I’m doing my best Martha Stewart impression with our 52 Lasers version of pumpkin decorating. We are definitely not the first to put laser to pumpkin; you can see Design Sponge’s amazing punched tin style pumpkin and Seattle Food Geek’s amazing in depth study on lasering a pumpkin for some awesome inspiration.
The set of limitations I had: I didn’t want to carve all the way through the pumpkin. Probably too many bad memories of mushy, half rotted hollowed out pumpkins, but I didn’t want to cut into them. So that also cut out lighting them.
We also don’t have the awesome rotary attachment (yet) that would allow us to engrave the pumpkin in the round, and I didn’t want to go searching for that one, perfect, flat sided pumpkin that would allow us to get a larger etching space. I decided to instead work mainly with the largest flat area on a pumpkin; the top.
I had a little trouble finding the wide squished looking pumpkins I wanted, so I settled on smaller pie pumpkins. They had a lovely color, lovely shape, and there was one that didn’t have a pesky stem at all!
For our our tester pumpkin I grabbed the tall one and decided to engrave a quick image on the flatter side (pretty much contradicting what I just said above!) – no sense of setting up something complicated if it didn’t work! It features a vintage “Hallow e’en” title taken from a turn of the century postcard and a skull and cross bones. We did two passes at 50% power, and then, since it went to well, did a third at 100% power. So much for caution. It resulted in a deep etch, and and it looked great…except for the unnerving tendency to weep. Yep, we made the pumpkins cry on our laser. My guess is that we got past the hard skin into the meat of the pumpkin that had more moisture.
I did cut a little black frame for the engraving to kind of dress it up the engraving, since the tester didn’t get a nice paint job, but the paper was too thick and wouldn’t stick well. So it doubles now as a jaunty hat or a lovely (tiny) paper doily underneath.
For the larger of the squat pumpkins, I made up a ring of text with “Boo!” and little images of bats, cats, etc. The ring was to decorate the top of the pumpkin, but to get the focal length right required a bit of delicate trimming with a hacksaw. I had to trim the dried stem, because it was too long and would have hit the laser head as it moved back and forth. A little indelicate, but it didn’t turn out badly.
Once everything was aligned correctly, we etched the top at 100% power, 80% speed. The engraving isn’t as deep, but it looked great under the laser. Admittedly a moment of panic set in when I scrubbed the engraved areas and the writing all but disappeared – but when it dried the text was visible again. I finished this one off by painting the bottom half green, and covered up my paint line with a black and green ribbon. A pretty swanky effect!
Amusingly, the pumpkin idea that inspired this whole post was the last one we cut. I was initially inspired by the lace covered pumpkins I’ve seen on Pinterest, and wanted to emulate that by laser engraving. To make it really pop, I prepped the pumpkin with (decidedly unHalloween-like) teal acrylic paint. The color was a) one I liked, b) only one of three I had, and c) probably inspired somewhere in the back of my head by a friend posting on Facebook about the Teal Pumpkin Project promoting an allergy safe trick-or-treating experience (thanks Erin!). I painted it first and then sealed it to give it gloss and to protect against the weeping the pumpkin does under the laser.
I used the pumpkin without a stem, as this gave us a greater canvas, and engraved the lovely lace pattern I found at Recoursos2D. (The file doesn’t really give original artist attribution, so if they took it from another source, please let me know!) We went for 100% power, 50% speed, and the laser cut right through the paint and sealer. This is a happy pumpkin; it did not shed a single pumpkin tear. Apparently we didn’t engrave deep enough. I didn’t scrub this one clean because I liked the gradual color change as the lace curved down, and I didn’t want to mess up the paint job. It turned out beautifully!
I think the experiment was a success! There were no adverse effects to the laser, the smell wasn’t awful, and the end product is something I’m excited to show off. Perhaps we’ll have the rotary attachment to try pumpkins in the round next year!