Tag Archives: engraved

117: PC Case Engraving

To ring in the new year, and celebrate the ten year anniversary of my previous build, I decided to build a new PC. Back in 2007, it was two years before we even started playing with lasers. This time around, I knew for sure I’d be laser engraving some piece or another. I’ve engraved a few macbooks and other portable devices, and I’ve even engraved a custom wood faceplate for a friend’s ATX midtower. So I’ve been pretty excited about the idea of engraving something on my own machine!

Over a few weeks in January I did the research, collected the parts, and then planned a small “build party” with some of my local PC enthusiast friends so we could put the machine together together. Hey, it only happens once a decade or so, that’s a pretty good excuse for a shindig, yeah?

From left to right, Brenn, Jen (<3), myself, Maul, Ray, and Mark. Also not pictured: Maul’s bro Joe! Thanks for the photography, Mark!

Together we had dinner, built the PC, played some couch games, and mulled over a few remaining questions. What should this new build be called? What part of the case will be laser engraved? What are we going to engrave on it? I was so wishy-washy on the name decision that I couldn’t even settle on it before the party was over. Furthermore, I wanted the engraving design to be related to the name, so I couldn’t really come to any decisions on that front, either. But we were able to figure out what part to engrave, and as it turned out, the answer was nothing.

Fractal Design’s Define C case is sexy, but made out of questionably engravable plastic.

The Fractal Design Define C is a sexy, sexy midtower ATX case. I love the shroud, I love the quiet, and I love the flat textured front. I like simple, unassuming case designs, and I wanted to continue down that road after my last build in an Antec P180B. But when we finally dug into the case, I learned a few laser-unfriendly things I could probably have sussed out from reviews online if I had been more thorough.

The front of the case is not an anodized aluminum plate, and it’s also not easily detached from the surrounding plastic chassis that covers the front exhaust system. It’s made out of the same plastic—it’s very pretty, with a subtle vertical brushed texture, but it’s still just the case plastic. Because the textured surface isn’t repeated anywhere on the inside (or indeed on any other external surface) I wasn’t going to be able to do an inconspicuous engraving test. So I wouldn’t be able to engrave the front plate, but what about the window?

On a quest for extreme sound dampening, my previous PC build didn’t have a window at all. But over the years I’ve kind of missed being able to peek in on my parts, so this time I bought a case with built-in acrylic window.

With a power shroud for modesty and excellent cable arrangement, who wouldn’t want to peek inside?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t going to be an easy way to test that material inconspicuously either, and with the  engraving quality difference between cast and extruded acrylics, I didn’t want to gamble.

When I looked closer at the acrylic window, I noticed there was a lip on the inside, one that would fit a secondary piece of acrylic just fine as long as the measurements were correct. So I did a couple of sizing tests with some old pieces of acrylic, got my measurements spot on, and settled on a solution: cut a separate piece of cast acrylic and snap it into the existing acrylic window. I wouldn’t technically be engraving the PC case after all, but the finished piece would still look as good. As a bonus, I’d be able to easily change out the acrylic in the future if I wanted to change the design.

Amusingly enough, it was mulling around design ideas that led me to my final decision on the name of the machine. I’ve always been a fan of the Metroid series, you can see it in some of my other projects. Most game servers I host have names based on “Maru Mari”, and you’ll be connecting to “Varia” if you try to stream content to my television. I had a feeling I’d end up going with the Metroid theme again, but it wasn’t until I thought about how much fun it would be to engrave the cold steel corridors of Tourian into acrylic that I really landed on it.

The full map is too big; I’d have to fit it in this cyan rectangle

Tourian is a big map. Well, it’s not big, but its hallways are long and the vertical shafts are all a daunting climb. I’d have to compress the map pretty significantly to make it fit the relatively tiny space I had for my acrylic window. To make matters worse, halfway through the design I realized I had laid out the template wrong and was designing for the measurements in landscape instead of portrait. But after cutting a few rooms in half (and completely excising the hallway before Mother Brain’s chamber) I was able to make it fit.

