Ridin' With Rio
When she asked if those puzzles were just regular ol' puzzles, or if they also had the special pieces cut into them, I realized how bad of a job I was doing at actually showing off what I was doing!
"Yes, ma'am. Those puzzles definitely have all of the fun, whimsical pieces."
And that's when the title of this Ridin' with Rio blog post created itself...
"These are the coolest jigsaw puzzles!"
"Well, thank you!!" (I suck at taking compliments, by the way)
Critique 101: How To Be a Better Designer (or everything else) Through Critique
Judger: the person that is criticizing; the critic.
Criticizing: analyzing and judging both the merits and faults of a work
Critique: the detailed assessment that comes from criticizing
Critique has such a negative connotation — it’s most often associated with a negative view of what’s wrong with something, and then often met with a reaction that stems deep within the gut of someone trying to defend their work, or simply brushing it off with an “I don’t care what you jerks think” attitude. But, criticizing and the subsequent critique is an invaluable element to the design process.
Why is it so hard to accept? We self-critique a project as we’re designing it, right? That element doesn’t feel right like that, in that place, at that scale, how about I do this… the process of iteration as you’re creating something is inherently self-criticism. Much of the issue with accepting criticism from external judgers is that we don’t know how to approach and deliver criticism. Quite often, feelings are injected into the criticism: I hate this, I don’t like this, I love this. Hate, like, love: all words that should never make their way from your brain to your mouth (or fingers if typing it up).
What is the piece or design trying to accomplish and did it meet those goals? What made it a success? What is hindering the piece from being a success in your eyes? What could it make it even more successful?
John: This really works for me because…
Jane: The use of … distracts me from the overall message of the piece.
John: The colors just don’t work for me. They fight for my attention and compete with one another.
Jane: The texture of this piece pulls it all together for me.
John, in what could be considered both positive and negative comments is a critic that is critiquing in both statements. Jane, with both positive and negative views is also a critic that is critiquing in both statements. Both John and Jane critiqued in a manner of what makes the design successful or unsuccessful in meeting the artists objective in their viewpoint.
Bob: I hate that you used comic sans.
Sandra: I think that’s the ugliest color.
Who cares, Bob and Sandra? Learn to criticize! Hate, think: those are statements of feelings and while they may be part of your interpretation of the work, should never be conveyed in your judgement of the work. If you’re curious why the designer used comic sans or that particular shade of baby puke green - ask them. What were you trying to achieve using Comic Sans? Why did you choose that color? In the absence of being able to have a discussion, one must use their critical analysis skills to see what the piece is trying to convey and achieve, and determine if the elements you felt were so disgusting actually just might work. Baby puke green and comic sans both have their places in design - maybe even together.
In both self-critique and critiquing others works, going about it the right way is key to making it successful.
How do we go about it the right way?
Describe, analyze, interpret, and judge.
The description step is only describing what’s in front of you. It’s simply what you see as facts. This is a portrait oriented, engraved wedding invitation, the material is acrylic, engraved on the backside of the material, it’s about 5x7”, it’s clear and white markings, it has rough lines in the engraving, using this fancy font, it has a dove flying, and so on.
Of all the features noted in the description of the piece, what do they suggest, what do they convey? How did that person do that? What’s most prominent? What jumps at me? What’s not prominent? Does it feel unified? Is it balanced? Is it too dark, too light? Do the colors clash?
The interpretation builds upon the description and the analysis to determine why they created it, why they made the choices they did, what’s the overall feel of the piece?
Description + Analysis + Interpretation = Do the elements work together? Does it convey what we interpreted the meaning to be? What distracts (doesn’t work) from the meaning? What contributes (works) to the artists intent?
What does this do?
It helps your other designers consider what people are seeing in their work in a manner that they can accept as constructive. But, even better, learning to critique others work does even more for you. It allows you to better self-critique and iterate your own works in progress. It also allows you to practice design without actually making anything at that point in time. The mental exercise of critiquing reinforces and also expands your overall knowledge and understanding of design, which will inject itself into your own designs.
Let’s do better.
By learning how to critique, others will become more accepting of critiques, and everyone benefits.
Open image in Photoshop
Decide how many layers you want your project to be. This image I will do two layers, placing the truck and most forward tree on the right on the front layer.
Process image using JB’s Photoshop Actions
Optional Step 4:
Tweak image if necessary for best engrave (for advanced editing techniques, see: https://wimberleypuzzlecompany.com/blogs/ridin-with-rio/jbs-glowforge-photoshop-actions-installation-and-playing)
If Step 4, making additional edits was performed, run JB’s Resize Edited Image action and specify the overall size of your final engrave along with resolution (enter 300 if engraving below 340 Lines per Inch). Save this document as FileName-Layer1.
