Tag Archives: template

112: Three-Ply Acrylic

It’s kind of amazing that it’s taken me this long to get to this project; when 52 Lasers was first conceived, using three-ply acrylic was on the first draft of our potential projects list. Now, more than two and a half years later, I finally have a project that requires this unique material!

Rowmark's convenient visual representation.
Rowmark’s convenient visual representation.

Three-ply acrylic is similar to the two-ply acrylic I use very often, except the thin cap layer is applied to both sides of the main acrylic substrate. While most of the badges, magnets, and other pieces I make only need one side to be engraved, certain items like medallions or coins might need both sides engraved, and this is when you’d use a three-ply option. This month’s project is a great example.

 

A bunch of SCA tokens celebrating an elevation.
A bunch of SCA tokens celebrating an elevation.

A couple of dear friends of ours are part of a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. While I’d like to explain what that is for you, I couldn’t possibly do better than the SCA’s excellent portal for curious newcomers. Dave got in touch and explained that his husband Jim was going to be recognized for his accomplishments in the Society, in a ceremony called an elevation. For the event, they wanted to distribute small tokens, in SCA appropriate colors, featuring Jim’s moniker in Chinese (凱曾, Kai Tseng) and the triple rapier logo of the Order of the Masters of Defense. I’ve always used wood for tokens that need both sides engraved up to this point, but it was far easier to get the colors Dave and Jim wanted by using the three-ply LaserMax acrylic from Rowmark.

When you’re engraving two-ply material, you don’t really have to worry too much about the back face; people aren’t going to be scrutinizing a blank back surface, so imperfections caused by the manufacturing process aren’t a big deal. That’s why two-ply materials only ship with mask on the front surface. Three-ply material has mask on both cap layers, and while you want to remove the mask from the side you’re engraving first, you definitely want to leave the mask on the bottom side. That’s because those vector cutting scars—plastic residue, honeycomb table impressions—are going to damage that side if you don’t. It’s okay to engrave the reverse side with the original side unmasked because you won’t be doing any high power vector cutting in that final step; it’s just surface engraving, which doesn’t cause those kinds of issues.

Red tokens placed upside down in the makeshift jig.
Red tokens placed upside down in the makeshift jig.

Conveniently enough, just cutting the shapes out in the first pass automatically creates a makeshift jig—or template—out of the leftover material. As long as you send the second half of the engraving data in the same exact positions as the first, all you have to do is flip the shape over and engrave again. Now, this requires a symmetrical shape, or else you’ll have to take flipping into consideration and cut extra pieces out of the material that will form the jig. You also want to remember to take the mask off of the flipped token’s new front side before engraving; firing the laser through that thin plastic layer will usually create a sticky mess.

With all of that in mind, it’s fairly simple to process three-ply material in a clean manner. You’ll still have to wipe down the edges with a light alcohol or a solvent similar to Goo Gone, but that’s usually the case with two-or-more-ply acrylics anyway. For how simple the whole process is, I still managed to muck things up, and I lost a whole set of twenty yellow tokens on the first pass due to a technical issue with the laser that I still haven’t figured out.

Unexpected markings ruined a whole batch of tokens.
Unexpected markings ruined a whole batch of tokens.

Once in a while, when raster engraving, the field I’m engraving will be speckled with tiny additional engraved dots. I can never predict when it happens, and just rebooting the system fixes it, but it always loses me a piece or two.

Token stacks.
Token stacks.

I also noticed with this project that my laser alignment isn’t perfectly perpendicular to the engraving surface currently; if you look a the picture of the token stacks above, you’ll notice the slight skew in the 1/8″ thickness of the tokens. I think this is due to a misaligned mirror #3, but it’s difficult to know for sure and I might end up having to replace the mirror #3 assembly with a factory-calibrated one.

If any of you have any tips for cleaning the laser-cut edges of a two-or-three-ply piece, any ideas on what might cause the rare engraving field speckling, or any suggestions on how to realign the beam path across the surface, let me know in the comments below!

68: Fussy Cut Templates

So, during Week 66, I made a disclaimer that the post wasn’t really about English Paper Piecing, but rather a platform to talk about how to laser cut paper. This week is about cutting and piecing together fabric – consider yourself forewarned!

To “fussy cut” a piece of fabric is to take great care in cutting the piece needed from  a specific area of the fabric.  You can do this to highlight a specific figure or artistic part of the fabric, but I most often see it used with English Paper Piecing to create a unique kaleidoscope effect with repeats of the same segment of fabric.

Here's my version - my first fussy cut bloom!  The 6 jewels with the same pattern are sewn points in to make this star, which has a kaleidoscope kind of feel to it.
Here’s my version – my first fussy cut star or flower! I used the jewel shape from Week 66 with the same pattern sewn points in to make this shape.  I like how the grey lines make a secondary, off kilter tar in the piece.
Step 1 for testing my aligning and sewing skills - cutting 6 of the same pattern segment in the jewel shape!
Step 1 for testing my aligning and sewing skills – cutting 6 of the same pattern segment in the jewel shape!
Six perfectly aligned jewel shapes!  Aren't they cute?
Six perfectly aligned jewel shapes! Aren’t they cute?

It’s easier to fussy cut, of course, when you can see what you want to cut.  This is where acrylic templates come in.  You can align your fabric under them template, and then use the outside lines as cut guides to trace or use a rotary cutter on.  There are many fussy cut templates commercially available, but they re overwhelmingly squares or hexagons (which, by all rights, are very popular shapes in quilting).  I couldn’t find a jewel shaped or octagonal template anywhere!