The final compressed map, corrected to a portrait aspect.

I added a few additional details (the opening text scroll and an excessively big title in the original typeface in the corner) and the design was finished. I cleaned up the acrylic, seated it in the window’s lip, and used a tiny bit of clear packing tape on the inside corners to make sure it wouldn’t somehow come loose.

A mockup of what the case might look like with the final design.

The panel looks great when it’s not connected to the computer, but as it turns out, I should look into buying some motherboard-powered LED strip lighting to brighten up this design. Most of the photography here is cleaned up to make the engraving visible, but it’s much more subtle than that when properly installed on the PC.

This door is all that’s left of a completely deleted room. Don’t tell the purists!

The end result may be disappointingly dim, but I still had a blast manipulating the Tourian map in a way that wouldn’t compromise the basic layout, and I will definitely be using what I’ve learned on this project to make some more “window inserts” for this case in the future. Once it’s lit up, the design itself should really shine, but for now it still makes for some pretty fun close up photography!

The engraving fights with the inner bits just a little more than I’d hoped.
I love that the escape shaft coincidentally has its own murky yellow and green lighting.
This example clearly shows how dim the engraving is compared to the LED-lit components inside.
A two character 8 segment LED readout hides in Tourian’s O.
One Metroid, permanently frozen.

113: Mother of Pearl Veneer

The inspiration for this week’s post is Carry A. Nation, the famous barroom smasher.   Carry believed that alcohol was the root of all society’s evils, and she  took hatchet to things she didn’t like (namely bars, whisky bottles and paintings of scantily clad ladies).  Though some called her mad, her barroom appearances had the strange effect of *increasing* business for tavern owners, so much so they often invited her to smash up the joint.  Carry didn’t mind, as her message was still being heard.  She was also a shrewd marketer, and sold merchandise to support her cause.  She lived comfortably and even ran a home for women and children whose lives had been effected by alcohol.

Given that I’m actually enjoying a Not Your Father’s Root Beer while writing this post, you can assume I will not be taking up the cause of temperance.  The museum I work for is doing a fabulous fundraiser set in a 1910s saloon, which will feature none other than Carry Nation, as portrayed by my mentor Ellie Carlson of Ellie Presents.   (Happily, our event is sold out, otherwise I’d be selling you tickets too.)  Ellie owns an original Carry Nation hatchet pin, and was commenting that she couldn’t get anything like it to sell in character.  Cue the laser.

Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson
Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson

Ellie’s pin is a brass hatchet that features a mother of pearl head, which cleverly stops just short of the edge of the brass to make it look like it has a wicked sharp blade.  Brushed gold make a nice substitute for the brass, and I finally got to experiment with mother of pearl veneer.

We first played around with mother of pearl in the laser when we tested engraving on different bead materials back in Week 32.  The beads turned out beautifully (if a little sooty.  But that just made the engraving stand out better.)

Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right
Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right from Week 32

dsc01005Because our event was coming up in short order, I ordered a “pressure sensitive” (aka peel and stick) sheet of mother of pearl veneer off Amazon.  at $25 for a 9×6 inch sheet, it’s not cheap, and I should ave read the reviews better.  The reviews were poor for this seller, and upon opening the package, I found my sheet had the same issues.  Oops.  The iridescence, created by the nacre on the inside of the shell, was inconsistent.  The package was flimsy, just a soft box and a sheet of styrofoam, so the surface was a spider web of cracks.  Lesson learned – find a reputable seller.  Timing and budget didn’t allow for a second sheet to be purchased.