Select the rectangular marquee tool from the tool bar menu and then click Select and Mask button that appears in the Options toolbar (usually located at the top of the Photoshop program)
With the Quick Selection tool selected, click the Select Subject button that appears in the Options toolbar and refine the selection as needed using the Quick Selection tool and brush selection tool. Select the subjects you want to add to the front layer — in this case, we will select the truck and the tree on the far right. If you don’t see anything in the preview, make sure the view mode is set to “Marching Ants.” As you’re working, you can switch between Marching Ants and Onion Skin to get a better view of your selection. Click OK to accept the selection.
With the selection made on your edited image, run the “#4: Test Burn Action.” This creates a new document at the same dimensions of your resized, edited image containing your selection. Save this document as FileName-Layer2.
From the new document created, select the Magic Wand Tool and make sure “contiguous” is not selected on the options toolbar. Click the transparent background, and from the menu, Select > Inverse. This inverts the background selection to select the objects.
Make sure the Paths palette is open. This is often attached to the layers palette — if not, you can activate the Paths palette by going to Window > Paths. Then, select the hamburger menu on the top right of the palette, and click Make Work Path. This will turn your selection into a real, editable path. Once it’s created, it should be automatically selected. Copy this path using either Edit > Copy, or Control-C (Command-C on Mac).
Go to Illustrator, open FileName-Layer2, and then paste the work path into this document. It will give you two options, either shape or path. I select Path. Position this if needed. An artifact of saving to PDF from Photoshop is that it creates a clipping mask. This can be either ignored in the Glowforge app, or deleted here in Illustrator. The path that is pasted will have no fill or stroke, so apply the stroke color that you use for cuts.
Save this file (layer 2) as an SVG file
Open your Filename-Layer1 document in Illustrator. This file will also have a clipping mask, but we can use it to our advantage to very quickly make a cut path for our layer 1 engrave. Select All and then Object > Clipping Mask > Release. The new path will not have a stroke or a fill — assign this path a stroke color that you use for cutting and then save the document as a SVG.
How To: Install and Run JB's Glowforge Photoshop Actions
A quick overview of how to install JB's Glowforge Photoshop Actions.
- Find your downloaded .ZIP file
- Double-click the .ATN file to install into Photoshop (the install is silent, so don't click repeatedly unless you want a bunch of copies)
- Open an image in Photoshop
- Open the Actions palette (Window > Actions)
- Resize the palette window by dragging, so that you can see all of the actions
- The actions are in a folder, and only one action needs to be processed. Select an action, such as 2a, and click the play button.
How To: Perform Advanced Editing Using JB's Glowforge Photoshop Actions
The actions do an excellent job of processing most photos; some photos need a little more love though, or, need a bit of tweaking to accentuate certain aspects of the photo.
To manually edit a processed photo, click STOP when the resizing prompt occurs.
Double-click the layer thumbnail (check the video for exactly what that is) to open the properties for that particular smart layer.
The two layers that make the biggest difference to the final product are the Black and White Mix layer and the Shadows/Highlights layer. I would recommend starting there.
How To: Perform a Test Engrave on a Processed Image
A test engrave can be very useful for both making sure that you've nailed the details for a particular image, and making sure that your engrave settings on the laser are correct.
Once an image has been resized, do NOT resize it. This is why resizing is not an option in the actions, but a requirement. To perform a test engrave, process and edit your image as you normally would.
Once you have the grayscale version, use the marquee tool (shortcut key: M) to make a small selection of your image on the area you'd like to test. Eyes, if it's a portrait, or any particularly difficult part of the image.
WIth a selection made, run the Test Burn action to export a full-size crop of that segment of the image.
How To: Reset an Image to Original
Sometimes, you just mess up on an image. As Forrest Gump says, "shit happens." Part of getting this process right though is experimenting. What can you screw up? It's just a copy of your image. Experiment away.
But, if you ever want to start over, it's very easy. From your original, processed image (the one with all of the layers), just run the Reset to Original action and your image will be restored to its original state.
A long time ago, a good friend asked me for some advice. My reply was something along the lines of, "looking backwards while you're moving forward is only going to make you trip." That advice may have been right - or, may have been wrong. It all worked out in the best way possible for her though, so that's what is important.
Since October 2018, Rio and I have been on the road seeing some amazing things, making a lot of puzzles, and ultimately watching the company grow and grow. Even after a couple of years of making puzzles, it's still humbling to have people ordering puzzles that we are making essentially by hand of places that we've been.
Looking back at the advice above, it may have been off-target. Looking back certainly has some value, whether it's just to reminisce or as a method to improve via lessons learned... what worked, kinda worked, and flat out didn't work. We had all three of those scenarios the past year, like everybody does, I suppose.
Either way, Rio sat back and reminisced over some of our experiences over the course of the last year and thought that you might enjoy them. It's a lot of Rio, some gorgeous American landscapes, and some pretty cool puzzles, if I do say so myself.
