149: Cutting Matboard

In the time we have owned our laser cutter, I’ve been able to cut cardstock, cardboard, chipboard, hardboard, foamcore, and probably a dozen other thin papery compoundname materials. I’ve even had pieces of matboard here in the studio for years, waiting for its turn. I’ve never done a project with the material, though, so I was glad when Tim from If These Walls Could Talk asked for some help with a project he was working on.

We’ve worked with If These Walls Could Talk before; we made a neat one-piece sign when Jennifer explored options for hanging laser cut designs. I’ve had to trick my laser into engraving with the door open in order to make a Christmas Story reference frame. Being a custom framing shop with an attached art gallery means Tim always has creative projects going on, so I was glad to assist!

The project—the total scope of which I don’t actually have all the details for—involved cutting a heart-shaped bullet hole into a rich red matboard with a kinda-velvet surface. The hole would then be backlit as part of a fully physically realized version of a poster promoting Velvet Revolver in Santa Barbara CA. My part was just the heart-shaped bullet hole, but I hear a fully modeled gun made of bones and hearts is in the works too.

Tracing the art from the promo poster was a little tricky; while the art was high resolution, compression was at some point unkind to the deeply red background and made the lines a little jagged. Early on I relied on Illustrator’s Image Trace function with the settings tweaked, and we cut several tests on chipboard and some unvelvety matboard scrap that Tim brought for just such tests.

The chipboard prototype

We realized after those test cuts that we couldn’t get away with using the design as-traced; the result created too many pieces of shatter pattern to carefully remove from the matboard, and the leftover shapes were far too fragile.

I used a paper mask on the prototypes, but left it off for burned edges on the finished pieces.

After massaging the original pixels a little more and running a tighter Image Trace in Illustrator, I then went ahead and started adjusting the design. Tim helped me pinpoint weak spots and possible areas to combine and the end result was a single complicated shatter shape, removable in one piece, that was still incredibly faithful to the original design.

A closeup of the unfinished cut appearing perforated due to low power & PPI

We had six velvety red matboard pieces to cut, and my first cut didn’t come out quite as cleanly as I would like. I had calibrated the settings to the piece of matboard that didn’t have that thin fuzzy layer on top and assumed it would be enough power for the real deal. That was a silly mistake, but Tim was unshaken; he’d just use a precision utility knife to cut away the bits that didn’t quite make it. I upped the power a modest amount and the next five came out perfectly. I stacked a few of them together for a fun photography session.

Three layers of fuzzy matboard with the cutout behind

For the time being, these pictures of the matboard is all we’ll get to see of this project, but I hope to share a link to the finished piece when Tim and his client have completed it!

Project Gallery

2 thoughts on “149: Cutting Matboard

  1. alainb1 says:

    Nothing’s easy. Nice bit of work and some stellar problem solving. Anyone contemplating a laser cut project could benefit from your blog. There’s always so many variables at play that folks rarely appreciate.

    • Ryan says:

      Thank you, Alain! I sometimes lament that we don’t have as much time for blog projects as we used to, but we’re keeping on! There are a billion ways to utilize this kind of hardware and we’ve only scratched (or is that engraved?) the surface. 🙂


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