My friends Mark and HP got married recently and I made them this commemorative gift with their names in a heart. It's not really a plaque, but I don't know what else to call it! It was easy and fun to make, and they loved it. Here's what I did.
Step 1: Design in Paper
I knew I wanted to place their names in a heart, and as they are different people I wanted to use different fonts. I spent some time looking at fonts and chose two that I thought would blend well in the design. I used a CAD program called MoI3d because I'm used to it, but any drawing or image editing program can be used for this as long as you can get it to print in the right size.
I drew the heart first, then placed text on top. I changed the text into vectors and combined them with the heart to get the result shown in the line drawing. I tweaked some of the letters in places so they would join up and overlap just enough to hold together. I estimated the balance point and found I could extend one of the lines of the M in Mark to make a hook to hang the piece. I considered making a small hole as well, but liked the clean design of incorporating the letter into the functionality. A loop in the divot of the heart would have also worked, if the typography had not worked out.
I could have done the design in a photo editor as well, and just resized the raster output for printing, but I'm in the habit of using CNC machines so I default to vector images. I had to print three sheets to get a big enough shape (left, right, and top), and I taped them all together and cut them out with scissors. Since I wanted the final piece to be distressed looking, I took only normal care about keeping on the lines, so cutting out went pretty fast.
Step 2: Plasma Cutting
Once I had my paper pattern, I traced it onto a piece of slightly rusted 20 gauge steel. I used a red sharpie to do the tracing, which was burnt off as I cut. I went quickly with the cutter, both to get the antique/distressed look I was going for, and to minimize warping of the steel. I found that a technique that worked well was to cut fast, close to the edge making sure I didn't go over, and then go back and quickly swipe out places where I had gotten too far away. I worked in small sections, changing position often, so I didn't have to lean too far over the work and get too wobbly.
Once it was all cut out, I ran a steel brush over the edges to knock off slag. There were one or two sharp spots and I used a file to smooth those down, but limited this as much as possible to retain the edgy look. Of course, many other finishes could be obtained, by sandblasting or patinas or powder coating, etc. I felt the raw metal would retain its beauty through all changes over its lifespan, just like the marriage of my friends!