Plywood lapwings take flight!

Plywood lapwings take flight!

Posted Posted in Artists, Wood

My name is Kate Millbank, and I’m a printmaker and designer. I contacted Jane at LaserFlair to help me make a range of plywood birds on which I could print some lino print designs. Jane was amazingly helpful. Following the success of my first bird design ‘flying geese’, I have returned to seek Jane’s assistance in producing a second bird to add to the flock.

Coastal inspiration

I am lucky enough to live near Aberlady Bay in East Lothian, with its diverse population of coastal birds. It’s a constant source of inspiration. You only have to walk down to the shore to see oyster catchers with their bright orange beaks, wading redshanks, curlews and lapwings. Thousands of pink footed geese arrive every autumn.

I chose to base my second bird design on the lapwing. Its distinctive head crest and bold feather patterns would make an ideal subject to recreate in print and birch ply.

Cutting the lino for artwork creation
Cutting the lino for artwork creation

Planning my lapwing design

I wanted the lapwing design to be similar in size to the flying geese so that both designs of bird have the potential to hang together. When considering the size of the birds, not only did I need to make sure they were a suitable size for displaying in the home, I also had to take into account the dimensions of the plywood sheets. I wanted to maximise the amount of birds that I could cut from each sheet, keeping the production costs of each bird to a minimum.

Once I was happy with the silhouette of the lapwing, I scanned it. Using Adobe Illustrator, I created a vector based file that the laser cutter would be able to read.

Checking the lapwing print against the ply cut out
Checking the lapwing print against the ply cut out

Finding the right printing technique

Next I designed, cut and printed the lino print to give the lapwing some distinctive markings and feather patterns. I love the bold and slightly naive impression lino prints create, and I wanted to use this style of print for the lapwings.

Having tried to print directly from lino onto ply when developing the goose design, I realised this was not going to work well. The ink tended to bleed into the grain of the ply. It was also a very time consuming process. Being a mum with two small boys, time is the one thing I don’t have a lot of! If I wanted to produce and sell these at an affordable price, I needed a different solution.

This is when I discovered The Print Block. It was a breakthrough to realise that my lino print artwork could be screen printed. This technique works beautifully for printing onto plywood. I also found the prospect of working with another small and exceptionally talented UK based business very exciting.

Creating a file ready for screen printing
Creating a file ready for screen printing

The moment of truth

With the artwork completed, all I needed to do was wait to see my completed product. When the parcel arrived at my studio a few weeks later, I was delighted to see how wonderful the lapwings looked. It is very exciting to think that the plywood birds I sold are making their own migration across the UK. They’re laser cut in Fife, screen printed in Kent, and then they fly off to their new homes. Feedback to date has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m already having to cut and print a second run!

The lapwings and geese can be purchased from my online shop and are also available from two galleries in East Lothian, Norden in North Berwick and The Found Gallery, Dunbar.

Cutting and engraving using same artwork

Cutting and engraving using same artwork

Posted Posted in Artists, Wood

Hooperhart makes the most amazing dioramas from miniature shapes that I laser cut for her from 3mm laser ply. Cal decided that she wanted to incorporate engraving into some designs to explore new effects.

She wanted to know if it was possible to have cutting and engraving detail in the same artwork and if so, how it could be done.

One set of artwork, several possibilities

For laser cutting, I always use vector files like pdf, ai, dxf, eps and svg. They’re made up of lines rather than pixels as jpgs and pngs are. The laser follows the lines to cut shapes out as shown in the image below.

Vector files are so versatile. Not only can I use vector artwork for laser cutting, but I can also use it to vector (line) engrave or raster (fill in) engrave. The same artwork can do all these things as long as lines are colour coded for cut through, vector engraving or raster engraving so I know how to treat them.

Colour coded artwork

Cal decided that she wanted to use raster engraving rather than vector engraving. I suggested that she used identical lines to her usual cut out shape lines to surround the areas she wanted engraved, but colour them red instead of black. All the lines in her first set of test artwork were the same colour.

She wanted the engraving to come right to the edge of her shapes and asked if that would cause problems. When I cut and engrave on the same items, I do all the engraving before I cut the shapes out, so I told Cal that she could have the engraved shapes butted right up to the cut line, or even slightly overlapping them as you can see below.

Hooperhart Mr Fox artwork

Cal’s artwork above is similar to her second test artwork, using red triangles to denote engraved areas on tree trunks. Because the engraved areas were so small, they were relatively quick to engrave and didn’t add much to production time costs.

Bark effect

The picture of the diorama of Mr Fox at the top shows the effect that Cal was after. The engraved triangles on the tree trunks work really well to add mood to her moonlit forest.

Cal regularly uses painting and screen printing to add detail to her pieces, and raster engraving adds a different texture to her work.


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

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.

mosaics made from LaserFlair offcuts

Mosaics made from LaserFlair offcuts

Posted Posted in Artists, Materials, Other

Marilyn Rattray is a local artist. She makes mosaics from all sorts of things from drawing pins to stone. She also makes stained glass brooches and leather bags. A talented lady!

When I posted some photos of some of my laser cutting offcuts on Instagram, she got in touch and asked if she could have some for her creative projects. I love it when creative people use my waste, and I find it fascinating seeing what they make from it.

