Preparing Images for Laser Etching Isn’t That Hard

Sometimes we forget how awesome laser cutters really are. After all, they’re essentially giant plotters that shoot infrared lasers to cut and engrave almost anything. Most of the time, we’ll use the cutting feature in order to make rapid prototypes for different projects. We might engrave a logo or text on there too — but with a bit of image pre-processing, you can actually etch grey scale images that look really good.

[miststlkr] has been experimenting with different processes to get the best engraving, and he’s decided to share his findings. He’s created a guide on Instructables, and it’s a pretty quick read. You’re going to need some image editing software, for which [miststlkr] recommends Gimp — as do we.

From there it’s just a matter of a few steps to simplify the image. Start by converting the image to indexed colors — this limits the number of colors the image can have, he recommends limiting to about 4 colors for now. From there, convert to grey scale and import into your favorite laser software. Now it’s time to start testing.

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Full-Color Edge-Lit Laser Cut Acrylic

Edge-lit art has been around for a very long time, and most people have probably come across it in a gift shop somewhere. All it takes is a pane of transparent material (usually an acrylic sheet) with the artwork etched into the surface. Shine a light into the sheet from the edge, and refraction takes over to light up the artwork. However, this technique is almost always limited to a single pane, and therefore a single color. [haqnmaq] wanted to take this idea and make it full-color, and has written up a great Instructables tutorial on how to accomplish this.

If you want to make something like this yourself, the only thing you really need is a laser cutter and some basic electronics equipment. The process itself is so straightforward that it’s surprising that it isn’t more common. You start by taking a photo of your choice and use an image editor to break it up into three photos, one for red, one for green, and one for blue. Each of those photos is then etched into an acrylic pane with a laser cutter. When the panes are positioned in front of each other and edge-lit with their respective LEDs, a full-color image comes to life.

This isn’t the first edge-lit artwork project we’ve featured, but it definitely has the highest fidelity. Because [haqnmaq’s] technique uses three colors, you can use his tutorial to reproduce any photo you like. You could even take this a step further and create animated photos by adding more panes and lighting them up in the correct sequence!

Weather Word Clock Warns You Of Impending Winter

Word clocks are pretty popular “artsy” ways of telling time, but [doktorinjh] wanted to try something a little different. So instead of showing the time — it shows the weather.

He’s using an Arduino Yun to access the Weather Underground API for data and then sends the data out to a grid of 100 individually addressable RGB LEDs — NeoPixels to be precise. The LEDs are overlayed with a laser cut acrylic sheet with various words and weather icons to allow for a pretty specific depiction of current (or future) weather conditions.

The frame is made out of colonial style molding and since it’s a weather clock, he turned the grid of LEDs into a rainbow effect, because, why not?

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Are You Telling Me You Built A Lexus…Out Of Cardboard?

So, you want a new Lexus? Well then download yourself a free car, and cut it out on a laser. Add some glue, and bingo, you have yourself a fancy new ride. We’ll, not really.

Sure, this promo video is just a publicity stunt from Toyota (News flash: Your fancy Lexus is actually a Toyota) but we have to hand it to them, it worked. It’s basically 1700 individually shaped, laser cut cardboard cross-sections that are painstakingly stacked and glued together. What we like about this is the technique – that is making a 3D object from 2D.

Using 2D parts to create 3D shapes is nothing new. Most people’s first experience with this technique is with building model airplanes. Instead of cardboard, balsa wood sheets are cut into profiles and connected with stringers to form the shape of a plane. It turns out to be a very efficient way of making 3D structures when you only have 2D materials to work with. And with 3D software now in the hands of the masses, it’s never been a better time to try your hand at building in 3D. For a great example, see this carbon-fiber guitar made using Autodesks free 123D Make software. And don’t limit yourself to parallel layers, you can generate all sorts of shapes including furniture with the free and open source Sketch-Chair software. Which will come in handy, because you’ll most likely need a place to sit while you’re waiting for your new cardboard car to finish printing.

[via CNN]

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Wii-Motified Laser Cutter refocuses for Contoured Cutting

Still laser cutting all of your parts in 2D? Not the folks over at [Just Add Sharks]. With a few lines of code and an in-tact Wii-Mote, they’ve managed to rig their laser cutter to dynamically refocus based on the height of the material.

The hack is cleanly executed by placing the Wii-Mote both at a known fixed distance-and-angle and within line-of-sight of the focused beam. Thankfully, the image-processing is already done onboard by the Wii-Mote’s image sensor, which simply returns the (x,y) coordinates of the four brightest IR points in view. As the beam moves over the material, the dot moves up or down in the camera’s field-of-view, triggering a refocus of the laser as it cuts. Given that the z-axis table needs to readjust with the contour, the folks at [Just Add Sharks] have slowed down the cutting speed. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Wii-Mote was designed to detect IR LEDs, not a 10600-nanometer laser beam, but we suspect that the Wii-Mote is receiving colors produced by the fluorescing material itself, not the beam. Nevertheless, the result is exactly the same–a dynamically refocusing laser!

Now that [Glowforge] has released a continuously-refocusing laser cutter implemented with stereoscopic cameras, it’s great to see the community following in their footsteps with a DIY endeavor. See the whole system in action after the break!

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Mass Effect Rubber Band Gun a Beauty to Be-holster

This Halloween, crafting most of your props and replicas wont be as easy as hitting “print.” This Mass Effect M-6 Carnifex Rubber Band Gun is the exception, though, and it’s all thanks to the detailed efforts of [eggfooyoung]. Like many others in childhood, [eggfooyoung] dreamed of sporting his own rubber-band gun. Year’s later, he’s made that dream a reality, and one for many others as well.

rubber_band_gun_internals

Mechanically, rubber-band guns, especially semi-automatic ones, are a finely tuned escapade into complex levers and joints. [eggfooyoung] took it upon himself to learn from the best in the craft, in this case, YouTube user [RBGuns] who has posted designes for numerous rubber band weapons. Overall, the M-6 Carnifex is a triumph of shared knowledge, as it’s an iteration of [RBGun’s] M9 build. [eggfooyoung’s] documentation is also everything we’d love to see in a weekend project: design files [PDF], detailed pictures documenting the step-by-step gluing process, and resources to dig more deeply into building your own rubber band guns.

Light Speed: It’s not Just a Good Idea

[Kerry Wong] took apart a PM2L color analyzer (a piece of photography darkroom gear) and found a photomultiplier tube (PMT) inside. PMTs are excellent at detecting very small amounts of light, but they also have a very fast response time compared to other common detection methods. [Kerry] decided to use the tube to measure the speed of light.

There are several common methods to indirectly measure the speed of light by relating frequency to wavelength (for example, using microwave ovens and marshmallows). However, measuring it directly is difficult because of the scale involved. In only a microsecond, light travels almost 1000 feet (986 feet or 299.8 meters).

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