Tag Archives: hexagons

66: Tips for laser cutting paper

Well, I’ve managed to fall in with a group of quilters.  More accurately, English Paper Piecing enthusiasts.  If you’ve never heard of English Paper Piecing before and couldn’t care less about cute geometric fabric shapes, don’t worry, this post isn’t really about quilting.  It’s really about cutting paper.

According to The Sewing Directory, “English Paper Piecing, (often referred to as EPP), is the technique of folding fabric over paper templates and hand sewing these together.  The paper template shape ensures the blocks are accurate and also makes it easier to piece angles together.”  To complete a 80 x 90″ queen sized quilt with 1″ hexagons using the EPP method, you need a whopping 2775 hexagons!  And 2775 paper hexagons to form them with.

Jewel shape, mini triangles, hexagons, octagons and squares!
EPPs we designed – Jewel shape, mini triangles, hexagons, octagons and squares!

Options on how to get these paper shapes: buy them, cut them by hand or on a paper cutter (not easy for hexagons!), get a punch, or die cut them.   Buying them can get expensive, hand cutting can be inexact, and punches are limited to those commercially available. Some high end die cutters work off of patterns like the laser does, using blades to cut paper instead of laser power.  Cost of these methods ranges from pennies to about $500.  Coming in at more than 10 times more expensive, you can also use a laser!  Not exactly a cost effective investment for just EPP papers, but if you got a tool, use it, right?

We’ve been cutting paper on the laser since we first got it – all my jewelry tags are laser cut.  Perhaps this is why it never occurred to me to talk about it.  I use 100lb paper for my jewelry tags for added strength, and we used 67 lb paper for the EPP pieces.  Cutting paper on the laser is quick and easy as pie! Here are our top tips for laser cutting paper:

  • Go quickly at the bare minimum needed power.  Too slow and too much power leads to too many scorch marks.

    You can see scorch marks on the jewels - this also happens if you have a dirty honey comb.
    You can see scorch marks on paper – this also happens if you have a dirty honey comb.
  • If you’re using a downdraft cutting table, your paper may be thin enough to slide into the space between the ruler and the honeycomb support structure. Fold the top corners and the bottom left corner up slightly to prevent this.
  • Sometimes the exhaust air can lift a sheet of paper up off of the honeycomb, ruining a cut. Lay out your design so that you have a little space near the bottom of your paper and use something heavy to hold it down.  We use a small metal bar that once was used to use as a bookbinding weight.
  • If you’re trying to line up printed material on the page with your laser cutting, exercise proper bleed practices. Make sure your art extends beyond the cut area so that incorrect registration doesn’t result in misaligned artwork and noticeable unprinted areas.
  • Very important before lifting the lid when your job is done: Briefly close your blast gate or otherwise temporarily defeat your exhaust system. Especially with smaller pieces of paper like stud earring cards, the air pressure change when you lift the laser lid might suck your perfectly cut paper right up and dump it outside.  What a mess!

jewel-paper-pieces-with-wordsCutting the EPP papers was a fun prompt to do a post on paper, and a way to give back to the EPP community that I’ve been admiring on Instagram.  Please enjoy these freebies Ryan and I designed – Letter sized templates for 1″ hexagons, 1″ octagons and squares, and 1″ jewel patterns in .svg format.  Rebecca at Hugs are Fun was kind enough to save them in the .studio3 format for Silhouette machines as well.  Please enjoy!  Templates are free and for personal use only – please do not resell.

It was amazingly fun to mix and match all the cut papers on the workbench – like the Tangram puzzles I enjoyed as a kid!  I can’t resist sharing some.

I was having so much fun arranging the cut pieces on our workbench - I call this one twirling bloom.
I was having so much fun arranging the cut pieces on our workbench – I call this one twirling bloom.
Expanded twirling bloom, trying to find a good repeat point.  When cutting the jewel shapes, you get triangles as well (not pictured)!
Expanded twirling bloom, trying to find a good repeat point. When cutting the jewel shapes, you get triangles as well (not pictured)!
Art Nouveau inspired EPP pattern
Art Nouveau inspired EPP pattern

30: Tokens & Templates

Once in a while I come across a job where I’ve got a handful of pre-cut shapes and I’ve got to etch a design onto them.  This can be tricky for any number of reasons, but the issue I run into most often getting the alignment between the etch and the shape it’ll be on just right—it’s called registration.  I don’t have one of those fancy lasers with camera-aided registration systems, so I’ve got to do it by hand. Most of the time the job is small enough that I don’t mind just sliding one shape at a time up against the x- and y-axis rulers, using the corner for quick edge registration, but sometimes you’ve got so many items to produce that this becomes inefficient. That’s what at template is for!

The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.
The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.

In this case, several dozen leftover pieces of bamboo from Jennifer’s super-awesome hex pendants were lying in stacks, wondering when they would themselves become useful.  I like to stick tiny little free things in orders received at my Etsy shop like the wooden triforce eagle insignia that were cut a while back, but I’ve been out of random tiny little things for a while, so I decided to design some hex-shaped “tokens” with the Abecediary logo and my email. You can’t redeem anything with them, but having an email address for any custom laser geekery you have in mind has got to be pretty handy, right? I suppose they’re like tiny business cards, but cuter and slightly less useful.

The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.
The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.

There were a lot to cut though, so I took a piece of spare acrylic and cut a hexagonal grid into it, paths offset, allowing Jen’s leftover bamboo hexes to fit snugly inside. I made sure that the hex grid matched the layout of the design I would be etching into the surface exactly. I had long ago decided that this acrylic was scrap, but you can make a template with just about anything and most people prefer to use much cheaper materials like cardboard or chipboard.

A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.
A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.

The design itself was mostly achieved through light vector etching, with only the text and the ABCD logo being raster-etched. The result was cleaner than if I had used a deep raster etch on either side, and it afforded me a chance to get more familiar with using hairlines in design rather than relying on solid blocks.

All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.
All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.

If you’d like one for yourself, go nab an abecediary or a dialog box from the shop! There’ll be an extra tiny little bamboo token tucked inside. Unfortunately, I can’t fit the template in any of the envelopes I use for shipping so that’ll stay here.

The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen's hexie pendant leftovers.
The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen’s hexie pendant leftovers.