Monthly Archives: December 2017

‘Mastering’ inkscape for makers …

Things you should know. These are a few tips I’ve learnt from the last twelve months of using inkscape on a daily basis. Practically every piece of art work I process using open source / free software. Mainly Inkscape, sometimes GIMP, sometimes Scribus and laugh all you like mspaint.exe, useful when I quickly need to crop or annotate an image.

Before you rage quit my article and storm off muttering under your breath ‘what a newb! WTF is he going on about.’ … well I started out using Hardvard Graphics in dos and Deluxe Paint on the Amiga, when I upgraded to windows (3.0/3.11) I moved to Corel graphics v3.0 for scanning, tracing images and compositing etc. (I can still to this day remember the evening I got the disk, bought an official copy second hand. This was before the age of CD writers and copied CDs weren’t easily available, this came with all the official documentation, manuals and the clip art book!!) Mid-nineties I took a bespoke course taught at local university on web design (the first of its kind in the country.) which was really what started my interest in design work, the internet and programming, the lecturer introduced me to Macromedia (awesome company that Adobe practically consumed and now lives off its glory, not to mention they absolutely ruined the nice simple / low overhead / easily navigable interface.) So I spent many years working with Macromedia products, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and Director. I’ve worked extensively with 3D Studio Max, Maya, Truespace and still use Blender (but not as much as I should do.) Had a brief experience with Solidworks, spent many hours using Autocad making files for water jet cutting. Down to specialist bespoke product design software, aimed at manufacture (I’ll post a link later the name escapes me at the moment). I’ve also a degree in design and applied arts, spent over 20 years in the IT / digital graphics world and the last five years of my working life programming robots. Right less about me waffling on about old software, I’ve used a lot of packages, you might notice I’ve neglected one, yes I have used Photoshop for many projects / years, at one point it was my go to design program (probably around version 6) especially useful for digital composition and photo manipulation, but, I’m going to say it, bloated to hell and the most over-rated design tool out there. If Oracle made design software it would probably be called Photoshop. I’ll save that for another post. The above is merely scraping the surface.

So now you have a little background on some of my software experience, I hope you might listen a little more intently. Inkscape is a fantastic tool. Firstly it’s 100% free. (Really dude you’re starting here … YUP) This is for makers. Makers are usually on tight budgets / constraints so its important to consider this. 100% free no cost, no subscription, no hidden code, no shady CEO milking your bank account. All updates 100% free. Available 100% of the time to run on older hardware than the kind of pc you need to handle the amount of bloat that Photoshop / Illustrator rolls with. Inkscape takes up less resources and memory than most design packages / ‘solutions’. Means you can do more faster with older hardware. (I promise that’s my last dig at Adobe.)

Inkscape is also cross platform, meaning it really doesn’t matter what hardware you’re running it on you’re always presented with a familiar interface. Which is really handy if you’re a maker, you might require a specific vector file format for a project on a linux / windows / osx box, Inkscape is only one trusted download away. No cracks, keygens, viruses / malware. If you’re really paranoid you can build from source or checksum the download.

The program itself is open source but also allows users to independently develop plugins via a well documented API. Python the language of the maker, free, open source and right now, there’s an incredible amount of python development going on, meaning modules plugins and code is pretty much readily available all over the web. Inkscape also supports Perl, the language of the internet and regular expressions. Advanced programmers are encouraged to implement their plugins natively in c++. If there’s some kind of graphical automation you require its likely Inkscape will be able to provide or give you the grounds to develop your own solution.
Click here to learn how to create your own plugins.more about pythonmore about perl,

Existing plugins? Yes there’s a lot, because there’s already a large user base for the package. Many that help extend the programs functionality from simply a graphics program to a production tool or service. Examples? One that immediately springs to mind is the laser cut tabbed box designer plugin. Not only useful for producing your own tabbed boxes but these boxes are extremely popular on auction sites. Makers and crafts people are buying them by the bucket full for their own projects. A few clicks and numbers to set the dimensions and amount of compartments you require, something that would manually take quite a while to produce. There are plugin’s for HPGL plotters, 3D printers, gcode senders, jigsaw creators, all great plugins for makers.
Click here to browse the full list of plugins on the inkscape site.