We don't know for sure what 2020 will bring. It may be more traveling; it may be less traveling and establishing a home base; 20 or 30 acres where we can run, hunt, play, and manufacture doesn't sound too shabby. The Christmas season really pushed our limits this year as far as mobile manufacturing, but we managed to get it done with the help of a lot of coffee and some 16-18 hour days.
Some of our highlights include: making some amazing team building puzzle projects (I'll blog about that later), blurring the line between puzzles and art with an amazing 25-year anniversary puzzle for the New Mexico Bone & Joint Institute (I'll blog about that later also), setting new sales records every month and then blowing those out of the water in November and then December, seeing almost all of New Mexico, and having our puzzles pop up into the concession areas at various Texas State Parks (more to come on these also!).
All that said, here's a few excerpts from the past year. Some polished, some raw... some of Rio doing his best to liven up the same ol', "Rio sit, Rio - admire the scenery" pictures.
Worrying about cents will cost you dollars. Trying to forego material testing so as to not waste a few cents of material will cost you dollars in the long run.
Using a material test template like this will save you lots of frustration.
Tip: If you use one material for one type of project a lot, for example you picked up one of our DIY Puzzle Kits, make your test cuts using a representative sample of the design, like this 3x5" puzzle template.
Use colors in your design software to order operations automatically: The order of operations in the app is predictable based upon the hexadecimal, or base 16, values. Check out the many different palettes that have been designed for different programs like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, and Affinity Designer: https://community.glowforge.com/t/custom-inkscape-illustrator-coreldraw-and-affinity-designer-color-palettes-for-ordering-operations-in-gfui/
Stroke/Score/Fill - and stroke size doesn’t matter: A vector object (if you don’t know what exactly a vector is, check out this explanation of vectors vs rasters, what they are, and why it matters) can have a stroke and/or a fill. Simply, a stroke is the outline of the object and a fill is filling the inside of that shape with a solid color.
To cut a vector: An object should be assigned a stroke.
To engrave a vector: An object should be assigned a fill.
The stroke and fill colors follow the rules in the tip in item #2 on this list: if they are different colors, they will be separate jobs in the app, meaning they can have different job settings assigned to them. For example, assigning one stroke color a lower power cut (or “Score”) so that it makes an outline of an object but doesn’t cut all of the way through.
Tip: I like to use a stroke size of .008” to simulate the actual size of the beam, especially on intricate designs where overlap may occur.
Just because it’s an SVG doesn’t mean it’s a vector: I see a lot of people saying that the app refuses to cut, saying bitmaps can only be engraved, but they are using SVG files. SVG files are container-type files - they can contain both raster and vector data. Placing a bitmap object (an image) into a SVG file does not make it a vector.
Calipers are important, but not always - because, Set Focus: Knowing your material thickness is important for designing tabs and slots. It’s also important for comparing potential settings between materials; 1/4” plywood is rarely 1/4” - it can range from .180” up to .240”. However, knowing this thickness is not needed for setting an “uncertified material thickness.” Use the Set Focus tool. Click the gear icon, and use the Set Focus option. This will measure the distance from the laser head to the material in a spot that you select.
Tip: Use one or the other. If you are setting the uncertified material thickness, and then using Set Focus, you are doing extra work. Likewise, if you use the Set Focus tool, the uncertified material thickness field will be locked because it’s not needed. The first thing I do on a new job is use the Set Focus tool, and while it’s determining the height, I set my job parameters. This also has the benefit of saving you time since it will not perform the auto-focus scan at the beginning of the job.
Resolution Matters: If you’re trying to engrave a 500-pixel image you found on the internet at 8x10”, it’s not going to look good. Starting with a high-quality, high-resolution image will always give you better results. Garbage in, garbage out.
12x20 artboard: I actually recommend this for a specific reason, even though it exceeds the actual current working area. The software will recognize this aspect ratio when loading the file and know exactly how to size your artwork regardless of the units used (or not used) in the code of the file. Also, a 12x20” artboard will load your artwork in exactly the place that it is in the file - perfect for jigs.
Holddown Pins: After you cut your first 3 projects, these honeycomb bed hold down pins should be your very next project. They are worth their weight in gold. Trust me. Your material needs to be flat to cut successfully, and these do exactly that.
Oops, you deleted your design and the project is empty: Click the … menu on the app toolbar and select Reset design. This will revert the design to its original state. But, it only works on Glowforge provided designs.
Engraving direction: If you can, rotate your design so that the engrave is wider than it is tall (but pay attention to the woodgrain). The rectangle on the right will engrave faster than the rectangle on the left.
Rio and I officially rolled out on the road. After much debate, we set our sights on Blanco State Park. I'd like to say that we drove and drove, but the reality is that I left him at my mom's house (just to pick up later in the day - he takes a while to say goodbye), picked the trailer up at storage, and slowly cruised 45 miles westward.