Tag Archives: laser

105: Tint and Shade Engraving

A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.
Tint engraving is light, frosting the finish, while shade engraving is deep, darkening the surface.

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.

The first batch of prototypes showed that halftones couldn't be used.
The first batch of prototypes showed that halftones couldn’t be used.

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.

Finding the right threshold for the tint and shade graphic layers was difficult.
Finding the right threshold for the tint and shade graphic layers was difficult.

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.

Coincidental background shading and foreground tinting created great contrast.
Coincidental background shading and foreground tinting created great contrast.

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.

A small section of Castlevania's Entrance. Do you recognize it?
A small section of Castlevania’s Entrance. Do you recognize it?

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.

The processed art used for the shade engraving.
The processed art used for the shade engraving.
The shade engraving is complete, and tint engraving is up next.
The shade engraving is complete, and tint engraving is up next.
The processed art used for the tint engraving.
The processed art used for the tint engraving.
A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.
A close-up showing off the depth of the shade engraving.

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!

104: One Word Affirmation

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.

  1. Pick your font and word!
    Pick your font and word!
    The stroke is a slightly different color here so you can see it
    The stroke is a slightly different color here so you can see it

    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.

  2. I also made the "S" bigger to help balance it.
    I also made the “S” bigger to help balance it.

    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.

  3. First Expansion
    First Expansion
    Second expansion
    Second expansion

    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.

    Step 3 - Unite
    Step 4 – Unite
  4. Step 4 - Outline of the united word.
    Step 4 – Outline of the united word.

    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.

  5. Resize your vector to final print size.

    Step 5 - The pattern is overlaid, and because the engraving is rastered, I masked it. Saves on laser time.
    Step 6 – The pattern is overlaid, and because the engraving is rastered, I masked it. Saves on laser time.  Also, don’t judge my illustrator layout.  I’m a newbie.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. Cut and admire your unique finished project!  And have a fantastic year!

goshine (9 of 9)

The painted wood was masked, to protect it from soot and over burn. I really liked the effect of the transfer tape, which allowed some of the color to come through. The tiny bits of tape left made a fun texture. I wouldn't suggest doing this for high use objects (the tape comes off easily), but this it just going on the wall.
The painted wood was masked, to protect it from soot and over burn. I really liked the effect of the transfer tape, which allowed some of the color to come through. The tiny bits of tape left made a fun texture. I wouldn’t suggest doing this for high use objects (the tape comes off easily), but this it just going on the wall.
Perhaps a good resolution for me would be measure twice, cut once - they I wouldn't have the word for slightly off the end of my piece of wood!
Perhaps a good resolution for me would be measure twice, cut once – then I wouldn’t have miscalculated and the word would have fit on my piece of wood!

 

102: Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace

Back in June, the Aurora Public Library finished and opened their new Santori building. The most personally exciting addition to the library within the new building is a public makerspace, with plenty of gadgets for making things (and some just for playing around) that I knew I’d want to spend some time with.

A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.
A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.

In November, I accepted a part-time position at the library helping patrons learn how to use the hardware available both in the makerspace and also in other locations like the media studio. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to become familiar with the new hardware, I wanted to take a moment to discuss what new tools we have available. With that in mind, this week’s project is less about a single physical item and more about the differences between laser manufacturers and some quick exploration into other hardware.

The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.
The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.

My obvious first stop is at the APL Makerspace’s laser, an Epilog brand Mini 24. It’s 40 watts, so beyond the slightly shorter 12″ Y axis, it’s equivalent to the Universal Laser Systems VersaLaser 4.60 I have at home. The power and technology may be similar, but the actual hardware and software are pretty wildly different.

The Mini 24's front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.
The Mini 24’s front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.

Featured on the front of the unit is a LED readout and a bevy of buttons that allow the user to issue lots of commands from right there in front of the laser. Compared to the VersaLaser, which only has five buttons, I can move between jobs in internal storage, activate the red dot pointer at any time, and even temporarily disable the motor control on the axes so that I can temporarily move the lens out of the way without needing to turn off the machine.

One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.
One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.

