Tag Archives: Aurora Public Library

120: Fluorescent Samurai FightStick

Somehow for all the plans I’ve had over the years to laser engrave a fight stick, I never actually got around to it until this week! Last week, a coworker at the library was planning on making a custom artwork label for his arcade fight stick in the library’s makerspace, and it didn’t take long discussing materials and fabrication processes (including just printing on paper to replace the stock Ryu artwork) before I practically demanded to laser engrave the hardware myself. Since I kind of stole his project from him in order to complete one of my own, I hope there’s enough juicy details herein to cover the process! Thanks, Mark!

The stock acrylic has a lip almost certainly CNC milled. These aren’t easy to recreate with a laser!

We briefly discussed engraving the acrylic panel that is included with the controller, but we decided against that so that he’d always have an unaltered panel handy. Besides, we were already talking about using a fluorescent orange acrylic that we’ve used in the library before for making bright, eye-catching tokens and trinkets. It’s a fiery equivalent to the green acrylic I use for Ingress badges; edges practically glow with this material! But the material we chose was only available in 1/8″—about 50% thicker than the stock acrylic—so I’d have to do some measurements to make sure it’d still fit. There were a few other tricky issues to figure out as well, so I knew I had some prototyping to do. But first, the design itself!

The layout is about 13″ by 8″, features eight buttons and zero button labels. Pro!

Mark had already done some of the hard work and whipped up a layout of the artwork he wanted to engrave. It was only roughly the size of the fight stick’s acrylic cover. Featuring an illustration of a kneeling samurai and seven bushido virtues, he told me he’d always been enamored with samurai and the code they lived by.

“How that warrior code and Buddhist philosophy can coexist interests me.  … I think anyone who is interested in an applicable ethic for living, who understands that the world can be violent, but hopes not to have to actually be violent, will find plenty to study in the samurai.”

The layout didn’t have accurate measurements or the button and joystick layout, though, so I’d have to see if someone put one together online. As it turns out, we didn’t need to rely on the community; late product manufacturer Mad Catz provides a PSD template for users who want to print out their own art. Its pixels are no good for laser cutting, but it has the exact dimensions and throwing together some vector circles where the PSD says they should be was quick and easy.

The chipboard prototype fit perfectly, and looks pretty snazzy on its own!

Once I had the layout prepared, I ran several prototypes. The first was cut out of cardboard, which was slightly too thick to be used easily in place of the acrylic, but it did help me discover that I accidentally nudged the bottom row of buttons out of alignment when creating the vector template. I corrected those issues and cut out a second full size prototype in chipboard. The chipboard fit perfectly and even looked pretty good under the stock acrylic!

Several small material setting prototypes. Please ignore the Triforce!

I had to run several small engraving tests on the actual material because of a few techniques I planned to use that need really precise settings. First, I’d need to recreate a lip on the entire outside rim of the acrylic; I’d have to engrave very deeply in order to do so. I also wanted to make sure I created a nice depth effect on the engraving, so I’d need to combine the halftone raster engraving on the greyscale samurai art with selective vector engraving on the darkest strokes. Finally, because of the thicker material we’re using, I wanted to round the edges so they wouldn’t stick out quite as much around the buttons. This involves pulling the laser out of focus, so I’d have to make sure the depth offset was an appropriate amount.

Detail of the letter engraving, including the deep vector stroke outlining the glyph above.

During this prototyping, I figured out that I’d need to engrave at 100% power, 10% speed to burn away enough material to recreate the stock acrylic’s outer lip. That’s ridiculously slow, and across an entire 13″ by 8″ design it would have taken over three hours to engrave, so I ended up breaking the engraving into four jobs. By doing so, I prevented the laser from passing by the entire inner area of the acrylic, reducing the engraving time to about 35 minutes. What a relief!

This acrylic really shows off fingerprints, doesn’t it?

I also determined that pulling the laser out of focus by exactly 1″ creates a nice rounded effect while being a nice easy number to remember. I used the same settings that would cut through the material with the proper focus. The slight misalignment of my #2 mirror struck again and required me to move the out-of-focus vector lines just a tiny fraction to the left to compensate. One of these days I’ll get that fixed.

My final acrylic lip was close enough, and check out that smooth rounded corner on top!

After I engraved the lip and cut out the button holes, I flipped the material, removed the back face’s protective mask, and got to engraving the art! It might not be obvious at first, but if you’re going to engrave something you’ll be resting your hands on often, you should engrave the back face and leave the top smooth and untouched. Otherwise the engraving might irritate your skin and you’re going to have to clean your filth out of the artwork more often than anyone should have to deal with. Besides, the fluorescence of the material is best shown off through the material; back face engravings capture much more of the color and appear less frosty.

Samurai on metal plate. Great shadow effect, but with plenty of distracting screws.

