Tag Archives: Nintendo

117: PC Case Engraving

To ring in the new year, and celebrate the ten year anniversary of my previous build, I decided to build a new PC. Back in 2007, it was two years before we even started playing with lasers. This time around, I knew for sure I’d be laser engraving some piece or another. I’ve engraved a few macbooks and other portable devices, and I’ve even engraved a custom wood faceplate for a friend’s ATX midtower. So I’ve been pretty excited about the idea of engraving something on my own machine!

Over a few weeks in January I did the research, collected the parts, and then planned a small “build party” with some of my local PC enthusiast friends so we could put the machine together together. Hey, it only happens once a decade or so, that’s a pretty good excuse for a shindig, yeah?

From left to right, Brenn, Jen (<3), myself, Maul, Ray, and Mark. Also not pictured: Maul’s bro Joe! Thanks for the photography, Mark!

Together we had dinner, built the PC, played some couch games, and mulled over a few remaining questions. What should this new build be called? What part of the case will be laser engraved? What are we going to engrave on it? I was so wishy-washy on the name decision that I couldn’t even settle on it before the party was over. Furthermore, I wanted the engraving design to be related to the name, so I couldn’t really come to any decisions on that front, either. But we were able to figure out what part to engrave, and as it turned out, the answer was nothing.

Fractal Design’s Define C case is sexy, but made out of questionably engravable plastic.

The Fractal Design Define C is a sexy, sexy midtower ATX case. I love the shroud, I love the quiet, and I love the flat textured front. I like simple, unassuming case designs, and I wanted to continue down that road after my last build in an Antec P180B. But when we finally dug into the case, I learned a few laser-unfriendly things I could probably have sussed out from reviews online if I had been more thorough.

The front of the case is not an anodized aluminum plate, and it’s also not easily detached from the surrounding plastic chassis that covers the front exhaust system. It’s made out of the same plastic—it’s very pretty, with a subtle vertical brushed texture, but it’s still just the case plastic. Because the textured surface isn’t repeated anywhere on the inside (or indeed on any other external surface) I wasn’t going to be able to do an inconspicuous engraving test. So I wouldn’t be able to engrave the front plate, but what about the window?

On a quest for extreme sound dampening, my previous PC build didn’t have a window at all. But over the years I’ve kind of missed being able to peek in on my parts, so this time I bought a case with built-in acrylic window.

With a power shroud for modesty and excellent cable arrangement, who wouldn’t want to peek inside?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t going to be an easy way to test that material inconspicuously either, and with the  engraving quality difference between cast and extruded acrylics, I didn’t want to gamble.

When I looked closer at the acrylic window, I noticed there was a lip on the inside, one that would fit a secondary piece of acrylic just fine as long as the measurements were correct. So I did a couple of sizing tests with some old pieces of acrylic, got my measurements spot on, and settled on a solution: cut a separate piece of cast acrylic and snap it into the existing acrylic window. I wouldn’t technically be engraving the PC case after all, but the finished piece would still look as good. As a bonus, I’d be able to easily change out the acrylic in the future if I wanted to change the design.

Amusingly enough, it was mulling around design ideas that led me to my final decision on the name of the machine. I’ve always been a fan of the Metroid series, you can see it in some of my other projects. Most game servers I host have names based on “Maru Mari”, and you’ll be connecting to “Varia” if you try to stream content to my television. I had a feeling I’d end up going with the Metroid theme again, but it wasn’t until I thought about how much fun it would be to engrave the cold steel corridors of Tourian into acrylic that I really landed on it.

The full map is too big; I’d have to fit it in this cyan rectangle

Tourian is a big map. Well, it’s not big, but its hallways are long and the vertical shafts are all a daunting climb. I’d have to compress the map pretty significantly to make it fit the relatively tiny space I had for my acrylic window. To make matters worse, halfway through the design I realized I had laid out the template wrong and was designing for the measurements in landscape instead of portrait. But after cutting a few rooms in half (and completely excising the hallway before Mother Brain’s chamber) I was able to make it fit.

The final compressed map, corrected to a portrait aspect.

I added a few additional details (the opening text scroll and an excessively big title in the original typeface in the corner) and the design was finished. I cleaned up the acrylic, seated it in the window’s lip, and used a tiny bit of clear packing tape on the inside corners to make sure it wouldn’t somehow come loose.

