What can you do with a laser? We set out to find out and—Wow! A better question might be what can’t you do with a laser?
We asked some laser business owners to share some of their cool, interesting, unique and creative laser projects for this month’s feature article. What we found is that by combining a laser with creativity, expertise and, sometimes, a little trial and error, these laser engravers have proven that the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can do with your laser! The laser operators featured in this article have used their fresh originality to tap into some of the hundreds (thousands?) of niche markets that are out there for laser engraving, some of which many people never even knew existed!
Here are just some of the cool laser projects we came across. Be prepared to be inspired!
Remembering Loved Ones
Frank O’Donnell, owner of Laser Impressions UK, Stafford, Staffordshire, UK, started his laser enterprise in Sept. 2016. In the beginning, he was looking for easy items to make with his laser to give the business a jump-start with the upcoming run to Christmas. During his research, he came across many “Christmas in Heaven” memorials that commemorate passed loved ones, but they were all based on the same idea. Frank decided to design something different and came up with the idea of miniature bench memorials as an alternative memorial decoration. His first “Heart and Seat” memorial featured a personalized miniature bench and a heart engraved with a remembrance poem (Fig. 1). The memorial bench was such a success that he had to close the order book on it because the business could not keep up with the demand.
After Christmas, Frank decided that a design change was needed, so he altered the original design to include a winged heart on the bench, which is currently a very popular model. It wasn’t too long before people began asking about other designs. For instance, customers started asking about a memorial that included just a bench, so he designed the Angel Winged Back Bench. When he was asked if they created any type of memorial for those unfortunate people who have lost a child, the Teddy Bear Rocking Chair memorial evolved (Fig. 1). He also introduced a Postcard from Heaven (Fig. 1) which gives the impression of a card being sent from heaven by a loved one.
“All of our current models are very popular as they can be personalized with a name on the seat, making them specific to a certain missed loved one. We also changed the poem to make the memorials usable all year round and not just during Christmas.” Frank says he is currently working on a new design that will hopefully be ready for Christmas 2017.
Figure 2: This custom suncatcher from Lake MarKing LLC is made using real fall leaves from Michigan.
Frank does all the design and artwork himself using CorelDRAW X7 and then exports the design file into Lasercut 5.3 which is used to prepare the cutting files the laser can recognize. During the design process, each piece is maneuvered and laid out to fit on an A4 sheet of 3mm laser ply in an optimized pattern in order to minimize material waste and keep the costs down.
To make the memorials, Frank mostly uses 1/4" Baltic birch and poplar laser plywood purchased from various sources in the UK. “Prices can vary, so to get the best deal we shop around when it’s time to re-stock,” he says. To craft the memorials, Frank uses his Lasercript LS 3060 Pro Edition laser with a 60W (80W peak power) CO2 laser tube and a 20mm diameter, 50.8mm (2" focal point) meniscus lens. The engraving is done at a speed setting of 350mm/s-400mm/s with a power setting of 25%-30%. The cutting is done at 20%-25% speed and 75%-80% power, depending on the wood being used.
In the beginning, Frank says there were some problems with fitting the pieces of the bench together and fitting the heart in the base. “I found that even though you have one-hundred sheets of wood from the same supplier, they may not all be uniform in thickness,” he explains. The second problem is that the laser sometimes has difficulty cutting through the plywood due to a buildup of adhesive used in the manufacturing process. In some cases, the laser creates a black burn on the edge of the cut where a glue spot is which can look unsightly, so sometimes it’s necessary to re-make separate pieces.
Frank has learned to overcome these problems by making a few adjustments. “I work to two decimal places to ensure a tight fit when assembling the chair and base. As a matter of habit, I now also measure the thickness of each piece of wood and adjust my joint cutting accordingly, also allowing a small margin for sanding any residual smoke marks from the cutting process,” he says.
Check out Laser Impressions UK’s memorial benches and other laser products.
Let the Sun Shine in
Stephanie and Robert Lake are the owners of Lake MarKing LLC, a local business in Ishpeming, MI, that offers custom laser engraving and graphic design services. One of their cool products is a Leaf Heart Suncatcher.
Figure 4: GameCraft Miniatures’ laser cut kits feature tab and slot construction. Shown here are the pieces for a ruined cathedral and the finished building.
