Drop-in Controller for eBay K40 Laser Engraver Gets Results

[Paul de Groot] wrote in to let us know about a drop-in controller replacement he designed for those economical K40 laser engravers that are everywhere on eBay. With the replacement controller, greatly improved engraving results are possible along with a simplified toolchain. Trade in the proprietary software and that clunky security dongle for Inkscape and a couple of plugins! [Paul] felt that the work he accomplished was too good to keep to himself, and is considering a small production run.

Laser engravers are in many ways not particularly complex devices; a motion controller moves the head in x and y, and the laser is turned on or off when needed. But of course, the devil is in the details and there can be a surprising amount of stuff between having a design on your screen and getting it cut or engraved in the machine. Designing in Inkscape, exporting to DXF, importing the DXF to proprietary software (which requires a USB security dongle to run), cleaning up any DXF import glitches, then finally cutting the job isn’t unusual. And engraving an image with varying shades and complex dithering? The hardware may be capable, but the stock software and controller? Not so much. It’s easy to see why projects to replace the proprietary controllers and software with open-source solutions have grown.

Cheap laser engravers may come with proprietary controllers and software, but they don’t need to stay that way. Other efforts we have seen in this area include LaserWeb, which provides a browser-based interface to a variety of open-source motion controllers like Grbl or Smoothieware. And if you’re considering a laser engraver, take a few minutes to learn from the mistakes of other people.

Meet Cartesio, Robot Artist

[Robottini] released plans for his robot, Cartesio, that is essentially an Arduino-controlled plotter made to create artwork. The good part about Cartesio is the low cost. [Robottini] claims it cost about $60 to produce.

The robot has an A3-size drawing bed and is practically the XY part of a 3D printer. In fact, most of the parts are 3D printed and the mechanical parts including M8 smooth rod. LM8UU bearings, and GT2 belts and pulleys. If you’ve built a 3D printer, those parts (or similar ones) should sound familiar.

The Arduino uses GRBL to drive the motors from GCODE. [Robottini] has three different workflows to produce drawings from applications like Inkscape. You can see some of the resulting images below.

We’ve covered GRBL before, and it is the heart of many motion control projects. If you’d rather draw on something less permanent, you might try this project.

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Development Tools of the Prop-Making World

We’ve seen them before. The pixel-perfect Portal 2 replica, the Iron Man Arc Reactor, the Jedi Lightsaber. With the rise of shared knowledge via the internet, we can finally take a peek into a world hidden behind garage doors, basements, and commandeered coffee tables strewn with nuts, bolts, and other scraps. That world is prop-making. As fab equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters start to spill into the hands of more people, fellow DIY enthusiasts have developed effective workflows and corresponding software tools to lighten their loads. I figured I’d take a brief look at a few software tools that can open the possibilities for folks at home to don the respirator and goggles and start churning out props.

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Fitting 3D Prints On Eagle Boards

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is mesh your electronic design with a mechanical design. Getting holes for switches in the right place is a pain, and if you do it enough, you’ll realize the beauty of panel mount jacks. This is especially true when using Eagle to design a PCB, but with a few tricks, it’s possible to build 3D printable pieces directly from Eagle designs.

[Tyler] built a clock with a bunch of LEDs. While the clock worked great, there was a lot of light leakage around the segments of his custom seven-segment numbers. The solution is a light mask, and [Tyler] figured out how to make one in Eagle.

The first step is to draw a new layer on the Eagle board that defines the light mask. This is exported as an EPS file in the CAM processor that gives him a 2D drawing. At least it’s to scale.

The next step is to install Inkscape and install paths2openscad. This turns the two-dimensional drawing into a 2D object that can be rendered in OpenSCAD and exported as a 3D printable STL file.

Does the project work? The results are great – the entire light mask is a single-wall print, and since this light mask doesn’t need any mechanical strength, it should hold up well. The clock looks much better than before, and [Tyler] has a new technique for making 3D objects for his 2D PCBs.

3D Printing with 2D Inkscape Projections

If you had a formal drafting class, you probably learned about making orthographic projections–engineering drawings with multiple views (for example, top, front, and right). Even if you didn’t take the class, you’ve probably seen drawings like this where you view a 3D object as a series of 2D views from different angles.

These days, you are more likely to create a 3D model of an object, especially if you are going to 3D print it. After all, the 3D printer software is going to expect a model. When [Nightshade] wanted a laptop stand for his workbench, he started trying to do a 3D model. His final product though, was made by creating two views in Inkscape. They aren’t exactly orthographic projections of the final product, but the idea is similar.

Inkscape is a vector graphics program and generally creates SVG files, although it can also save EPS files. [Nightshade] used pstoedit to convert the EPS output to DXF format. DXF files are still two dimensional, but OpenSCAD can extrude DXF files into 3D shapes.

Just having a 3D shape of one view isn’t sufficient, though. The OpenSCAD script rotates the objects to the correct orientation and intersects them to form the final object. This is different from the usual cases of using Inkscape to trace a scan or generate simple text.

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Hackaday Links: March 29, 2015

Every once in a while, the Hackaday Overlords have a Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic in San Francisco. Last week was #06 featuring [Mike Estee] from Othermill and Hackaday writer [Joshua Vasquez] talking about synthesizing an SPI slave in an FPGA. Video here.

It’s no secret that [Fran] is building a DSKY – the part of the Apollo guidance computer that was on-screen in Apollo 13. It’s time for a project update, and here’s where she stands: if anyone has a source of JAN-spec Teledyne 420 or 422-series magnetic latching relays (they’re in a TO-5 package), contact [Fran]. The backplane connector has been identified; it’s a Teradyne I/O 100 series connector with a 120mil spacing. Contact [Fran] if you know where to get them.

Let’s say you want a carbon fiber quadcopter frame. What’s the most reasonable thing you can do? 3D print a CNC machine, obviously. That’s a 200mm FPV racer cut from 1mm and 3mm carbon fiber sheets, but the real story here is the CNC machine. It’s a PortalCyclone, and even the cable chains are 3D printed.

What does an AMOLED display look like up close? Pretty cool, actually. That’s 20x magnification, and it’s not a Bayer filter. Can anyone fill us in on the reason for that?

Laser cutters are tricky if you want to do grayscale or half tones. [oni305] made an Inkscape extension to generate better GCode for engraving with a laser cutter.

19″ racks have no dimensions that are actually 19″. Also 2x4s aren’t 2 inches by four inches. Somehow, a 2×4 server rack works.

Designing a Front Panel for a DIY Project

DIY Front Panel


When building a one-off DIY project, appearances tend to be the least of our priorities. We just want to get the device working, and crammed into some project case. For those that like to build nicer looking prototypes [JumperOne] came up with a slick method of building a custom front panel for your DIY project.

The first step is to get the dimensions correct. You CAD tool will generate these from your design. [JumperOne] took these measurements into Inkscape, an open source vector graphics tool. Once it’s in Inkscape, the panel can be designed around the controls. This gets printed out and aligned on a plastic enclosure, which allows the holes to be marked and drilled.

With the electronics in place, the front panel gets printed again on a general purpose adhesive sheet. Next up is a piece of cold laminating film, which protects the label. Finally, holes are cut for the controls. Note that the display and LEDs are left covered, which allows the film to diffuse the light. The final result looks good, and can provide all the needed instructions directly on the panel.

[Thanks to Ryan for the tip]