Introduction: High Contrast Leather Laser Etching

Picture of High Contrast Leather Laser Etching

The hip flask pictured here cost only $5 at the local super-jumbo-extreme-retail store on clearance, and I wanted to personalize it a bit.  I have access to a laser cutter/etcher through the TechShop and thought this might be the tool for the job.

However, one of the problems with cheap, thin leather is that the dye has soaked all the way through the material.  This makes most laser etching into such material difficult to see.  So this Instructable details a series of novel steps on how to etch such leather to produce a high contrast design.

Materials and Tools:
- Dark dyed, cheap, thin leather
- Painter's masking tape (I used the 2" wide blue stuff, good because the lasers cut it nicely and it's not very sticky, important for later steps)
- Light colored spray paint (I used silver metallic)
- Duct Tape
- Laser cutter/etcher
- A design (preferably monochromatic, without too many gradients.  Think b/w clip art or vector art)

Step 1: Etch Your Design

Picture of Etch Your Design

Cover the area you wish to etch with the painter's masking tape.  Make sure it's adhered smoothly and try to minimize the amount of overlap between pieces of tape.  Put the material into the laser etcher, and print out your design.  TechShop provided the settings for their laser cutters, but these may vary depending on the machine you are using.  For an Epilog 60W, I used these raster settings:

Speed: 60% (minimize wear for a smaller design)
Power: 55%

My line size is 3pt and I etched two passes at the above settings in raster mode.

Step 2: Painting

Picture of Painting

Thoroughly mask the rest of the material (seal it well, or you'll need to break out the Goof-Off to fix your mistakes).  Spray it down with the color of your choice.

Now, for some leather, there may be the concern that spray paint's solvents will dry out the leather.  This wasn't a huge concern for me, but if it is for you, you may want to use an acrylic leather paint designed for this material.

Let the paint dry thoroughly, not just to touch, this is important because...

Step 3: Remove the Tape

Picture of Remove the Tape

If you have a very detailed design, trying to pick off all the tiny little bits of masking tape would be tedious.  Instead, pull out your duct tape (or similarly sticky tape) and stick over the design.  Rub the tape into your design and make sure it's stuck pretty good.  Then rip it off like you're pulling off a band-aid!  This will save your eyes, back and sanity.

(notice I didn't wait for the paint to dry completely, which made for sloppier removal)

Step 4: Finished, Enjoy!

Picture of Finished, Enjoy!

Be careful of etching over any stamps in the leather, my paint dribbled into that stamp because the masking tape wasn't flush against.  Otherwise, this was a beautiful, simple process to get a high contrast design into cheap, thin, dark leather.

Again, I made this at the TechShop in San Jose, CA.  Happy making!


daewootech (author)2013-03-05

I used this process for lasering a piece glass for my class of then which i sandblasted through the lasered part to etch a image onto a piece of glass.

the5thfool (author)daewootech2013-03-06

Interesting, the sandblasting didn't affect the stencil?

Tachyon (author)2013-03-04

Very impressive. This is KISS engineering at it's finest. Nice work.

the5thfool (author)Tachyon2013-03-06

Thank you! I think the value of super simple Instructables is under-rated. I'll try and add more soon. XD

GorillazMiko (author)2013-02-28

This came out great! I have a couple of film cameras that have leather on the body, so I might try and etch some designs on a few of those.

Thanks for sharing!


the5thfool (author)GorillazMiko2013-02-28

Thank you! I'd love to see your cameras when they're done!

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