Laser Cutter Becomes An Etch A Sketch


The mirror in a laser cutter moves along an X Y axis. An Etch A Sketch moves its stylus along an X Y axis. Honestly, this laser cutter with Etch A Sketch controls is so obvious, we’re shocked we haven’t seen it before.

The Etch A Sketch interface is extremely simple – just two rotary encoders attached to laser cut knobs set inside a small, laser cut frame. The lines from the encoders are connected to an Arduino Pro Mini that interfaces with the controller unit on the laser cutter, moving the steppers and turning on the laser only when the head is moving. There’s an additional safety that only turns on the laser when the lid is closed and the water pump is running.

The circuit is extremely simple, and with just a few connections, it’s possible to retrofit the Etch A Sketch controller to the laser cutter in just a few minutes.  Just the thing for a weekend hackerspace project.


30 thoughts on “Laser Cutter Becomes An Etch A Sketch

      1. Or, even better, use an ATmega chip and program it to whatever you want it to do. It is cheaper than many custom-function ones (especially the ol’ ATmega8), and can be (if we accept differences in voltage and other specs) used e.g. as a not-entirely-drop-in but more functional (e.g. programmable response curves, multiplexing more LEDs, PWM control…) replacement for the LM3915 bargraph driver. Same for stepper drivers. There’s no excuse for not having a handful in the lab when writing a simple piece o’ firmware can take less time than a trip to the shop for a task-specific part.

      2. I used to completely understand this logic that it was “simpler” not using a microcontroller. But that was back when I was unfamiliar with using them and programming them was harder for me.

        Now, it is hard for to understand all these responses that using a micro is overkill or the harder way. Micros have gotten cheap enough and useful enough to completely replace circuits. If you know how to program them, they are often simpler than designing and troublshooting a circuit. And more often than not, they are actually cheaper, too. A bare small AVR is cheaper than a 555 timer (and supporting circuitry) and provides far more customization of function.

        As an example, the day I forced myself to sit down and learn microntrollers was when I had a project that was moderately complex and designed the entire thing in sequential logic. I spent 2 weeks trying to track down the odd unexpected bugs that came from using so many discrete components. I nearly missed the deadline. After I finished it, I went back and redesigned it with a microcontroller and it took me only 2 days and it was working, cheaper, much simpler, and easier to debug. My only drive for doing it before without a micro was my unfamiliarity with them, so it seemed harder. I haven’t looked back since.

        One could argue that using a full arduino board is definitely not cheaper. But “Arduino” isn’t really the board. It is a bootloader and a development environment. This can be thrown on any old bare AVR which are sometimes less than 1 dollar and can replace many many other components in a circuit.

  1. It’s “is so obvious” and as for “we’re shocked we haven’t seen it before”, well, most of us aren’t.

    It’s stupid. Or an art project, but I repeat myself.

    1. It’s not stupid. Imagine this in the hands of some of the more serious fans of the etch-a-sketch. They even might be able to modify it so that they can record the movements for automated operations. Just etch-a-sketch the design and let it repeat for however many iterations they need..

      1. Lol, serious Etch-a-sketch user, now there’s one for the ol’ resume.

        Sure, record the moments and play them back, presumably with the same jerkiness, pauses and so on. Just make sure you’re a famous artist first and you’ll cash in.

        This sort of thing is amusing for 5 minutes, then you realise it’s pointless and stupid. As before, art project.

        1. That thing can be actually pretty handy when all you need is a single horizontal or vertical cut and you don’t want to bother with programming the machine to do it.

          That you don’t see the potential uses doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

          Thought. What about integrating guts of a scanner with the laser, put the object in, scan it in high-res, then use the image for programming the laser paths by freeform or software-assisted drawing? Or possibly a 3d-scanner? Integrating a 3d scanner with a CNC machine, whether a laser or a mill, would be pretty cool…

          Stupid or not, it is fun. If only because it irritates some people who did not get that idea themselves.

          1. CNC machines have jog, that how I cut the occasional strip off things (including the laser).

            This sort of thing has been thought of before, it’s just not that useful. Fun for a few minutes though.

            One of my machines uses an X-Box controller as a remote pendant, so I can pretty much do this now. I should submit it as a hack, though it’s quite common in the DIY-CNC area. And yeah, I stuck a pen in it and drew lines all over the place for 5 minutes. Wheee!

            It I ever want a circle that’s mostly square and lop-sided I’ll keep this in mind.

            Here’s another in the general “fun but useless” theme: that probably been on HaD at some point.

          2. Yes, it is a variant on the jog-wheel interfaces. See? It *is* useful, even though you are used to a different form-factor and a different name and one wheel shared for all axes.

            “Circle that’s square and lopsided” – guess why I explicitly mentioned straight orthogonal cuts? (Been there, tried direct drawing with a mouse and even bevore then a joystick.)

            Go on, submit it! All sorts of hacks, from serious to silly, are welcomed.

            The “Constructable” thing looks pretty useful for smaller-scale ad-hoc designs. Could be enhanced with a small projector for previewing the cut paths. Actually, that thing would be handy for conventional CNC machines as well, for showing alignment marks and generally making sure that the intended operation will be as intended.

          3. It’s actually faster to draw a line and send that to the CNC than cut a line using jog, plus for jogging you need to stand there.

            I cut something via jog maybe a couple of times per year. Not that useful.

            Using the Etch-a-sketch is just a pendant variation. Xbox type here: &

            Old news.

            Some people don’t realise how old CNC (or just NC) is, it’s ancient. All this stuff has been done in one form or another.

        2. What’s wrong with an art project?

          And seeing as how we’re judging pointless, your comment is way more pointless and stupid – it wasn’t even amusing for 5 minutes.

  2. The usefulness of this is limited by the fact that an etch a sketch only prints a continuous line with no breaks. Not very practical in a real world medium.

    Admittedly, I did not have time to read the complete original article before my comment so perhaps they had worked that out somehow.

      1. First the lid would swing open smacking you, then you would get the steel grating landing your head, followed quickly by offcuts.. so many off cuts. All the little bits of project that fell between the bars.
        Following that would the odd complete project that fell through but could be re-cut in less time than it would take to remove the grating and fish it out.
        A vigorous shaking would then dislodge the miscellany of tools, spare parts, paper test targets and what not.
        Then the complete electronics package would fall out dangling from its wires because it was mounted to a sheet of acrylic but not actually attached to the machine because someone was going to get around to it, six months ago.
        Everything else should be solidly in there, but if your chiller is mounted to the laser you would have nice 12 degree water pouring down and over the pile of junk on the floor.

      2. Lots of odd little shapes that can be rather fascinating in their own right.

        As a bonus you often set fire to these (oh look, the laser is on fire again) so a regular clean out is a good idea.

  3. Still very cool and a much cleaner implemenation, but I saw something like this at the Bay Area Maker Faire two or three years back. Some kid was parked in front of it trying to set fire to the piece of card board that was in the machine as a sample cut material.

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