Another clever addition is an autofocus “plunger” which can automatically find the surface to be engraved and calculate the appropriate focus without any user intervention. Despite these and some other nifty perks of the hardware, I was shocked to discover that the software solution provided, Epilog Job Manager, does not have any way to estimate the job time prior to processing the material. It’s a serious minus for anyone who needs to let their customers or patrons know an estimate for how much their job will cost.

Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.
Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.

The laser isn’t the only fancy piece of kit in the makerspace. They also have a Roland-brand vinyl cutter. This was a bit of a surprise to me, since my previous experience with Roland hardware was restricted to digital drum kits. It’s a fairly diminutive piece of hardware, looking a bit bony next to the huge laser printer and positively tiny next to the oversized plotter printer.

A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it's large?
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it’s large?

The plotter printer is so big that it can print four-foot wide banners, and it’s fed by rolls of paper, the actual length of which none of us have yet to discover. Thankfully, it’s very intuitive to use as long as you know how to prepare your documents as PDF files on thumb drives. Anything else and you might need a manual.

A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.
A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.

Sitting next to the entryway is a really comfortable chair and a large screen, the latter of which isn’t really meant for the person at the station—it’s more for onlookers’ benefit, because the typical user will have their eyes wrapped in vaguely unfinished plastic. While the Oculus Rift station doesn’t yet help patrons make anything, it’s definitely an attention-getter.

Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.
Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.

Along the back wall (and overlooking the excellent art installation in the back entryway) are a trio of 3D printers. They’re Cubes, by 3DSystems, and they’re regularly the most active pieces of maker hardware in the space. There’s a reason we have three of them, and it’s not just the popularity: 3D printing can take a very, very long time. While it’s super neat that these printers can print from two colors in a single job, I have to admit I’m not sure how much of the trouble I’ve had with extrusion tips jamming and work plate misalignment are just the learning curve.

The Aurora Public Library Makerspace is really cool, and if you’re in the area, it’s a great way to come check out not only a really sleek laser cutter but also 3D printers, vinyl cutters, a VR headset and a lot more. The space is open from noon to 8:30 pm on Monday through Thursday, noon to 4:30 on Friday and Saturday, and for some small period of time on Sunday that I don’t immediately recall. Stop by and learn how to make stuff!

P.S. Please disregard the awful automatic patching on the featured panorama. Trust me, the Santori building is not nearly that broken looking in real life!

101: Pincushion Rings

Time to make presents!  Having become acquainted with some many sewers of the past couple years, pincushion rings were on my radar – question was, how to make them with lasers?

Pincushion rings and bracelets are very useful for quilters and people the use a lot of pins because it holds pins close – no need to find a pincushion nearby. I decided to attach the pincushion to a laser cut frame, much like my pendant frames.  I put together a couple designs and made a deep frame front, and solid thin back.

Laser cut frames
Laser cut frames

My biggest mistake in making these was sizing them for rings, not sizing them for usefulness.  The smallest ring, a 1 inch circle with a little over a half inch center, was pretty impossible to make a cushion.  The bigger circle is 1.5 inches, and I think it could go up to 2 inches.

Tight fit with fabric.
Very tight fit with just  a tiny bit of  fabric.

I originally wanted to use the cut out circle in the frame to attach the pincushion to, with the intent that it would sit snuggly back in the frame.  I learned two things attempting this – 1) hot glue doesn’t work on wood and 2) the laser cutting kerf isn’t big enough to tuck fabric all the way around – it barely squeaked in to get the corner in for the picture.  To make it work, I would have had to make the gap wider.

Pincushions (6 of 16)
For the second attempt I took a clue from this Instructables tutorial – sew a little pouch with a circle of fabric and filled it with cushion materials.  I used a mix of walnut shells and cotton batting.  A running stitch around the edges allowed me to cinch it up.

Pincushions (7 of 16)

E6000 is a crafters friend.
E6000 is a crafters friend.

I used E6000 to glue the frame to the cushion, and then to attached to the solid back.  Because I was gluing at the 11th hour, I didn’t actually finish the rings.  I wanted to let the E6000 cure fully before attaching the prefabricated ring back.

Cute little ring size!

Cute little ring size!

Pincushions (11 of 16)