Etching designs into denim with a laser cutter

JeansEtchLaser

Finding new uses for your tools and equipment can be very exciting. [Foamy] wrote in to tell us about a blog post by [qbotics] that demonstrates etching designs into denim with a laser cutter. What a cool unexpected use for a laser cutter!

According to the Epilog laser cutter’s website, “we have engraved everything from denim to acrylic with fantastic results”. This inspired the author of “Science with denim” to try engraving jeans. After some experimentation,  [qbotics] found that setting the 75W laser cutter to 15% power at 100% speed worked best. The results are quite impressive; the engraved pattern looks like naturally faded jeans. Amazing.

In the past, we have seen lasers engrave everything from calculators to wood. We would be curious to see if some of the DIY laser cutters could engrave denim as well. Give it a try and tell us about it!

47 thoughts on “Etching designs into denim with a laser cutter

  1. Now you’ve done it. Next thing someone will try to etch her/his own skin. (c:

    This looks much better, IMHO, that those glittery things. They just look like kindergarten projects to me, but yet people would pay hundreds of dollars for a pair! (c;

      1. IIRC, there’s a CNC tattoo-er featured here, though the demo only used a marker pen.

        Now that you’ve mentioned it I’m a little surprised why it (i.e., laser skin etching) hasn’t become fashionable. It’s basically just a more precise branding, no?

  2. Whelp. Now I’m in my briefs sitting in front of one of my university’s communal laser cutters.
    From what it’s rastered so far, these settings work great.

    1. Exactly, I can achieve the same results with a light bleach gel and a silk screen Best is to use a dye as the bleach will also weaken the cloth. My daughter did jeans that had daleks all around the legs in a slightly darker denim bluing with home DIY silk screening.

  3. You know all those horrible jeans that you can buy for 200 dollars that look like you were in an industrial accident involving bleach?

    Yup, done with lasers.

  4. Fabric with a bit of a ‘nap’ works best I’ve found. I have some micro-velour upholstery type material that ?etches? beautifully. Had I only known it was HAD worthy…

    You want something that you can burn off a bit of the fabric without comprimising the weave, probably why jeans work well, though I never would have thought of it. Cordory would be another material to try, since not only do you have the texture of the cords, but you can safely lase those off without damaging the fabric, and I bet the effect would be quite interesting… And to think this is the day I’m sitting next to the laser cutter and the first day in ages I’m *not* wearing cords.

      1. Anyway, hipsters aren’t technically douchebags. You KNOW a douchebag when his stupid voice announces itself, or see his tan that could erase EPROMs.

    1. Ultimately if it makes it acceptable, nay, even credible, to leave the house wearing batteries and circuits, then that’s all the better for us repressed cyborgs! You KNOW your clothing needs more transducers, LCDs, and of course electro-luminescent panels and wire. If hipsters bring it in, maybe more mundane (and less immediately risible) people will eventually adopt some of it, and we can all go round looking like Tron Guy, happy and proud!

  5. Guess I had better get off my ass and get my Lasersaur working. Don’t suppose any of you are near Jacksonville FL and are any good with stepper motors?

    1. Dunno if I’m ready to motorise my jeans yet. It’d take the load off walking places, but you’d have to really stiffen the legs.

      1. Not what I meant but now you’ve got me thinking in an entirely new direction. This is going to take more beer than I first reckoned… just think, you could program in more than simply walking. Next stop, Lord of the Dance!

  6. I’ve wanted a laser cutter and engraver for some time to add to my arsenal but it seems you need to spend a few grand in order to avoid the typical junk found on eBay.

    1. I’ve got two of them, for $700 they’re awesome.

      You can’t even buy the parts for that.

      The “I won’t settle for junk” attitude is usually “I’m too lazy to get off my arse”.

  7. It looks very good, nice and detailed and accurate, but how’s it look after you’ve washed it? What is causing the white colouration? I don’t suppose it’s bleached or destroyed the dye molecules, probably just burned the cotton. So after a wash I suspect it’d look very much like nothing.

    Hm maybe you could make some sort of thin, intricate stencil, for dying or bleaching a design on.

    1. Full disclosure: I work for Epilog Laser. The laser system is actually burning away (vaporizing) the top layer of denim, which is what produces the bleached look. Since that material is permanently gone, washing the jeans won’t wash away the contrast – that’s there forever.

      1. So jeans are only dyed on the surface layer? I’ll have to study mine more carefully. Now you say that, it makes sense.

      2. You are using too much power. If you are burning away the fabric layer, you are doing it wrong.

        If you get the power exactly right, you will break up the pigment molecules and the fabric will be completely unharmed. Same principle as LASER tattoo removal.

        1. I seem to have done mine with too much power and it’s cut through and the pattern has all peeled off the material. using a 40W laser on 350mm/sec and 18% power on some black (cotton?) jeans. [fail]

          1. My advice is to go to your local fabric store (…or Wal-Mart, if you must), and buy a yard of denim. That will give you plenty of material to experiment on without chancing wrecking your jeans. In fact, while you are there, why not pick up other fabrics to try?

    2. I actually did this about a month ago. After the first wash the etched places were slightly lighter, I guess all the burnt denim got washed out. the laser-cutter smell was completely gone after first wash as well. I have been washing and wearing them each week since. They still as good as when they were etched and I have not noticed any real difference in material strength.

    1. It works with cotton T-Shirts, too. If the material is polyester blend, it probably won’t work. I’ve tried it with blends several times with various settings and focus technique. Blended fabrics almost always get destroyed. When not completely ruined, they still turn out horrible. I haven’t been able to get a good result, but I do encourage people to try it out. Maybe somebody will get it right eventually.

  8. IMHO this is not a hack and should not even be on HAD. It’s just a use of a device which is already known and used.

    1. I have etched pop tarts.
      I have used PVC pipes as pressure vessels.
      All these moments will be lost in time…
      like tears in rain.

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