the final result depends on the quality of the graphic feed; the laser settings; the material you're burning to name but 3 of the variables (but the 3 most important, I think). Get all of it right and you have a perfect result. Get 1 bit wrong and the quality deteriorates. The good news is that there's wriggle room in all of it...and you can always burn more lightly than you think you need and overburn.

Jim Good
11-21-2008, 9:47 AM
Are we having fun yet!?! :D

Your day 2 will be better. Each day will bring some positives and get you further down the road!

It's frustrating but the excitement of seeing an engraving come out perfect is overwhelming. You look at it and say, "Wow, that looks like a professional did it!"

It's a fun journey. Enjoy it. The best thing is with this forum you don't have to feel like you are going it alone. Every person here has gone through the "learning curve" and you probably bring back fond memories for everyone.

A few mistakes are going to happen and that is why I threw in a couple extra acrylic blanks for you to "learn" on!!! When you engrave the glowboards, throw up a picture!


Gregg Vaughn
11-21-2008, 12:24 PM

In my former life it was said that "any landing you can walk away from is a good one."

When I got into lasers I found out that "any job you do is ..... well, not necessarily a good one." They do, however, get easier and better in short order.

I have never had anything but an Epilog, but I have found it to be well made, reliable and had reasonable service from the company.

Gregg Vaughn
11-21-2008, 12:31 PM
Just to save your reputation with your neighbors, here is another practice job.

Gregg Vaughn
11-21-2008, 12:33 PM
Sorry, forgot to attach it!

Steve Clarkson
11-21-2008, 7:31 PM
You know, I might try to market these to the local chinese restaurants.....

Steven Wallace
11-21-2008, 8:09 PM
Here is another "learning"... Once your are ready to start taking orders, get to know your customer. It doesn't mean it has to take long time. Customer service is what this is all about if you want repeat business and word of mouth advertising. I mean take time to get to know all you can about their project. The first project I did was a baseball for a little league coach. The project included the team logo and coach's name. Then I made bitmaps of the kid's signatures an randomly placed them on the ball. The person who brought me the ball had a last name of Rodriquez and one of the kids last name was Rodriquez. So, I tried to put this kids name where it was well seen given the name length. When I delivered the ball in the acrylic case, the guy said thanks for putting my kids name on the top of the ball where it was the first name seen. That name was Dan R. and was only placed there because it was a short name. He was very pleased but it was an accident that his kids name ended up in that location. Note to self; if they are the one paying for the job, make sure you have their kids name correct and in a place that will make them happy. I have done several other jobs for this person since then.

My note book contains a lessons learned column that pertains to the business aspect too. How long did take... did I over estimate the cost... did I under estimate (this will happen, eat it, learn from it and move on)... Watch for non-profit orgs (In their mind donations = free). Learn and earn! I am a part timer, so I am not showing a large profit but I earn enough to pay the for the machine.

Ray Uebner
11-22-2008, 4:28 AM
Well Steve I am also sorry you had one of those bad days, we all get them and today for me was not great either. I did enjoy reading about your problems and had a good laugh with you as you are a great writer and know how to tell a great story. Sorry it was true but keep at it and things will come together. I do a lot of laserbuzz items and have my setting down but took time and a lot of trying this and that to get there, and guess what they still do not always cut all the way. It is the plywood but you can get it better just keep trying. I also agree that you should finish one project all the way and get it the way you want it. It will teach you a lot of things. As for your marble, I have never tried it but will one of these days. you might be able to make wheel chocks out of them and sell them, sorry I have made anchors out of some of my stuff......lol... Keep trying and don't be afraid to call Tom at laser buzz as he helped me, he has a wealth of knowledge and is always ready to help.

David Fairfield
11-22-2008, 9:01 AM
Hah hah I remember when I first got my Epilog 35W. Nothing worked right at all, and I KNOW it wasn't operator error! :p but somehow the machine became smarter, obedient and more efficient! ;)