Introducing a novel way to create tone and depth for laser etched images
Always on the lookout for new and creative ways to explore laser cutting, Martin Raynsford recently transposed an intricate graphic work into this striking laser etched art piece.
The inspiration came from Andrea Minini’s Animals in Moiré series, where the mesmerising concentric lines form styalized creatures full of character.
I manually traced the original image to create the vector artwork, each line is just a single low power cut.
Martin suggest that at some point he would like to see an app or plug-in that can generate patterns like this automatically. He has good reason to dream of an optimised workflow for future projects, given that it took 8 hours of drawing to recreate the 100+ individual lines in Andrea’s Puma portrait.
How to nurture creativity for the digital makers of the future
For many of us, learning coding simply isn’t fun – but perhaps we’ve gone about it all wrong. Two former Google employees (who also happen to be Dads) saw a way to make learning coding languages fun for kids, and their solution has gathered quite a following on Kickstarter. They call their learning system Bitsbox, and as you’ll soon see, there is more to the bits than just what’s in the box.
We don’t teach our kids how to read and write so that they can be novelists. We teach them those skills so that they can be happy, so that they can be successful in whatever path they choose.
Bitsbox operates both online and as a subscription-based service that delivers boxes of coding projects in the mail to kids every month. Within minutes, kids are able to create apps that can run on a real device. The magic of the monthly deliveries is that they will keep kids hungry for more; and excited to engage with newer (and more challenging) projects as they become increasingly proficient with their coding skills.
What excites us at Ponoko is that these children will become the next generation of creative software designers and digital makers. This means that we can well and truly expect the 3D designers and laser cutting makers of the future to totally blow our minds.
Designing the gears to fit inside a laser cut Automata
The mechanical marvels that are the specialty of Rob Ives don’t just come together overnight. It takes a lot of careful planning and prototyping to get those gears working just right.
In this recent blog post, he reveals the mechanism that will be at the heart of an upcoming Automata. This arrangement of gears is called a Geneva Drive, and it was originally used as a safeguard to prevent clock springs from being over-wound.
“…a particularly interesting mechanism. There is a little window in the background of the model. Through the window you can see a portrait of a woman. As the mechanism runs I need the picture in the window to change to another portrait, then another, then another… and so on. I need the picture to be stay still for a set amount of time then flip quickly to the next picture as the mechanism runs.”
Rob designed the parts in Illustrator before laser cutting his prototypes. It will be exciting to see the final outcome, where these gears will work their mechanical magic.
You can learn more about the Geneva Drive in an earlier blog post from Rob, which features an animation of the gears in action. We often see Ponoko users creating laser cut gears from acrylic, card and wood. Perhaps this adaptation of the Geneva Drive will get your mind turning as well!
When creating artwork for laser cutting in Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, people love the very handy technique of using clipping masks to achieve the desired visual outcome. But that’s just it – as the name of the command so succinctly implies, when you use clipping masks there is more to the image than meets the eye… and those hidden lines do not play nicely with the laser cutter.
In this tutorial from the Ponoko Support Forums, Catherine talks through how to clear your file from any hidden elements that were left behind when the clipping masks were created.
For either program, there are two main processes to get your head around and each contains a small number of steps. In Illustrator, you need to Release the clipping mask and then clean up any stray elements. For Inkscape, the process is similar with a command to release the Mask and Clip.
What comes next depends on the complexity of your design, but you can be sure any time spent getting the artwork right beforehand is always better than bottlenecks at the laser cutter due to incompatible files.
See the step-by-step guide on the Ponoko Support Forums:
As you can see in the video above, the PlotClock is a timekeeping device that diligently wipes away the previous figures before scrawling the current time with an erasable pen.
“There is something very human and endearing about the motion of the arms as they perform their task of drawing and erasing over and over and over again.”
Debra followed instructions that she found on Thingiverse and incorporated extra modifications suggested by other Thingiverse members. Even still, resolving the design was an iterative process that included using SketchUp to visualise how the mechanism works before sending files to Ponoko for laser cutting.
“The upload and ordering process was very easy. The hardest part was waiting for the package to arrive.”
