This unit will teach you how to use 2D design for digital fabrication, from choosing which software to use for which purpose to exporting your file for appropriate use. We will learn through the case study of Tattie Toys, children’s craft toys, to better understand the principles and techniques involved. From pictograms to typography to layout, you will be able to create cards, signs or packaging via a practical exercise, and then transfer them from your computer to a tangible object using the laser cutting technique (in the relevant unit).
Design a set of cards or panels using a 2D CAD software of your choice and export them for laser cutting.
A running computer with 2D CAD software installed.
Basic knowledge of a 2D CAD software.
1 hour (tbc)
2 hours (tbc)
2D design principles in CAD
A 2D design is made on a matrix on two axes, X and Y. The matrix can be fixed, to compose a raster image based on pixels, or fluid for a vector image composed of points and curves. We can then create elements (series of points that creates lines and surfaces) or modify its elements (change the color or the emplacements of those points).
2D design principles are used to create logos and visual identities, typefaces to compose texts, graphics to express a data set and graphics to teach assembly instructions for example. 2D design is used for many communication media, from print to screen to even physical objects. It is the latter that interests us here, the use of 2D design in digital manufacturing.
2D design in digital fabrication
In digital fabrication, 2D design is used to cut or engrave certain types of materials. It will be used to make things on laser cutters, vinyl cutters, on CNC machines. In fact, any machine that moves on two axes can receive 2D design as work instructions.
With a laser cutter you can use a 2D design to cut thin solid materials such as paper, wood, cardboard or plastic. Also to engrave thicker materials, such as a thick wooden board to engrave a sign for example. And finally, the laser cutter will also use a 2D design to cut or engrave soft materials such as textiles and bio materials to create patterns, garments or other elements.
Cutting patterns with a lasercutter on felt textiles.
With the vinyl cutter, you will use a 2D design to cut a roll of vinyl to make stickers and banners. The vinyl cutter can also cut rolls of thin paper for any purpose, such as rolls of thin copper foil to create flexible electronic circuits.
Cutting stickers with a vinyle cutter.
With the CNC router, you would use a 2D design to cut or engrave thicker and usually larger materials such as wood, metal or composite materials to create larger objects such as furniture. It is worth noting that a design for assembly is usually designed in 3D and then exported as flat 2D projections and sent to a CNC machine. Designing in 3D allows us to check that everything will work as intended to avoid wasting material.
CNC milling of an Eames-like chair on plywood.
In electronic design, you will also use 2D design to create your PCB (printed circuit board) which is actually a series of electronic circuits etched with a very accurate mini CNC router into a special copper plate.
A PCB milled with a mini CNC router.
Vector vs raster
Before going through the different tools needed to create a 2D file for digital fabrication, it is important to understand the difference between the two types of 2D files that you can create yourself or download from someone else.
The first type of image, and certainly the most common, is the raster image, or bitmap. This type of image is composed of a grid of pixels. The pixels, these points of various colours, make it possible to display images on the screen, by playing on the colorimetric value of each of its points.
The vector image is created according to mathematical equations, lines and curves. The points in the images have relative coordinates that can be recalculated at any change. There are no pixels in a vector image. The vector format can be easily resized without losing quality, and excels with solid colours, geometric elements and typography.
R drawn in vector with Bézier curves.
Vector is the format used to create 2D designs for digital fabrication. If you want to work with a raster image that you have downloaded from the web or a photography that you have taken, you will have to vectorize this image to be able to work with digital fabrication techniques.
2D computer-aided design softwares
Computer-aided design, CAD, software can allow the creation and editing of vector or raster images. Below is a non-exhaustive list of software worth mentioning, sorted by type of image produced. Also, when we talk about software, it is good to know and/or have in mind that there are two main categories of software. Proprietary software (P) and open-source software (OS).
Proprietary software means that the software is owned by one person and/or company. It is usually necessary to buy a license to use it, and your collaborators will also need to have their license in order to work together. The commercial aspect of proprietary software allows features to be developed according to the needs of the industry.
