Laser Etching An IPhone 5

Laser Etched iPhone 5

CrashBangLabs in Regina recently got their hands on a laser cutter. The Full Spectrum cutter was donated by a local company, who were upgrading to a larger machine.

With no laser cutting experience, [Brett] decided that his first project would be laser engraving his iPhone 5. This is a bit of an ambitious first project, since the power and speed would have to be set correctly to get a good contrast level, and you only have one try to get it right. Also, using too much power might have turn the phone into a laser etched brick.

[Brett] used an older aluminium iPod for testing. Once the laser speed and power was dialed in, he loaded up the artwork for the real thing. The cutter did a pretty good job at etching the art, but as the etching started it became clear that an alignment error had occurred. Fortunately [Brett] decided to not interrupt the cutter, and ended up with a good looking phone, with a slight alignment issue.

After the break, check out a time lapse of the laser cutter doing its thing.

33 thoughts on “Laser Etching An IPhone 5

    1. I would say everyone will remember the guy with the mis-aligned phone graphic until he gets a new phone, and not in a good way….

      He did a very good job with the power level settings, but no reason not to test the alignment first ;)

  1. The story is young newbies make rookie mistakes. you run the process 3 TIMES before you run it on a $600 phone. He learned to recheck alignment several times and will not make that mistake again.

  2. How does alignment works on a laser engraver ? He says it is an software error, but I would think it’s the phone who was placed wrong, or the axis not zeroed right.
    On my desktop cnc I sometimes use quite a bit of time zeroing the XYZ-axis over the work-piece, but I’m also very inexperienced using a cnc-machine. But isn’t it the same thing with a laser engraver ?

    1. The best thing is to zero the XY and cut a hole in a piece of scrap (Pushed it one of the corners), the size of a phone. (Or anything els you would like to engrave) Later placing the wood or acylics on the same spot with the phone.

    2. I have a Full Spectrum laser and I know how he managed to misalign it. It’s not a software error per se, he just didn’t experiment with it enough. The FS laser is designed to leave about an inch on either side of the part being engraved (in raster mode) for the head to speed up and slow down, however it does allow you to position the head’s starting position so close to the side that it will shift the image over to give itself enough space. You’re expected to account for this yourself by placing your object away from the edge unless you will be using vector mode.

    3. The engraving looks great! However, make a JIG next time to place the phone in. Easiest way would be to cut a piece of balsa wood to fit in the floor of the laser and have cut out the perimeter of the phone in the wood. Place said phone in the hole.

  3. I swear it is a software issue. If you check out the video the laser was it the right place when it started. We checked all corners 4 times before starting. As well we did do a Ted etch on some acrylic before and it worked. We also printed one right after to see what happened and it printed correctly. So, I must conclude it was a software error :-)

    1. It’s most likely a configuration issue, usually it’s configurable to start the laser at a fixed point, or at the current position. From the photos it looks a lot like a HPC-LS3020 laser.

      (As hacker you might also like which is open-source hardware design to fit into any laser machine. It’s not 100% finished, but very interesting and already gets great results)

    2. Brett, either way it looks great. If you plan on doing more look into making some basic resuable JIGs. This is really the easiest way to zero. Unless you have an edgefinder for the laser. Normally, when I mill something I will use disposable jaws and mill a pocket for the workpiece to sit in. This will automatically square it against your X-axis. Then I use an old fashioned edge finder for finding the true zero of one of the corners.

      Again the engraving looks good!!!

  4. Great idea and work on the iPhone engraving…
    I also use the laser engraving machine of needham-laser but never try to do work on the iPhone….
    But now i tried to do on my iPhone…
    Keep it and share with us with your great knowledge….

  5. For anyone wanting to laser engrave anything irreplaceable or of great value your best bet to test alignment is cover the object in masking tape turn the power down / speed up so it will just barely mark the tape. Then run the engraving. This will show you the exact placement of the engraving without damaging your phone. No bravery needed just proper preparation. This is especially good if you are using a hackspace engraver that you have no experience with or your it’s your first time using an engraver. But even if you have plenty of experience errors happen and your best bet is to test before committing to the real engraving.

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