And arrive it did, in a timely manner. Read on to discover how she added in a variation of the 3D printed cap for the dry-erase pen, and used the flexibility of Arduino programming to customize the code to the specific requirements of this project.
Making those detailed designs and laser etched text really pop
Laser etched details do often stand out pretty well in their own right, but sometimes it is a good idea to give them a helping hand.
Today we are revisiting an informative post in the Ponoko Support Forums that runs through using white wood filler to bring out the details on wood and plastic laser engraving.
The tutorial focuses on an example laser cut and etched from bamboo. Follow the link and you’ll be taken through the step-by-step process, including important tips such as remembering to clean off the smoke residue from the laser and how to avoid over-sanding in the finishing touches.
This is one way to do it – but we’ve seen people have great results with other techniques as well. Paints are ever-popular; model paints, acrylic paints… in fact paints of all kinds! Others use sharpie markers, crayons, and even glue mixed in with glitter particles.
Read the full tutorial to see if wood filler is the solution for your next laser etched project.
Closing out the year with a laser cut Useless Machine
If you’re wondering how to make the most of that ever-so-tempting Ponoko Boxing Day discount, here is a completely useless project idea.
How about building your very own laser cut Useless Machine? Thingiverse user Aaron posted this decorative version, along with instructions on how to make your own diabolical contraption. He has even included handy tips on customisation to suit different material thicknesses.
For those who don’t know, a Useless Machine consists of a simple box with a single switch on the top. Upon activating the switch, a hatch opens up and out pops a lever that turns the switch off again.
Originally invented by Artificial Intelligence pioneer Martn Minsky, the Useless Machine is kind of reminiscent of a 19th century novelty mechanical curio. If you do a bit of research you’ll find dozens of examples of how people have had fun with this idea by creating their own variations, and here is a nice video of Martin talking about what he terms the ‘most useless machine ever made’.
As a laser cutting project for both new and experienced makers, this could in fact prove to be quite useful after all.
When we talk about laser cutting in acrylic, most of the time the focus is on materials with that familiar glossy surface. Today we are taking a closer look at glossy acrylic’s lesser-known (but just as fantastic) cousin, Matte Acrylic.
Available in the Ponoko Materials Library in both black and white options, Matte Acrylic is textured on the top surface, and glossy (like the regular acrylic) on the back. We have a detailed post in the Ponoko Support Forums, which runs through many of the characteristics of this versatile material. Supporting images provide real-world examples and help to clarify whether Matte Acrylic is the right choice for your next laser cutting project.
Learn about how to best make use of this material by combining it with glossy acrylic on larger projects. See examples of the contrast between shiny and matte finishes, and how to use metallic paint to fill laser etched details. There are also a few quirks to discover that you may not have encountered before, and the tutorial includes handy tips and tricks such as advice on removing protective paper.
Butcher knives become a canvas for artist’s message to mankind
Artist Li Hongbo has developed quite a reputation for his remarkable works in paper. The theme of manipulating intricate cutouts continues in cold hard steel with the series “Shadow of Knives”, where he weaves a cautionary tale about our ever-eager consumer society.
“Shadow of Knives” is a warning to society – human beings will eventually destroy themselves because of their gluttony and their abuse of animals.”
As well as the poignant message, these works are an excellent example of the impact that can be achieved using well-planned cutouts from a flat surface.
Free design shows exactly what will happen in your material of choice
The mysteries of how to get the right settings for vector and raster engraving is something that can take time and practise to fully unravel. Thanks to this free file from James Stokebrand, you can create a mini laser etching cheat sheet in your favorite Ponoko material.
The file is set to work perfectly with Ponoko’s P1 template size, and it includes a range of raster fill values, vector line fill values and even some handy tips for designs that use vector linework.
Pictured above is the file etched onto blonde bamboo, and James has also provided high-res sample images in black acrylic and cardstock. Although there is nothing that can truly replace holding a physical sample in your hand, zooming in on these images is pretty close to the next best thing.
Take a look on the Ponoko Support Forums to see for yourself. The file can be downloaded from the Ponoko Showroom, and if it all looks too confusing for you (don’t worry, we all start somewhere!) there is a simpler version of what James has provided all cut and ready to go on the Ponoko Samples page.