’31 tesserae’

Marilyn’s just finished the piece show below. It’s her January ‘Fun a Day Dundee 2018‘ project, and it represents January’s calendar page. The first blank at the top left is Dec 31st and the last three move into February with the 31 individual mosaics in between for each day of January. Five of these are made using my offcuts. Can you spot them? They use mdf, ply, perspex and formica offcuts mounted in tinted tile adhesive.

Day 2’s piece is made from mdf offcuts. The pieces you can see fitted between shapes I cut for a project. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one.

Day 6 is made up of lots of cylinders of plywood, some of the dregs of my waste wood bin. Larger ones were probably from the insides of cogs and other shapes and the small ones were probably from medal and tag holes. They are different heights as the shapes were cut from 3, 4, 6 and 9mm plywood. Day 15 is similar, but made using oblongs rather than cylinders.

Day 16 used letters cut out from 5mm green Perspex. They were left over from making the trophies for the Ochil Ultra race last September. I couldn’t bear to throw out such nice letters, so I kept them for someone who might like them. Happily, they found a home.

Finally, day 30 shows two layers of formica offcuts left over from making Tom Pigeon’s shapes for their metal and formica jewellery. These circles were left over from the insides of bangles, and the small pieces inside were for earrings. Marilyn pressed the formica into the tile adhesive, making it bulge through the layered holes.

Order and chaos

Marilyn upended my waste wood bin into a box to take home! She created the letter mosaic below using the teeny weeny laser cut letters that she found there. They must have been there for a few years. Most are from laser ply and these survived intact as ply is robust, being made from laminated layers of birch wood.

Marilyn arranged the letters as she wanted in tinted tile adhesive and mounted the mosaic in an old frame. I love the elements of order and chaos and how they meet.

Looking for inspiration?

If you’re interested in using LaserFlair waste for creative projects of any sort, please contact us. I supply artists, art colleges, children’s art classes, students and community projects. You can make an appointment to visit the workshop and rake through my bins!


Here’s a blog about how two local artists, Marysia Lachowicz and Margot Hailey use formica and polypropylene offcuts for printing.

Extrusion dies for Frances Priest Studio

Extrusion dies for Frances Priest Studio

Posted Posted in Artists, Perspex

Frances Priest is a ceramic artist. She makes beautiful pieces with intricate patterns and bursts of colour in her Edinburgh studio.

A new exhibition

Last summer, Frances started work on pieces for ‘A Fine Line’, an exhibition that is currently on show at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre.

She wanted to create pieces of clay in particular shapes. If she could form clay ‘sausages’ in the shapes she wanted, she knew that she could cut them to the thickness she required to make uniform pieces. But how best to do this?

 Frances Priest clay sausages

Extrusion dies

Frances and I had been following each other on Instagram for several months. Then one day in August, she contacted me to ask if I could make some extrusion dies for her.

Frances Priest pieces

Frances needed the dies made out of a material that would be rigid and robust enough to cope with the pressure of clay being squeezed through them. She wanted them to be reuseable with damp materials and not become soggy and lose their shape. I suggested that perspex would work well as it’s washable. Plywood would warp and delaminate, and mdf would soften. 3mm and 5mm are widely available thicknesses of perspex and I had suitable offcuts in the workshop as the colour didn’t matter. Frances chose 5mm to be on the safe side.

Frances Priest exhibition

The results

I laser cut the dies and sent them to Frances. They worked perfectly and in a few days, Frances had posted pictures on Instagram of the dies, the clay sausages, and how she chopped them up with a scalpel to create the pieces she wanted.  All the photos in this post were taken by Frances.

‘A Fine Line’ is open to the public at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre until 18th February 2018.


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

Wooden decorations for Pink Fish Shetland

Wooden decorations for Pink Fish Shetland

Posted Posted in Artists, Wood

Shona Anderson of Pink Fish Shetland paints charming brooches and decorations in the shape of ponies, puffins and many more animals, selling them locally in the Shetland Islands. She contacted me because she needed someone to laser cut her designs on a larger scale from plywood and mdf, and wondered if I could help.

Vector artwork

First, Shona sent me some artwork for her puffin decorations shown in the video below, and pony decorations which were similar but in a circle. All Shona’s artwork was perfect. She used hairline vector lines that completely surrounded the shapes to be cut out, and had no duplicate lines.

First order

Shona confirmed quantities of pony and puffin decorations and the sizes she wanted. She also wondered if the pony shapes could be resized and cut from 9mm mdf or laser plywood so they would stand up. This is fast and easy to do with vector artwork.

We decided that mdf would work better. 9mm plywood has so many layers that the probability of having knots in the wood increases significantly. Knots are more dense, making those areas harder to cut through, increasing the failure rate. Mdf doesn’t contain knots, so it gives more consisted results for small, detailed pieces, and it’s cheaper too.

Shona loved everything. She was excited to get the little star, pony and puffin offcuts too, knowing she could use them as brooches. When she posted pictures of the painted pieces on Instagram, I was amazed at the intricacy of her work on such small pieces. Puffins and ponies definitely suit Fairisle jumpers!

Shona liked the 9mm mdf ponies so much that she soon came back to ask for them in two more sizes.


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