creating a massive floor jigsaw

Creating a massive floor jigsaw

Posted Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Wood

The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther asked Wendy from The Malting House Design Studio to create some interactive exhibits. One of the items was to be a massive floor jigsaw. She wanted to know if I could help and if so, how best to make it.

Decisions, decisions!

I had worked with FifeX to create two giant jigsaws, so I knew this was possible. A good place to start was to decide the dimensions of the jigsaw, and what material to use.

Wendy wanted to make the jigsaw as large as possible. As my laser cutting bed is 1200 x 800mm, she chose to work with that. She wanted to make the jigsaw chunky and robust. As the laser can cut 9mm thick mdf, ply and Perspex, we discussed the merits of each.

Mdf feels like a jigsaw and cuts well. Thick plywood is less good for cut work. Knots in the laminated layers prevent clean cut throughs as the wood is more dense, and this can ruin a job. Perspex is good for cutting, but edges can be sharp and could hurt children. As the jigsaw needed to be printed with artwork, the decision came down to material properties and printability.

We agreed that mdf was the best material as it could be sprayed white before printing to make sure the colours popped. It would laser cut well, and the pieces would be safe to handle.

Artwork for printing

Wendy planned to create and adapt all the artwork required herself. She had a picture by Jurek Putter for printing onto the jigsaw, and the first step was to print the mdf board at the right size.

I suggested that we should make the mdf board a bit larger than the jigsaw needed to be. An extra 5mm in each direction would making the board 1210 x 810mm. If the edges became scuffed during printing or shipping, if wouldn’t matter. I would laser cut the final shape when I cut the jigsaw pieces so all the edges would look the same.

Wendy arranged to have the image printed a little bigger than 1200 x 800mm with 2 to 3mm bleeds at each edge. This standard printing practice would make sure that the jigsaw would be printed right to the laser cut edges.

Laser cutting a jigsaw

To laser cut the jigsaw, I needed a vector file with lines that the laser would follow to cut each shape.

My top tip for Wendy was to have sets of horizontal and vertical lines that the laser would cut once only. The laser can cut 9mm mdf in one pass. Cutting the same line twice means that the back can be damaged by heat and flaming if the material catches even momentarily. Working this way reduces production time and improves product quality while keeping costs down.

Wendy wanted the jigsaw to contain lots of interesting shapes that were not necessarily fully interlocking. She wanted to have four shapes, a barrel, a cross, a bird and a window incorporated into the design. I agreed that she could have whatever she wanted if she stuck to my vector artwork design tips!

All our careful preparation paid off.  Wendy made the outline rectangle of the jigsaw 1200 x 800mm and asked that the Jurek Putter mark at the edge of the artwork was included. The jigsaw cut cleanly and beautifully. The picture at the top is of the jigsaw on the laser after cutting. It filled the whole machine bed. Laser cut mdf edges are black and they contrasted well with the picture side and the white back of the puzzle.

Wendy was delighted with the results, and so was the Scottish Fisheries Museum.

 

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

 

whole paper cut

Intricate paper cutting

Posted Posted in Designers, Paper

One of the most delicate commissions I’ve had was for wedding invitations.

A mother of the groom approached me for help. As a graphic designer, she had created artwork for the invitations and she wanted them laser cut from paper. It was absolutely beautiful, showing an Edinburgh skyline and the happy couple’s beloved cats.

Intricate artwork

Judith’s artwork was perfectly produced for laser cutting. All the lines were hairlines and they all joined beautifully within the vector files.

But the design was highly detailed, and this presented a challenge. This meant that the paper cuts would be very fragile. Spires and flagpoles on the buildings were thin and unsupported, text was tall and thin, and the book titles at the bottom were so small at the scale required that it would be too thin to hold together.

Designing in strength

Usually, I suggest to customers that they make the thinnest parts of their design 2 – 3mm mm wide to make them robust. Weak points can make products very vulnerable to damage, even if they’re made of thicker and stronger materials. All it takes is for a ring to catch or a little pressure in the wrong place and a whole piece can be destroyed.

If this can happen with 9mm mdf or 10mm Perspex, you can imagine much more vulnerable a design in paper or card would be. In this case, the paper designs were to be glued onto cards which would give them support and some protection, but cards still get handled fairly roughly.

 

papercut zoom

Robust paper cuts

I suggested to Judith that we should remove some of the finest detail from the text at the bottom. When I cut a sample of the ‘Harry Potter’ area, the card struggled to hold together. We tweaked the spires and text to make them a little wider, and simplified the flower bowl, buns and teacups. If the design had been cut at a much larger size, none of this would have been a problem, but the invitations had to fit on A5 sized cards.

Testing a sample

When we had finished, I produced a sample and it came out well. Many areas of the design were 1-2mm wide, but it worked and Judith understood that gentle handling would be required. She was delighted and asked me to cut 50 pieces from the dark charcoal paper that she’s provided. Each piece took 6 minutes to laser cut because there was so much laser cut detail.

 

For more details about designing artwork for laser cutting, check out our artwork tips page and blogs on designing artwork for laser cutting and laying out artwork.

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

 

how unicorns are made

How unicorns are made

Posted Posted in Artists, Designers, How to, Signage, Wood

InkPaintPaper is an artist and illustrator in Norfolk. She makes hand painted personalised plywood decorations and signs, all to her own design.

She had ideas for new products to add to her plywood signs line. One of her wrapping paper designs has a unicorn motif, the same one that she has on her logo, and she thought it would be a fun shape for bedroom door signs. So she got in touch with LaserFlair to discuss the feasibility of her plan.