The concept for the suncatchers evolved from the custom lamps that Robert made for customers using wood and real leaves. He wanted to make something more affordable for those customers who liked the design of the lamps, and he came up with the suncatcher idea. In the beginning, he cut the suncatchers by hand using a scroll saw, but once the couple purchased a laser, everything was able to move forward at a much quicker pace and the work was able to become much more detailed. Robert and Stephanie have created several suncatchers in different designs, shapes and sizes. The “Blaze” sun catcher pictured in Figure 2 is approximately 7" and was created as a memorial for a pet.
Stephanie does all of the design and machine work while Robert does the assembly. Creating the suncatcher begins in Adobe Illustrator (Creative Cloud) where Stephanie draws the design. The photo for the custom suncatcher is scanned and edited in Adobe Photoshop (Creative Cloud) and placed into an Illustrator file.
The Blaze suncatcher was cut and engraved from 1/4" cherry laminate. In order to create the suncatcher, two pieces of the wood design are cut, one of which is mirrored, so the leaves can be sandwiched between the wood to show through the cut out areas. Using a 30W Zing 24 Epilog CO2 laser, the first step is to engrave the image at 45% speed and 100% power. Next, the wood is vector cut using 20% speed, 100% power and 4500 frequency.
Perhaps what makes this project really unique is the fact that the leaves have been collected over the years (in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) and dried. The leaves are laid out on wax paper, additional wax shavings are dropped in, another sheet of wax paper is placed on top and the whole “sandwich” is ironed to form a protective wax coating over the leaves. The leaf sheet is then cut to fit the design of the wood portion of the suncatcher. Once cut, the leaves are glued in between the two cut laminate sheets which are clamped together until the wood glue dries. This project takes approximately two hours to complete once the design has been approved and is ready to cut/assemble.
“We’ve been experimenting with trial and error over the years to perfect how to best protect the leaves and to prevent them from losing their coloring. I’m sure we’ll continue changing things up, but they will only get better,” says Stephanie.
For more information about Lake MarKing LLC, visit their Facebook page.
Allen Rockwell, owner of GameCraft Miniatures, Morongo Valley, CA, has been a full-time commercial model maker all of his adult life, beginning in 1986 after serving in the U.S. Army for three years. Allen owned a business that created custom aerospace models for companies like Boeing, Raytheon, etc. About ten years ago, he sold his share of that company to his business partner. Having been a miniatures wargamer since he was a teen, he looked at what was available in the area of scenery and structures for wargamers, and could not find what he wanted. And so, GameCraft Miniatures was founded.
The company started with one product and a single-page website. Now, over eight years later, the company manufactures over 2,000 products and ships all over the world every single day. GameCraft Miniatures’ products primarily include laser cut kits (that customers assemble themselves), resin castings and metal castings.
Allen designs all of the products using AutoCAD. The miniature General Store pictured in this article (Fig. 3) is made of 1/8" (3mm) MDF, and the shingles were hand cut from wood bought at a local craft store. (The base kit does not include shingles. These were added by the builder.) This model measures 4" x 4" x 4.5" tall. Allen also produces laser cut kits in acrylic and matboard.
Allen says making the laser cut kits is simple and trouble-free using his Universal Laser Systems Versalaser VLS4.60 with a 50W tube. “All I do is tell the print driver what material I am cutting and its thickness, and the driver selects all of the appropriate laser settings,” he says. Cutting and engraving a laser cut kit takes about six minutes.
Allen designs the miniatures so they can be assembled with simple tab and slot construction, and wood glue (Fig. 4). Total assembly time should only take a customer ten minutes or so, he says. “The painting and finishing is what takes time. Getting a model to the level of the General Store in the photo can take hours after the assembly is completed,” he explains.
The General Store kit is around number 1600 in a series of over 2000 designs Allen has done, and he says his experiences over the years have served him well. “I have learned a lot over the years with regard to creating designs that work, selecting the right material for the job, etc. But as far as the laser cutting/engraving portion of the job, the Versalaser is 100 percent trouble-free and using it could not be simpler. You just put the material in the machine, tell the software what material it is and how thick it is, and then press the big green button and wait.”
Check out all of Allen’s miniature wargaming products.
Figure 6: Adam Gosnell designed the original artwork for the wall plaque (top) and then modified it for the laser (bottom).
Discovering the Depths of a Lake
Charles Stanley is the owner of Charles Stanley Laser Engraving, Cumming, GA, a part-time business that specializes in laser engraving and cutting models, prototypes, one-of-a-kind jewelry, awards and more. His slogan is, “If you can create it, I can make it.” When Charles came across a dimensional lake map on the Internet that someone had laser cut, he knew that would be his next project.
