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.
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.
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!
Bearded Basturds is a Dunfermline based startup company with a range of beard oils and waxes that don’t contain harsh chemicals or alcohol.
Craig started to get inquiries for beard combs from customers. He wanted something wooden if possible, and wondered if it might be an option to have them laser engraved with his logo. So he got in touch with LaserFlair to see if we could help.
On his search for fabulous and original beard combs, Craig came across The Upcycled Timber Company, a start up based in Glenrothes. They make all sorts of things from recycled wooden whisky barrels, and now they make chunky and manly combs for Bearded Basturds too. Each one is unique with a slightly different shape as they are all handmade.
Craig brought some sample combs round to our workshop to test engrave them. He decided that he wanted his beard logo on one side and the company name on the other. Getting the size of the text and logo just right for the combs would be important for product aesthetics. In addition, we knew that a good 3D effect would complement the combs’ rugged appearance.
We made the engraving for the text deeper than for the beard logo. A deeper engrave makes finer features like text stand out more. Larger engraved areas don’t need as much depth relatively as finer engraving. So although the engravings were done at different power settings, they look similar in depth which is what Craig wanted.
In the engraved beard logos especially, the light and dark growth rings in the wood are highlighted. Engraving is deeper over the less dense spring/summer growth rings, and shallower over the denser autumn/winter growth rings. You can see this in the picture, and it is clearer in the logo than the text. This is one of my favourite features of laser engraved wood.
It has been wonderful to work with two other local companies to make such an original product with a good story. The engraved beard combs look amazing, and we’re really proud of what we’ve created together.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A customer asked if I could laser engrave six wooden chopping boards with her granny’s Highlander recipe as gifts for her family for Christmas. To make the gifts extra special, she had scanned her granny’s recipe from her old recipe book. She wondered if we could engrave the boards to look as if her granny had written the recipe on the boards herself.
My customer prepared the artwork herself and got it right first time.
Scanning handwriting for laser engraving
We need artwork for engraving in black and white with no greyscale. This is very important because the laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave. It engraves black and doesn’t engrave white. If the artwork is greyscale, the software interprets greys as being either dark enough to be black or pale enough to be white and engraves accordingly. The laser creates shades of grey in the way that old fashioned newsprint did, by engraving concentrations of black pixels. As the laser engraves each black pixel, black and white artwork works best.
It is also important that if artwork if presented in jpg, png or bitmap format (as my customer did), the graphics must be of print quality, in other words, 300dpi or greater. Unwanted pixellation will be engraved, so customers should provide good, clean unpixellated images for best results. Engraving is only as good as the artwork is.
Engraving the boards
The text was very fine, as you’d expect from handwriting. We performed some test engraves and got good results using a deep engrave to give the text good definition. My customer loved the engraved boards. Having a fresh reminder of her granny in her kitchen was special as she prepared to start her own family.
We can engraved curved surfaces as well as flat ones, but it depends on the curve and the material. Here’s an example.
We engraved these beautiful beech coffee tamper handles for Made by Knock for their customer, Machina Espresso. They’re so tactile, and are perfect for engraving if you can work with the curved surface. That was the biggest challenge, along with getting the logo centred on the top. You can easily spot if engravings are out by a millimetre.
It’s all about focus
The principle is that flat surfaces should be engraved. This is because the laser beam is focussed vertically onto a horizontal surface. The distance between the lens and the material surface is crucial for high quality engraving. Lenses have specific focal lengths that should be adhered to for best results. Even a tolerance of plus or minus 1mm can be a problem depending on the material used and the lens selected.
These principles need to be adhered to more for sensitive materials like acrylic and metal where a reduction in engraving quality is very easy to spot. Wood, on the other hand, is much more forgiving.
My secret weapon
My secret weapon is my 100mm lens. It allows me to work with a curve of around 8mm, particularly if the material is forgiving like wood is. I’ve used it to engrave these tamper handles and mini wooden baseball bat muddlers for mixing cocktails. It is still important to keep engravings on relatively flat areas for best results.
Before we went into production, we engraved Machina Espresso’s logo on a few tamper handle seconds to judge the largest size the logo could be engraved to keep the logos on the flattest part of the handles. It was important to know at what size engraving quality would deteriorate, and to make sure that engraving results would be consistently high quality.