Cutting was a breeze
Cutting was a breeze

The hatchets were small enough, I figured I could find a good spot on the sheet to cut them out.  I went with a full hatchet head design rather than the one with the short back, like Ellie’s pin, mostly for ease in aligning the mother of pearl to the base.  Carry Nation herself had a lot of different styles of pins, so I figured I could take the liberties.  For laser settings, we gave it a little more power than card stock.  It sliced through quickly and easily, though the edges were a little sooty, like the beads.  Not unexpected for organic materials.  (I later learned that when cutting mother of pearl with a knife you should cut from back to front.  It’s a very brittle material – I’m not sure if it would have made a difference on the laser, though.)

The backing came off surprisingly easy
The backing came off surprisingly easy.  I was expecting it to be a little difficult, especially with the cracking on the veneer, the but the sheets held together surprisingly well.
Incredibly translucent
Incredibly translucent

After I peeled the backing off the cut veneer, I had another disappointment.  I didn’t expect the mother of pearl to be so sheer!  I could read through it.  I expected more body, so it would standout from the brushed gold acrylic.  Honestly, it was difficult to even see it was there at a glace.    As a test, I cut out a silver version of the ax.  The veneer stood out slightly better on it, but not enough to make a difference.

This photo was taken at the perfect angle to catch the iridescence. It looks better in photos.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.

In the end, Ellie and I decided it was better to do the pins without the mother of pearl.  This of course, isn’t a radical departure from Carry Nation herself – she sold a cheaper version of the pin without the mother of pearl as well.   I want to try using the mother of pearl again, perhaps on earrings or accents, where the perfection of the sheet doesn’t matter as much.  But I’m not sure it’s something I would order again.

Because I couldn't resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser's half toning capabilities made transferring the image of Mrs Nation's face a breeze!
Because I couldn’t resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser’s half toning capabilities (more visible on the left) made transferring the image of Mrs Nation’s face a breeze!

107: Thick Acrylic

A few months ago, my friend Arty got in touch with me and said he had “some thick acrylic” left over from a recent storefront revamp at a mobile phone store. Not really knowing what I was getting into, I said “hey any scrap material that I can laser is good with me!”

This stuff is so clear it's almost hard to see.
This stuff is so clear it’s almost hard to see.

Much more recently, I went to pick up the acrylic that he’d been graciously holding onto for me. As it turned out, the acrylic wasn’t just thick. It was far thicker than I could process with the laser, with 7/8″ as the thinnest edge. But there were several chunks of uniformly cut acrylic, and every surface was smooth enough that you could see clear through to the other side. This was material worth experimenting on!

The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.
The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.

I first determined whether it was cast or extruded acrylic by doing a surface engraving featuring some art deco frame stock. The surface engraving was powdery and white, which was perfect—cast acrylic engraves in a much more visible manner than extruded acrylic.

The second design didn't really convey the "frosted ice" look I was going for.
The second design didn’t really convey the “frosted ice” look I was going for.

The second design I tried was based on a “frosted ice” theme I developed while working with a client a couple of years ago. While it looked great on the snowflake shapes I used originally, the effect was lost on the square chunk of acrylic, and the “FROSTY” text I added didn’t really come out clearly.

Two different sizes of blocks "comprised" of tetriminos.
Two different sizes of blocks “comprised” of tetriminos.

I revisited some tetrimino patterns from a very early 52LASERS post. Using three different engraving techniques, I created a pattern that highlighted certain shapes with fills and deeper cuts. The result not only looks awesome from straight on, it created some really stunning effects when looking through the unengraved side of the acrylic.

Looking through the clean edge shows off each "deep cut" tetrimino.
Looking through the clean edge shows off each “deep cut” tetrimino.
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!

I still have plenty of stock of these blocks left, so if you can think of any more creative ways to jazz up the acrylic’s surface, let me know in the comments!

Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!
Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!

