Tag Archives: black acrylic

39: When Lavos Wins

A shot of the engraving before it was cut out. Flat type.
A shot of the engraving before it was cut out. Flat type.

Chrono Trigger is a classic, a great example of what can happen when you get a bunch of incredible talent in the same room and say “make something cool.” One of the best elements of the game is the abundance of endings available based on how and when you take on the game’s final challenge, and if you’re too cocky and get blown away, one of the endings even shows you when happens when the villain wins. The result of that bad end is above: a wrecked planet identical to the one you tried so hard to prevent. In the end, the future refused to change.

What refused to change?
What refused to change?

If you don’t hear the blood-curdling scream of the SNES S-SMP audio chip when you see the image above, pehaps you never lost. I did, and sometimes intentionally; it can be fun exploring exactly how the world ends if the hero fails to save the day.

What did the future do?
What did the future do?

I wanted to pay homage to the game over screen and set out to recreate the original rectangular pixel source image in a vector format. The defeated planet was simple enough to run through a few filters, but the letters had to be hand drawn. I wasn’t able to find an exact match while searching for a font out there, but you might know! Drop me a line if you do. While recreating the text, I tried my best to keep the spirit and shape of the letter forms, but I didn’t have any qualms about fixing kerning issues. The line leading, tracking, and the text’s relation to the planet are otherwise identical to the source material, just given a coat of vector goodness and mercilessly cut into acrylic.

Depth was added by cutting the letters twice and gluing them together.
Depth was added by cutting the letters twice and gluing them together.

It was 1/8″ thick black acrylic with a white cap layer, so the engraving ate away the white to reveal the black underneath. A halftone pattern gave the planet its bleak shades of grey, and a second set of letters cut out of the same acrylic were glued into place by hand rather haphazardously. Maybe you can’t tell in the pictures, but I sure can see it and should work more on using transfer tape to get more exact applications.

A close shot of the engraving's halftone texture.
A close shot of the engraving’s halftone texture.

The final piece is 23.5″ wide and about 11″ tall. It’s not tiny! It’ll find a resting place somewhere near my desk, possibly near where the black wind howls…

30: Tokens & Templates

Once in a while I come across a job where I’ve got a handful of pre-cut shapes and I’ve got to etch a design onto them.  This can be tricky for any number of reasons, but the issue I run into most often getting the alignment between the etch and the shape it’ll be on just right—it’s called registration.  I don’t have one of those fancy lasers with camera-aided registration systems, so I’ve got to do it by hand. Most of the time the job is small enough that I don’t mind just sliding one shape at a time up against the x- and y-axis rulers, using the corner for quick edge registration, but sometimes you’ve got so many items to produce that this becomes inefficient. That’s what at template is for!

The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.
The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.

In this case, several dozen leftover pieces of bamboo from Jennifer’s super-awesome hex pendants were lying in stacks, wondering when they would themselves become useful.  I like to stick tiny little free things in orders received at my Etsy shop like the wooden triforce eagle insignia that were cut a while back, but I’ve been out of random tiny little things for a while, so I decided to design some hex-shaped “tokens” with the Abecediary logo and my email. You can’t redeem anything with them, but having an email address for any custom laser geekery you have in mind has got to be pretty handy, right? I suppose they’re like tiny business cards, but cuter and slightly less useful.

The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.
The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.

There were a lot to cut though, so I took a piece of spare acrylic and cut a hexagonal grid into it, paths offset, allowing Jen’s leftover bamboo hexes to fit snugly inside. I made sure that the hex grid matched the layout of the design I would be etching into the surface exactly. I had long ago decided that this acrylic was scrap, but you can make a template with just about anything and most people prefer to use much cheaper materials like cardboard or chipboard.

A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.
A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.

The design itself was mostly achieved through light vector etching, with only the text and the ABCD logo being raster-etched. The result was cleaner than if I had used a deep raster etch on either side, and it afforded me a chance to get more familiar with using hairlines in design rather than relying on solid blocks.

All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.
All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.

If you’d like one for yourself, go nab an abecediary or a dialog box from the shop! There’ll be an extra tiny little bamboo token tucked inside. Unfortunately, I can’t fit the template in any of the envelopes I use for shipping so that’ll stay here.

The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen's hexie pendant leftovers.
The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen’s hexie pendant leftovers.

08: 3D Etching

This week I decided to give 3D etching another shot. I have just once before played around with the 3D settings available on our laser, but I haven’t really explored the process until now.

Normally, the laser interprets shades of grey by preparing a halftone map and etching that at whatever singular power I have set. With the 3D feature enabled, the firmware will adjust the power of the laser depending on the darkness of the grey: white is ignored, black is etched at your selected power. Because of this, all you really need is a depth map and you can 3D etch straight away.Just remember: white is shallow and black is deep!

ABCD 3D
The Abecediary logo with the core etched away

Back when I first tried it out, I just used some sample depth maps available in Google’s image search, but this time I created my own typography-themed art. I had to use Photoshop to create some raster effects to create the sloping edges I wanted because there isn’t an easy way to create shape-burst gradients in Illustrator, but this wasn’t a problem because, while the laser won’t cut anything that isn’t proper vector data, it’ll etch even raster graphics with impunity.

ABCD Layout
The blurry edges are where the 3D happens.

I often use the simple Abecediary logo as a sample design when testing new materials. Even though the white melamine-coated MDF I used wasn’t a new material to me, I felt it appropriate, so I created a black version with a white inner glow. The thin red line is the vector cut that created the final shape of the letters after I hollowed out the core. Because I etched five passes at a fairly strong power, the finished piece had too steep a slope; you can hardly see that it was a slope and not just a really deep etch, but it’s there! I swear!

Etaoin in MDF
The whole piece; the depth is hard to capture without appropriate lighting.
Etaoin in MDF
The slight lip on the edge was made by skipping a few lighter levels of grey.

The second piece, ETAOIN SHRDLU, was based on a fun part of newspaper lore and set in Colonna. It was etched opposite the ABCD: the letters were left untouched while the outer space was etched away. I chose a thicker gradient stroke so that the slope would be gentler. I also only etched the bitmap four times. The contrast between the white letters and the resulting grain of the MDF’s innards is profound. It almost looks like the letters are sitting in a bed of sand that has settled over years.

Etaoin in Black
The black acrylic Shrdlu is a little hard to read without the right light reflected!

The final piece was cut from quarter-inch black acrylic. For fun, I created an offset path so that the letters would be cut out more tightly than the MDF version’s square border. Even with six passes at full power (and half-speed) the etch didn’t quite reach half-way through the material.  The result is a little hard to read (maybe I should have used a capped material!) but certainly looks neat.

Etaoin in MDF
The slight lip on the edge was made by skipping a few lighter levels of grey.

The amount of passes necessary to create a good 3D look takes a lot of time, but there’s a whole lot more that can be done than just beveling the edges of pretty type faces. I’ll definitely be playing more with the 3D mode as we go on.

Etaoin in MDF
The sand blows away, revealing pure white type!