There are many different approaches you could take to making the gravestones in this project: modeling clay, building up layers of card or art foam, wood carving, actual stonemasonry, laser etching, 3D printing... The list goes on.
Depending on your resources and technical ability, not all of these will be possible. I appreciate that not everybody has access to a laser cutter or a 3D printer or the software experience required to design vector files for use with these machines. I chose to use a laser cutter to make my gravestones because:
(a) I had access to one,
(b) I believed it would give a result with a very high level of detail with minimal effort on my part, and
(c) it meant they would be reproducible so that I could refine the process or make more to give away as gifts.
I also believe that excellent results could be achieved using cheaper and more accessible methods, but possibly at the expense of time and effort. For example, you could quite easily sculpt little gravestones out of Sculpey
, but it would likely take hours of carving and a very steady hand to get the fine details right. If you're more inclined toward woodwork, the same applies.
If you're comfortable using graphic design software but don't have access to a laser cutter, then I'd suggest one of two routes:
Option 1) Design the gravestones you want, then print out templates that you can use to hand-cut layers of a thin material such as wood or art foam. This way you can build up a single gravestone from multiple layers, much as I did. Bear in mind that this method will add material to your gravestone with each layer, rather than subtract it like a laser cutter will.
Option 2) Design the gravestones on your computer, then use an online fabrication service such as Ponoko or Shapeways to turn them into actual objects. This might seem extravagant, but there are now many competing services aimed at providing cheap 3D fabrication to the consumer market. All you have to do is send them your image files and choose your materials and they'll send you the finished item in the mail. Yes, we're living in the future. You think of stuff and strangers make it appear. That's the kind of crazy world we live in. Get used to this, because soon kids will think it's normal.
If you're going for Option 2, then you could choose either to print out layers of thin material (as in Option 1) or to print out an entire 3D object. The latter would require you to design the object in a 3D modeling program, which sounds scary but is not nearly as hard as you might think. Really, if you're comfortable designing 2D images using vector graphics, then it's only a small step to learn how to extrude those 2D images into simple 3D meshes.
The rest of this Instructable will deal with how to make gravestones using a laser cutter and acrylic sheets.
For 2D design, I recommend using a vector-based program rather than a raster-based one
For 3D design, possibly in conjunction with the above 2D design programs:
Free: Blender (complicated, but extremely powerful), 123D (simple, but specifically designed with 3D printing in mind)
Not free: Maya, 3DS Max, AutoCAD, Rhino 3D. And boy, some of these are very not free.
Before anyone points it out, I realize that several of these software packages are made by Autodesk, the new parent corporation of Instructables. Have they asked me to actively advertise them? No. Am I more inclined to suggest their software because there's been so much talk about them here at Instructables recently? Maybe. Do they make a lot of very useful 3D design software? Definitely.