Laser Cutting In 3D

Everyone in the world suffers from some degree of functional fixedness, a proclivity to use tools only how they were meant to be use. A laser cutter, for example, is usually used to make flat, two-dimensional parts. [Seeker] broke out of this cognitive lock when he decided to create an illuminated 3D object with a laser cutter and a dozen acrylic sheets.

[Seeker]’s project is inspired by acrylic edge-lit LED signs. In these signs, a pattern is engraved on an acrylic sheet and a LED illuminates the panel from the side. When the light from the LED hits the engraving, it’s refracted and produces a wonderful colorful pattern.

To make a 3D version of an edge lit display, [Seeker] subtracted a 3D model of a virus from a cube in Sketchup. This resulted in a hollow cavity that would refract light. After slicing up the model of the 3D cube, [Seeker] sent the files over to the laser cutter to produce a few dozen custom panels. [Seeker] glued them together, put the entire assemblage in front of a LED light, and admired the beauty of his new laser cut 3D virus.

11 thoughts on “Laser Cutting In 3D

  1. Nice. I wonder if this idea could be extended by cutting out positives and negatives of the same design in different colours and assembling the layer before stacking them? e.g a red virus inside a clear frame.

    1. That’s actually quite an interesting question.

      If you take two pieces of acrylic and bond them together, the light will pass straight through both. That’s why he roughs up the internal edges, they won’t light up (much) otherwise.

      However if you rough up the edges and then bond the pieces, the light won’t transmit well to the middle piece.

      So, the solution would be to leave the edges clean, but rough up the faces of the internal pieces.

      That way the internal pieces behave light normal edge-lit plastic, so the middle would light up but the outside would not. The actual edges wouldn’t light up much, depending on how accurate the cut & bond was.

      Could be worth a play…

    1. Seeker here. It was a calculated decision to go with Sketchup instead of Blender. Keep in mind that the point of the instructable was to allow others to replicate what I did easily. Almost anyone with no experience can pick up Sketchup and replicate what I did after learning only how to select and move objects, which is intuitive.

      Because of its power, Blender is very complicated, and it’s unrealistic to expect someone new to replicate my results in it, unless they’re willing to devote an extended period of time to learn it.

      Sketchup is far simpler and faster for everyone to learn, so it won. Frankly, I was surprised Sketchup could even do what I asked of it!

  2. Harumph. Here I was expecting to see something akin to those glass cubes with 3D laser etching inside. This is still just laser cutting in 2D – it’s the assembling afterward that lends itself to 3D.

    Get off my lawn


  3. Doesnt a laser cutter have to be focused on a very specific point to cut? If that is the case, could you create the focus point inside the mold? Actually cut below the surface?

    1. Sort of. That’s how the glass crystals are done.

      The beams in these laser start out at about 3mm wide, and then focuses down. You basically have a long skinny cutting beam (depth of field and all that optics stuff).

      Acrylic melts easily, so even the unfocussed beam can damage it. Very high power, very short pulse time and a very short focal length might do something interesting..

  4. What an innovative way to use a Laser 3D cutter. I will have to share this idea with my staff and see if we can use our equipment in a new and interesting way? I like feeling like you don’t have to stay with that traditional approach to make something new, It is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

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