Step 3: Make And Etch Your Design

Figure out what you want your design to look like. If it's complex, like words, you might want to print it out rather than draw it freehand. However print them backwards (mirrored left to right). This is because we're going to etch the back of the plastic, not the front (it will be brighter this way) and we don’t want our words to come out backwards.

Cut your plastic to size. You can cut it to any size you want but allow at very least 8mm (3/8") on one of the sides--this is the side where we're going to put our light.   If you're using polyester sheets you can use scissors to cut. If you're using acrylic sheets it's best to use a power tool with a blade meant for acrylic to avoid chipping.

Put your design on the front of the clear plastic for reference. If you're doing it freehand, you can stick some clear tape on the front and draw it. (Or many plastics come with a protective layer that you can draw on with a marker.) Otherwise tape your printout in position so you can see it from the back and use it for reference.

Etch your design. We use a Dremel with a fine round carving tip at about 10-15,000 RPM and etch to a depth of about 1/2 the thickness of the material. You can also use a needle, knife, or file to mark your design, anything as long as you rough up the surface.  (I've even tried sand paper.  It worked but it came out very sloppy.)
<p>I did this one because I'm a big space fanatic. Thanks for this instructable!!!</p>
We used the same method, but with a laser cutter for etching, to make a sign for our organization. Thank you!
here some other images.....maybe you like them...
I love this instructable! I was inspired to do it myself from the first time I seen it and have made a few small business card sized panels with my friends businesses on them and gave them as gifts. Yesterday I did one a little more elaborate for a good friend of mine and I think it's the best I've done. Normally I wouldn't even bother to put up a post to anything but your inspiration brought out a new skill for me to master and I thank you for that!<br><br>Here's a pic of the one I did yesterday. It's roughly 12 inches by 9 inches and took a total of 4 hours to complete. 2 1/2 hours of engraving with my dremel VERY slowly so I wouldn't screw up!<br><br>Thank you!
To jestrada9: <br> <br>Looks awesome! I did one for my daughter too, however mine doesnt have a frame around it as I engraved the design a bit too close to the edge, so I made a stand instead. On the base of the display is beading that goes around the edge of laminate flooring just to tidy it up a bit. This is my 1st attempt, I may do another one later on sometime to improve on the flaws. <br> <br>Thanks again to Grathio for this amazing instructable!
Hi! Nice idea! I have done it with the childs from our youth camp. I used 10mm Plexiglas and blue LEds! lg alienfive
Once I saw this I knew exactly what I was going to do.&nbsp; Build a night light for my daughter.&nbsp; I built a frame around it with the power supply in the back.&nbsp; The edge closest to the display is white and the outer edge is pink.&nbsp; The background is light purple (some of the colors from her room, the designs are in her room also).&nbsp; I was going to use black, but didn't have any and I thought the purple looked alright.<br> <br> Again thanks for the great instructable!<br> <br>
What an awseome use! Thanks for taking the time to share it, it looks fantastic!
<p>How well this method works in a well eluminated enviroemnts?</p>
<p>So is it the cut from the engraved areas that are distorting the light making it visible like that?</p>
I have a question... will this method work on plastic slides nicked from my biology lab? TIA!!
<p>ya...it will work on any transparent material...even glass, plastic also....make sure that the material surface is free from dust n scratches for clear vision.</p>
<p>is it possible to do something like this but making it so you cannot see the image (or have if very hard to see) without the light being on?</p>
<p>I don't know of any way to make it invisible, but there are a few tricks you can use.</p><p>One is to use much finer lines than I show in my examples. A very fine craft knife blade can make cuts that are hard to see but will still glow if you put enough light into the edge.</p><p>Another is to place it in front of an interesting background. A complex pattern will hide what's really there. A more complicated solution is to use two pieces of plastic. The first with your etching on it, and another behind it with its entire surface etched. When you put light into the edge of the back piece it will all light up and you won't see the foreground piece. Light up the front piece and turn off the light on the back and the &quot;real&quot; message will be clear.</p><p>A third idea is to polish your engraving (or make the whole thing from a single piece of cast acrylic) so that the roughness isn't as visible. </p><p>Best of luck!</p>
<p>the second idea with the complex background, could you use a piece of frosted plastic/glass and a very thin etched piece in front and only light the top piece? i ask because this would be a cool idea for a business card to give to more important people and to light up the back all the time would not be practical</p>
<p>I think it might work. The only way to be sure is to try.</p>
<p>This Instructable really helped a lot. Ive been looking for a way to easily edge light the holographic display on the Dead Space plasma cutter i've been working on.</p>
Cool !
I'll try with smd leds and glass microscope slides then try to make an avr controlled tic tac toe with this technique.
what do u engrave it on and where can u get it
I could make one crazy cool desk nameplate with this idea
Wonderful i'ble! <br><br>I just had a query about the engraving tool. There is a special tool by dremel called the 'engraver'. does it work on acrylic? <br><br>I dont have the rotary tool by dremel either.. So planning to buy the right tool.. <br>Kindly comment on what tool should work well... <br><br>Thnx!
Engraving tools have diamond tips so they will very definitely scratch acrylic. It will work, but they don't go very deep so you won't get a very bright image.
ok.. so I guess I would bettr get a rotary tool.. &nbsp;as I would definitely want some deeper engraving..&nbsp;<br> <br>
quick question. Is it possible to make one that you can write on and erase with a marker or something that's not permanent?
Highlighter pens work brilliantly. Almost invisible when you write on the perspex, but glows brightly (with blue light) when lit!
