Alien Love Worms


October 28, 2018


Around the time the glowforge was announced, I saw some inspiring art that had many layered cuts. I thought they were paper, turns out they are by an artist named Gabriel Schama, and are:

  • huge! many are six to eight feet tall/wide
  • cut in a (thin) plywood!

screenshot of

Presenting “Alien Love Worm”

For my first design I wanted to do a paper cut. Living near the coast, I wanted to encorporate a whale tail, waves, a peace sign and hearts.

Alien Love Worm
  • Technology / Process

I’ve been using Adobe Illustrator to build the SVG graphics that I’ve cut so far. And while I want to explore building designs with code, it would add more uncertainity.

I’m a novice at illustrator, especially getting it to work for the glowforge (which only looks at the paths to determine where to score/cut.)

I’m also a novice at composing a “mandala” like pattern in illustrator.

Using a tutorial showing how to create a mandala, I cobbled together an approach that worked for me:

the setup

  • create a wedge that you will repeat in a circle
  • convert that to a symbol
  • transform/rotate the symbol in your illustration to the next location
  • repeat using hotkey command d until you have all the sections

building a layer

  • enter editing mode by double clicking on the object using v mode
  • draw you paths for this layer, using arcs, lines and svg shapes for things likes the tail
  • spend a long time trying to convert shape to fill (to help visualize layers)
  • exit editing mode to see the changes apply to all the object in the pattern

rinse and repeat

  • Then I would duplicate the layer in the layers dialog, making sure to select it and lock previous
  • And duplicate the symbol it used in the symbols dialog
  • select all the objects in the new layer, and in the properties dialog change the symbol to the new copy
  • then I would alter/update

final composition as viewed in illustrator

finish & export

After I was completely done (including multiple times messing up which symbol I was editing and many revisions of the design…)

  • object/expand all of the symbols.
  • then I exported each layer to a different svg per layer
  • then upload to glowforge to cut them


Here are my 8” square layers:

experiment and cut

There were a few pages on the glowforge forum discussing cut settings (power & speed). This one about cutting 110lb card stock seemed to be right on. Although I lowered both the speed and the power a bit. I ended up using 400/40 (speed/power) on my glowforge basic.


I’m relatively happy with the composition. And the effect on paper is so much nicer than on the screen.

Exporting & Cutting

Rather than having one svg per layer… having to export, upload, setup, … I should have realized that each layer was already a different stroke color. This would have enabled exporting once, and using glowforge’s web ui to select combinations of layers to cut in the paper.

Illustrator Just use the pathfinder tool right? Or just use join after direct select… I eventually figured out a way to get it to work, but it wasn’t easy.

In the end, I spent way too long fixated on getting the fills to look right.

There has to be a better way to visualize how the cuts will end up looking. (hrm… hack idea: visualize the cuts in multiple layers in html/js/svg/…)

Wrong approach?

  • should I be working in code instead of illustrator for part of the process?
  • should I be working with gradients/brushes to draw color/depth maps. Then quantize into layers it at the end?
  • should I ignore the fills and just look at the stroke colors?

Wrapping Up

I’m happy with the initial results. Especially given the beautiful card stock I appropriated from my daughters.

decomposed layers

I’ve ordered more card stock, and some frames. So more experiments soon!

Share your thoughts or ideas for improvements on twitter or the my post on glowforge community forums.