For this project, I wanted to make a stencil of my face. Easy you say? Not so easy. I started in photoshop, switched to the GIMP, exported to Inkscape and now will hopefully cut it out on the lazor!
I started with a jpeg of my face. I used this tutorial: http://www.melissaclifton.com/tutorial-stencila.html
and followed it up to a point. It is good. You should definitely edit your image to make a good stencil in Photoshop/GIMP unless you are well-versed in Inkscape (which I am not). Export the file as a photoshop file and import it into Inscape. At this point clicking "Trace a Bitmap" under "Paths" will open up a dialog box. This is important. Monkey around with all the setting under single scan and press "Update" in the preview box to check the results.
You want an image with nice connected lines for the next step....
Which is: Create a new layer (white background) and bust out the pencil tool and get to tracing your stencil. I know this is not the sexy, tech route, but I had to use the knowledge in my head to get this done and NOT SPEND ANYMORE TIME GOOGLING IT. That is an important step in finishing any project.
Delete the first layer when you are done tracing to your satisfaction and "Viola!" you are done.
You'll probably notice you have a couple crappy traces that don't meet-up or criss-cross or are just wrong. Fortunately, Inscape has a pretty user friendly "Edit Paths By Nodes" tool, directly under the "arrow" tool. Click in the area where the error is and get to deleting, rearranging,dragging nodes until you have a more appealing shape.
Remember also, that this is a stencil, so all the pieces you want to be a part of the finished stencil must be connected by a bridge of stencil. Personally I can't wait to laser this bad-boy and figure out which parts I forgot to connect!