A mockup of what the case might look like with the final design.

The panel looks great when it’s not connected to the computer, but as it turns out, I should look into buying some motherboard-powered LED strip lighting to brighten up this design. Most of the photography here is cleaned up to make the engraving visible, but it’s much more subtle than that when properly installed on the PC.

This door is all that’s left of a completely deleted room. Don’t tell the purists!

The end result may be disappointingly dim, but I still had a blast manipulating the Tourian map in a way that wouldn’t compromise the basic layout, and I will definitely be using what I’ve learned on this project to make some more “window inserts” for this case in the future. Once it’s lit up, the design itself should really shine, but for now it still makes for some pretty fun close up photography!

The engraving fights with the inner bits just a little more than I’d hoped.
I love that the escape shaft coincidentally has its own murky yellow and green lighting.
This example clearly shows how dim the engraving is compared to the LED-lit components inside.
A two character 8 segment LED readout hides in Tourian’s O.
One Metroid, permanently frozen.

107: Thick Acrylic

A few months ago, my friend Arty got in touch with me and said he had “some thick acrylic” left over from a recent storefront revamp at a mobile phone store. Not really knowing what I was getting into, I said “hey any scrap material that I can laser is good with me!”

This stuff is so clear it's almost hard to see.
This stuff is so clear it’s almost hard to see.

Much more recently, I went to pick up the acrylic that he’d been graciously holding onto for me. As it turned out, the acrylic wasn’t just thick. It was far thicker than I could process with the laser, with 7/8″ as the thinnest edge. But there were several chunks of uniformly cut acrylic, and every surface was smooth enough that you could see clear through to the other side. This was material worth experimenting on!

The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.
The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.

I first determined whether it was cast or extruded acrylic by doing a surface engraving featuring some art deco frame stock. The surface engraving was powdery and white, which was perfect—cast acrylic engraves in a much more visible manner than extruded acrylic.

The second design didn't really convey the "frosted ice" look I was going for.
The second design didn’t really convey the “frosted ice” look I was going for.

The second design I tried was based on a “frosted ice” theme I developed while working with a client a couple of years ago. While it looked great on the snowflake shapes I used originally, the effect was lost on the square chunk of acrylic, and the “FROSTY” text I added didn’t really come out clearly.

Two different sizes of blocks "comprised" of tetriminos.
Two different sizes of blocks “comprised” of tetriminos.

I revisited some tetrimino patterns from a very early 52LASERS post. Using three different engraving techniques, I created a pattern that highlighted certain shapes with fills and deeper cuts. The result not only looks awesome from straight on, it created some really stunning effects when looking through the unengraved side of the acrylic.

Looking through the clean edge shows off each "deep cut" tetrimino.
Looking through the clean edge shows off each “deep cut” tetrimino.
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!

I still have plenty of stock of these blocks left, so if you can think of any more creative ways to jazz up the acrylic’s surface, let me know in the comments!

Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!
Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!

91: Bokeh Filters

This week, at Jennifer’s suggestion, I took a look into creating lens filters for my camera that would allow us to create custom-shaped highlights in bokeh photography. Firing the laser at some simple black cardstock, I carved a 2″ diameter circle with some tabs to mount it to the zoom lens enclosure on my camera. In the center of said circle, at about a half an inch big, I cut three designs featured as series icons in Super Smash Brothers: Samus Aran’s logo, Team Starfox’s logo, and a paw representing Nintendogs. I used a nice sturdy rubber band to secure the tabbed circle directly to the front of the lens.

The Starfox filter was attached upside down; it flipped in practice.
The Starfox filter was attached upside down; it flipped in practice.

Laying out and cutting these pieces was so simple compared to actually capturing the images I aimed for. I didn’t do any proper measurement for how big the Smash-shaped holes should be, despite recommendations elsewhere to use an equation involving the focal length and aperture size of your camera. I was also using a fairly middling camera without much breadth of options in either of those two categories.

An assortment of paw-shaped highlights from Nintendogs
An assortment of paw-shaped highlights from Nintendogs
These are Samus Aran's logo, I swear!
These are Samus Aran’s logo, I swear! They flipped on me, too.

