“Well, that didn’t work,” ended my first foray into laser etching glass. I tried to create a design similar to the mesmerizing microscopic pattern found on the back of the Nexus 4 smartphone, this time on the glass back of a spare iPhone 4 that my nephew graciously donated for the cause. The resulting pattern was too big and the laser settings weren’t appropriate, making each vector line look more like a coincidentally straight shatter line rather than the light-reflecting divot I’d intended. I’ve shied away from etching glass since, and after this week’s project, I’ve realized I’ve still got a lot to learn!
While I’m doing general graphic design at Eagle Engraving in St. Charles, IL, my coworker and fellow laser ninja Monica is often etching all sorts of designs into glass. I’ve been envious lately of her knack for making designs spring forth from glass, and while I don’t yet have the rotary attachment necessary to etch round objects—like pilsner glasses—I did have a square vase conveniently made of mostly flat glass. Because the sides of the vase were tapered, I had to prop up the bottom side so that the surface was parallel to the laser plane. I ended up using a box of dialog boxes and a handy level to double-check my work.
The first etch was cut with the default raster etch density (5) and the grayscaled art above. I went with full power and full speed just to see how it would turn out, and the lightest halftone didn’t play well with mostly flat glass, only mostly etching. Apart from that, this turned out to be the single best contrast out of the set of four etches I made. The second etch, at maximum density, was overkill; the raster lines were so close together that wiping down the surface flaked away a lot of the glass, as shown below.
My third fire flower was etched at a lower image density. While this prevented chipping, some tinkering with the halftone patterns resulted in even more chipping in a much more widespread way. While the contrast was improved from etch two and nearly as good as etch one, the damaged areas really stand out. Who can guess where many of these tiny glass slivers are?
I had to cut at least one Super Mario World flower. I settled on the default image density again after the tweaked results were poor, and while he’s still hard to see thanks to haphazardly adjusted gray levels, you can still see how much more personality he has. That just won’t do—he’ll only last another game or two, anyway.
I might have to table glass etching again for a while; I was unable to achieve satisfactory results on this particular piece. Still, I’ve since had a chat with laser ninja Monica, about her own tricks for getting better results on glass, so you can be sure you’ll be reading more about it here in the future!