Introduction: Animating Multilayered Engravings

Picture of Animating Multilayered Engravings

Engraving/etching is nothing new but there is always room for new ideas and ways to make them look even better. Back in 2001 when I introduced engraving to the modding community with the Glowpad article (world first lighted mousepad), the basic one colored line drawings were enough to make everyone smile. 2002 saw the introduction of multicolored engravings. It was about time to make them animate and that is what this tutorial is all about.

I'll first introduce the technique with a simple logo and then move on to something bit more flashy.

I have to apologize about the watermarks on the images. The article was originally published on my modding site:

Step 1: Idea

Picture of Idea

Getting the engraving to animate involves more than one engraved surface. Basically one just slaps as many sheets of engraved clear acrylic on top of another, as many as the animation requires. Animation is them played by lighting up one layer at the time.

To show the basic princible I selected the Intel Inside logo. It has three distinctive objects that can be divided to separate layers.

Each layer is engraved by using whatever engraving tool you like. I prefer the Dremel Engraver for more detailed work and regular Multitool for larger surface areas.

Impotant note: As we are lighting up one layer at the time, one should try to keep the engravings from overlapping one another if possible. This is not that much of a problem if the image is a simple line drawing but if the topic calls for larger sanded/engraved areas, they will block the light coming from the layers behind them. Just something to keep in mind when selecting the ideas for the image.

Step 2: Preparing the Lights

Picture of Preparing the Lights

Acrylic that I used happened to be 3 mm thick so I had to file down some 5 mm leds for them. Led size should be equal or less than the thicknes of the acrylic so that the light does not travel to wrong layers.

To make sure that the light stays on its own layer I used aluminum tape. This blocks the light meant for one layer from shining to other layers too. It will also reflect the light inside that one layer so it lights up the engraving more evenly. Great trick to get away with using low amounts of leds.

Step 3: Electronics

Picture of Electronics

There are several ways on getting the layers lighted up one by one. I wanted bit more control and made
a little circuit by using Atmel's Attiny45 to drive the leds with PWM signal. One could use for example 555 timer chip in combination with 4017 decade counter to advance the animation one step at the time.

Step 4: Finishing Up...

Picture of Finishing Up...
I happened to have a picture frame with near perfect dimensions. Perhaps this is something to make the project appear even bit more professional.

Step 5: Advanced Stuff

Picture of Advanced Stuff

I had previously made this dragon engraving. It looks great as it is but I just knew it could look a whole lot better with this new animation technique that I came up with.

Steps are the same.

- Select the image
- Divide the image to sections you want to animate
- Engrave
- Install the tapes and lights

In this case the dragon layer is the top most one. It will be contantly lit by two white leds. Each flame layer will go behing it, starting from the smallest flame. This to keep the flame engravings from blocking one another from view.

Step 6: Camera, Lights, Action!

Picture of Camera, Lights, Action!
I hope that you enjoyed this little tutorial. Complete article can be found on my site but all the information needed to make one of these by yourself is listed here, in this Instructable article.

Full article at Metku

Technique by itself is very simple but it involves several steps. It is best to try this out with smaller scrap pieces of acrylic first.

I just feel that combining multicolored engravings with bit of movement is just the ticket to impress your friends. Mount this to the car window, on top of the amplifier stack inside the trunk, side of a computer case, frame it to the wall etc. Tons of uses and you can personalize it the way you like. An animated heart to your loved one perhaps? ;)

As this was my first instructible, please, give comments and feedback. I'm also happy to answer questions about engraving and modding in general too.


Joshua Dean Bathke (author)2015-08-18

This Instructable is very motivational and encouraging. I think I have a new hobby! Thank you very much for sharing this and explaining everything step-by-step!

