Tag Archives: video games

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

A post shared by Ryan (@pixelaser) on

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.

69: Shaped Magnets

The back magnet does the job, but it's hardly an optimal solution. Ignore the irrelevant pin.
The back magnet does the job, but it’s hardly an optimal solution. Ignore the irrelevant pin.

For most of the magnets I make for Pixelaser, I use a 1/2″ or 1″ wide roll of magnet cut down to a size that will fit easily on the back of the piece in question. The end result is a magnet that looks pretty awesome from the front but suffers from a significant lip on the back. It can also make preparing magnets for acrylic pieces of more complicated shapes pretty difficult.

The acrylic and the adhesive magnet layer before they're sealed together.
The acrylic and the adhesive magnet layer before they’re sealed together.

One of my laser material suppliers offers a magnet with a cap layer that you can engrave away, and since it’s laser safe you can cut whatever shape you’d like out of it. Unfortunately, the only color options offered are a brushed silver and brushed aluminum—great for some uses, but not great for the icons and dialog boxes I enjoy. But then I found some laser-safe, pre-adhesive magnet sheets that I could stick to the back of any of my acrylics. I knew I wanted to find a better magnet solution for one product I’ve been working on, and this seemed like the right direction, so I ordered some material and got to work!

The total thickness ends up being 2 mm.
The total thickness ends up being 2 mm.

Adhering the magnet to the back of the acrylic was no trouble, but I did have to pay attention to air bubbles and made use of Jennifer’s brayer to flatten the magnet down. In a few spots where air bubbles persisted, I used a razor to cut a tiny incision into the magnet, which made it much easier to squeeze the air out.

A stack of icons from Super Metroid. That's a Super Missile you see!
A stack of icons from Super Metroid. That’s a Super Missile you see!

I had a few different designs I wanted to test with this new magnet backing. One, a selection cursor from Final Fantasy VI, featured a varied edge and would be a good test of how well the magnet can deal with more complicated shapes. Another, a custom magnet design based on a user’s Miiverse posts, is a much simpler rounded rectangle but is much more of an eye-catcher, featuring example Miiverse posts by super artist Drew Wise! For fun’s sake, I also created icon magnets featuring weapons and tools from Super Metroid.

The magnet covers the entire back regardless of the shape.
The magnet covers the entire back regardless of the shape.

Engraving the material worked exactly as it always has, since the top layer is the same acrylic I’m used to working with.  I did have to adjust the depth to account for the new layer of magnet, though, and I had to increase the laser cutting power just a little to power through the magnet. The finished pieces come out pretty messy (nowhere near as dirty as laser rubber) but some isopropyl alcohol fixes that right up.

A new product featuring this new style of magnet is available at Pixelaser's Etsy shop!
A new product featuring this new style of magnet is available at Pixelaser’s Etsy shop!

Because this week’s project went so well, I’ve gone ahead and made a listing for the custom Miiverse post magnets. If you’ve made some kick-ass pixel art on the Nintendo 3DS or Wii U Miiverse, you can have it made into a physical magnet for only $12! Got a friend with that artistic knack? Send me their NNID instead and I’ll engrave a magnet you can present to them as an awesome personalized gift. Check the listing for more details.