Tag Archives: video games

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!

 

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. 😉

 

82: Pop-Up Card

The card when closed. What could be inside?
The card when closed. What could be inside?

Whenever I see a papercraft project online that involves a lot of precise x-acto blade cutting, a part of my brain usually reserved for laying out SNES SimCity towns activates and taunts me, “Oooh, you could do this hour long cut in like one minute! You should totally make one of these!”

When you open it, the heart lifts up out of the chest.
When you open it, the heart lifts up out of the chest.

This totally happened again when I discovered this pixel heart paper pop-up card from a few years ago. I knew I wanted to do a Zelda heart, like many other crafty folks have done, but I opted for the SNES A Link to the Past entry over the NES original.

Thanks to the vector sleuthing work of those X-ACTO wielding warriors before me, setting up the cut and score lines was a much simpler task than if I had to figure the shape out myself. I spent much more time aligning two sides of the design to create an opening chest similar to “yetanothrs” neat Zelda project. When you open the card, the lid lifts up and the heart “rises up” out of the chest. It’s a subtle effect, but totally worth the extra time spent getting the alignment between the outside and the inside right.

What am I even doing this is so silly. #zelda #lasercut

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I then spent a silly amount of time figuring out how to time a quick Instagram video to a looped MP3 on a computer across the room. Silly, but the nostalgia still gets me!

A close-up of the laser cut pixel edges and the laser scored bendy bits.
A close-up of the laser cut pixel edges and the laser scored bendy bits.
The back of the card. One part brandy and two parts sappy.
The back of the card. One part brandy and two parts sappy.

78: X-COM Shield

Owing partial thanks to the awesomeness of fluorescent green material, I put together a custom piece for a client this week that blended appreciation for two things: the X-COM series of science fiction video games and the real world United States Army Special Forces. We decided on a parody of the X-COM shield design, cast in green in reference to the green berets, and featuring a popular Special Forces motto in place of the shield’s original vigilo confido.

The first prototype made it clear that glue on the front acrylic was unacceptable.
The first prototype made it clear that glue on the front acrylic was unacceptable.

Because the design was made with two pieces of acrylic in mind, I had to determine the best way to attach the pieces.  On my first small prototype, I tried simply putting a few dabs of super glue in the corners of the piece, hoping that it would dry clear. Unfortunately, the uneven splotches of glue were readily visible from most angles and killed the fluorescent green effect in many cases.  It wasn’t going to work out.

The "pokes" are most visible in this prototype.
The “pokes” are most visible in this prototype.

I made a second prototype, again only a couple of inches tall, to test out a post solution. I would cut small holes into the layers, and then cut matching posts out of 1/4″ black acrylic. The uneven laser width when cutting thicker materials meant that the posts acted kind of like nails, with a slightly larger diameter on one side. I also played around with using single-point laser bursts—I called them pokes—to create a neat depth effect on the spherical grid design. Because imperfections of any kind glow in the fluorescent material, these “pokes” became connecting posts that met with the grid and traveled through the thickness of the material. It produced a pretty cool, albeit slightly messy result on the prototype.

You can barely make out the top of each poke, but the lines beneath are invisible.
You can barely make out the top of each poke, but the lines beneath are invisible.

Once I had the post thickness figured out, I laid out the final 9″ by 12″ piece. I included the poke technique, which didn’t turn out very visible due to how large the surface engraving was in comparison to the tiny lines the pokes produced. I also used repeated inset paths to create a depth effect on the typography and the three stars featured in the design. While the posts fit snugly in to the front surface, they were too small for the black acrylic in the back. A little glue there, where it wouldn’t be visible through green acrylic in the front, was just fine.

The engraved portions cast a shadow on the back layer.
The engraved portions cast a shadow on the back layer.

While the poke technique didn’t really come into its own with the finished, piece, it’s something I will be experimenting with more in the future. Every other facet, especially the awesome shadow the engraving casts on the back acrylic, turned out great!

The full piece, cut from two layers of acrylic.
The full piece, cut from two layers of acrylic.
The bottom post, one of five that hold the acrylic layers together.
The bottom post, one of five that hold the acrylic layers together.
The stars were engraved via repeated inset paths, creating an illusion of depth.
The stars were engraved via repeated inset paths, creating an illusion of depth.
A close-up shows the "rotary-style" engraving process used on the text.
A close-up shows the “rotary-style” engraving process used on the text.