I’ve talked about how great the software is and the plugins but you came here for useful tips.

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Uncovering the biggest scam in modern history … printer cartridges.

I’d never really paid much attention to printing or print materials till early this year, never had a need to print much out. Since starting out with the plotter I get some requests, a lot of which I have to turn down for labels and printed contour cut stickers, which is really annoying. The entry level for UV / solvent based printers is still rather high, a basic printer will set you back anything from £3k to around £5k depending if you just require a solvent printer or one with a contour cutting head. The latest and greatest roland cutter/printer could set you back as much as £24-28k. Maybe I’m understating what these machines are capable of ie. the above machine will print photo quality 6ft+ wide and has an incorporated cutting head for printing and cutting stickers options include take up rollers on the front of the machine etc. absolutely amazing machines but way out of my price range.

Saving my pennies till I can afford a decent solvent printer cutter combo. (Yes im aware there are some workarounds, but the longevity of inkjet printing and water proofing / UV protecting the stickers is rather and involved process something I could mitigate all together with a better printer, unfortunately the solvent inks are far to aggressive to attempt modifying an existing inkjet.)

I had a few old inkjet printers knocking about so thought I’d attempt restoring them to working order whilst having a play around with inks and refilling the old cartridges. Simple, obviously I just put more ink in the cartridges and place them back in the printer and continue to print putting some old hardware to good use.

Well that’s how I thought it worked. NOPE.

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The &%$%ing laser cutter …

Yup, I bought a cheap Chinese laser cutter, not a CO2 one but a diode based banggood/A3 clone (5.5 watts 50x60cm bed). It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I couldn’t sleep knowing I’d finally got my hands on something I could use to create physical objects from work on the computer. I could use the laser cutter to build a simple CNC machine and expand my range of products. We’ll that’s what I thought.

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OMG It’s been too long …

10 minutes after surgery.

So you lot its been way too long, let me just bring you up to speed, in May this year I had a pretty big operation on one of my kidneys (a problem that I’ve had since I was sixteen). This put me completely out of action for at least twelve weeks. If there’s anything I learned from the whole experience it’s to stay the term in hospital until you’re one hundred percent recovered and avoid MMORPGs like the plague. I checked out two days after the operation and was not in the best of states and very uncomfortable. (Skipping out all the gross/disgusting/painful details.)  I spent the twelve weeks recovering playing a stupid game on the internet that im not going to mention either. So all this in the first year I’m trying to start a business. Meh. I don’t feel guilty at all for sessioning on a computer game, there wasn’t much I could do apart from sit in the most (un)comfortable position I could muster and pass the time till I felt better. Gradually I recovered and managed to start getting back to business. I didn’t list any sales in May so basically missed a whole month of trading, this put me behind a little and also gave the motivation to start improving monthly on my production and sales, things still aren’t brilliant but month on month things are getting better.

So what’s this thing I’ve been doing? Since early this year I started a business making vinyl sticker, signs and fitting shop windows / car decals / graphics. Every project / sticker I’ve produced has been created from scratch, no auto-trace, manually drawn and produced as vector files (SVG format / DXF), the learning curve for the vinyl cutter I’d expected to be pretty simple as there’s not much to the machine but as I discovered there are a lot of variables and techniques when working with the materials to give the best results. Small settings that are sometimes overlooked and techniques and skills you can only learn from practice and understanding the material you’re working with, what it’s capable of and what it is not. What design considerations you must make prior to production based on material and size. Knowing your machine, when its functioning correctly and when it’s not. Over the last ten months or so, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot to do with signage and sign making.

Ill save the rest for another post b/c I think it deserves it and have a feeling the next topic is going to be some what revisited over the next twelve months.