Creating Laser Cut Tabbed Boxes in Inkscape

Introduction

Making tabbed boxes is one of the most basic designs for laser cutting. It is the start of an infinite number of projects from storage containers to enclosures for projects.


In this tutorial, we'll go over installing the TabbedBoxMaker extension for Inkscape, using the extension, making simple edits to the design, and sending the final design to the glowforge laser.


Before starting, please make sure that have downloaded and installed the latest version of Inkscape to your computer.


Installing the TabbedBoxMaker Extension

Inkscape is an open-source vector drawing program. There is an incredibly large community of contributors that have created and shared a variety of tools as add-ons to enhance the built-in functionality of the program. One of my most used extensions is the TabbedBoxMaker.


To start, download the TabbedBoxMaker by clicking here. This will take you to the github link where you can download all of the files: boxmaker.inx, boxmaker.py, and schroffmaker.inx.



Move these files to the extensions folder. The directory location varies depending on your operating system, but I suggest moving it to the directory for the computer for all users.


Windows

  • User: %APPDATA%\inkscape\extensions

  • Machine (All Users)): C:\Program Files\Inkscape\share\inkscape\extensions

Mac

  • User: ~/Library/Application Support/org.inkscape.Inkscape/config/inkscape/extensions

  • Machine (All Users): /Applications/Inkscape.app/Contents/Resources/share/inkscape/extensions


Using the Tabbed Box Maker Extension

To use the tabbed box maker, click on the Extensions toolbar > CNC Tools > CNC Tabbed Box Maker…



The following window will pop-up. Most of the settings are pretty straight-forward. A few suggestions. Set the units to inches. Measure the material that you are going to laser cut. Typical thin plywood is 3 mm or or 0.12". The kerf is the cut width of the laser. On our laser, it is approximately 0.005".


Set the length, width, and height of the box. If you want the box to be open on the top, change the Box Type to One side open (LxW). The Min/Preferred Width is the width of the tabs. Make sure it is set to less than ½ of the smallest side, and click Apply.


You'll see a layout for the box generated on your document. Now, edit and add features to the box.

Editing and adding features

Before you can manipulate the sides, we need to join / close each of the sides. To do this, click on a side, and ungroup the lines (CTRL+SHIFT+G).


Notice that each of the four sides of this piece are not joined. They are separate 'paths'. To join them, click on the Edit paths by nodes tool.



The Edit paths by nodes tool is just under the select tool. You can also select this by tapping the (N) key on your keyboard.

Select all four sides by clicking drawing a selection box around all four sides. Click on the Edit paths by nodes (N) tool. Then, select the nodes at each corner and join them by tapping SHIFT+J. Repeat this for all four corners. The corner paths are joined when there's a node visible in the corner.


Repeat this same process for the other sides of the box.


Editing the paths by subtracting one path from the other.

One of the best tricks in design is learning how to use additive and subtractive methods to generate the desired outline or shape. If you've ever used TinkerCAD, this is the primary ways we manipulate shapes like rectangular solids and cylinders to create things like mounting plates with holes.


For this project, we want to add a notch the one of the sides to serve as a drawer pull. To do this, we draw a rounded rectangle across the edge and then subtract the two paths from each other.


Here are the basic steps:

  • Start by drawing a rectangle over the edge that we want to create the notch.

  • After drawing the rectangle, tap the ESC key twice or until you have the select tool.

  • Click on the rectangle three times or until you see a white node show up in the corner. This control node will affect the curve radius at the corners.

  • Click and drag this node down to make the corner rounded. You can see the actual radius at the top of the screen, but you can also just go by eye. I generally like a radius of about 0.125"

  • Now, hold SHIFT and click the rectangle and the side to select both shapes. Align the shapes (CTRL+SHIFT+A) centered vertically.

  • Finally, subtract the paths by going to the Path toolbar >> Difference or by tapping (CTRL + -) (control+minus).


This technique can be used to modify / adapt any of the other sides as well. You can play with the other path functions as well. There are Union, Difference, Intersection, Exclusion, Division, and Cut Path. Play around with these. If it doesn't do what you want, use the Undo command (CTRL+Z) to go back.


Adding & Modifying Text

After adding features like handles, holes, and other physical modifications, now we can add the final touches with text and labels to engrave.


To add text, use the text tool (T) to add text to your design. You can select the tool on the lefthand side of the screen or just tap the (T) key on your keyboard. Click anywhere on your screen to add text.


After typing in the text, modify the font and the size of the text to fit in your design.


Finally, align the text to your design using the align tool (CTRL+SHIFT+A).


Before finalizing this and using it with the laser, we need to convert the text to a path that can be cut or engraved by the laser.


Tap ESC key a few times to return to the select tool. Click the text once to select it. Now, convert the object to a path by going to the Path toolbar >> Object to Path or by tapping (CTRL +SHIFT+ C)


After doing this, the text is no longer editable. Each letter is now a closed path. If you click on the text a couple of times, you'll go into the edit path by node and see the nodes that make up each letter.


Clean up your design with any other features and then save your final design as an SVG file to import into the Glowforge app.


The Glowforge Laser App


Turn on the laser cutter and go to app.glowforge.com


Login using your login or the generic account

username: **********

password: *&^%^!@#!


Click Upload and select the SVG file that you created.



The design will load and you will see a picture of the material in the laser cutter. If it is proof-grade material from Glowforge, it will automatically detect the material from the QR code. If it's not, you'll have to select the material by clicking on the uncertified material text in the upper left corner. For the standard 3 mm plywood, use the Medium Basswood Plywood proof-grade settings.


The design will be separated by the different color lines and fills. Fills will be defaulted as engrave and the lines will default to cuts.


For cutting on the Medium Basswood Plywood

  • Speed: 170

  • Power: FULL


Engraving takes a long time. Play around with the Lines per Inch setting to speed up projects. I generally use Draft Graphic Engrave with a setting of 195 LPI, but you can generally reduce the resolution down to 170 to 195 LPI without much noticeable effects.


That's it. Click on the Print button on the upper right corner, turn on the filter, and push the glowing button on the Glowforge laser.


Good luck and happy lasering!

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