Alien Love Worms


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!


Figure 1: screenshot of Gabriel Schama's website

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.


Figure 2: Alien Love Worm ~ instagram

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


Figure 3: 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: layer-0.svg, layer-1, layer-2.svg, layer-3.svg, layer-4.svg, layer-5.svg

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.


Joining paths/shapes should be easy. 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?


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


Figure 4: decomposed layers

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

Share your thoughts or ideas for improvements at instagram, twitter or the glowforge community forums.