Definitely should add some optical adhesive.<br> <br> Any gap between the LED plastic and the display plastic will cause reflection at the interfaces. The air gap has a refractive index of 1 (n = 1) while the plastics are about 1.5.<br> <br> Not the only supplier, but one that is available in reasonable sizes and a variety of sources is <a href="https://www.norlandprod.com/adhesiveindex.html" rel="nofollow">Norland</a> optical adhesives. These are UV cure, which I like better than two part, since you don't need to degas to remove bubbles. Leaving the parts in bright sunlight might be enough to cure the UV adhesive.
also, how about optical adhesive + aluminum foil rather than aluminum tape round the edges?
Hmm... Isn't white more reflective than silver/chrome/mirrors/etc...? Perhaps painting the edges in pure white paint would reflect the most light back in? I think the only thing more reflective than flat white might by silver mylar. Am I off base?
speaking of pure white paint, how about 'backing' the etches with something like correction fluid? that way, you have less light escaping the wrong way and so more brightness, but it will be opaque so it wont work with the multi-layered panels on the next step............... another idea i had was to use UV LED's instead of visible colour LED's, then 'backing' the etches with UV paint... i wonder if it will work well? i suppose you will be 'soaking' the paint into the etches rather than painting them on
White diffuses the light (reflects it in a bunch of different directions) which means more light will escape through the front of our plastic/glass. Using reflective material will reflect more light back at the same shallow angle it needs to stay inside the plastic. Silver and aluminum are very nearly purely reflective (At least in visible light) and very little light is lost when bouncing it off these substances. (It's the same stuff that's on the back of almost all mirrors.) The VU paint would be an interesting experiment. If you do it post some pics!
A simple and inspiring instructable. Nicely done!<br><br>With all due respect to the author, who said-<br>&quot;Using reflective material will reflect more light back at the same shallow angle it needs to stay inside the plastic. Silver and aluminum are very nearly purely reflective (At least in visible light)&quot;<br><br>All of my college classes that touched on reflectance of light did mention that white is a better reflector than &quot;silver&quot; which is gray, which is partly black. The flatness of a surface enhances reflection, and mirrors show an image better because of the absorption (blackness so-to-speak) of some of the light.<br><br>Taking into account the amount of light reflected versus the quality of a specular reflection from a standard mirror... the photometer reads more light coming off a pure white surface. Paint is often too rough, thus diffuse reflections result. So the choice of materials will affect the angle of reflection, or diffraction, or refraction, etc. depending upon the optical design.<br><br>When containing the light within the clear sheet, polished and flat edges are preferred. And a smooth reflective backing such as foil tape is an easy way to get a much flatter surface.<br><br>In a theoretical perfect world, one might want to use a nano particle sized coating of Titianium dioxide applied to a perfectly square and flat polished edge... HA! (Not going to happen for most of us unless we have access to optical fabbing equipment!)
Thanks for the information!<br><br>If you look at the aluminum tape it is actually white on the sticky side. But unlike using plain white tape it's also optically opaque, so the light it doesn't reflect it absorbs, which enhances the effect.<br><br>
I have not tried it out yet but there is a paint called Looking Glass that supposedly puts a mirror finish on glass. It is made by Krylon and I have seen it here at WalMart (possibly cheaper online. Google Looking Glass paint) Might be worth a shot rather than attempting to glue aluminum tape to the edge.
but i thought the point was to reflect as much of the light as possible, hence no absorption at all?
Of course. However nothing is 100% reflective and any time light impacts a surface there will be <em>some&nbsp;</em>absorption.
You are correct.<br> Think about this for a moment.<br> Take 2 chromed wrenches with same size&nbsp; and paint 1 white and do nothing with the other one. Hang both wrenches on a string in full sun for lets say 30 minutes and touch both wrenches after that.<br> You will find out that the unpainted chrome wrench is much hotter than the painted white one, because the chromed wrench absorbed more light. I don't know what is worse, a chrome wrench or black painted wrench left in the sun.<br> What I would do, sand the edges with very fine sand paper and polish the edges, then paint them with a shiny white paint.<br> Also, I would use clear epoxy to hold the LED's to the plexi glass and fill all the gaps.<br>
I used to sell edge-lit noticeboards for pubs (I'm in England) and shops - they used a fluorescent tube along the bottom edge for lighting and - and this is the clever bit - if you wrote on them with wax crayons that would make the writing glow, with the added benefit that you could rub it away and change it whenever you wanted. No engraving needed.
That sounds very very cool. Would make a great hi-tech chalkboard for a kid's room.
hey...i know its 2011. <br>but can plain glass be used instead of plexi-glass to make these signs? <br>
Absolutely, if you have a way of etching it. Any transparent material will work.
was wondering if the wax crayons would work on glass...since i tried using a highlighter on glass, and it dint glow.. <br>or maybe coz the glass wasnt polished..
Very cool! I will have to try that.
very cool<br>and i will try to make it<br>thx man
Does the material being edge-lit have to be clear? Could I, for example, make a pair of edge-lit sunglasses?
It depends on the design of the sun glasses. &nbsp;It&nbsp;doesn't&nbsp;have to be clear, it can be colored, <a href="http://www.tapplastics.com/shop/product.php?pid=341&">like this</a>. If it's opaque (<a href="http://www.tapplastics.com/shop/product.php?pid=340&">like this</a>) it won't work.
Would make for an amazing business card
How long does the battery last?
It depends on what LED you use and the brand of battery. It can stay lit for as little as a day and up to 2 weeks.<br> <br> The Evil Mad Scientists did a bunch of research on this kind of circuit, you can read about it <a href="http://www.evilmadscientist.com/article.php/throw">here</a>.
I didn't know EMSL was still an active website!

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Bio: Creative swashbuckler. Writer for MAKE Magazine, presenter of inventions on TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Professional problem solver. Annoyingly curious. Hacker of all things from ... More »
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