To get the outlines for the templates, I used the same vector lines I created for the  paper templates in Week 66 and added a 3/8″ (.375″) border for the fabric that needs to fold over the paper edges and get tacked together to make the final shape. With good advice from Ryan, I figured out the easiest way to do this is add a .375″ outside stroke to the piece, then hit “expand appearance.”  Then you get two lines: your original, and another the perfect distance away.

I used the expanded shapes to create two different kinds of templates, to see which I liked better.  I actually did find advantages and disadvantages to both types, and often swapped back and forth!

Template style 1 is on the right, style 2 is on the left!
Template style 1 is on the right, style 2 is on the left!
Cute framed Mermaid!
Cute framed Mermaid!

Template 1: Created with 1/8″ clear acrylic.  It’s a solid piece, with a deep vector line showing the dimensions of your finished EPP.

Pros:

  • Because of the full coverage, it flattened slightly wrinkly fabric in the center as well as around the edges.  
  • Smoothly ran across the fabric when I was looking for the perfect cut
  • The clear acrylic allowed me to see the edges of what I was cutting as well as the desired image.  Fussy cutting can waste a lot of fabric, and sometimes the perfect images is closer the 3/8″ from the edge.  3/8″ is pretty generous, and in dire need, you can short it a little.  Visually deciding what was enough to sew helped me waste less fabric!
  • Some artists actually use the acrylic to trace the outline of the desired image in the center with a removable marker, allowing them more reference points to align to for even more perfect fussy cuts!
  • Easier to put the 52 Lasers logo on it (which of course has nothing to do with functionality!)

Cons:

  • Clear edges could be a little distracting, especially with busy or loud patterns
  • Easy to lose!  It’s clear so it blends in with everything.
The template frames the spider cross stitch done by Rebecca of Hugs are Fun perfectly!
The template frames the spider cross stitch done by Rebecca of Hugs are Fun perfectly!

Template 2: Created with 1/8″ opaque white acrylic, and is just the area encompassed by the stroke.  The center is cut out, like a low-tech view finder.

Pros:

  • Smoothly ran across the fabric when I was looking for the perfect cut
  • I preferred the opaque edges when finding the perfect cuts – it separated out the noise of the full fabric

Cons:

  • You couldn’t see the edges, and a couple times I got too close to a hole or wayward rotary cut for my fussy cut to work.

The full clear template is probably more versatile, and I would probably like it better with frosted or tinted edges – enough to still see though, but to set it off from the rest of the fabric better.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I simply set it down and lost it. I found I used the different template types in tandem, specially when I was trying to utilize every scrap.  I could see if a given space would fit two shapes or only one!

The laser is a versatile tool – you can make any shape template imaginable!  This really helps with the new EPP books that are breaking away from the hexagon stereotype, like the eagerly anticipated All Points Patchwork: English Paper Piecing beyond the Hexagon by Diane Gilleland, coming out in May! (Not an affiliate link, I just think the sneak peek looks great!)

Thanks again to Rebecca at Hugs are Fun for letting me raid her stash.  Of course, it’s her fault I’ve wandered down this EPP path in the first place! 🙂

This photo is very badly posed, as I was trying to photograph with my left and hold the rotary blade with my right.  Rotary blades are dangerous, kids, don't try this at home.

This photo is very badly posed, as I was trying to photograph with my left and hold the rotary blade with my right. Rotary blades are dangerous, kids, don’t try this at home.

cut-octagons

Clear 2 inch diamond template
Clear 2 inch diamond template

Edited 6/14/2015 – you can now find them in my supply shop, Beadeux, along with other laser cut goodies!

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

34: Votive Holders

Here's a votive holder at the wedding reception itself!
Here’s a votive holder at the wedding reception itself!

I have a long and slightly bitter history trying to laser-engrave glass. The back of my old iPhone 4 wasn’t having it, and the fire flowers I tried to cultivate didn’t quite pass muster. Still, when a friend wants some glass engraved for her wedding, I’m certainly not going to turn her down!

A single lonely votive holder.
A single lonely votive holder.

Lara and Paul got married on August 23rd, and to celebrate the occasion, Lara wanted some personalized votive holders to give to guests as wedding favors. With a simple, clean design based off of her wedding invitations and website, my only concern was whether the glass she sourced would fight with me as much as my fire flower vase did. The votive holders she chose were also coated in a blue surface material, so I had some new concerns about whether the laser would properly burn away the blue.

A closeup of the engraving, featuring a right-facing flower!
A closeup of the engraving, featuring a right-facing flower!

As it turns out, I had little cause for worry. Not only did the glass etch beautifully with only a few test engravings to get the power settings right, it also cut clear through the blue, creating an excellent contrast even when viewed through the other side of the glass. One technique for engraving glass that I learned about after my previous attempts involved dithering the engraving slightly by marking locations to engrave with a dark gray rather than black proper. While this results in a slightly less detailed engraving, it reduces chipping, which was an issue I ran into a lot with the fire flower vase. In this case, though, I didn’t have to dither the engraving at all!

The cardboard template that allowed 20 votive holders to be processed in one pass.
The cardboard template that allowed 20 votive holders to be processed in one pass.

There was a gross amount of votive holders to engrave—literally 144—so I made sure to take what I learned about templates and I was able to process 20 at a time. This would make the project take far less time than processing a single glass at a time. It also allowed me to more easily implement one design element: a flower mid-piece that either faces left or right. In the design file for the template I whipped up, ten votive holders would feature right-facing flowers and ten would feature left-facing flowers. It’s a neat way of achieving balance that would have been nightmarish processing one holder at a time.

I come away from this week’s project definitely feeling better about working with glass, but I’ve surely got a lot left to learn, and a whole rotary engraving attachment still to acquire!

A nice stack. Don't light them in this configuration.
A nice stack. Don’t light them in this configuration.