2D Design Resources

All things to do with 2D Design, with a focus on tips and resources for targeting Laser Cutting, CNC milling, Plasma cutting, etc…

Other Stuff

Interesting things that don’t really fit anywhere else.

  • Bitmap to vector converter - unlike Inkscape or similar converter, this draws the pixel outlines (as squares.) Also converts to 3D file formats.
  • Shape Packer - redraws an image using many copies of another image, rotated and scaled. Free for non-commercial use.
  • metapixel - command line photomosaic generator. Very powerful, and can be used for unusual projects (because it can be easily used in scripts.) E.g. Julian created “portraits” of a team of colleagues where the “pixels” were pdf renderings of pages of code that they had edited.

General Information

Templates and Clipart

Playing Cards


  • Iconian Fonts has an amazing selection of high quality fonts. They’re free for non-commercial use, and $20USD per font for commercial use. Dan Zadorozny, the creator, is responsive and helpful.

Drawing Apps

For CNC/Laser/Plasma you usually want to work with vector, not bitmap art. Read this article if you’re not sure what the difference is.

List of Apps


Excellent. Free.

  • Inkscape’s home
  • Read the tutorials. Really! They’re surprisingly short, and very, very, very (did I say “very”?) useful
  • Make sure you understand the differences between a stroke and a path.
  • Converting strokes to paths, and then combining is a great way to ‘fix’ artwork. Especially program generated stuff that has overlapping lines (e.g. from TurtleJS)
  • Inkscape for Cutting Design Forums
  • Shapeoko’s page on Inkscape
    • Key hint: “The default is to include stroke width in object dimensions. It is more straight-forward if such is not included. One can either work w/ objects which have no stroke, but fill only, or change the preference: Edit | Preferences — under Tools choose the radio button to use Geometric bounding box (this excludes stroke width from the size, making calculation, placement and sizing easier)”

Simplifying/Optimizing Images

Overlapping lines are bad for laser cutting/CNC.
The tools will hit the same area over and over again… both slow and can ruin the results.

  • manually moving paths to a new layer can help spot these problems… but not self-intersecting paths (lines that draw over themselves)
  • This inkscape plugin can help with this.
  • Illustrator has some tools built in. This tutorial explains how.
  • Making posters (breaking images up into chunks for printing on smaller printers) PosteRazor

Converting Bitmaps to Vector

Many uses for this:

  • simplifying a bitmap to pick out key details or colors
  • making a low res bitmap scale nicely

There are two common types of conversion.

The first, which is built into inkscape, looks for areas of color, generates an outline and a solid fill.

In inkscape the stroke is turned off.

This is great for representing the whole image.

But it’s not useful for getting vector lines to drive a laser cut, or CNC routing.

The other type of conversion tries to look for pen/brush strokes and estimates where the center of the stroke is. This is useful for profile cutting, V-bit engraving, and also making vector line art. (Vector line art can sometimes be much faster than raster engraving on the laser. Set the laser out of focus by 4-10mm and you’ll get a wider vector engrave line.)

There is a centre-line trace plugin for inkscape. Note: the installation instructions are out of date. Look in the releases section and you should find a ready-to-go installer (thanks to this tip.)


A common format for 2D vector art work

  • svgo - SVG optimizer. Mostly for size reduction. Be warned, some optimizations can destroy the artwork. Keep backups and check things look right!


Arranging parts to minimize wasted material

  • SVGNest- online and free. Open source project hosted on github.
    • Hints:
      • only does outlines
      • all parts must be closed
      • include a simple square that represents the area of your stock material
      • for laser engraving (rastering) could export as outlines, use SVGNest, import (to a new layer), and manually align full pieces to outline. Remember to remove the nest generated outlines- you don’t want the laser cutting twice and burning things or doing cuts before rastering!
  • Deepnest App

SVG Presentation Software

  • Sozi works closely with Inkscape and creates prezi-like animated presentations. The idea is that the presentation is a single “poster” that you move around and highlight certain areas.
    • it works closely with inkscape
    • they have an Inkscape extension that allows for the embedding of audio and video clips

Template Designers

Enter some details and get pre-computed designs for boxes, cabinets, Pokemon, etc

Index Separation/Indexed Images

Reducing the number of colors in an image to a palette with a limited number of colors.

Index separation is the term used for screen printing. The palette of colours will be made up of eg Pantone colours.

Most image editing software can produce “indexed” images. But care must be used- “solarized” (solid blocks of color) vs dithered (harder to screen print.)


The process of representing a bigger colour palette by combining small dots of a limited number of colours together, fooling the eye into seeing more shades.

Trades spatial resolution for colour.

Most image editing programs will have some dithering options.

PhotoDemon (free, for windows) offers the largest number of dithering algorithms and options of all programs Julian has tried.

The process


The process of representing shades or colours using patterns of differently sized “dots”.

Programmatic Generators

Writing programs that generate 2D designs.

  • Processing: “Processing is a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts.”
  • Context Free Art: “Context Free is a program that generates images from written instructions called a grammar. The program follows the instructions in a few seconds to create images that can contain millions of shapes.”
  • paper.js: “Paper.js — The Swiss Army Knife of Vector Graphics Scripting.”