Introduction: How to 'Do It Yourself' Laser Cut Jewelry!
This instructable goal is to introduce people to laser cut technology - a powerful and simple tool. We provide a step-by-step guide to enable anyone to design and produce their own jewelry and accessories.
Laser Cut Jewelry is a trend that is getting widely widespread. Once you try your hand at it, you will soon realize that it gets easy and easier to start producing your own piece. Another advantage is that it is actually very cheap to produce your own designs. One might spend about $ 2 to make a beautiful piece, and sell at Etsy or local fairs at prices ranging from $ 10 to 30, that didn’t costs $ 2 to produce it, so it’s very profitable to make and sell!
We are committed to helping people make the most of digital prototyping tools, such as CNC machines, 3D printers, and Laser Cutters. That`s why we delivered a 6 hour face to face workshop and we are sharing our knowledge here!
Step 1: DESIGN
For the design you can choose two different paths:
1. Ready-made - using templates of existing pieces found in open design repositories. We’re still mapping where they are, if you know a good one, let us know in the comments! Meanwhile we’ll put a link to our folder where you can find something to start. [LINK]
2. Design it yourself - which is much more interesting, but you will obviously need to use a vector graphic software of your choice or learn how to use one… (See How to Draw section).
It’s important to know what the tools allow us to do. The Laser Cutter is a powerful machine and it cuts a wide list of materials. The most common ones in jewelry are plywood, MDF wood, acrylic, leather and rubber (tire inner tubes). Since it’s a cutting machine, we have to think about things as flat material - although we can add volume by connecting parts or stacking them later on - for some ideas you can use 123D Make (“123DMake lets you create parametric files very easily, as you can input the thickness of the material, the number of slices, slice spacing and other options and see the results simulated in realtime” - fabacademy.org).
Before you produce anything or even before getting the material it’s important to know exactly what you intend to produce, the design, the material, if it’s a ring, a necklace, a bracelet, etc…
So let’s start looking at references, see what is possible to make. You can search for “laser cut jewelry” on Pinterest, or have a look on Etsy.
It’s nice to have references from different fields, like geometric patterns. Nature is always a good reference too! Voronoi, Fibonacci, Phyllotaxis... just look for these kind of things.
After collecting some references, you can sketch more possibilities. The old pen and paper work great! It’s important here to pay attention to ergonomy, sharp edges for example are no good. Know exactly the dimension of the jewelry you want to produce. You can prototype it with paper to be sure of he size by putting it directly on your body.
Step 2: HOW TO DRAW
We can use basically any vectorial software, from the most commonly used like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW to the more friendly and open source InkScape (that we highly recommend despite the fact that we used Illustrator in the instructable). You can also use 3D softwares such as Sketchup, CAD or Rhino and then export your work in SVG format for the laser cutter. Sketchup is very easy to use.
Here is a tutorial for Inkscape!
We like to visit thenounproject.com, a very nice library where you can download a bunch of icons in SVG format and insert them in your design.
Avoid drawing thin lines, for it can make your design fragile. When using MDF wood for example, always make pieces with 1mm minimum between the cutting paths or they will surely break.
If you choose to engrave your jewelry, remember to create another layer in your svg file, where you can separate the engraving paths from the cutting. And always engrave before cutting, as some Laser Cutters have gaps between the grid that holds the material.Depending on the laser cutter you are going to use, you will have to prepare your file in a certain way. For example, for the one we used at CTJ Makerspace, we had to use only black stroke with no filling so the CorelDRAW plugin of the cutter would recognize our design as cutting paths. In this case, we chose to engrave by using the cutting function but reducing the power of the laser.
Remember to prepare your file like this:
- use different colours for ENGRAVE or CUT
- use only stroke, no infill
- use dimensions in millimeters (mm)
- double check the piece size before saving the file
- save the file in SVG format, but it’s good to consult the machine operator previously
Step 3: GET THE MATERIAL
Ok, now that we know what we're going to do, we can gather what will be needed!