To start, he found on the Internet a “reasonably good” map of Lake Sidney Lanier, a reservoir located in the northern portion of Georgia. He imported the map into CorelDRAW X7 and then created a new layer over the map and painstakingly drew the shoreline of the lake. This, Charles says, took some time due to the ragged, intricate edges of the lake.
The lake map is engraved and cut from 1/8" birch plywood. For the water portion of the map, Charles found a quality blue paper at a local craft store which was glued behind the cutout plywood portion of the map. The plywood was cut to fit in an old picture frame Charles had made 15 years ago and then he backed the map with a second sheet of the same birch plywood. Figure 5 shows the progression of the lake map project. The only thing he’d do differently, he says, would be to mask the plywood before laser cutting to eliminate the smoke buildup on the wood around the lake’s perimeter.
This project was completed on a Trotec Rayjet 50 30W laser engraver with a 2" lens. The engraving was done at 80% power and 60% speed. The engraving took about 10-12 minutes and assembly took about 20 minutes.
Charles says that he learned several things from this project. “First, it is difficult to find a good free map to use. Most of the ones on the Internet are .jpg files that, when enlarged, look terrible and are difficult to use as a guide. Second, I learned that to get better results, the plywood should be masked prior to cutting to prevent the smoke buildup on the surface of the plywood.
“There are similar maps sold on Etsy for well over $100,” Charles continues. “A few larger ones are sold for $200 and up. I think there might be a small market for these and hope to sell a few in the future.”
For more information about Charles’ work, visit his Facebook page.
A Personal Touch
When Adam Gosnell, owner of Ryder Engraving Inc., Pataskala, OH, needed a wedding gift for his cousin’s wedding, he decided to forgo checking out the couple’s wedding registry and opted instead to put his creativity to work. “I needed an idea where I did not have to spend any money. So for inspiration, I got on Google—the place where all the good original ideas come from,” he jokes. That’s where he found the idea for personalized wall art for the two “lovebirds.”
As for the artwork for the gift, Adam says he would have to credit a number of people. “In college, I learned that there are no ‘original’ ideas, only an assortment of other ideas smooshed together to make something new or similar to other ideas. I found a variety of designs l liked from various images on the Internet, so the artwork could essentially be credited to a number of people as I mimicked their styles and ideas to get the look I desired.”
Adam started the artwork phase by drawing a basic sketch on paper which he then scanned into CorelDRAW. After sizing the art, he outlined the sketch using Corel’s Bezier tool and then began working on the details. “To get the correct look, I kept a copy of the various original ideas I ‘borrowed’ next to my artwork. I then used a combination of the Artistic Brush and the Smear tools in Corel to create most of the inner details and shapes.” The top image shown in Figure 6 is the original design while the bottom image was the file sent to the laser for cutting.
Adam used his Trotec Rayjet 80W CO2 laser to cut the various pieces of the wall plaque using wood scraps from around the shop. Some were 1/8" wood sheet scraps he had from Johnson Plastics Plus, while others were from samples he received from Colorado Heirloom. The base of the plaque is birch plywood to which he added round trim.
“I only needed to stain the trim as the wood scraps were already stained and ready to go. I just needed to figure out what colors to put where. A project like this takes patience and glue. If you are bad at puzzles, you should probably not be cheap and just buy a wedding present instead,” he laughs. Adam says the designing portion of the project took about an hour and the assembly took another hour. Figure 7 shows the completed plaque.
When asked if he learned anything doing this job, Adam replies, “I was very worried after the fact when I was at my cousin’s wedding reception that maybe I should have spent money instead of being a cheapskate. However, I was fortunate to find out that the gift was one of my cousin’s favorite things and the first thing they hung up in their new house. So it all worked out.”
Learn more about Ryder Engraving.
“Cool jobs” are lots of fun to dream up and to produce. And lasers are a fantastic tool for personalizing and making a variety of products, a fact that is clearly demonstrated by the unique and creative projects featured in this article. It seems we are seeing a lot more creativity flowing through as people come up with some really neat, interesting, unique and fun things they can make.
Perhaps you have had the opportunity to be creative with your laser or sublimation equipment or UV printer or sandblasting equipment or whatever other equipment you use. Or maybe this article has inspired you to try something new. Either way, we’d love to hear from you—share your unique personalization projects with us by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.