Instructables

Laser-Cut Laptop Tattoo

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Make a sharp adhesive label to cover a logo on your laptop! There are lots of examples of awesome designs laser-etched directly into the tops of laptops. Here's one of the first instructables on the topic. Instructables even did this for free at the last few Maker Faires and a few conferences.

Here's my problem, though: I could never decide on a design for my laptop. I'd come up with one, but a few days later I would think it was lame. That cycle happened a dozen times before I thought of a better way: Why not use the laser cutter to create a precision-cut sticker, instead? This "tattoo" would be removable, so I didn't have to be gun-shy any more.

This instructable shows what I did, including the source files for the design, a description of the special retroreflective tape I used, and a nifty trick for getting a perfectly-placed sticker.
 
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Step 1: Make a Design

I threw this design together using Illustrator. The file that I ended up with is attached. I also took a picture of my laptop lid to get the proportions just right; you can see that the design has a glowing area that is totally inside the existing Apple logo but also completely covers the rest of the logo.

I used a funky perspective to bring the lit "power" logo off-center. That way the whole sticker can be centered while the power logo can be as big as possible while avoiding that bite in the right side of the apple.

Step 2: Choose a Sticker Material

Picture of Choose a Sticker Material
SNC11151.JPG
I chose something called retroreflective tape, which is a material with some interesting properties. I also covered my messenger bag with it, and explained how it works in this instructable. What it comes down to is that the sticker surface is black in most light, but in certain conditions it will glow pure white. Very cool.

In addition, unlike other stickers, the retroreflective tape I used for the new sticker has a thin metal film it it, so the Apple logo is masked completely. Other materials might allow the light to show through.
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Zil331848 months ago
Can this sticker be easily removed if I don't like it anymore?
Just a small thing is the vinyl "retroreflective tape" you used PVC based? as PVC is one of those materials you are not supposed to laser cut and definitely not engrave. Its to do with the chloride part of the PVC, turns to hydrochloric acid in contact with moisture like your lungs.
It's probably the same as how I'm not supposed to be welding galvanized steel b/c the zinc vaporizes and can cause metal fume fever... but that's what respirators are for...
except that the fumes will damage the laser cutter as well as you.
nagutron (author)  Lordinquisitor5 years ago
That's a very good point. I don't think it was, but I'm actually not sure. But I'll most definitely check before I cut the same stuff again.
helifino5 years ago
If you 'weed' the design while it's still on the backer, you can apply a piece of masking tape to keep all the 'wings' aligned, making it easier to apply.
The supplier of the tape will also be able to supply a transfer tape which makes alignment issues non existent
nagutron (author)  helifino5 years ago
This is a great idea for intricate designs. Note that the water application method I describe in step 5 is pretty good, however. I had no trouble with moving all the bits around before it set. Something more intricate could use this advice for sure, though, or a thinner sticker material. Thanks!
cowe4 years ago
by any chance, do you know what the tape is composed of? asking because i know vinyl & pvc are the only things considered toxic to a c02 laser head. if it's made out of anything else it's all good, and i'd love to seek some out. :)
see my comment this is correct very dangerous and very damaging.
SYNTAG5 years ago
Very cool, about a month after I burned my laptop I regretted the design I made and have wished I could change it. My only question is where do you buy that tape at?
nagutron (author)  SYNTAG5 years ago
The search terms you want are "retroreflective tape." I found mine on eBay, but google brings up many more search results. It's sold as tapes, non-adhesive sheets, and even cloth!
you can use vinyl decal paper if you need some or need the decal just send me the design and i make it for you for free
Just a note to say should not put vinyl in a laser cutter for two reasons: its made of PVC and when heated it gives off chlorine fumes which are toxic and secondly it will damage the laser.
PSPerson2 years ago
I did mine with a vinyl cutter. The apple glows through a bit when it is on full brightness, but I like it nonetheless.
IMG_20111110_164658.jpg
This is the only time I've wanted a Macbook of any sort. where'd you get the design, or did you make it?
I took a pic from online, outlined it in Illustrator, took out some of the details and tweaked the sizing. then I sent it out to the vinyl cutter. It took me around 2 hours to get sizing and stuff right (printing out on paper to test it), but It was totally worth the effort.
I see. you wouldn't happen to have the origi- wait, never mind. I think I've found the same image. time to expend some effort into this, whether or not I can use it.
GaryMeow3 years ago
so the white part of the design (when the sticker is black) is actually the apple logo?
nagutron (author)  GaryMeow3 years ago
Yeah, that's right. It glows, too!
LinuxH4x0r5 years ago
Nice! I'd do something similar if I had my own macbook (its my dad's)
You could do it to your dad's laptop. Remember: the sticker is removable! ;)
helifino jeff-o5 years ago
If you leave it on a while, you should add heat (hair dryer) to help remove it, but you can use a pair of tweezers or dental pick to lift up a corner and it'll come right off.
umm, its a laptop not a car. Heat is bad for it
sorry for such a late reply, but i just wanted to point out as a fun fact that the graphics card in my laptop has gotten, according to speccy, up to 180 degrees F lol
lonerayven4 years ago
Now why in the world would you care to have it laser cut. It's much finer and smoother to have it blade cut by a cutter or large format plotter. I own one for my company and do decals all the time, full printed too.
nagutron (author)  lonerayven4 years ago
 Two reasons, neither of them all that compelling:
  1. I had a laser cutter, but no plotter.
  2. Lasers are friggin' awesome
yainks5 years ago
I googled retroreflective tape but couldn't find any sheets, just in 2 inch strip form. Has anyone found a website that sells something like an 8x10 sheet? Thanks in advance guys
nagutron (author)  yainks4 years ago
Hey, you can also find this stuff under 3M's trade name of "Scotchbrite." Here's a link:

http://www.beacongraphics.com/supplies/3M/3m-580.html

I found it through this cool photo pool:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/theredproject/sets/72157607881334946/
I wouldn't been to hard to make your own laser cutter, only problem is the laser part... Great instructable I will be trying this.
debenllc5 years ago
Do you think that a Klic-N-Kut computerized Scrapbook cutter would do the same cutting function? Thanks, Ben
Yes. It's similar to the kind of equipment sign cutters use for doing this very thing.
OK, that's good to know. There is a Yahoo Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Klic-N-Kut/ in case anyone wants to know more about this process! Later, Ben
nagutron (author)  debenllc5 years ago
I think that's likely! I've never used those cutters, but they seem like an inexpensive alternative to laser cutters for cutting out thin materials like this.
Nyuu5 years ago
Wow, nice instructable ! But where do I get one of those laser cutters if I don't have one? Or what's a good alternative?
nagutron (author)  Nyuu5 years ago
Well, there's an Xacto knife of course :) Some others are also talking about cutter/plotters and these scrapbook cutters which are much less expensive than laser cutters. You can probably also just take your design and material to a sign shop and they'll have cutters that can do it for you.
You don't even have to source your own material, you can just take in your vector design. (so sayeth a sign shop employee)
nstg8r5 years ago
sounds like a homemade laser cutter could be a good instructable.
tannerfit5 years ago
this is EXACTLY what i've been wanting to do on my computer! i wish i had a laser cutter...
Kevin60315 years ago
P.S. Just about any sign shop can cut vinyl stickers for you.
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