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!”
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions – sometimes I can be too much of a perfectionist to have it work in my favor. Instead, I come up with a one word affirmation for the new year ahead.
I know it sounds a little hippy dippy, but a one word affirmation is designed to be a positive statement that shapes your actions during the new year. In December, I contemplate the year that has gone by and think about the type of year I want ahead. I pick one, easy to remember word that will prompt me to act and have the year and experiences I want. And because it isn’t a full statement with a measurable goal that I can either fail at or finish (ie I want to visit Mercury or I want to become a breatharian) I can use the affirmation to take advantage of opportunities throughout the year that I might not even dream of in December. (Please let it be noted I’m not going to attempt either of the resolution examples above.)
This blog is about laser cutting, so how does this not-quite a New Years resolution post fit in? I’m showing you how I created the laser cut file to put my affirmation on the wall. Disclaimer – I’m not the trained graphic designer, Ryan is. This is my novice way, but it gets the job done!
My word for 2016 is “Go” which is a little simplistic, so I’ve picked a second word to do the process with as well – Shine.
Type the word you want in a program that makes files readable by your laser. I used Adobe Illustrator, version CC2015. Choose a font – I have used Archer for “Shine” and Plantagenet Cherokee for “Go.” Check if you like the bold versions of the fonts you chose – bold gives you a little more meat to the letters to make more solid connection when smushing them together. If bold is not enough, you can stroke the letters to add weight.
Bring the letters together so they touch. This can be done a couple different ways. The easiest is to reduce the tracking between the letters. Just like you can change the size of letters individually, you can also change the tracking between letters. This worked really well with the word “Shine” because the serifs are so prominent. For the word “Go,” I didn’t reduce tracking, but instead put the letters on different layers so I could move them more freely. Because of the baseline isn’t obvious since g and o are so rounded, I decided to move the o down slightly to nestle it in the the valley of the g – creating visual interest and increasing stability of the final project.
Expand the appearance of the type so the word is no longer type, but instead considered an object by the program. In Illustrator, “Expand” is an option under “Object.” Because the word is slightly stroked, I found I had to expand the appearance twice – the first time expanded the fill and the object, the second expansion gave me the option to include the stroke properly. Once expanded, it gives you lots of different layers.
Unite the expanded layers using the “unite” option under the pathfinder menu. At this point you should have a unified word. You’ll notice I don’t – there is a pesky dot to the i in “shine”. Because it is not attached, it’s easy to just move down. When it’s overlapped enough, unite the elements to make it one.
Resize your vector to final print size.
This step is optional, but it fun to jazz up your words – I overlaid a pattern on the word “Go”. It’s a raster pattern and will engrave over top. This effect is pretty on wood, and looks awesome when engraving through a painted layer, like we did in Week 56: Decorated Clothes Pins. (If you are curious, the design is one I won from Designious – it’s part of seamless pattern pack number 23).
Make sure your design is print ready by setting the colors and line widths as specified by your laser cutter. Save in a laser friendly format such as .ai or .eps.
Cut and admire your unique finished project! And have a fantastic year!
This week I had a challenge that I’ve been dreading for a while now: recreating a greyscale image on a wood surface. While engraving a black and white design results in impressive, high-contrast finished pieces, any images with a wide variety of values can end up looking muddy if you don’t properly determine how the laser’s halftoning process affects the greys in the image in question.
For this project—a memorial plaque for a family member who recently passed on—I was using a picture of a lighthouse overlooking a beach paired with one of his enduring quotes. While the text itself was easy black-on-white engraving, the photograph was a full color piece that I had to do some editing on before it could be ready for the laser.
I’ve had more luck with a smaller amount of grey shades than with a fine gradient, so I used a posterize command to reduce the shades down to three or four (including black and white). That was easy enough, but the tones had too much contrast at first, resulting in most of the greys looking all but identical to black on the wood. A few level adjustments brought most of the greys near the center of the spectrum, which proved after several more test cuts be the right level of contrast for this particular wood.
That’s one of the trickier bits, too: different woods produce different results. This wood is unfinished, and will darken to some degree no matter how much power you throw at it, but some finished woods can actually lighten in color with lower power engraves before burning into the wood with higher settings. Even another unfinished piece of wood from a different type or batch could engrave lighter or darker than the results here. You’ll want to have tight control over the source (and thus consistency) of your material, otherwise you’ll have to fuss with grey levels regularly or suffer through inconsistent engraving quality on the finished product.