- the material to cut: plywood sheet can be found in a stationery shop, you can buy acrylic in specialized stores, you can even use rubber tire from your brother's bike or from a generic material store (better even), and so on... It all depends on your context, but in the end, you can find anything on the Internet.
- bijou finishing: things from bijou stores (or online shops once again) like hooks for earrings, pin for a brooch, chain, strings of all kinds, metal rings, etc.
- coating finishing: primer, acrylic or spray paint (we like the graffiti kind), clear varnish, sand paper, glitter, even nail polisher, etc.
- tools: pliers for sure, brushes, mask, rubber gloves, crepe tape, cutter.
Step 4: LASER AND SETTINGS
This is an opportunity to learn about this specific machine. As previously said, the laser cutter is a powerful machine, just like a CNC router, or a cutting plotter (computer controlled blade). It uses a laser beam to cut all sorts of materials in two dimensions. It has two motors that move the end nozzle where the laser beam is focused so it can burn the material.
By burning you can ENGRAVE or CUT the material.
To cut a thin leather or a 6 mm plywood it needs a very different amount of heat on the surface. So, each material has a specific settings of power and speed. I see it much like photography cameras, you need a perfect balance between speed and the f-number (amount of light that passes thru). In the case of the laser, you can engrave softly or harder, to the point of cutting, and more than that you can ruin the material or even set it on fire.
But don’t worry, most places where you can cut things already have a settings table and if you’re trying a new material, it’s just a matter of running some tests. This is just necessary later on, when you’re actually cutting.
Keep in mind: testing and prototyping are your friends! It’s very common and sometimes very useful depending on the project.
If you want to cut in other materials, as steal, for example, the logic is the same, you have only to find a plasma cutter, water jet, specific laser (usually very a strong one).
WHERE TO CUT?
Now we have to find a laser cut service in your town. It’s getting easier and easier find one. You can start searching in Google Maps for terms such as “Laser Cut”, “Makerspace” or “Fab Lab”.
Even if you live in a city with 3 inhabitants, you can still send the file by email since some places offer this service online and then send you the pieces by regular mail.
Burn Baby Burn!
Step 5: FINISHING
You know “The knives of jealousy are honed on details.”... so let’s not neglect this part!
You can choose the finishing of your choice. You can leave the material raw, especially acrylic. But if you want to paint it, here is how we did it:
Some material need special care, like MDF wood. In case of engraving you should sand your wood before putting crepe tape and cutting it. If your design only uses cutting, you can sand your material after the laser. First use a fine sanding paper grade, like 220, then go with an extra fine above 260. This last sanding paper can be used between layers of primer and paint.
Then apply a very thin layer of primer. Wait for it to dry or you can also use a hair dryer on cold mode. Apply at least two layer of primer (stop when the surface is uniform). We highly recommend the use of a primer when you want to paint your jewelry with a light color, or else you will need much more spray paint to obtain the right color. At this point you can use the extra fine sanding paper again. Be careful not to use it on wet primer or use to much strength.
Now you can repeat the process with the spray paint. Remember, thin layers, at a 30cm distance from the piece and always moving when you spray. Don’t hesitate to start spraying beside your piece and then moving onto it. If your design has a lot of holes (like ours) don’t hesitate to spray from different angles to get the paint everywhere.
We recommend that you use spray varnish to protect your jewelry from the touch of skin that can damage the piece especially if it’s made of wood. Again, only thin layers, and use less varnish than paint.
For earrings: open your jump rings with the two pliers, insert the earrings findings and your piece. Finally close carefully the rings with a little pressure with the help of the pliers.
For a necklace: choose with care a string made of leather or silk or any other material that goes with your piece. Measure the length of the string on you. You can use end caps to make it look better.
Step 6: Ta-daaah!
That's it! Now you just put it on, wear a very elegant match and go play outside!
This cool stuff is brought to you by Lucas De Sordi + Nanaui Amoros in partnership with CTJ Makerspace.
We hope everybody enjoys! And if you have any suggestion so we can make this tutorial better, we'll be glad to hear it! ;)