Amusingly enough, it didn’t dawn on me until I installed the fight stick that I’d need to make some kind of thin black background layer so that the metal button plate wouldn’t be visible through the design. It’s kind of a neat look, but it detracts from the theme, so I used the only material I had on hand (some black/silver LaserLights; don’t tell Jen!) and cut the template out of that. It fit just fine beneath the acrylic, so it was time for put Mark’s fighting game weapon of choice back together for good.

One small detail: the acrylic’s rounded corners needed to be about 0.1″ radius, quite a bit rounder than I first estimated.

The final piece was simple to install thanks to the hinged design of the FightStick-branded fight stick (that’s not confusing at all, right?). I was a little worried that the originally-pencil samurai design would suffer from being printed “in reverse” (i.e. light lines on a dark background), but the way the deeper vector engraving works with the light halftone raster engraving almost makes it look like our calm, kneeling samurai is fashioned out of fire rather than graphite. As mark put it, “Simultaneously peaceful and ready for battle.”

The joystick just barely fits between the samurai and his blade.
Detail of shallow halftone raster engraving combined with deep vector engraving.

102: Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace

Back in June, the Aurora Public Library finished and opened their new Santori building. The most personally exciting addition to the library within the new building is a public makerspace, with plenty of gadgets for making things (and some just for playing around) that I knew I’d want to spend some time with.

A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.
A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.

In November, I accepted a part-time position at the library helping patrons learn how to use the hardware available both in the makerspace and also in other locations like the media studio. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to become familiar with the new hardware, I wanted to take a moment to discuss what new tools we have available. With that in mind, this week’s project is less about a single physical item and more about the differences between laser manufacturers and some quick exploration into other hardware.

The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.
The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.

My obvious first stop is at the APL Makerspace’s laser, an Epilog brand Mini 24. It’s 40 watts, so beyond the slightly shorter 12″ Y axis, it’s equivalent to the Universal Laser Systems VersaLaser 4.60 I have at home. The power and technology may be similar, but the actual hardware and software are pretty wildly different.

The Mini 24's front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.
The Mini 24’s front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.

Featured on the front of the unit is a LED readout and a bevy of buttons that allow the user to issue lots of commands from right there in front of the laser. Compared to the VersaLaser, which only has five buttons, I can move between jobs in internal storage, activate the red dot pointer at any time, and even temporarily disable the motor control on the axes so that I can temporarily move the lens out of the way without needing to turn off the machine.

One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.
One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.

Another clever addition is an autofocus “plunger” which can automatically find the surface to be engraved and calculate the appropriate focus without any user intervention. Despite these and some other nifty perks of the hardware, I was shocked to discover that the software solution provided, Epilog Job Manager, does not have any way to estimate the job time prior to processing the material. It’s a serious minus for anyone who needs to let their customers or patrons know an estimate for how much their job will cost.

Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.
Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.

The laser isn’t the only fancy piece of kit in the makerspace. They also have a Roland-brand vinyl cutter. This was a bit of a surprise to me, since my previous experience with Roland hardware was restricted to digital drum kits. It’s a fairly diminutive piece of hardware, looking a bit bony next to the huge laser printer and positively tiny next to the oversized plotter printer.

A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it's large?
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it’s large?

The plotter printer is so big that it can print four-foot wide banners, and it’s fed by rolls of paper, the actual length of which none of us have yet to discover. Thankfully, it’s very intuitive to use as long as you know how to prepare your documents as PDF files on thumb drives. Anything else and you might need a manual.

A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.
A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.

Sitting next to the entryway is a really comfortable chair and a large screen, the latter of which isn’t really meant for the person at the station—it’s more for onlookers’ benefit, because the typical user will have their eyes wrapped in vaguely unfinished plastic. While the Oculus Rift station doesn’t yet help patrons make anything, it’s definitely an attention-getter.

Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.
Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.

Along the back wall (and overlooking the excellent art installation in the back entryway) are a trio of 3D printers. They’re Cubes, by 3DSystems, and they’re regularly the most active pieces of maker hardware in the space. There’s a reason we have three of them, and it’s not just the popularity: 3D printing can take a very, very long time. While it’s super neat that these printers can print from two colors in a single job, I have to admit I’m not sure how much of the trouble I’ve had with extrusion tips jamming and work plate misalignment are just the learning curve.

The Aurora Public Library Makerspace is really cool, and if you’re in the area, it’s a great way to come check out not only a really sleek laser cutter but also 3D printers, vinyl cutters, a VR headset and a lot more. The space is open from noon to 8:30 pm on Monday through Thursday, noon to 4:30 on Friday and Saturday, and for some small period of time on Sunday that I don’t immediately recall. Stop by and learn how to make stuff!

P.S. Please disregard the awful automatic patching on the featured panorama. Trust me, the Santori building is not nearly that broken looking in real life!