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.

 

engraving a cask end clock

Engraving a cask end clock

Posted Posted in Artwork, Furniture, Recycled wood

Catherine from The Upcycled Timber Company makes beautiful things from old whisky barrels. She started to make clocks from cask ends and used fillets of wood at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions to indicate numbers. Catherine asked if I could help her experiment with laser engraving as an alternative.

Creating the artwork

First, I had to create the artwork for the numbers. Catherine was happy with a simple bold font to complement the rustic nature of cask ends, so we chose the Arial font. I laid out the numbers on a circle sized roughly to match cask end sizes.

clock artwork

Cask end challenges

Unless cask ends are brand new like the ones I engraved for Diageo, they’re not usually regular circles. Edges wear down over the years, making the faces near the edges curved, and they’re rough and blackened in places. Individuality is part of the appeal of old cask ends, but it means we have to be flexible with the artwork to make it right for each clock. In this case, we reduced the size of the artwork to make sure that the numbers were far enough away from the edges.

How to reduce engraving time

I programmed the laser to engrave all the numbers individually. It’s much faster to do this rather than engraving each number at the same time as the laser has to scan across the whole cask end with each pass of the laser head. This reduces production time per unit. That’s why you see all the numbers coloured differently in the artwork. The colours are engraved sequentially.

cask end clock

Each cask end is different

Catherine brought the cask end round to the workshop and stayed while I engraved it. She decided that she wanted the clock raster engraved with the pieces of wood vertically aligned.

There was a surprise on the back of the cask end – a piece of wood perpendicular to the cask end pieces. As it would be unstable in the machine without extra support, I stabilised it with pieces of wood so that it wouldn’t wobble.

Cask oak is usually very dense. I engraved at the highest power setting to get the deepest, darkest engrave possible. This oak was particularly dense, so we engraved the 3, 6, 9 and 12 again for extra definition. As the 9 was on a darker area of wood, it helped it stand out more.

Catherine was delighted with the results. After oiling it and fitting the mechanism, she sent it to its new home in the United States. It was ordered as a birthday gift for a whisky lover who fell in love with it immediately.

tiny logos on beard scissors

Tiny logos on beard scissors

Posted Posted in Artwork, Corporate, Stainless steel, Thermark

One of my most unusual enquiries came from Beard Juice. Wayne wanted to sell some beard accessories alongside his new range of beard oils, and chose surgical stainless steel beard trimming scissors. He wanted to brand them with his logo, but knew that this would be a challenge on two levels. Could I engrave on metal? And could I engrave his logo small enough to fit on the largest area available – the hinge area of the scissors?

Engraving tiny logos

Wayne sent me a copy of the Beard Juice logo in black and white. I worked out that to engrave the logo in the right place, it could be 19mm wide maximum. I was concerned that the detail in the logo wouldn’t come out clearly enough as the text lines were very fine, and the feathering around the edges might be completely lost at that scale. It was clear that the copyright logo at the top right would be too small to be seen clearly, so Wayne said I could remove it.

Beard Juice logo

Prototypes

Wayne send me some scissors to perform some sample engravings on. We needed to check whether the stainless steel of the scissors would be compatible with the Thermark metal marking paste. It was also important to see whether or not the logo would engrave at a high enough quality.

Thermark is a mixture of glass particles and black pigment. It looks like a grey paste and it is spread onto the surface to be engraved. After it has dried, it can be raster or vector engraved. We chose raster engraving in this case. The laser melts the glass and traps the pigment onto the surface of the metal as a layer of black enamel. Residual paste is then washed off.

Beard Juice logo zoom

It’s a great technique offering good contrast against stainless steel. But it hasn’t worked with every stainless steel sample I’ve engraved using this method. It did in this case, and the logo came up beautifully despite all my concerns. There’s no substitute for preparing samples. Then customers can be confident that they have a good product at the right price before they commit to investing in new product lines.

I sent the prototypes back to Wayne who was delighted and promptly ordered more for engraving.

branded golf bag tags

Branded golf bag tags

Posted Posted in Corporate, Other, Wood

Shona from Holiday Essentials got in touch. Her customer, Scottish Golf Tours, wanted a welcome gift box for their American visitors. They wanted to include bespoke golf bag tags or keyrings that their customers would love so much that they’d keep using them after they returned home. Shona asked if I could help her create something special.

Designing the tags

I knew that 3mm laser ply would be perfect for making the tags as the laminated layers of wood give strength to detailed shapes and the material is well priced. We needed to find a chunky design that would be robust enough to last for years on a well used golf bag.

Shona found a fun design online in black and white and in vector format – ideal for laser cutting! Its license also allowed us to use it for commercial purposes. The details of the clubs and golf bag strap were chunky and there was space on the bag to engrave Scottish Golf Tours’ logo. Just perfect for what we needed!

 

artwork for golf bag tag
artwork for golf bag tags

Prototypes for approval

Shona came to the workshop and we made some prototypes together.

We made two samples: a keyring 75mm long and a golf bag tag 100mm long. Each sample was laser cut from 3mm laser ply and featured vector engraved golf bag detail with a raster engraved logo. As we thought the golf ball part of the logo was too small to engrave clearly, we just engraved the flag and the text. The small green box to the top left corner of the logo is a white square that covers the golf ball. This means that the laser doesn’t see it to engrave it.

