finding balance points of decorations

Finding balance points of decorations

Posted Posted in Artists, Wood

When creating hanging decorations, it’s really important to find their balance points. Medals, for instance, are usually symmetrical with holes cut out for the ribbon. They can be centrally located with confidence.

Other shapes are irregular and it’s hard to predict where to put the holes so they hang correctly. Here are two examples of how I made sure that customers’ new products hung perfectly before I began production. Imagine if I hadn’t checked and the decorations didn’t hang straight!

Jessica Taylor’s seahorses and bears

I recently helped Jessica Taylor to create her new bear and seahorse decorations from 3mm plywood.

Both shapes were very irregular, so as part of the artwork set up and prototyping process, I made a rough guess as to where the holes should be and made some prototypes to get them in the right places.

The seahorse only took a couple of attempts to get right, but the bear was more of a challenge. It’s very bottom heavy. It look about four attempts, nudging the tiny 1mm hole 3 to 4mm towards the tail before it hung straight. You can see my first attempt and the final hole location in the picture above.

InkPaintPaper's unicorn decorations

InkPaintPaper’s unicorn decorations

InkPaintPaper wanted a  smaller version of their unicorn door sign in 4mm ply. Gabs planned to handpaint and personalise them to tie onto cards or hang as decorations.

She sent me the artwork for the new unicorn with a hanging hole. To be on the safe side, I suggested that I made a prototype to make sure it was in the right place.

I laser cut one shape with the hole where Gabs had put it near the unicorn’s shoulder, but it was very front heavy and its head tipped forwards. It took about four or five iterations to shift the hole further into the unicorn’s neck before it hung straight. I must have nudged the hole 4 – 5mm mm until it was in the right place.


Have you got a product you’d like to develop but aren’t sure how? Contact us or ask for a quote.

geometric plywood decorations

Geometric plywood decorations

Posted Posted in Designers, Wood

Jessica Taylor is a graphic designer in Ayrshire. She prints her geometric animal designs on prints cards and tote bags, and makes enamel pins too.

After following each other for a few months on Instagram, Jessica got in touch and asked if I could help her make some new products. She liked the idea of making decorations from her designs and wondered what might be possible.

Decoration ideas

Being familiar with Jessica’s work, I suggested that her artwork would be perfect for plywood decorations. Shape outlines could be laser cut and the internal geometric lines could be vector engraved with excellent contrast. Plywood is beautiful, light and good value. 3mm would be robust enough, and it would be easy to add holes for hanging. Jessica liked the idea.

Artwork adjustment

Jessica decided that she’d like to start with her geo bear, geo seahorse and geo penguin designs. She wanted the bear to be 70mm long  and the penguin and seahorse 70mm high.

Vector artwork is required for laser cutting and vector engraving which is like cutting, but just marking the surface. Jessica sent a sample file, but all her lines were made up of thin rectangles to give them the right thickness for printing. Unfortunately, this was no good for the laser as it would cut and engrave around each rectangle which is not what we wanted, so Jessica adjusted all the lines with perfect results.

geo seahorse for Jessica Taylor

Plywood prototypes

Once the artwork was sorted, I made some prototypes so Jessica could see how they’d look. I also wanted to find the balance points of each shape to make sure the holes would be in the right place.

Jessica was delighted! She particularly loved the bear and the seahorse and placed and order. When it arrived, she wrote me a lovely review on Facebook because she was so pleased.

She hangs the geo bears and geo seahorses with jute string and lost no time in adding them to her Etsy shop.



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laser cutting and engraving knots in wood

Laser cutting and engraving knots in wood

Posted Posted in FAQ, Wood

Laser cutting wood creates some very beautiful effects. One of the beauties of wood is its grain, and knots are a part of these growth patterns, but knots can present some production challenges too.

What is a knot?

Knots are found at the bases of side branches in trees.  Lower branches often die. As the girth of a tree expands, the trunk envelopes them, forming the imperfections we know as knots.

Beautiful as these imperfections are, the wood in those areas is much denser than the surrounding wood. It’s this difference in density that can cause issues.

How do knots affect laser cutting?

Denser wood is harder to cut and needs a slower cutting speed to cut through cleanly. If I cut 3mm ply at my usual speed, this is fine for most of the sheet of ply, but if the laser beam hits a knot, the chances are it will be going too fast to cut through the knot effectively. This is clearly shown by the 9mm ply ampersand at the top. Two knots prevented a clean cut through to allow the middle piece to fall out cleanly.

This means that the cut through won’t be clean in the area of the knot, and the item won’t separate from the sheet and won’t be of sufficient quality to be sold. If the wood is solid like oak, you can see where all the knots are. In plywood, however, there are knots in the middle layers that you can’t see. You can see the star below made of 6mm ply had one of these, and the knot caused the telltale puff of black dirt on the surface of the wood that can be sanded off.

As a rule, the more knots there are in a piece of wood, the higher you can expect the failure rate of laser cut items to be.

laser cut star with knot

How do they affect laser engraving?

Knots don’t cause so many problems with engraving. You can expect to see any engraving over them to be shallower than on the rest of the wood. Knots are denser so engraving depth is compromised, but the effect is still easily seen. The knot shown above is under the n and t of adventure,

If the artwork is vectorised, it’s possible that the sections over the knot can be engraved more times to achieve more depth to compensate.

laser engraving over a knot

Do you have a questions about laser cutting or engraving and how it might affect your project? Contact us with your questions and I’ll write a blog about it.

Waymarking posts for Kinghorn Creative

Waymarking posts for Kinghorn Creative

Posted Posted in Designers, Stainless steel, Thermark, Wood

Ritchie Feenie from Kinghorn Creative was asked to design and create six sign posts for Kinghorn Community Land Association. He asked if I could advise him on design and then laser engrave the sign posts.

