I remember back in elementary school when your punishment for misbehaving in class was detention. Detention usually involved the guilty handwriting of a repetitive line of text on the chalkboard. “I will not talk during class,” was a common line of text the lucky recipient got to write.
As laser engravers, we, too, get those repetitive type jobs. These mundane jobs can strangely end up being some of your most profitable. Once the setup is complete, surprises are rare, and these repetitious jobs are not only easy to run, but they help you calculate your laser output.
METHODS OF COMPLETION
Often, these repetitive jobs involve a consistent design along with some simple line changes. These line changes, also known as block changes, usually take the form of a name or date change.
There are many different methods of completing these block changes. The most basic technique is to manually duplicate the general layout and then modify the line of text requiring changes. We have all done this and I think we would all agree that this is rather painstaking, especially on large jobs. The problem with this type of technique is that chance of human error increases when you are forced to re-enter the changes. Simply put, your chance of a spelling mistake is heightened every time you are forced to make block changes.
I remember in the late ’80s when we used to engrave a large quantity of name badges for a regional bank. The engraving operator would be forced to type all the name changes after obtaining the information from a printed work order. For some reason, it was the common names like Jeff or Frank that were entered incorrectly and not names like Ambrosia or Thelonious.
Today, many of your customers will gladly supply you with some sort of electronic list, whether it is a Microsoft Word document or a spreadsheet. By using the pre-made list, you can minimize the chance of human error (at least on your behalf!).
Using the client supplied electronic list can save you the hassle of retyping the information. On the most basic level, the laser operator simply copies the block changes and then pastes that information into CorelDraw using the universal copy and paste method. I would recommend that, at minimum, you familiarize yourself with the shortcut of the copy and paste method. To copy the information, hold down the CTRL key and then press C. Then go to your CorelDraw file where you will be making the block changes and paste the information by holding down the CTRL key and pressing V. Another technique to expedite the process is to have both screens open and visible, which will minimize having to switch screens.
The two basic methods of implementing block changes are certainly viable and extremely functional, but what do you do if your job involves a large amount of name or block changes? Certainly, you could just replicate all those steps, but on larger jobs, that can be time consuming. The old saying, “Time is money,” comes into play for situations like this.
For larger jobs like this, you can utilize the print merge function found in CorelDraw. Print merge takes an auxiliary file, usually in the form of a .txt file, and merges these block changes right into CorelDraw. While the basic principles for print merge are similar in all versions of CorelDraw, there are some different nuances you need to be aware of.
I have found that the newer the version of CorelDraw is easier to use with the print merge function. My recommendation is to visit YouTube.com using search terms such as “print merge” and “CorelDraw.” By doing so, you will be supplied with numerous videos which are specific to your version of CorelDraw. (For more CorelDraw tips, check out fellow A&E contributor Jim Sadler’s column.)
One issue that always seems to creep up when dealing with the print merge function is the concern with really long names or long blocks of text. In most true engraving software, the text will be squeezed into the prescribed margins, but in CorelDraw that’s not an option. For a good tutorial regarding this topic, I strongly suggest you search within Youtube “auto condensing text with CorelDraw Print Merge.” This video features Mr. Roy Brewer of Engraving Specialties who is located in Arlington, Texas. In my opinion, this might be the best 11 minutes you ever spend watching a video if you want to learn about auto condensing text using print merge.
Another video that I recommend you watch is by Niels Norby of SD Trophy in Carlsbad, California. You can find this YouTube video by searching “Corel Print Merge Niels Norby.” In this video, you are shown how to easily merge text into CorelDraw while combining multiple pages into one layout. This is a useful time saver, especially if you choose to fill your laser bed.
THE MACRO LEVEL
If you are extremely computer savvy, you could go and create your own Macros. Macros are little sub-programs that operate inside programs such as CorelDraw. They can be used for a multitude of applications such as cropping photos, rotating graphics and merging text. Essentially, any step that you consistently repeat, you can create a macro for. To learn more about Macros, I suggest you consult the help forums for CorelDraw.
If you are like me and appreciate the time savings a small little program can create, then you might want to look at providers who sell these pre-made macros. A simple search on the Internet with terms like “CorelDraw macros” will provide you numerous third-party companies who provide different pre-made macros.
A fellow laser engraver referred me to a particular vendor who offers some really neat and interesting CorelDraw macros that appeal to laser engravers. The vendor is called Macro Monster and they can be found at www.macromonster.com. We use one of their macros called “Alexander Penkin’s VariablesTool 2.” It allows the laser operator to merge text, photos and even QR codes with relative ease. The macro gives the user control to add crop marks and an auto numbering option. Presently, this program costs $49.95 and is good for two computers.
I had a chance to speak with Jeff Harrison from Macromoster and he told me that they are “the number one site for CorelDraw add-ons.” Harrison shared that he is an official beta tester for CorelDraw and a certified CorelDraw trainer across the globe.
I asked Harrison if there was a particular macro that appeals to the laser engraver. He recommended that their newer macro called “E-Cut” offers a myriad of features for the user such as variable text, nesting, variable imaging, variable bar coding and cut optimization. “For ten dollars more, you get all the great benefits of Alexander Penkin Variable Tools 2, but packed with even more features,” says Harrison.
Before you go ahead and purchase a macro, you need to ensure that it will work with your version of CorelDraw and your operating system. Many of the macros will not work on the older versions of CorelDraw.
As a laser engraver, you will be challenged with complex and routine jobs. But, by using some different techniques or implementing some CorelDraw add-ons, you can streamline those repetitive tasks with ease.