How to Export Files for Laser-Cutting in Fusion 360

How to Export Files for Laser-Cutting in Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a great piece of CAD software and with parametric modeling, we can create files for laser cutting that can be exported for multiple material thicknesses. The addition of the MapBoards Pro plugin gives us a great way to quickly export a 3D model of an assembled laser cutting file into a DXF, or flat vector shapes that can then be sent to our laser cutter. The process isn’t perfect as there are a couple hoops we need to jump through to get it working, but the end result is definitely a satisfactory one. While Fusion 360 is one of the best options for creating laser cutting files, you may also want to look at another contender in this area; OnShape (we’ll have more tutorials for OnShape in the future). While I’m a fan of both, I prefer the modeling experience in Fusion 360 to OnShape, so I tend to use that instead. Both are great options, though!

This post aims to get you comfortable exporting your laser cutting files with different material thicknesses. As a result, you can offer your laser cut file to makers who have materials of almost any thickness and this process is particularly helpful with laser cutting files that use finger joinery. I’m also assuming you already know how to model in Fusion 360. We’ll just be focusing on exporting a previously-modeled design using MapBoards.

The Alternatives

OnShape has this functionality built in. The pro version of Fusion 360 also has this functionality, but a lot of hobbyist makers aren’t interested in paying around $500/year for the software. Luckily the hobbyist version of Fusion 360 is free and with a one-time purchase of the MapBoards Pro plugin for USD $25, hobbyists can get this functionality for way less coin. We should note we’re not affiliated with Fusion 360, onshape, or the developers of MapBoards in any way. We’ve just used Fusion along with MapBoards and are pretty satisfied with its speed and ease-of-use. Since our preferred modeling program here at Cutting Paths is Fusion, this is the fastest solution we’ve found for quickly and easily exporting a 3D finger joint model to a DXF file to be cut on a laser cutter.

software chart for exporting laser cutting files

Our Preferred Method:

Fusion 360 (hobbyist version) + the MapBoards Pro Plugin.

The Process

Step 1

Add the MapBoards Pro plug-in to Fusion 360. Let’s assume you’ve made a beautiful 3D model in Fusion 360 with finger joinery that you’d like to export and send to your laser cutter. The first thing you’ll want to do is download and add the plugin to your Fusion 360 install. Running the downloaded MapBoards Pro file should install and automatically add it to Fusion 360.

Step 2

When your model is ready to be exported, in the SOLID tab, click CREAT, then MapBoards Pro. For this tutorial, we’re using a simple playing card box that has been modeled in Fusion 360.

Step 3

You can now choose to export the entire model, or only parts of the model. I’m going to click the component in the left browser menu to select the entire thing. You’ll notice the MapBoards Pro window has been populated with each piece of this component. In our example, the component has 8 pieces. One important setting here is the Material Width & Length. Set this to the actual size of the material you’re cutting, the size of your work area, or just make it a custom size that will be large enough to fit all the pieces.

Step 4

Click the Settings tab to open the export settings. This is where we can adjust the options for the exported file.

Step 5

There are a lot of options you can tweak here. You can play around with them to see what each does. Once you have these set to your liking, you won’t need to change them much. For a reference, here’s how we configure the export settings:

A few important settings here:

Map Output Type: We’ve had good results with DXF.

Component Spacing: This lets you choose the spacing between each piece and should be set to 1-3mm.

Laser Kerf: If you’re sharing this for other people to use, it’s important to leave Laser Kerf at 0.00. This way, they can adjust the kerf to suit their own machine.

Save as Defaults: Make sure you click this save button so you don’t need to re-enter these settings on your next export.

Step 6

When you’re happy with your settings, click the OK button on the bottom of the MapBoards window and save the file locally. Mapboards will process each shape and export them into your chosen file type.

Step 7

Now that your file has been exported, you can open it in a vector editing program, or just import it into Lightburn and start cutting!

One quick note on Illustrator: When you import a DXF file into Illustrator, it will prompt you about scaling the file before it opens it. You’ll want to set Scale to 1, Unit(s) to 1 and  choose the same unit type(in, mm, cm) that you used in Fusion 360. Our playing card tray example design was built in millimeters, so I’ll choose 1 Scale, 1 Unit(s) and “Millimeters“.

Let’s see what our finished piece looks like!

mapboards pro laser cutting file result
These cards are form a board game called ‘7 Wonders Duel’

Conclusion

And that is it! Now you should be able to export those complex finger joints from Fusion 360 pretty quickly and efficiently. We’re always open to feedback and the software is always changing so if you have a process that’s even more efficient than this, let us know in the comments and maybe we might add your process as its own tutorial. Thanks for reading!

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