Familie Kolman (author)2015-02-04


Very nice instructable. Which glue dit you use for the resistor and led?

fmartens1 (author)2011-07-19

is there any way to be able to adjust the timing after the resister are installed or possible something to use instead?

japala (author)fmartens12011-07-20

Well, if you don't want to replace the resistor you have on the circuit already, you can solder a resistor in parallel with that. This will lower the total resistance below the original resistance that the resistor had. Also, you can solder a capacitor in parallel with the one that is on the circuit. This will increase the total capacitance that the timing sees.

zapedy (author)2010-01-27

 What gauge of wire is used to hook the leds up?

japala (author)zapedy2010-01-27

Hm... I have to say that I don't even know. As the leds get only arond 20mA each at max., the wire does not need to be that thick. Even the wrapping wire will handle the load.

neeterxxi (author)2009-07-18

A clever and beautiful idea! Quite inspirational for other projects too! With modification, this could make a great faux-neon type sign!

japala (author)2009-02-22

Hehe, I'm glad that I could help. :)

japala (author)2009-02-20

Yes but only from the side that I'm engraving. You must try to keep the protective films on as long as possible as they are the only defence against the unwanted scratches.

japala (author)2009-02-19

Both the Dremel Rotary tool and the Dremel Engraver. First is good for larger areas and the Engraver is used for very thin hairlines. Some of my other engravings with the tool here:

MJTH (author)2009-01-01

Haha well, after looking through Acrylic window case modss.. I think I got an even better idea for my window :)

Carlos Marmo (author)2008-10-30

Wonderful Work! Congratulations!

japala (author)Carlos Marmo2008-10-30

Thank you. :)

FullyInvolvedScientist (author)2008-09-27

This is great! I was just thinking about this in the garage and knew that someone on Instructables would have done it! Great Instructable it has really helped!

Great to hear you liked it. This was on my todo list for years and I'm glad I finally decided to make it happen. Easy to trick that gives great visuals in my opinion. Thank you for your comment. :)

phoenix124 (author)2008-08-27

omg this is just fantastic!! the next computer i do i am so doing this... great idea and great instructable

lucasicecream (author)2008-08-25

ha i use aluminum foil instead of tape and it worked just fine:)

hernanai (author)2008-08-10

Favorited! nuff said...

bethehammer (author)2008-08-07

This is very cool. Nice instructable, very well done.

puffyfluff (author)2008-08-07

Cool! I've always wondered how I could do something like this, but this is a perfect way to do it!

spacehonkey (author)2008-07-09

Very cool idea and easy too. This brings a normally still picture to life. I'm going to have to use this effect myself.

dalucero (author)2008-06-30

I see that you suggest that the engraving be made on the back side for all layers. Is the difference 'that' noticable? If there were only two layers for example, would it make a difference if the bottom layer was engraved on the front side (facing the viewer) while the top layer (the layer closest to the viewer) was engraved on the back side?

japala (author)dalucero2008-06-30

This can be easily tested by engraving some scrap pieces of acrylic. Yes, the difference is there as the light diverts towards the viewer properly. If you engrave the front, the engraved edge actually blocks the light from coming towards the viewer. There will be light but not as much and the end result will not look as "clean" as with the engraving on the back.

Atomic Shrimp (author)2008-06-19

Wow! What a cool idea. The thickness of the layers could also be used as part of the animation effect - for example, imagine each frame of a dancing stick-man animation engraved on a separate layer of acrylic - as the the layers are illuminated in turn, he will appear not only to dance, but to be moving back and forth within the stacked plastic.

frollard (author)Atomic Shrimp2008-06-19

I'm not sure what you're getting at - any reasonable number of frames could be any orientation and image size/location...

Atomic Shrimp (author)frollard2008-06-22

The plastic has thickness - and you can only really illuminate each layer of it, or not - because of the thickness, the layers will appear superimposed, but it will be possible to discern the Z distance between them. If a 20 frame animation of a stick man was engraved on 20 frames of 3mm acrylic, then these were stacked together, illuminating each layer in turn would appear to make the animation proceed **forwards** through the entire 60mm of the stack.

frollard (author)Atomic Shrimp2008-06-28

a person could orient the frames randomly throughout the stack... perhaps even scale the size of the animation as it gets deeper, it gets larger so that it appears a uniform size..

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-06-28

Wow, I want to try this!

japala (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-06-28

Please do, it is not as hard as it may initially seem...

ZachB (author)2008-06-24

That's Amazing! Do you think you could give me some links to sites about glass engraving so that I might attempt to make one of these?

japala (author)ZachB2008-06-25

I'm glad you like this. :) Did you notice that the piece was done with acrylic sheets, not glass sheets? The engraving technique is a lot similar to both. I believe you can find good engraving tutorial both for glass and acrylic here at instructables site. Use the search words like engraving, carving, routing.

