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.

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

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 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

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

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?


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 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.

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.


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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.

Plywood shapes for Hooperhart’s dioramas

Posted Posted in Artists, Wood

I learned a new word last week – diorama. Dioramas are miniature three-dimensional scene in which models of figures are arranged against a background. They were used by Victorians as a theatre device and can be used in film animations.

Hooperhart creates magical little wooden worlds in boxes and pictures. Cal also makes jewellery, pop up kits and decorations, and embellishes them with hand painting and screen printing. She got in touch to ask if I could laser cut her miniature pieces from 3mm plywood.

Miniature pieces for miniature worlds

As Cal needs lots of small shapes for her scenes, she only needs one sheet of plywood shapes cut at a time. She sends new artwork depending on the shapes she wants, filling the sheet with little trees, deer, boats, clouds and mountains to get as many pieces as possible. Even the offcuts make me smile!

Stand up kits

Cal wanted a couple of stand up kits in her first order, so I needed to test the slots to make sure they would fit neatly. Plywood thicknesses are nominal, and the 3mm ply that I source is typically between 3.1 – 3.3mm thick. If the slots are created at 3mm, they are too tight and the kit doesn’t work!

Cal sent me two pieces of artwork to try. One was too tight and the other was spot on.

Fragile – handle with care!

Cal’s mountains, bears and moose are very robust as they’re chunky. Some of the trees, plants and deer are very fragile though. Look at the tree trunks in the picture at the top. Their trunks are only a few millimetres thick, so I pack them very carefully and they arrived with Cal in one piece.

Thankfully, plywood is inherently strong. 3mm ply typically has 3 layers of wood laminated together which helps, but it wouldn’t take much to break them.



Cal loves arranging her pieces in pleasing formations, known as knolling, another new word I’ve learned from her. She creates some of her pieces in this way, and her Instagram feed is a great place for her to play!

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