A few weeks ago, I was planning to visit an artist friend of mine and wanted to bring something laser-made to show off. I settled on some very small, very fine etched-wood versions of some of his recent grayscale artings. Making the art look good on the surface was tricky, and while I had a feeling this would lead into a 52lasers project, I didn’t get pictures before I left.
Oh well! This week, I decided to give micro engraving another try! As part of Abecediary (game and typography stuff!) I have several square alphabet designs made; they are highly detailed shapes that proved to be great initial tests. The feature I really wanted to test with this project was the highest available Image Density as described in the Laser Interface+ software. While I usually etch things at an entirely respectable setting of 5, cranking it up to 7 offers a much higher amount of lines per inch. It takes much more time and is often overkill unless you’re etching incredibly fine detail into small things. Funny, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do!
While it’s hard to see in the wooden pieces (cut from the same lightly finished wood I cut the Triforce lapel pins from), the few abecediaries that were cut out of acrylic gave away an issue that I didn’t even realize until I took some nearly-macro photographs. If you don’t have an appropriate Universal Tuning setting, your etched lines will look interlaced. This happens because every line etched leftward is slightly off from every line etched rightward. This issue manifests as slightly zigzaggy vertical lines in designs, and when the setting is really off, you can end up with design elements that look like they’ve been duplicated side-to-side, almost certainly ruining the designer’s original intent.
Another mishap eagle eyes will spot is the incorrect kerf adjustment. I regularly create an offset path of about .05″ in order to account for the laser’s width. For these positively tiny applications the laser’s width is relatively much more significant, and I can see now that there should have been more space offset so that the outline cut didn’t dig into the letters as much, especially compared to the tighter inside etching.
I’m a Nintendo kid at heart, and while the SNES still holds the top spot in “greatest video game consoles ever” for me, the NES is where I spent my single-digits, and it’s easily my nostalgia weak point. I’ve got quite a few NES-related things planned out for future projects, but for this micro-engraving job, I took a few cartridge scans—only edited to black and white and contrast adjustments—and shrank them down to under an inch wide. One trace-job later for the outer cut and I had my very own tiny little Game Paks.
These were difficult. The halftone feature of my laser hardware got sloppy when I maxed out the density and used a grayscale photograph to etch from. In the first attempt, not photographed, the rubbing alcohol I use to clean lasered materials ate away what was left of the black cap immediately, leaving me with a tiny little pure-white copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. Several additional cuts at various universal tuning settings gave me many copies of that game, but there was another material that Jennifer really wanted me to use for a tiny NES cart.
Thus, micro Zelda was born! The messiness of the etching is unfortunate, and I had to adjust the relative brightness of certain elements quite a few times to get results that vaguely resembled the original cartridge. Still, these are so much fun to look at with a nice shiny light nearby that I feel I’m going to have to revisit the miniature Zelda cartridge after I can spend some real design time on one rather than using a Google Image-sourced cartridge scan.
My understanding of the limitations of the 2.0 laser lens suggests I could invest in a collimator and a High Power Density Focusing Optics lens to get better fine etching results. Maybe some day!