Illustration by Craighton Berman for Solin Face Shield

158: Lasers for Good

We are living through a time of upheaval – medically, socially, and economically.  This month’s project is a little different, and not really a project at all.  It is meant to be a compilation of resources available and ideas on what can be done to help.  The maker community is one of sharing; many of the projects are open source, and makers encourage refinement and improvements on designs.  Given the narrow focus of our blog, I have to assume most of you have a laser cutter or access to one; hopefully this post will jump start you into thinking how you can use it for good.

Header image illustration is by Craighton Berman for Solin Face Shield

Medical Good: Personal Protection Equipment and the fight to contain COVID-19

There is one major drawback to using lasers for personal protection equipment (PPE) – lLasers specialize in cutting flat materials, and the human face is decidedly not.  For PPE, it needs to be fitted to effectively work.  Many makers have gotten around this be using flexible materials, or by using lasers for just part of the process.  Laser cutters are quick, and can really reduce production time, especially if you are producing items in bulk.  Check out these projects:

Face Shields

Face shields are one area that lasers can really shine in.  Early face shields called for the use of 3D printer to make the forehead band, but 3D printers, especially home models, were just not fast enough to keep up with demand from local healthcare workers.  With thoughtful design, many makers have devised ways to make completely laser friendly designs. 

These designs do rely on access to flexible plastics such as PET or PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate and Polyethylene terephthalate glycol respectively).  PETG is recommended – the addition of glycol reduces the haziness of the materials, making visibility better.  Any clear, flexible material should work – you just need to make sure it’s laser friendly.  In either case, you need to make sure your work area is well ventilated when cutting materials, especially plastics.

Proto Shield – I like the look of this one personally, but the design calls for elastic.  I have had a lot of trouble finding it locally still, but you might have better luck!

Solin Shield – This one was made by Chicagoan Jeff Solin.  It’s a nice flat pack design, and is quick to cut and assemble.  

StudioeQ Shield – I liked this design because it incorporates a visor shield to prevent particles from falling in the shield from above and has a stabilizer at the bottom of the shield so the flexible corners stay in place.  It does require two types of plastic, so not as quick and easy as the Solin design. 

If you go searching for other designs (there are many out there!), you may find visors that use foam to make the forehead band more comfortable – please look for alternatives or make it replaceable.  Foam can’t easily be sanitized.

Cutting fabric for masks

Legions of makers are out there sewing up masks for those in need.  If you plan on making them in bulk, why not use your laser to efficiently cut out the fabric? Play around with your settings – we were able to efficiently cut 2 layers of fabric at a time back in Project 77: Fabric

If you are looking for laser ready files, Trotec has put together a video with QR codes to files and explains the cutting process as well.

Loop hooks / Ear savers / Tension release bands

Whatever you want to call these, they are a relief to the ears of people who have to wear masks all day.  They are designed to catch and hold the elastic mask loops behind your head, rather than having them chafe the back of your ears.  For these, flexibility is needed, but the materials don’t have to be clear.  I have found that 1/16” inch thick plastic has enough give to make these comfortable.  If you use the 2 layered plastics, you could even engrave a fun message or design!

Thingiverse has quite a few designs for these – you can see the design possibilities are endless.  Here is just one example by maker Midnight30products.


This ApolloBVM ventilator one takes a bit more technical know-how and will run about $500 in supplies, but the cost of this ventilator is about 1/10th ones that are commercially available.  Where the laser comes in is mainly the housing.  I’m including it because it’s amazing what makers are out there doing!

Cooperative efforts

If you are interested in joining with organized groups of markers to do good, here are a couple groups I found that are working on organizing the efforts.  I don’t have experience with any of them, so your mileage may vary, but it’s a good place to start!

Open Source Medical Supplies

Get Us PPE

Social Good: Signage for protests / parades / rallies

Black Lives Matter is on a lot of people’s minds right now, and the show of support is amazing.  We are also wrapping up Gay Pride month, and are starting that long political slog that is the presidential election this fall.  Laser cutters are an amazing way to be able to put your stance into something physical for all to see.

Unlike the Covid-19 response, there hasn’t been a big movement to create open source files to mass produce, but that means you get to use your creativity!  This is just a short list of brainstormed ideas; If you have more, please share them in the comments!

Signs – what better way to make an eyecatching sign than to make it on your laser?  To make your sign unique:

1) Play with the shape.  Anyone can make a rectangular sign.  What will yours look like?

2) Engrave the wording and images of your choice.  With the use of transfer tape, the engraved areas are super easy to paint (you can see how we did it in Project 27: Etched Recipe Boxes

3) Choose your preferred material.  You don’t have to limit yourself to tagboard – you can make your signs out of plastic, plywood, even leather if you are feeling really non traditional.  Just try and not make the material too heavy – you will likely be carrying it around for a good long while and over your head! 

Stencils – need a way to make multiply signs quickly and neatly? Make a stencil!  You can cut them from chipboard, or if you want something a little more long lasting, a thin plastic will work.  Thinner and more flexible is better than thick for stencil – I find it makes the linework a bit neater.  Check out this Stencil Tutorial by Makezine if you need a little inspiration.

Wear your cause – what better way to support your cause than making yourself a nice pin, keychain or even a pair of earrings?  Here are a couple projects and tutorials I found:

Black Lives Matter Heart Earrings file

Troy the Maker’s Laser Cutting Acrylic Pins video tutorial

Keychains – I didn’t find any files or a tutorial, but they are quite simple – make your design about 1.5 inches (or whatever size you find comfortable in your pocket), and design a loop in top!  Attach either a ball chain keyring, or use a jump ring with a split ring.

Economic Good: Help your favorite struggling non-profit

I’m a bit biased towards museums myself, and they are hurting all across the country.  Most museums have spent part of 2020 in lockdown, which limits access to paying visitors.  Many are depleting their already thin reservoirs to pay staff, even though doors are closed.  Museums are not the only non-profits hurting; food banks are seeing unprecedented traffic and need.  Domestic abuse shelters have had an influx, as close quarters can bring out the worst as well as the best in people.  And with so many people out of a job thanks to COVID-19, many regular donors to nonprofits are finding themselves short of funds. You may find yourself in the same boat. But even with little funds, you have talent! Here is a quick brainstormed list on ways to help – if you have more, please share.

Special merchandise – Work with the organization them to make a special item for sale, like an ornament, a set of coasters, or a slate serving tray. platter even.  I’d suggest making it pre-order, so you can drum up excitement, and know exactly how many you are making.  You can either donate everything right out, or work out an arrangement for materials. The non-profit may also might have an idea for an item that would sell well in their gift shop you could help them with!

Signage – With so much on-line these days, help spiff up their photo and video backgrounds with a personalized sign!  One example we made was back in 2015 as Project 79, a great sign for the local frame shop If These Walls Could Talk

Donation Boxes – Non profits rely heavily on donations, and sometimes those come in the form of a simple cash drop box.  Donation boxes can be pretty boring, but you could personalize it for the organization by engraving their logo, cutting the “sign” part of it in an interesting shape, or even selectively painting it.  You could decorate a commercially available box, or build your own.  If you build your own, I would recommend using a clear acrylic; people really like to see how much has or hasn’t been given. 

Past 52 Lasers acrylic box making projects: 14: Box Joints and 127 Acrylic Cement

Laser Cut Charity Collection Box at

Donation Box with built in latch design by Franzlmsch

In Conclusion…

If you have made it this far, I’m impressed! I know this was quite lot of info dump, and I’m sure there are a million more ideas out there. I hope you will take some of the ideas in this post and make them your own to help support worthwhile causes. Laser for good!


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