Shona proudly took our samples to show Scottish Golf Tours who loved them both. It made sense to select one option. They realised that golf bag tags would be on display on golf courses more than keyrings. They wanted them to be objects of desire that their customers’ friends, family and fellow golfers would envy. Perhaps they would dream of their own visit to the Home of Golf! Scottish Golf Tours decided to proceed with the golf bag tags and placed an order with Holiday Essentials.

First production run

As the golf season was starting, there was no time to loose! The first order was for 200 tags. I made them as soon as I could and Shona compiled the gift boxes in time for Scottish Golf Tours’ first foreign visitors arriving.

Shona found beautiful leather straps which she looped through the golf bag strap to finish them.

Branding slate coasters

Branding slate coasters

Posted Posted in Corporate, Slate

Fife Chamber of Commerce wanted to create gifts that they could give to speakers at their events. Jacqui wanted something that would be good value, but classy. A gift that would be useful, and that you’d want to have on your desk and that colleagues would envy. She asked me if I could help, and I suggested slate coasters laser engraved with their logo. Slate is chunky and beautiful, and engraved really well.

Sourcing slate

The Just Slate Company is just down the road from the Fife Chamber of Commerce office in Kirkcaldy.  They import Spanish slate and make their products on site in Fife. Their products are chunky with a riven finish, with foam backing and a food safe resin finish, making them black and shiny.

Fife Chamber liked the idea of having something made and engraved locally. We agreed that as the Chamber are VAT registered that they would source the 110mm square coasters themselves and have them delivered directly to my workshop. This helped to keep the price down and I charged for artwork set up and unit engraving only.

Logo artwork

Jacqui sent several versions of the Chamber logo in colour, all in red, black and white, including a png, a giff and an eps. Eps files are vector files that are easy to rescale without loss of image quality. And in this case, changing the logo from colour to black and white was easy as the logo is relatively simple, so I could do it myself.

I rescaled the logo to 70 x 50mm. This looked good centred on the 110 x 110mm slate coasters, and sent Jacqui a proof.

Engraving slate

Once Jacqui had given me approval for the artwork, I carried on with engraving. When slate is engraved, the mark is silvery grey against the black background and it looks very smart.

It’s easy to overpower slate when engraving it. Only a small amount of power is needed. Overpowering makes the engraving appears yellowish and the engraved surface looks a bit pitted, detracting from the look of the product. Most of the slate I engrave comes from The Just Slate Company, and my usual machine settings worked well.

Fife Chamber of Commerce were so pleased with their coasters that they came back for more the following year.

 

how to engrave a bench

How to engrave a bench

Posted Posted in Furniture, How to, Wood

Have you ever wondered how to laser engrave a bench? Garry Macfarlane from Freckle Furniture did. He received two commissions for benches with engraved pieces simultaneously! He asked us if we could help.

The bench in the picture was commissioned as a retirement gift. Colleagues wanted the logo of the fisheries organisation where they all worked together on the back top beam of the bench. For the front seat rail under the seat, they chose a Gaelic inscription – ‘Mur a bheil e agad, na cuir air tìr e’. Garry and I still don’t know what it means, so let me know if you do!

Designing the bench

There was no way that we could put the complete bench into the laser machine. It was far too large! When Garry was designing the bench, we discussed what dimensions of wood would fit into the machine when we were ready to engrave. Garry built the bench himself from oak. Before he assembled it, he brought the pieces to be engraved to my workshop.

Setting up the artwork

Garry supplied the blue and white SFO logo from the customer and he wanted it resized to 132mm. I usually ask for black and white artwork, but there was enough contrast between the blue and white shapes for the laser to detect which areas were to be to engraved.

I set up the Gaelic inscription. Text is easy to create once the customer has chosen the font and the size for engraving. Garry wanted a reasonably plain but classic font with something a little different, so we chose the Nyala font.

Size constraints and getting around them

The back top beam measured 1480 x 124 x 38mm and the front seat rail 1480 x 76 x 38mm. The maximum width we can fit into the machine is 1330mm, but as our machine has letterbox slits at the front and back, we can set up pieces with sections protruding through the front and back of the machine. That’s what we did with the bench pieces.

Engraving the bench

As all the wood sections would be lined up vertically in the machine, I set up the text and logo for engraving vertically too. Garry wanted the text and logo to be located centrally on each piece of wood. We identified the horizontal and vertical centres and made a small pencil mark that could be rubbed or engraved off.

When I positioned the wood in the machine, I set up the laser so that it was lined up over the pencil marks. Text length was kept within 800mm, the height of the machine bed, so that it could be engraved at one go. The text was easy to align as it was engraved on a rectangular section of wood.

But Garry had designed the back top rail into a curve with a point in the middle. This made things more interesting! We made a similar pencil mark to identify where he wanted the centre of the logo to be. Then I set up the wood in the machine in a similar way.

We did a nice heavy engrave for a good 3D effect. Having Garry there to give feedback during production meant that I could check each detail with him as we went along. He was delighted with the results, and returned to his workshop to finish and assemble the two benches.