It took a few hours of straight up experimentation (and a couple bundles of Christmas lights for easy bright highlights) before I was able to capture what resembled the beautiful creamy bokeh art out there on the Internet. One thing I didn’t realize until I was taking my third batch of pictures (the Starfox logo) was that the art you choose might appear flipped depending on which end of the focus spectrum you’re settling on. My hardware doesn’t have a fully manual focus option, so it was pretty difficult getting the shapes to fully reveal themselves. Still, it was a little bit magical when the shapes finally grew out of the blur in my viewfinder as I continued to adjust aperture, zoom, and focus settings. If you’ve got a decent camera, you should definitely give bokeh style photography a try, even if you don’t have a filter to turn the highlights into fun shapes!

With the zoom wide and the focus as close as possible, the lens filter cropped the entire scene clearly!
With the zoom wide and the focus as close as possible, the lens filter cropped the entire scene clearly!
Tiny Starfox emblems, somewhat visible despite focus issues.
Tiny Starfox emblems, somewhat visible despite focus issues.

87: Shrink Plastic

You remember shrinky-dinks, right? I spent a good handful of childhood afternoons trying to cook little plastic cartoon characters alive. As it turns out, they’ve had this shrink plastic material as letter sized sheets perfect for inkjet printing for years now! Jen picked some up on a recent trip to the craft store and this week, I’m going to see how well they work with the laser.

The army I gathered for this particular project.
The army I gathered for this particular project.

First, I had to settle on what to print. I have a shameful secret, and it’s called Final Fantasy Record Keeper. It’s the only microtransaction-fueled free-to-play mobile game I go anywhere near, and it’s all because of my slavish addiction to its weaponized nostalgia. One of the most interesting traits of that game is that the development team creates Final Fantasy VI-styled sprites of characters from every Final Fantasy, upgrading the older NES and SNES games and creating neat retro takes on the polygonal entry’s protagonists. The active time battle gameplay is surprisingly faithful to the series, too, so if you’ve got fond memories from the Final Fantasy series, and you can stomach an energy meter in your game, you should give it a try! (This is a friend invite link, but it doesn’t involve any social networks.)

Printed people. I used too much ink, which would cause issues later.
Printed people. I used too much ink, which would cause issues later.

I selected a gaggle of my favorite warriors from the game and printed them out on the shrink plastic paper. While it was obvious that I had to print them bigger in order for them to shrink to about half an inch size, what wasn’t obvious was just how much more ink I was using than I should have been. In my excitement, I missed the step in the instructions that suggested printing with the graphics lightened to about a 50% screen. Because the ink condenses when you cook the plastic, this results in much darker images than what you see when you first print it out.

More plastic warriors of light fresh out from beneath the laser.
More plastic warriors of light fresh out from beneath the laser.

Before I could cook them, though, I set up the laser cutter to cut out each character with a generous amount of space around them; this was primarily to avoid any registration issues but it also helped ameliorate the awkwardness you can get when a black printed surface is cut away to a bright white edge. One thing I had to keep in mind was how thin the material was; despite it being a kind of plastic, I had to treat it like paper and weigh it down so that the cut outs wouldn’t get sucked into the exhaust.

Rosa and others, hanging out around Jennifer's 3D letter M.
Rosa and others, hanging out around Jennifer’s 3D letter M.

When I finally cooked the characters, I did so in three batches. 275 degrees caused the characters to curl up so severely that I was sure the project was lost; I didn’t remember from my childhood that the pieces would eventually flatten back out. They did, but it wasn’t until the third batch of characters that I realized I had to help finish flattening them immediately out of the oven. One of Jennifer’s heavy museum studies tomes did the trick.

Cloud and Rikku are perfectly flat, but Josef is a little curly.
Cloud and Rikku are perfectly flat, but Josef is a little curly.

For the most part, the characters came out great. My bumbling with two batches resulted in some pretty curled up corners, particularly with Final Fantasy II Josef’s bald head. The ink did exactly like the instructions said it would and condensed down, making several of the characters very dark; for the purposes of this entry I’ve adjusted the images to restore what I could from each fighter’s original palette.

So many FFRK characters!
So many FFRK characters!

Oh, I think my stamina meter is full again. I better hurry up and play FFRK because otherwise I’m wasting stamina recharge time! Did I mention F2P games are awful? Fun, awful, but also fun, and mostly a little bit awful. 😉