Tag Archives: video games

109: Edge-Lit Acrylic

I’ve been playing a lot lately with a new toy I picked up from Inventables: a powered LED strip for edge lighting acrylic. It’s made in particular to work in tandem with specially made acrylics that transmit light efficiently, but I’ve found it works really well with simpler transparent and fluorescent acrylics.

The first dual-layer design.
The first dual-layer design.

My first test was with transparent orange material sourced at the Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace—check it out if you’re local!—and it seemed appropriate to design a little sign for the space as the test. Because the LED strip is designed to snap to the edge of a 1/4″ piece of acrylic and I only had 1/8″ material available, I decided to split the design across two layers of acrylic. The front layer included all of the vector engraving and the back layer was just the main title text filled. The resulting look is striking, but using two transparent layers means you have to be extra careful not to let any fingerprints or dust get in between.

The short sign lit up easily.
The short sign lit up easily. Please ignore the Macbook!

Around the same time, I was working with a local artist to create some wall décor based on the classic Pac-Man maze. We agreed pretty quickly that the lit effect would look great and settled on some fluorescent blue acrylic. The first several tests confirmed that the two layer effect would be excellent; dividing the pellets, ghosts and other objects from the maze walls might not be very visible in the photography, but it’s a really neat trick when you’re examining the piece up close.

A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.
A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.

One concern I continue to have is whether a single LED strip will be able to illuminate the entire flourescent blue acrylic sheet—this piece is 16 inches tall, towering compared to the 4″ makerspace sign. A quick test on some scrap acrylic shows that the light visibly dims near the top, but I won’t be able to know for sure how the final piece will look until a last-minute shipment of materials arrives. Speaking of that, here’s a pro tip: don’t assume you’ve got all the materials you need until the day you’re scheduled to cut! Always check, even if it’s something you always keep in stock, like the black cast acrylic that was supposed to be the backing layer for the finished Pac-Man piece.

A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.
A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.

Edge lit acrylic is a great look, and I’m might have to investigate the “EndLighten” brand or similar substrates to maximize light transmission. I know I’m also going to be looking into portable equivalents; this hardware has to plug into a wall. I’m sure that’ll be a post in the future; until then, look forward to an update on this post with additional pictures of the finished Pac-Man piece!

This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We'll see how it looks in the finished piece!
This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We’ll see how it looks in the finished piece!

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.

89: More Laserable Magnet

I’ve talked about this particular kind of laserable magnet before, but for this week’s project, I took the same magnet material and determined whether I could use it as a replacement for the strip of magnet material I normally use for my set of dialog boxes.

The current strip solution (top) and the proposed replacement.
The current strip solution (top) and the proposed replacement.

I currently use a 1/2″ strip magnet stored in rolls for this type of product, and while it does the job well, I appreciated the reduced overall thickness and cleaner lines I discovered during the shaped magnets project.  But there were three other things to consider before I could revamp the Earthbound and Final Fantasy dialog boxes with the new magnet type: efficacy, material cost, and processing time.

The reduced thickness of the new magnet material (bottom) looked great.
The reduced thickness of the new magnet material (bottom) looked great.

Since we’re talking about magnets, it’s important to make sure they can hold themselves (and hopefully several other things) securely against the surface you’ve stuck them to. One example of a magnet that doesn’t hold up is the inkjet magnet material I used for some full color Megaman Robot Master icons I made a while back. While they looked great, just one of those magnets couldn’t hold a single thing beyond itself—the magnet simply wasn’t powerful enough. (Thankfully, those magnets were at least strong enough to hold themselves up.) In this case, the laser cut magnet material, when cut to the full size of the Earthbound dialog box, was able to match the two inches of strip magnet I use in holding power, so I was glad not to have to worry about that.

While the laserable magnet ended up costing more per magnet than the strip magnets I use, I wasn’t interested in adjusting prices to accommodate this change. Because of this, the convenience of laser cutting perfectly shaped magnets would have to outweigh that additional cost.

Unfortunately, while it was certainly more convenient to tell the laser to cut hundreds of magnets rather than doing it by hand with a precision blade, the introduced clean-up step was so time consuming and unpleasant that there was no way this was going to be a viable upgrade without significantly increasing the price of the product, which wasn’t on the table.

This magnet soot, appropriately, stuck to everything.
This magnet soot, appropriately, stuck to everything.

The problem lies in the way this magnet material dissolves when cut away with the laser. It leaves a fine gritty dust of magnet material that was easy enough to clean off of the black acrylic used in the aforementioned shaped magnet project. With the white base acrylic used in both the Earthbound and Final Fantasy dialog boxes, though, this grainy magnet soot was almost impossible to clean away without damaging the surface of the dialog box. Even with isopropyl (and perhaps in part because of isopropyl) I was unable to clean the finished pieces without either staining the white exposed acrylic or seriously scuffing the black cap layer.

My first cut tests were done with the magnet already affixed to the acrylic, but I even considered cutting the magnets separately and then affixing them to the acrylic pieces after both were clean. This added yet another step to the process and, sadly, didn’t mitigate the unreal amount of time spent trying to wash away all of the grime produced when processing the material.

This laserable adhesive magnet sheet really neat product, and it allows me to create some really neat special magnetic pieces, but the time and care that goes into making sure the clean-up process doesn’t damage the final piece means that I just can’t consider them for the standard line of dialog box magnets at Pixelaser. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more laserable magnet options in the future (and if you know of any, please do share!) but for now, our stalwart magnet strips will continue to do the heavy lifting. Sweet fresh feel!