Product development

InkPaintPaper and I have worked together for a few years now. She knows that we need vector artwork to cut out shapes and understands that chunky shapes are most robust. Her artwork was perfect first time with a single hairline line surrounding each unicorn. The most vulnerable point was where the unicorn’s tail meets its body, but at 10mm wide, it not a cause for concern, especially as she wanted to use 4mm laser ply. Being formed from laminated layers in birch, plywood is inherently strong and the unicorns would would be robust enough to send through the post.

Prototypes

This was a pretty straight forward product development project. InkPaintPaper knew exactly what she wanted, her artwork was good, the product robust and the material choice clear.

We laser cut some prototype unicorns for InkPaintPaper to decorate and test the market with. She hand painted them and got feedback via social media. It wasn’t long before she came back with an order for a production run of unicorns in the run up to Christmas!

working with furniture makers

Working with furniture makers

Posted Posted in Designers, Furniture, How to, Wood

Hugh Parsons Design is a furniture maker based in Newbattle. Hugh has created a striking maple, cherry and fumed oak mirror with a celtic pattern using traditional marquetry techniques.

He asked LaserFlair if we could engrave a recessed triangle pattern on the mirror frames and also laser cut fumed oak veneer into triangles of three sizes. The engraving creates enough depth for the fumed oak triangles to sit into so that they sit slightly proud of the frame. Once fitted, Hugh sands the frames so that the triangles are flush with the surface of the frame.

Hugh and I spent a good half day doing tests to make sure that everything would fit together properly!

Testing

First, we test engraved some triangles on frame offcuts. After a few tests, we selected engraving power settings to achieve the right depth for the oak veneer to fit so that it was neither too shallow nor too deep in relation to the mirror surface.

Engraving

Then we set up the mirror on a jig so that the laser was aligned as closely as possible to the frame while the triangular pattern was engraved. The large triangles in the top right and bottom left corners of the mirror point right into those corners. Human eyes can detect an error or 1mm or more which would detract from the effect. We use a jig to get as close as possible to perfection as doing it by eye just isn’t accurate enough.

Cutting the veneer

Finally, we needed to make sure that the fumed oak triangles would fit the engraved areas properly. I cut some samples and Hugh tested them for fit, knowing what he required for best results. We had to tweak the sizes a bit to get them right. The veneer was quite hard to cut as it comes in quite tight rolls. We had to weigh the strips down to keep them flat during production to make sure they ended up with the right sizes.

Hugh finishes off the mirrors by cutting grooves at 45 degrees to the frames. He coloured them to match the triangles, and the effect is striking and beautiful. We’re so proud to help craftsmen to create such beautiful pieces. Hugh exibited his Celtic Mirrors at the SFMA exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2016. He also sells them on his website.

how to create a giant jigsaw puzzle

How to create a giant jigsaw puzzle

Posted Posted in Artwork, Designers, Exhibitions, How to, Wood

FifeX designs, creates and installs bespoke interactive products, exhibitions and educational resources. They’re based nearby in Tayport. Ken Boyd approached us to help them produce two A2 sized jigsaw puzzles for their customer, REME Museum of Technology. REME wanted to replace two puzzles that were worn out as they had been so well used by visitors.

The museum had two images that they wanted to make into jigsaws. We thought long and hard about the best materials to use and how to cut the pieces accurately, and came up with a plan.

Choosing a material

Firstly, we had to select a material to make the jigsaws from. We settled on 6mm birch plywood because it laser cuts well and wood is a lovely, chunky material to handle. Being pale in colour, the pictures would show up clearly. Also, the wood grain would be visible through the print, a lovely feature. And plywood is robust, chunky and lightweight, very important considerations when the product is designed with younger visitors in mind.

Creating the jigsaw

Once the customer had chosen the material, LaserFlair cut two A2 sized shapes from 6mm plywood and sent them to the printer. They applied the pictures and returned the panels to LaserFlair for cutting into jigsaw pieces.

FifeX found a piece of software for designing jigsaw piece layouts and shapes. It created vector lines that the laser can follow to cut the lines between the pieces. We could select how many pieces we wanted in the x and y axes, and choose regularly or irregularly shaped pieces. We decided on 20 pieces to make each piece the size that the customer wanted, and selected an irregular cutting pattern for more interest. Then we laser cut the puzzle.

The whole process was a great success. This picture shows one of the jigsaws sitting on the laser bed after cutting.

plywood pitfalls

Plywood pitfalls

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Artwork, Designers, How to, Wood

You’d assume that 3mm plywood is 3mm thick, wouldn’t you?

Wrong! With plywood, thicknesses are nominal, not actual. This is because plywood is made up of different layers glued together. 3mm usually has 3 layers, and the result is an actual thickness of 3.2-3.3mm. 4mm ply has another layer, and is usually 3.8mm thick.

Potential design disasters

This can create a whole worlds of pain for designers and manufacturers if they want to create products made up of pieces that slot into each other and require a good fit.

If you assume a thickness of 3mm and you design 3mm slots in artwork and then try to fit 3.3mm thick wood in the slot, it’s not going to happen. Or if 4mm ply were used, 3.8mm parts would be too loose.

Case study

Imagine making 300 reindeer kits for Christmas, sending the artwork to a maker, and getting back parts that don’t fit?

This could have happened to one of our earliest customers, but we made a prototype, realised the problem and fed it back to the customer. They tweaked the artwork before we performed the production run. This simple check saved our customer –  and us too –  a lot of time, money and heartache.

Always check that your designer and maker are speaking to each other to avoid disasters like this.