Introduction: Painting the Biggest Transistor Ever, Using Laser Cut Stencils

Picture of Painting the Biggest Transistor Ever, Using Laser Cut Stencils

And now for something completely different. . . multi color stenciling using a laser cutter !!!

This is how I used GIMP and Inkscape to separate, prep and register the different layers for my image.

Step 1: Picking an Image

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Pick, or make an image with a few colors.

I picked this image. It’s a 32nm transistor that I drew back in 2007 or 2008. It looked so lonely in the middle of a sea of millions of other transistors, that I decided to immortalize it somehow.

Step 2: ​Separating Colors

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Anyway. Open up an image using GIMP. If it has more than 3 or 4 color, it’s best to posterize it using the Colors -> Posterize menu option.

I like to have some empty space around the image. Using the Image -> Canvas Size menu option, I add 1 inch on each side, and center the original image (this means adding 2 inches to the width and 2 inches to the height).

And, make sure the layer has an alpha channel (Layer -> Transparency -> Add Alpha Channel).

Now, I make a layer for each color by duplicating the original image layer. In each layer, I select the color I want to keep using the Select by Color tool.

Once I have selected the color I want to keep, I use the Select -> Invert tool to select everything else, and ctrl-x or delete the unwanted colors.

Now I have a layer for each color.

Step 3: ​Making Borders

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I want to add a border for each layer. This will help me align the layers later in Inkscape. The way I do this is to select the entire layer (Select -> All), then the Select -> Shrink option to shrink the selection by 10 pixels.

Then, using Select -> Invert, I select the 10-pixel border area, and paint it using the Bucket Fill Tool (with the Fill whole selection option). It can be any color, but I use something like yellow or pink so it stands out better.

Step 4: ​Exporting Paths

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Now for the tricky part. Exporting paths!!

I select the transparent area between my colors using the Select by Color Tool, and use the Select -> To Path menu option to create a path from the selection edges of the transparent area.

There’s a sneaky Paths tab next to the Layers tab. From here I can export the path as an svg by right-clicking the path and choosing Export Path. . .

Repeat this, and export a path for each layer.


Step 5: ​Inkscaping

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Now that I have 3 svg files, I open Inkscape, and import all of them into a project (File -> Import).

Then, I click on each imported object, and move it to the (0,0) location.

I usually have to resize the document to make everything fit, by clicking on the File -> Document Properties menu option.

With all the layers showing, I pick places around the 4 corners where there are no shapes, and make 4 holes of equal size. I usually make them around 4 or 5mm in diameter, and it’s not very important to make their placement symmetric, as long as they come out in the same place on all layers.

I couldn’t figure out how to disable certain objects, or export separate objects from the same layer, so this next step might not be the most efficient.

I delete all the paths, except one, and make sure it’s still at 0,0. I select the border path using the Edit Paths by Nodes Tool, and delete it. Then, select all paths (Edit -> Select All), and change their stroke width to 0.001 inches. (Stroke Style tab of the Object -> Fill and Stroke menu)

I export the result as an svg (File -> Save a Copy), and repeat the last step for all remaining paths/colors.

The result is a set of svg files, with registering holes, and thin path lines.

I tried to add the registering holes in GIMP, in order to just export the svg paths directly from there, but it wasn’t as simple as I wanted it to be. I can’t ensure that the path strokes are 0.001 inches, and the holes come out kind of pixelated. Maybe I could’ve done some math, and played with the DPI, but. . . alas. . .

Step 6: Lasering Cardboard

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Now, what’s left is the grunt work. Load cardboard onto machine. Hit print, and wait. The registering holes should line up exactly. Thanks lasers!

Step 7: Making Chips... Making Money...

Picture of Making Chips... Making Money...

I tried to make my painting on canvas with spray paint. I put some m3 screws through the canvas and the corner holes to keep the stencils aligned.

I tried to make 3 different prints, but unfortunately they all came out kind of sloppy, mostly because I didn’t have the patience to wait for the paint to dry before applying the next layer of color, and because I couldn’t control the consistency of the spray paint.


But the stencils are nice, and I think I can use acrylic paint for better control and accuracy, and I just bought a long book to read while waiting for each paint layer to dry.


Nice job, even if your results didn't come out how you wanted them to

bergerab (author)2014-06-23

Great application for laser cutting! Thanks for sharing

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