Tag Archives: fluorescent acrylic

109: Edge-Lit Acrylic

I’ve been playing a lot lately with a new toy I picked up from Inventables: a powered LED strip for edge lighting acrylic. It’s made in particular to work in tandem with specially made acrylics that transmit light efficiently, but I’ve found it works really well with simpler transparent and fluorescent acrylics.

The first dual-layer design.
The first dual-layer design.

My first test was with transparent orange material sourced at the Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace—check it out if you’re local!—and it seemed appropriate to design a little sign for the space as the test. Because the LED strip is designed to snap to the edge of a 1/4″ piece of acrylic and I only had 1/8″ material available, I decided to split the design across two layers of acrylic. The front layer included all of the vector engraving and the back layer was just the main title text filled. The resulting look is striking, but using two transparent layers means you have to be extra careful not to let any fingerprints or dust get in between.

The short sign lit up easily.
The short sign lit up easily. Please ignore the Macbook!

Around the same time, I was working with a local artist to create some wall décor based on the classic Pac-Man maze. We agreed pretty quickly that the lit effect would look great and settled on some fluorescent blue acrylic. The first several tests confirmed that the two layer effect would be excellent; dividing the pellets, ghosts and other objects from the maze walls might not be very visible in the photography, but it’s a really neat trick when you’re examining the piece up close.

A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.
A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.

One concern I continue to have is whether a single LED strip will be able to illuminate the entire flourescent blue acrylic sheet—this piece is 16 inches tall, towering compared to the 4″ makerspace sign. A quick test on some scrap acrylic shows that the light visibly dims near the top, but I won’t be able to know for sure how the final piece will look until a last-minute shipment of materials arrives. Speaking of that, here’s a pro tip: don’t assume you’ve got all the materials you need until the day you’re scheduled to cut! Always check, even if it’s something you always keep in stock, like the black cast acrylic that was supposed to be the backing layer for the finished Pac-Man piece.

A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.
A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.

Edge lit acrylic is a great look, and I’m might have to investigate the “EndLighten” brand or similar substrates to maximize light transmission. I know I’m also going to be looking into portable equivalents; this hardware has to plug into a wall. I’m sure that’ll be a post in the future; until then, look forward to an update on this post with additional pictures of the finished Pac-Man piece!

This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We'll see how it looks in the finished piece!
This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We’ll see how it looks in the finished piece!

78: X-COM Shield

Owing partial thanks to the awesomeness of fluorescent green material, I put together a custom piece for a client this week that blended appreciation for two things: the X-COM series of science fiction video games and the real world United States Army Special Forces. We decided on a parody of the X-COM shield design, cast in green in reference to the green berets, and featuring a popular Special Forces motto in place of the shield’s original vigilo confido.

The first prototype made it clear that glue on the front acrylic was unacceptable.
The first prototype made it clear that glue on the front acrylic was unacceptable.

Because the design was made with two pieces of acrylic in mind, I had to determine the best way to attach the pieces.  On my first small prototype, I tried simply putting a few dabs of super glue in the corners of the piece, hoping that it would dry clear. Unfortunately, the uneven splotches of glue were readily visible from most angles and killed the fluorescent green effect in many cases.  It wasn’t going to work out.

The "pokes" are most visible in this prototype.
The “pokes” are most visible in this prototype.

I made a second prototype, again only a couple of inches tall, to test out a post solution. I would cut small holes into the layers, and then cut matching posts out of 1/4″ black acrylic. The uneven laser width when cutting thicker materials meant that the posts acted kind of like nails, with a slightly larger diameter on one side. I also played around with using single-point laser bursts—I called them pokes—to create a neat depth effect on the spherical grid design. Because imperfections of any kind glow in the fluorescent material, these “pokes” became connecting posts that met with the grid and traveled through the thickness of the material. It produced a pretty cool, albeit slightly messy result on the prototype.

You can barely make out the top of each poke, but the lines beneath are invisible.
You can barely make out the top of each poke, but the lines beneath are invisible.

Once I had the post thickness figured out, I laid out the final 9″ by 12″ piece. I included the poke technique, which didn’t turn out very visible due to how large the surface engraving was in comparison to the tiny lines the pokes produced. I also used repeated inset paths to create a depth effect on the typography and the three stars featured in the design. While the posts fit snugly in to the front surface, they were too small for the black acrylic in the back. A little glue there, where it wouldn’t be visible through green acrylic in the front, was just fine.

The engraved portions cast a shadow on the back layer.
The engraved portions cast a shadow on the back layer.

While the poke technique didn’t really come into its own with the finished, piece, it’s something I will be experimenting with more in the future. Every other facet, especially the awesome shadow the engraving casts on the back acrylic, turned out great!

The full piece, cut from two layers of acrylic.
The full piece, cut from two layers of acrylic.
The bottom post, one of five that hold the acrylic layers together.
The bottom post, one of five that hold the acrylic layers together.
The stars were engraved via repeated inset paths, creating an illusion of depth.
The stars were engraved via repeated inset paths, creating an illusion of depth.
A close-up shows the "rotary-style" engraving process used on the text.
A close-up shows the “rotary-style” engraving process used on the text.

25: Fluorescent Badges

I can’t believe how long it took me to realize how awesome fluorescent materials are. I’ve cut plenty of things out of transparent acrylic, but I completely ignored its glowing sibling until a group of Ingress players asked me to make them some badges.

A stack of badges; the top badge is the same color as the rest, I swear!
A stack of badges; the top badge is the same color as the rest, I swear!

Have you played Ingress? If you haven’t and you’re using a somewhat recent Android phone, you should give it a shot; it’s a well-polished geolocation game that has a fairly engaging progression system ostensibly designed to get you to go out walking/biking/what-have-you. I was absorbed into this game, rarely playing anything else during my run from level 1 to level 8, and I’m not the only one. That group of Ingress players mentioned earlier is called the Chicago Enlightened, because they’re in the Chicagoland area and are a bunch of frogs.

Check out how much these babies glow!
Check out how much these babies glow!

The fluorescent acrylic just soaks up light and fires it right back at you, especially where you’ve etched or cut it, making just about any art you etch amazingly, fantastically visible. Pardon my enthusiasm; I’ve been disappointed in the past with how difficult it was to make clear, high-contrast etches on transparent acrylic in the past, and this material solves the issue with bright glowy aplomb.  Like other transparent acrylic, it also cleans up very easily, without the sticky edges I’ve come to dread on most opaque acrylics. It was a joy to work with and generally a joy to photograph.

The old badge looks black mostly on account of the background surface.
The old badge looks black mostly on account of the background surface.

The awesome badge design seen here was provided by the group, and they’ve worked with this material before, so thankfully I didn’t have very many trial-and-error moments to deal with there. I did do some prototyping on a medallion-style badge similar to one I cut long ago, and I’ve taken some pictures of those too to show the contrast between the transparent green acrylic I typically use and the fluorescent material for this project. While the designs vary wildly—a raster etch focus on one and a vector etch focus on the other—the materials’ differing transmission of light is clear.

Here you can see the green tint of the original badge more easily.
Here you can see the green tint of the original badge more easily.

I think I’m going to have to revisit the tetriminos in this new material. In the meantime, I’m just thrilled that I’ll never again forget how to spell fluorescent.

More stacked badges.
More stacked badges.