Shetland Wool Week plywood brooches

Shetland Wool Week plywood brooches

Posted Posted in Jewellery, Prototyping, Wood

Donna Smith lives in Shetland and designs and writes knitting patterns. She also teaches workshops and classes in knitting and design around the world.

Donna is a past patron of Shetland Wool Week, and was asked to design and commission brooches of a Shetland jumper for this year’s event.  So she contacted me to ask if I could make them from plywood.

Brooch artwork

Vector artwork is ideal for projects where products are laser cut and engraved. Donna sent a perfect file.

Her design included the square and cross elements from the Merrie Dancers Toorie pattern by this year’s Shetland Wool Week patron, Elizabeth Johnston (Shetland Handspun). She wanted the intricate pattern around the yoke raster engraved.

She also wanted a ribbed effect at the cuffs and the waistband of the jumpers. These details would be created by a series of cut through lines.

Shetland jumper brooch prototypes

Protype brooches

As soon as Donna had confirmed how she wanted all the details of the brooch to look, I made prototypes to ensure I could make something that Donna would love.  These brooches are 68 x 45mm which is not especially small, but the details on them are very fine. Yoke detail would need to be very crisp and fine cuts can be liable to burning on the backs of products if settings are even slightly out.

Donna agreed that 3mm plywood would be fine. I created two prototypes with different weights of engraving to choose between. One brooch featured a lighter engrave and the other a darker engrave with more depth that was created using more power. You can see them in the picture above.

Selecting a product

In the end, the darker engrave was selected and Donna asked me to proceed with making the brooches. She needed enough time to attach the brooch clasps and send them out to their premium members before Shetland Wood Week begins on 22nd September! The video above shows how they’re engraved and then cut out on the machine.


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

Can I raster engrave using vector artwork

Can I raster engrave using vector artwork?

Posted Posted in How to, Prototyping

A customer asked me this last week as we discussed her new product ideas and how to add detail to cut out shapes.

The answer? Yes, you certainly can raster engrave using vector artwork, but there’s one major pitfall to avoid.

There are two ways to create vector lines with any thickness. One works really well in all situations and the other works in some scenarios, but not others. I’ll show you why.

The problem: how vector lines are seen by laser software

This is the biggest thing to get your head around. Vector lines can be created and then made to look a certain thickness, anything from hairline to 2.5mm.

If you view the artwork as a simple wireframe, you see what my laser cutting software sees – a hairline line, however thick you may have made it appear. To raster engrave to get the same effect, I have to follow these steps.

Step 1: To raster engrave the area, I’d select the artwork element

Step 2: Convert the selected lines into bitmaps while leaving other lines as vectors. This keeps the lines at the thickness shown on the screen so they doesn’t revert to hairline thickness at step 3. All the other lines for cutting and vector engraving need to be in that format.

Step 3: Export the artwork with the different elements to my software that tells the laser what to do with the artwork.

This can work for simple designs, but it can be a nightmare with more complex ones. Following my fool proof method below avoids all these problems.

Fool proof vector artwork for raster engraving

Kate decided that she wanted to add raster engraved details to her laser cut goose shapes. Raster engraving was the look she wanted.

I asked Kate to imagine a thick black line, say 40mm by 5mm. To have this line raster engraved, I told her she’d need to create a box 40 x 5mm using vector lines. I’d instruct the laser to raster engrave that rectangle.

If each element she wanted raster engraved was outlined by a surrounding line, the areas inside those lines could be raster engraved. This is how I’d treat the green feathers in the artwork above. Or if Kate wanted them vector engraved, the outline lines could be line engraved. It’s an easy and flexible method.

Kate Millbank vector engraved goose

Engraved geese

As it turned out, Kate wanted children to paint the geese. I suggested that the raster engraved feathers could be lost under the paint. It would be a shame to make a more expensive product with detail that could be lost. Vector engraving would be cheaper than raster engraving and would create outlines that the children could paint in.

This was a perfect solution for Kate. She’d given me foolproof vector artwork, so all I had to do was code the feathers for vector engraving. The results are shown in the picture above.


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


Other artwork blogs that might be useful:

Designing artwork for laser cutting

Designing artwork for raster engraving

Cutting and engraving using the same artwork

Are vector and raster engraving different

Designing artwork for robust pins

Designing artwork for robust pins

Posted Posted in Designers, Prototyping

Sophie Pieroni is a designer and she contacted me to ask if I could make some pins of her greyhound design. She wanted them laser cut and engraved from 3mm ply and 3mm black perspex to sell in her Etsy shop.

Vector artwork design

Vector artwork is a good basis for any design for laser cutting and engraving.

As Sophie wanted to use cutting and raster engraving for her pins, I pointed her to my blog about designing artwork for laser cutting as a good place for design tips. To make the pins, I’d programme the vector lines around the shape to be cut through and internal detail would be programmed for fill in engraving.

Watch out for the eyelashes!

Sophie’s design was perfect for what I needed, but there was one problem. I cut a prototype from plywood, and the greyhound’s eyelashes on the left of the pin were very thin and vulnerable as you can see from the picture at the top right. The lashes on the right were fine as they were engraved but not cut around.

Pins are generally small, so detail like this is more challenging to make robust. If the artwork was laser cut at a larger size, the eyelashes could be chunky enough to be robust. Miniaturising designs for cutting and engraving presents so many challenges.

Sophie Pieroni pins
Sophie Pieroni perspex pins ready for the shop!

Making designs robust

I sent Sophie a picture of the prototype and she came up with the perfect solution.

She made the pins bigger, and created an unengraved margin around the shape of the greyhound that she defined with engraving. As the unengraved margin was wide enough to accommodate the eyelashes, it made them indestructable. The greyhound’s nose and ear were also strengthened, and the engravings looked better with surrounding unengraved space. You can see the difference that the design tweaks made in the picture at the top.