105: Tint and Shade Engraving

A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.
Tint engraving is light, frosting the finish, while shade engraving is deep, darkening the surface.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent half a day here, half an hour there, slowly going through all of the inventory I’ve accumulated since starting my collection of laserable bits back in 2011. One of the gems I pulled out of the rough was a set of about a dozen small pieces of finished wood I scavenged from Eagle Engraving’s scrap material a year or so ago. I picked it up because I noticed that the finish reacted to light engraving in a unique way, but it got lost in the stack and forgotten.

I wrote about using halftones to get more than one shade when engraving wood recently, but approximating a handful of darker shades of the wood’s surface color can only have a certain pretty small range of values. It’s better than the usual duo of the untouched wood color and a single full-engraving shade, but what about lightening the wood color? It’s not really something that can happen on untreated wood—even the darkest wood just gets darker when burnt—but wood with a clear coat of certain chemicals can sometimes frost like cell-cast acrylic does. That’s exactly what Eagle’s scrap wood was doing, so I nabbed some to experiment with both shading and tinting on a single piece.

The first batch of prototypes showed that halftones couldn't be used.
The first batch of prototypes showed that halftones couldn’t be used.

I call this “tint and shade engraving” because of its parallel to a concept in color theory, though I am sure there is already a sufficient technical term for this type of double engraving out there; let me know if you know the answer!

I started out trying to recreate a section of the castle map from an old PlayStation game I was fond of, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I was hoping to create a physical map of the castle, starting with just the Entrance for now, and the added value range afforded by the tint engraving would really help the room graphics stand out over the wood grain.

Finding the right threshold for the tint and shade graphic layers was difficult.
Finding the right threshold for the tint and shade graphic layers was difficult.

Figuring out the shade engraving settings was easy enough, but I made a quick test cut to determine the best laser power settings for tint engraving for this material. The result looked like 15% (on a 40w laser, at 100% speed, on this specific material; YMMV!), so I started a series of test engravings on the many small pieces of wood I had available.

Coincidental background shading and foreground tinting created great contrast.
Coincidental background shading and foreground tinting created great contrast.

I quickly learned that I wouldn’t be able to use halftone patterns when shade engraving on this material. Because of the same clear coat that allows us to tint engrave, a tiny white outline appears around every shade engraved section. It’s tolerable in the final pieces (take a good look at the close-up shots to see what I mean) but with halftone pattern it got really visible and completely ruined any properly shaded effect.

Using halftone patterns on the tint engraving had better success, but was far less effective than halftone on a more traditional engrave, so I opted to use just one tint and just one shade. While it meant that we technically have less values than were used in the halftoning wood examples, the contrast is way higher and the result is much more striking.

A small section of Castlevania's Entrance. Do you recognize it?
A small section of Castlevania’s Entrance. Do you recognize it?

Once I had the prototypes engraved, I engraved and cut out a small subsection of the Entrance area of the game. It turned out pretty awesome, but because I only have smaller pieces of this particular wood at the moment I wasn’t able to complete the entire Entrance area as originally planned. I’ll just have to revisit that project another time. For now, another tint & shade engraving would suffice: the beautiful Ayami Kojima promotional painting that I still have an old wall scroll of somewhere in this office.

The processed art used for the shade engraving.
The processed art used for the shade engraving.
The shade engraving is complete, and tint engraving is up next.
The shade engraving is complete, and tint engraving is up next.
The processed art used for the tint engraving.
The processed art used for the tint engraving.
A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.
A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.

Like with the castle maps, I fired up Photoshop and went about adjusting levels and all that to build two engraving rasters, one for the shade engraving and one for the tint engraving. I engraved the shade first, snapped a quick picture in the laser to show off the piece mid-process, and then engraved the tint layer. The shading turned out way better than I expected even after the positive results with the in-game map, and I suspect that all sorts of well-shaded facial photography and artwork would engrave really well with this procedure.

The only trouble is finding exactly the right kind of finished wood! I have several coated woods and only some of them have the same frosting effect when lightly engraving. Maybe some of you out there know of good sources of wood specifically coated to provide this effect. Let me know if you do!