PKM (author)2008-06-19

Just a thought- you could use RGB LEDs to change the colour of the "inner" parts of the flame as the "outer parts" light up so the first part to light up changes from (eg) red to orange to yellow while the others light up red. That's a bunch more complexity, though, and I don't know how much the colours would "bleed" between the sheets of acrylic. Top-notch Instructable! (pun not intended)

japala (author)PKM2008-06-22

Mixing different colors would indeed be doable but I wanted to keep the project "simple". This is something that I aim with my articles in Metku. There are many sites that show these "wow" mods but they are usually too expensive or hard to do for a regular modder. I try to aim more towards "weekend mods" or something similar. I'm glad you liked the instructable. Now remember to vote for it in the competition! :)

flightsofideas (author)japala2008-06-23

I agree with your "simple" design - you definitely got everyone going "I can go this!" Now you have to deal with us ripping off your idea and adding our own spin (I promise to credit you if I ever attempt a 100 pane laser etched RGB display housed in a 42U rack ;-P ). Keep up the good work at Metku.

japala (author)flightsofideas2008-06-23

Hehe, well, I believe it is the idea to try to take the ideas even further. :) I also believe that it is the hope of every modder/creator/inventor to get recognition for their work. Fair game and all, we do not need to lower ourselves to the same level as the companies that rip us off are.

rc jedi (author)PKM2008-06-21

rgb led s would improve an already great idea. cool!

tech-king (author)2008-06-19

are you the real metku? if so: i honor you! i love your work! if not: phoney!!!!!

Whatnot (author)tech-king2008-06-21

Yeah I have doubts too, and agree that if it's the real metku he's excellent, I always loved the site and build some stuff from it myself in the past :) And if it's not the real one, at least he linked to it and gave the right target audience a good source! Only annoying thing about the metku site is the silly disagreeable EULA to sign up on the commentsystem, like 'if for some obscure reason you fall from grace I'm not just banning you but also calling your ISP' WTF is that all about? It always made me decide to not sign up.

japala (author)Whatnot2008-06-22

hmm... you are refering to phpBB's EULA? It is a standard message so I wouldn't care about it that much. I'm thinking on moving to different software but as the forum has been so quiet for so long, I've put it forward again and again... And yes, I'm the owner of the and sites. I don't normally post my projects to other sites but this little competition was something that got me moving. And thank you for your kind words :)

Whatnot (author)japala2008-06-22

Glad to hear it's just a standard thing, and I don't think my ISP would even care is some site complained really, but when it asks me to click I agree.. well it's something that rubs against my grain. It's a relief to hear you aren't the type who's all uptight and banning and being over the top to people, And I'm not the type to deliberately troll or mess up forums but I do seem to have a tendency to say things that moderators don't like and causes them to ban me, even if I didn't do anything against their agreements, even on sites with lengthy agreements. You know how some moderators get, they think they are made gods and don't follow policy but ban because you upset their personal beliefs. It's hard to get good personal I guess eh.

jongscx (author)2008-06-19

Hold on... does the ATTiny actually interface via USB, or are you just sucking power through the port?

japala (author)jongscx2008-06-22

You can use attiny with an USB port by using software only. In this project I only took the power via the port.

askjerry (author)2008-06-19

Very nice work! I have a laser engraver that I use to etch into plastic, I have found that I can use mirrored plastic as the back sheet and it looks nice. You can also engrave an area, paint it, then engrave another area and paint it to get multiple colors. THen use a white LED to illuminate it. This would work as well if you use a laser, or a rotary engraver. Spacing between the layers adds to the depth as well. Jerry

niknik (author)2008-06-19

Great job - the flame effect work great. With RGB leds, you could even slowly cycle the flame colors... :)

jeff-o (author)2008-06-19

Fantastic! This is such a great idea. Now I've got one more thing to add to my list of things to try!

thematthatter (author)2008-06-19

this is really neat idea, gives me a few ideas for some up coming projects.

=SMART= (author)2008-06-19

WOW, thats soo cool!!, ive never seen anything like this before!! 5 star!!

benthekahn (author)2008-06-19


chalky (author)2008-06-18

mate your dragon is freakin 'AWESOME!' pure genius:) NOW $ELL HIM TO ME! lol

reedz (author)2008-06-18

Wow, great job. I really like the way that the light isn't totally out on one of the "flames" as the next one lights up.

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