I sent Sophie a photo of the improved product, and she was happy. We had a working prototype after only two iterations.


New product release

Sophie has released her two new pins in her Etsy shop now she’s painted the perspex ones and finished them all. If you love greyhounds or know someone who does, they could be right up your street!


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

Ethical pins

It was important for Sophie to make an ethical product. She said:

‘It seems the best way to get a place on Etsy and Instagram is to make pins and patches. Patches aren’t so much the problem if they’re  manufactured in the UK, but pins are a big unethical pit.

It’s impossible to find enamel pins made outside China. Trust me, I tried. I don’t think it should be news to anyone that workers in China aren’t fairly paid. You can see that in the prices it cost to get pins manufactured. I decided I didn’t want to contribute to that industry. Laser cutting is the best alternative for me. I wanted to find a UK based supplier and decided to go with LaserFlair who’s based in Fife.

After getting my designs cut and engraved, I hand finished each one myself, you can see videos of this on my feed. So when you buy one of my pins, you’re supporting small businesses like myself and getting something proudly made in Scotland.

I hope if you weren’t aware of the enamel pin business this has opened your eyes and given you an insight into what I’m trying to do.’

Prototyping perspex brooches

Prototyping perspex brooches

Posted Posted in Perspex, Prototyping

Rosemary wanted to design a range of perspex brooches, but she needed to find someone to help her laser cut them. This is our journey together to create her first new product and the role that prototypes played in perfecting the design.

All prototyping starts with the artwork

There are two things to decide at the beginning of a laser cutting project. Artwork is a very important element to get right, so I pointed Rosemary to Artwork website page and my blog about designing artwork for laser cutting. These pages summarise what I would need to cut her products. Rosemary knew she wanted to work with perspex and I suggested that 3mm was robust enough.

Within a couple of weeks, Rosemary was in touch with her Frankie Frog design.

Initial design

Frankie Frog was in two layers. There was a yellow base layer with an external cut out shape and an engraved eye that Rose wanted fill in engraved, and a green top layer. The external shape matched the yellow layer, but there were three cut out body panels to show the yellow underneath. An eye was cut out and there were some lines to vector engrave showing leg and back outlines.

As a reality check, I found some leftover green and yellow perspex and cut one of each shape. It was a promising start, but seeing the shapes in my hand showed flagged up some areas for improvement.

Frankie’s toes were quite thin and I worried that even when the two layers of the brooches were glued together, they could break easily. Also, the cut out areas in the green later for the nose, throat and tummy left thin edge strips that weren’t very strong. The engraved eye didn’t show up well on the yellow, and the engraved lines on the green were so close to the cut outs that they got lost.

At the top of the post you can see the first prototype on the left.

Dolly Dimple Designs
Frankie Frog from initial sketch to final product

Second brooch prototype

I recommendations to Rose were that the following actions could improve the product.

  1. the toes should be made sturdier and more robust
  2. the cut out panels could be moved away from the body outline to make the narrow strips thicker
  3. the cut out panels should also be reshaped to move them away from the vector engraved lines for definition
  4. move the nose further away from the edge
  5. the yellow eye detail should be cut out instead of engraved

When she saw the picture of the first prototype, she agreed, made some changes and sent new files. You can see the second prototype on the right in the picture at the top. The changes worked and we had a final design after only two iterations. Very efficient!

When the perspex arrived, I made Rose’s first order. Within a few weeks, I had helped Rose take her initial designs through to a new product that she was really happy with.

Dolly Dimple’s new Etsy shop

Rose assembled her frog pieces and finished everything to her liking. Now Frankie Frog is up for sale in her shiny new Etsy shop and she’s working away on some new designs!


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

Branded plywood knitting needle gauges

Branded plywood knitting needle gauges

Posted Posted in Prototyping, Wood

Ella from Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wood Brokers contacted me. She wondered if I could design and make custom knitting needle gauges from wood. They wanted to sell on their website and at shows. In her email, she sent me a photo of something she liked and a copy of their logo.

Designing wooden knitting needle gauges

As I’m not a graphic designer, I don’t often do design work for customers unless they involve simple shapes and text, or laying out artwork elements.

In this case, Ella wanted a circular gauge with their logo in the centre. Their address, web address and phone number was to be engraved symmetrically around it with all the holes and their sizes around the edge of the gauge. Ella wanted the product to be 4 inches in diameter. I knew I could do this.

I suggested that 3mm birch plywood would be ideal for the gauges. They’d be light, robust and beautiful, and all the engraved fine detail of the logo and text would be clear and easy to read. Ella agreed, and I designed a prototype that Ella and her colleagues approved.

Checking the hole sizes

I laser cut a sample, but I wanted the holes to be checked to make sure that the sizes were spot on.

I could only post it after the Beast from the East snow had melted! Ella tested each of the 16 holes for fit. Some of the smallest holes were too big, so I made two more prototypes to test.

Ella sent me lots of needles so I could work out what was best to do. I decided that all the holes of 3mm diameter and above were fine as each needle tested fitted the correct hole only. I made the 2, 2.25, 2.5 and 2.75mm holes 0.2mm smaller. On the first prototype, some of them fitted the holes a size above.

Now we had a perfect prototype, Ella asked me to make a first production run. She had wanted them for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, but the Beast from the East and all the snow prevented that unfortunately. Plywood deliveries and the post were delayed, and I felt that prototype testing was essential.

For sale!

Ella and her colleagues are delighted with the gauges and that they could be made in Scotland. They proudly mention this on their website, and it’s something that’s becoming increasingly important to customers.

You can find the knotting needle gauges for sale here.


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