When I first got my hands on a laser machine years ago, I was pumped to start crafting until I tried using the clunky software it came with.
As a total beginner, I found it super confusing and frustrating. I almost returned the laser.
One of my maker friends suggested I give LightBurn a spin. And I did, and now I'm teaching you how to start using it.
I'm Unni, and I'm a laser engraving expert. I've been using LightBurn to work with my lasers for many years.
In this guide, I will provide instructions on setting up LightBurn, creating your first project, using basic tools, connecting your laser, customizing settings, and sending your first job to the laser.
First Understand the LightBurn Workspace and Tools
When you first open LightBurn, it will ask you to add a device. If you've already set it up, continue reading. If not, see how to connect your laser with LightBurn.
Once you are in, you'll notice LightBurn has a few different sections on the interface that allow you to design and control your laser jobs.
On the left, you'll see a toolbar with handy tools like shapes, lines, and text that you can use to create designs in the software's workspace, similar to other graphics programs you may have used.
Up at the top, you'll find a menu bar where you can open and manage your design files, enter dimensions for your shapes, access special tools, and more.
These panels help keep essential functions on LightBurn easily accessible.
The large open area in the center is your actual design workspace.
Over on the right side, you'll see panels like your Laser tab for controlling and monitoring your connected laser device, the Layers tab for managing your designs across different settings, etc.
One of my favorite things about LightBurn is how flexible it is to customize where all these tabs and tools are located.
You can easily drag elements around, float your favorite tabs as separate windows, hide panels you don't frequently use, and even integrate additional toolbars exactly where you want them.
Don't hesitate to experiment with the layout. If you mess things up, you can always restore the default layout by clicking the "reset to default layout" option in the "window" menu.
Essential Tools for Designing Your First Laser Cutting or Engraving Job
The left toolbar in LightBurn is your go-to hub for bringing your designs to life.
You'll find basic shape tools here, like rectangles, circles, lines, and text, that are crucial for laying out any project.
To start, choose a tool that suits your needs and click anywhere in the wide, open workspace area to start creating.
Using the selection tool, you can click and drag the edges of shapes to resize them or move them around the workspace. This will come in handy when organizing more complex designs.
You can also type in exact dimensions anytime from the top menu.
As you add shapes and text, you'll notice colored layers appear in the panel on the right side.
Here's where you designate whether you want the objects in a layer engraved or cut when it goes out to your laser.
Most intricate projects will need both modes across different layers. It's easy to create and rearrange layers as needed for your application. As you use the software, you'll get a knack for it.
I love that LightBurn allows me to quickly switch between different tools, like the selection arrow, text tool, etc., using handy keyboard shortcuts.
You can even customize the shortcuts using the built-in hotkey editor.
Connecting Your Laser to LightBurn and Customizing the Laser Settings
Getting LightBurn to communicate with your laser machine properly is easy.
First, you must ensure that your laser machine is powered on and connected to your computer via a USB cable or WiFi before opening the software.
If you don't have a laser machine at the time, you can manually create a custom device profile to access the LightBurn workspace.
When you first open LightBurn, a prompt will appear asking you to create a device profile for your laser.
If you have the laser connected, choose "Find My Laser," LightBurn will automatically detect compatible lasers.
If your laser is undetected, you may need to install drivers for your machine. The laser manufacturer will most likely have a documentation section on their website explaining this.
If you don't have a laser, choose "Create Manually." This will open up a new window.
From here, you can select the controller on your device, choose the connection, set its work area size, origin, etc.
After adding your laser, name your laser, enable limit switches for auto-homing if available, and click finish.
Now, your laser status should appear as "Ready" in LightBurn, indicating it's ready to start designing and cutting.
Before starting on real materials, I recommend exploring the laser settings panel to optimize your engraving and cutting process.
Here, you can directly enter your laser's speed, power, and other options based on what your laser manufacturer recommends for the material you plan to use.
Want to learn more about finding laser settings? Read our guide on laser power testing and calibration.
The "Quick Settings" area makes it super easy to tweak options across your design layers.
Just use the handy copy/paste arrows on the right side above the quick settings to copy settings from one layer to another.
You can always find more settings about the job by double-clicking the layers.
Click on the "Edit" menu to find more options to edit settings related to the machine and software.
Taking the time to dial in these personalized settings will have your laser producing perfect engravings and clean-cut edges.
Finally, Tips on Starting the Laser Job and Monitoring Progress
Once the design is ready and the settings have been optimized, you can send the job to the laser.
But before that, preview the job and make sure the laser shows the cuts and engraving the way you want.
Once you are satisfied with the preview, you can run the job by clicking the "Start" button.
Here's a quick checklist for you,
- Secure material firmly to the laser bed using tape/clamps to prevent shifting during high-speed engraving/cutting.
- Align material precisely at the laser origin point so designs are engraved or cut in the correct locations.
- Calibrate the laser's focal length for optimal beam focus on the material surface.
- Use LightBurn's real-time monitoring view to track laser head movement and remaining time estimates.
- Visually inspect cuts or engraves in progress. Watch for scorching, unwanted heat effects, and beam deviations.
- Listen for odd sounds indicating material or machine issues, and adjust settings if needed.
- Allow materials to cool completely after laser job completion before handling to prevent damage.
While I've covered many initial basics, there's still so much capability within LightBurn for you to explore.
I highly recommend going in-depth about the software by watching YouTube video tutorials and reading the official documentation.
The support forum available on the LightBurn website is also an invaluable learning resource.
Here's a quick video where I explain some handy LightBurn tips:
If at any point you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or simply want structured guidance in leveling up your LightBurn skills, we offer a paid LightBurn course, walking through all the concepts step-by-step.
Our individual guidance can help you overcome roadblocks and leverage more advanced LightBurn features faster.