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Creating Illuminated 3D Objects with a Laser Cutter

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Although I used these techniques to create art, the real beauty of this is that you can create any 3D object you want with a laser cutter, whether it's the object itself, or a negative of the object encased in a block, as I did.  In essence, you're turning your laser cutter into a 3D printer with a resolution limited only by the thickness of your material.


Have you ever seen acrylic that’s been edge-lit using LEDs or similar?  The light normally just passes through, but wherever there’s a scratch you’ll find that the light refracts and it appears quite brightly.  People engrave messages and patterns onto plastic sheeting to make it really stand out when lit.  Well, what if you did the same thing, but instead of just etching the surface, you cut sections out of it and then scuffed up the parts that had been cut?  Now the entire thickness of the sheet begins to glow in those areas!

In a natural progression, this led me to realize that you could apply this technique in layers, allowing you to create a 3D object in the sheets of stacked acrylic, so that it appears to be frozen in the stack and glow brightly.  What I’ll explain below is exactly how I went about this, and how you can easily replicate my results.  It may seem complicated, but if you follow along one step at a time you can make it appear that anything you want is “frozen” in light in a stack of plastic sheets!

Before I begin, allow me to thank my fellow members at LVL1, Louisville’s Hackerspace.  We have all kinds of cool tools, like 3D printers, 3-axis CNC machines, and the laser cutter I used to make this.  However, the people you will find there are the most incredible resource you will ever come across.  In particular, this project would not have been possible without my good friend Blenster, who stayed and helped me with this over the course of days, and only offered encouragement when the first version didn’t work out and I had only 24 hours left.  He’s like a real-life Good Guy Greg.  Also, thanks to Tyler for his technical help and to Chris for providing me with the acrylic glue that the White Star Balloon team had not yet huffed.  If you’re anywhere near Louisville, you’re truly doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out.

Anyway, on to the project!
 
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MR.Geo1 year ago
I disagree with your first statement but I hope that I'm wrong. If you need to allign complex shape accurately, ie. not by eye Eg a head, I can't see any way of doing that because of the overhangs. Can anyone else see where I am blind?
theseeker (author)  MR.Geo1 year ago
I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say you disagree. Can you clarify? Actually, it's pretty simple to align things accurately in Sketchup. I didn't want to add unnecessary complexity to the instructable, but there are free plugins out there that will help you to accomplish this. For example, there is a plugin called "Find Centerpoint" that will mark the center of any face or volume. There is also a plugin called "Align Tools" that makes accurate alignment of any two objects a breeze.
I mean that when you have the layer cut out then you can't align them. Holes to put a rod through would leave undercut sections loose. If you align them whilst in a square section to line up edges then the piece that you want is encapsulated. You see the problem?
DIY-Guy1 year ago
Looks very pretty. Thank you for writing this instructable.
What does this look like when photographed from the flat face, with lighting on the edges face?
theseeker (author)  DIY-Guy1 year ago
Thanks! It's hard to describe, so I'll just take a picture and post it. Oddly enough, if you're looking at the slices head-on and you stack the slices vertically, it looks very pixelated. But if you look at it with the slices stacked horizontally, as in the pictures, it looks much smoother. I'm not really sure why that is.
I don't know if Lowe's has these or not, but I know Menards does have small tea lights that are battery powered LEDs and rotate thru colors and are relatively cheap, bright, and last a long time and you don't need access to a power supply like the LED bulb does. I use these for several projects and they work great!
btw, Excellent Job! I am fortunate enough to have access to a Fab Lab with an Epilog laser cutter and I'm gonna have to try doing this project!
theseeker (author)  OutlawKtulu1 year ago
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it! I was originally going to use my own circuitry and LEDs to light it up, but I ran out of time. I made up several driver boards for the TLC5940 chip, home etched the boards, and wired them up. I spent so much time trying to get the existing Arduino library for it working (it's *very* buggy!) that I put off the laser cutting until the last minute, which is always a bad idea. Since I ran out of time, I just went with an off-the-shelf lighting solution.
kaneda261 year ago
As an alternative to gluing them together, consider putting a hole close to each corner just big enough to put a long bolt through. Then bolt it together. Then you could even sand and polish each side to make it look even nicer.
theseeker (author)  kaneda261 year ago
Right you are! For the original model using the head, I added an alignment hole at the bottom left that served exactly this purpose. I also plan to polish the faces of the cube at a friend's workshop where he has very high-quality equipment. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
danielwhw1 year ago
are you sure this uses the free Sketchup
I've had a laser cutter for years and I remember a version of Sketchup that did allow you to export dxf files but then upgraded it and no more DXF export dang it.
also cant seem to find the plugin for a free Sketchup?
hmm may have found it.
http://www.cadspan.com/tools
I didn't see the free plugin download just a bit below where it says free trial
when I saw free trial I though I was in the wrong place
theseeker (author)  danielwhw1 year ago
Yes, everything I've done here can be done in the free version of sketchup. The DXF Exporter I used is also free, and available at http://www.guitar-list.com/download-software/convert-sketchup-skp-files-dxf-or-stl
estab1 year ago
have you tried using auto desks 123D Make. it would be easier to convert it for the printer
http://www.123dapp.com/
theseeker (author)  estab1 year ago
I looked at it when I started this project, but it doesn't allow you to use a custom thickness of your material, only default thicknesses integrated into the program that represent certain materials, like cardboard. Also, it failed to import most of the models I used.
This is gorgeous. I'm getting ideas.. Can't wait to try this out. Thanks!
Don't believe a word Raj says about the Louisville Hackerspace. It's way better than he's describing or I can describe. Visit Louisville and miss LVL1 at your own peril.
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