Design students at Nottingham Trent University have been expressing their creativity using GS UK’s laser cutters. Images takes a look at these machines and their commercial applications
GS UK visited this year’s degree shows at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to discover what the next generation of up-and-coming designers create when using the company’s laser cutting machines. The fashion and textile students’ final year projects displayed a variety of garment decoration techniques, from French knotting to laser cutting and engraving.
“NTU degree shows are always interesting and inspiring, demonstrating a diverse range of applications for the laser cutters,” says Sean Barker, sales manager at GS UK.
The department at NTU houses a number of GS UK flatbed laser cutting machines as well as a GraphixScan (see ‘A quick guide to GS UK’s laser technology’ for product details). “The versatility of the laser machines ensures that they can be used for both cutting and engraving on a large selection of media – textiles, plastics, wood, acrylic etcetera,” explains Sean.
Textile design student Jenny Gallagher, 23, has just completed her three-year degree at NTU. She used the GraphixScan to laser engrave fabric. “I specialised in print, but I always liked the tangibility of laser and the fact that it changes the look if you print then do laser on top. I had tested quite a lot of laser etch, and I really like the depth that it gives to the fabric.”
Her entire final collection was hand screen printed before being laser engraved. Although the bed of the GraphixScan is just 48 cm by 48 cm and Jessica was working on a large scale, she says that once she had the hang of it, the process was quite easy: “It’s not a difficult machine to use.”
For those garment decorators that are considering using such a machine, she has this advice: “Try lots of different fabrics and start on the low settings and work your way up – and record everything. Then you can look back and see what works and what doesn’t work, because even changing the settings slightly makes such a difference. Be as experimental as possible.” She’s currently experimenting with using laser on denim, with good results so far.
Fellow textile design student, Jessica Austin, 21, used the laser cutter to create appliqué shapes on a dress. She chose to do the project because she was interested in the authenticity of handcrafts and new technology, and used both the laser cutter and an embroidery machine, as well as hand-sewing beads and creating French knots.
Although initially Jessica found the laser cutter tricky, this soon changed: “As soon as you get to grips with it, it’s really easy to understand that the lines you’re drawing are going to be cut through or going to be engraved.” She recommends making the lines as precise as possible when using the laser cutter: “I know some of the students drew round the images in Illustrator and then imported that [file] into the software that we used [with the cutter].”
SEAN BARKER’S QUICK GUIDE TO LASER TECHNOLOGY
Tell us more about GS UK’s laser cutters
The company’s CNC laser-cutting machines are certified Class 1 laser machines, and are made in the UK. They use sealed CO2 lasers that are either water- or air-cooled, and are interlocked and fully enclosed for safety.
And the GraphixScan?
The GraphixScan is a high-speed galvo laser engraving machine and works with GS UK’s LMS Marker system software.
What can these machines do?
They can cut appliqué shapes of any complexity complete with a smooth, sealed edge. A reverse appliqué procedure is also possible, which is where fabrics are layered and just the top layer is cut to reveal the layer beneath.
The machines can also laser cut letters and numbers for heat application. Using Stitch Fabric to do this gives the impression the shape has been embroidered.
What does engraving involve?
Both vector engraving and raster engraving is possible. Vector engraving is when the laser follows the path of a vector in a vector-based file, such as Adobe Illustrator. Speed and power is set by the user depending on the media being engraved. In GS UK’s software there is a Material Manager facility that allows users to store their cutting/engraving specifications for different media.
Raster engraving is when a raster-based file is used, such as a JPG, although a solid vector file can also be used. Raster engraving is used when the decorator wants to ‘fill in’ an image, and is often used when a photographic-style result is needed. The machine automatically adjusts the power levels to create the different tones, with high power usually needed for the darker areas and lower power for the lightest areas.
Contact Sean Barker or visit the GS UK website for more information on the laser cutters and GraphixScan machines.