On the other hand, open-source software is often free to access, use and modify. It is generally maintained and improved by the community and for the community. Their development is often slower but allows features close to the users’ needs. This is the basis of the open-source movement, sharing files freely, and the tools to access and modify them.
For the exercise of this unit, we ask you to choose a vector program and to familiarise yourself with it beforehand with the help of online tutorials as you will have to create your own design afterwards.
We will not use raster software in this unit. However, this will be useful in editing your photos (retouching but also weighting) for the documentation and promotion of your digital fabrication projects. They can also be useful in the first steps of vectorisation of your images.
Raster image resolution
Resolution is the product of the width and the height of a raster image expressed in pixels. It is expressed in DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch). So the quality of a raster image is defined by its density of pixel it contains. For example, a same image of 20x20cm can have a resolution of 72 ppi (low-resolution) or 300 ppi (high-resolution). This also influences the weight of an image. For web export, it is recommanded to work with 72-150 ppi. For print export, it is recommanded to work with 150-300 ppi.
Common file extensions
A file extension, or filename extension, is a suffix at the end of a computer file. It comes after the period. File extensions are used by the operating system to identify what apps are associated with what file types.
Depending on the digital fabrication technique you choose and the machine you use, you must export your vector file in the appropriate format. Same for raster image sharing.
Vector: dxf, svg, eps, ai, dae, ps, emf.
Raster: jpg, png, gif, bmp, tiff, psd.
Case study : Tattie Toys
Now that we understand the principles of 2D design for digital fabrication, let’s analyse our case study. It is Tattie Toys, a bioplastic fossil making kit for children that raises awareness about the plastic waste issue. We chose this case study from the Distributed Design Platform Talents because it uses different ways of using 2D design through illustration design, typography and layout to create different tools such as moulds, cards and packaging. We particularly appreciate the fact that designer Daniel Lockhart has used different materials and different techniques for cutting and engraving these materials with the laser cutter to produce a simple but elegant maker project with educational value.
Through this case study we will analyse some important factors to take in consideration to 2D Design for digital fabrication.
We can observe that Lockhart has used very simple but iconic shapes to create his dinosaur illustrations. There is not so much details, the silouette are geometric and the closed shapes are made from a single outline.
What is interesting in this case study is that Lockhart has created a layout design that you can overlay. The layout work is also done in 3D. He plays with the different materialities of the surfaces chosen to make his boards. He has used plywood for the illustrations and cardboard for the informations. In your 2D designs, you can already think about the superposition of elements that will bring relief when you will assemble the different elements fabricated.
If you work with text, it is important to vectorise it when you are satisfied with your design. This is because only vectorised text can be seen as points and lines and therefore used on a fabrication machine.
Some elements can be added to the design depending on the use of the cards. For example, here they are stuck to the wall but if you are designing signs, you may want to hang them. Think about the fixing system you are going to use when you design.
Your 2D design skills can be used to complete your project with a packaging. You can easily download a template online on Templatemaker for instance and import it into your 2D Design software to start your composition. This packaging can be used to brand your project by creating a visual identity but also to add useful information to the project such as instructions for use or a brief description of the designer or the manufacturing process for example.
- Think about your project : it can be a game inspired by our case study, or a set of signs for your lab or a deck of tarot cards. Whatever drives you.
- Draw your own pictograms in a vector software. You can vectorise existing images or redraw in vector a design from an existing pictogram.
- Add information. Playing with different levels of text (title, subtitle, body) arranging a layout that includes several elements. Vectorise everything!
- Define your cards with a single outline shape.
- Export your files in a format suitable for digital fabrication.
Have you explored several 2D design softwares and chosen one that you feel comfortable with?
Are you satisfied with your illustrations and ready to transform them into physical objects through digital fabrication?
Do you see the possibilities of 2D design for object fabrication?
Do you understand how a digital image works and how software affects its creation and modification?