Style of post

Ritchie sent me some pictures of how he wanted the posts to look. He wanted them to be square in profile and a metre high, but he wanted the tops cut at an angle with engraving on the angled surface. Would this be possible?

I knew this would be tricky as the posts would have to be propped up in the machine to make the angled surface horizontal, and the posts would have to be limited in length to 1300mm to fit inside the machine.

Then Ritchie had an idea. If we had engraved metal plates on the angled surfaces, we wouldn’t need to put the posts in the laser for engraving so we wouldn’t have to worry about their size. I could order stainless steel plates and engrave them much more easily.

We decided to use green oak or larch for the posts as they’re great for outdoor use without treatment. As larch was the cheaper option, Ritchie settled on that.


Deciding on the artwork

Initially, Ritchie’s customers wanted all the engraving to be on the stainless steel plaques. Ritchie sent me a proposed design. My initial thought was that too much detail was squeezed onto the plates. I was worried that the details could be too fine for good engraving results, especially on the Lottery logos. As the project was lottery funded, the logos needed to be well defined and easy to read.

As nothing that could be lost from the design, Ritchie suggested to his customer that some of the engraving could be on the wood under the metal plates. It was agreed that this would be a good place for the Lottery logos that could be made much larger and clearer.

Creating waymarking posts

Ritchie ordered six 1300mm larch posts and brought them to the workshop for engraving, and the Lottery logos came out as well as I’d hoped. I put the posts sideways into the laser, dropping the machine bed to suit the depth of the posts. Then, I engraved the logos sideways onto them to they were in the right orientation on the posts.

I ordered six metal plates in marine grade stainless steel plates. It’s ideal for coastal locations as it can withstand salty conditions without corroding. We decided to get plates with radiused corners to make the corners rounded to match the edges of the posts.

To achieve an engraving on stainless steel, I spread Thermark paste onto the plates, let it dry and then engrave. Thermark leaves a weatherproof, abrasion resistant enamel mark where the laser has melted the glass particles and trapped black pigment onto the metal surface. You can one of the plates after engraving in the picture above. Excess Thermark is then removed, leaving the shiny plate with a high contrast engraving.

Once I had glued the plates onto the posts, they were ready for Ritchie to install.


Have you got a project that you think we could help you with? Contact us or ask for a quote.

How do the edges of laser cut wood look

How do the edges of laser cut wood look?

Posted Posted in FAQ, Materials, Wood

Customers sometimes ask me what laser cut edges of materials will look like when they’re thinking about how their end products will look.

Wood is an interesting material. The look of the cut edges depends on the wood itself and its thickness. Solid wood, laser plywood and mdf all give very different results.

Solid wood

Most solid woods cut well. Oak is one I work with a lot. Max McCance, a local furniture maker, rips up batons of oak for me to make items including coasters for Welsh Oak Frame and Arboreta.

Oak yields a consistently dark laser cut edge. One particularly attractive feature is that the wood grain can be seen across the cut. It’s different on each coaster as wood grain is different, even if the wood is from the same part on the same tree. You can see this in the picture above.

Cut edges of other solid woods can look different. Some are more dense than others and wood grain is characteristic to each wood. As a general rule, the darker the wood, the darker the laser cut edge. Wood thickness can affect this too. And thicker the wood, the slower it must be cut and the darker the edges can look.

laser cut ply edges

Laser plywood

The laser ply I use is birch, a very pale wood. I source it in thicknesses from 3 to 9mm. Plywood is made up of layers glued together, around three for 3 and 4mm ply and five for 6mm ply. Laser cut edges show up these layers as you can see in the picture below showing my 3mm business card, and 4 and 6mm stars for InkPaintPaper.

I can cut 3mm ply much faster than 9mm ply. And the edges look very different. 3mm edges are golden brown, as are 4mm edges. 5 and 6mm edges are much darker, and 9mm edges are close to black.



Mdf is much a much darker board and I can up to 9mm mdf. Laser cut edges on 2 and 3mm mdf are brown and 6 and 9mm mdf edges are black. The pony above is cut from 9mm mdf for PinkFishShetland.

As mdf is a homogeneous board, there is no texture or layer structure visible on the cut edges.


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Branding presentation box lids

Branding presentation box lids

Posted Posted in Corporate, Wood

Colin Grant makes wedding film through his business Orangetide Films. As part of his package, he creates presentation boxes for customers made from oak. Small boxes contain a flash drive of the film, and the large boxes also contains blu-rays and dvds.

Colin wanted to brand the plywood box lids with his logo to complete the look.

Converting the logo to black and white

The Orangetide logo is very complex and colourful. Lasers can’t engrave in colour. The colour of engravings depending on the material used and the power of the laser applied. As the laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave, black and white artwork is required for best results.

Colin sent me a black and white version of his logo in a vector file format. This was ideal. I knew I would have to resize the artwork for the two different box lid sizes. Vector artwork can be rescaled repeatedly without loss of quality.

Orangetide small box

Locating the logos

Colin settled on a large box lid size of 200 x 200mm. He wanted his whole logo on them. As there was plenty of space, he decided to have the logo sized to 135 x 135mm. I set up the logo artwork on a 200 x 200mm square so that the logo was centred between the top edge of the box and where the lid handle would be located.

On the small (98 x 80mm) box lid, Colin decided to have the text element of his logo only. This lid was much smaller, and I was worried that a lot of the full logo detail would be lost if it were scaled down so dramatically.

Colin asked me to cut and engrave all the box lids from 3mm ply so that they’d fit the box grooves.

It’s all in the detail

As the logo and the logo text were all very fine and needed to stand out, I opted for a heavier engrave.

After the first order Colin decided that he’s like the small box lid engraving to be even heavier for more definition which was easily done.


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