Preparing Artwork for Engraving

You want to have a custom engraving on your card box. But you're on a budget, so you want to do the artwork prep yourself. How do you do that.

Start with high-resolution artwork

The artwork for engraving should be at least 300dpi. If you have artwork that's even higher resolution, that's rarely a problem. However, trying to scale up lower resolution artwork quickly has issues. The ultimate here is a vector graphic. Vector graphics can scale up or down to any size, so they're perfect for engraving.

Start with sharp artwork.

The artwork should be sharp. If you feed in a fuzzy image, you'll get a fuzzy image back. Some pieces can be rescued by Photoshop (magic lasso) or Corel Draw (convert to black and white / line art), but I've seem pieces whose edges were so indistinct that they had to be tossed.

Make it black and white

The laser engraver we have access to only takes black and images for engraving. Even then, it's picky. If you convert it to black and white line art in Corel Draw, you have to "Export" the image, you can't "Save" it - even though you end up with a .png/.gif/.bmp either way. The laser software doesn't like files that were "saved"- they have to have been exported.

Allow for adjustment

If you want the artwork to fill the side of the box, allow extra artwork that can be cropped off. The engraving machine can't engrave at its true origin, so adjusting the origin introduces an uncertainty. Having some extra artwork that can run off the edge helps allow for this.

Five examples

Here are 5 examples of artwork from some boxes that we did recently.

Example 1: Unusable- Not sharp

This image has a couple problems. At 309x361, it's a bit lower resolution than optimal -especially vertically. However, in wood it could probably stretch to fit on lid and be OK. The bigger issue is that the edges of the design were so fuzzy that it wasn't possible to convert it to black and white with clean edges. The image you see is after some cleanup was done. This artwork was replaced entirely with another image. This second image is only slightly bigger (224x356), but is a LOT sharper and easily converted to black and white line art.


Example 2: Usable, but not good.

A piece of artwork that while usable required a lot of work. The image on the left was one that was usable, but it took quite a bit of work to clean up. Notice how there's lots of grey areas- it's not just two color red/black. This makes it hard to convert to black and white line art. Also notice that it will need to be rotated to be straight on the box. After a lot of hand editing/erasing of the grey areas, it was cleaned up to the image on the right. Notice that even after cleanup, it's not perfectly symmetric and still isn't perfectly level. The bad but usable image after it was cleaned up.


Example 3: An Excellent piece

An example of a good piece of artwork.  High resolution and sharp edged. The original image the customer provided for this was, like the rose above, unusable. However, when we informed him of the problem he found this image that was practically perfect. The image he provided was 836x818 (it was resized for the web here)- more than enough resolution for the end of a box. It was black and white with nice, sharp edges, and it was rotated properly.

Example 4: A good piece with some minor issues

A good piece of artwork with some problems- layout lines were left and it wasn't quite scalable. The image to the left, at first glance, looks excellent. The customer had it drawn by a friend and scanned, so it was created for his box. With an original resolution of 864x959, it was high enough resolution, even after cropping it shrank it a bit. It was also nice and crisp, black and white.

So what's not to like? The layout lines here are a double edged sword. They help communicate how you want the graphic layed out on the box - but since they're not really part of the image they need to be cleaned up before engraving. More difficult to fix is that to make this image fit vertically, it shrank to where it was inside the edges of the box horizontally. This prevented the image from truly filling the side of the box and had to be fixed by hand (a woodburner was used to extend the arms to the end of the box)

So how would you avoid issues? The problem of the layout lines is easy to fix- crop the image and/or erase the lines. If you want to illustrate your desired layout- include 2 images, one with the layout lines, and a clean copy for engraving. Fixing the second problem is also simple- oversize the artwork so there's some extra room to allow adjustments while engraving.

Example 5: An example of adjustment space.

A good example that allowed for adjustment on the laser.This image came from the same box as example 4. And like example 4, it required some cleanup of layout lines. After cleanup it looked like the image on the right (before conversion to true black/white line art)


You don't see the difference? That's why this issue is hard to . The images alone look fine. However, when they were laid out on the box the forest image couldn't be scaled enough horizontally to reach both edges without pushing details vertically off the edges- as it is the forest symbol is into the lid of the box. The red/mountain image, however, easily stretched in both directions so it looked great. Here's the final images. If you didn't see the originals you wouldn't know that the red one was cropped.

The final image engraved on the box.

So why does it matter?

Simply, it matters because any time we spend fixing issues with your artwork is a cost we have to pass on to you. Even if it's an easy fix, just copying the image, loading Photoshop or whatever tool we'll use to fix it, and saving it again takes time. Fixing things post-engraving take time. The closer to perfect you can have your artwork, the less we'll have to charge you.

A custom box done for the 2006 Chicago Kotei
A box branded with the Ratling mon and with an honor counter lid
A box made of purpleheart and avoidre, branded with the Unicorn Mon on the lid.
A box done in crab clan colors with a mon counter lid.
A box done in dragon clan colors with a mon counter lid.