Introduction: Laser Etched Paper for Folding Complex Forms

Picture of Laser Etched Paper for Folding Complex Forms

Folding is a powerful tool for both aesthetics and engineering. Many forms are possible using folding techniques, but it becomes increasingly difficult to attain these forms as the crease paths develop more and more complexity and density. By laying out all the folds in software and laser etching the two sides of a piece of paper, much more complex forms become possible. Described here is a method for laser etching elephant hide paper on an Epilog Legend EXT 100 Watt laser cutter to facilitate the complex folds that compose a hexagonal hyperboloid.

Step 1: Prepare Your Files

Picture of Prepare Your Files

There are a lot of different ways to lay out your fold paths. I used Autodesk Inventor to lay out a very simple set of concentric hexagons to create a hexagonal hyperboloid form. For simple forms, I recommend laying out all fold paths (both mountain and valley) in the same file (using different layers if your software has the capability to), which makes alignment easier later in the process. You can also separate your mountain and valley folds from the beginning if you choose. For this example, I started with all folds in one file.

  1. Import your fold paths.
  2. Select your all your mountain folds and change the stroke color.
  3. Save two copies of your source file: one for mountain folds (side A) and one for valley folds (side B). By creating both fold files form the same source file, you preserve the alignment and location of both sets of crease paths.
  4. In your side A file, delete all the valley folds (black lines) selecting a valley fold and clicking "Select -> Same -> Fill & Stroke".
  5. Likewise, in your side B file delete all the mountain folds (red lines).
  6. In the side A file, select the outer-most path and set it to RGB Green (0,255,0), which will be the "cut" color. Set the rest of the paths to RGB Red (255,0,0), which will be the "etch" color.
  7. In the side B file, set all the paths to the "etch" color (RGB Red).

Step 2: Prepare to Laser Etch

Picture of Prepare to Laser Etch
  1. Set the stroke weight to 0.001pt on both files.
  2. Enable color-mapping and set the laser power and speeds to the best etch and cut settings for your paper. These valuse should be experimentally determined brand/type of laser cutter. An etch setting of 2% power, 100% speedand a cut setting of 4% power, 100% speed both work well for the Epilog Legend EXT 100 Watt laser cutter that I used.
  3. Send the files to the laser cutter.

Step 3: Load the Paper

Picture of Load the Paper
  1. Epilogs have spring-loaded, hinged guides running along the edge of the honeycomb. Pull these back and set your paper onto the honeycomb, butting the edge up against the edge of the guide and then flip the guide down to clamp the edges of the paper. If you aren't using an Epilog, use masking tape to secure the edges of the paper to the edge of the honeycomb.
  2. Next tape the remaining edges of the paper down to the honeycomb. There's not a lot of surface area for the tape to grab onto, but it's just enough to hold the paper down.
  3. Focus the laser to the surface of the paper.
  4. Make sure your exhaust is turned on-- with down-drafted laser cutters, the exhaust really helps secure the paper to the honeycomb.

Step 4: Etch

Picture of Etch
  1. Run the side A file.
  2. Carefully remove and flip the etched and cut piece. Depending on the degree of backlash in the laser cutter gantry, you may need to rotate it to fit it precisely into the remaining paper. Small pieces of tape can be used to secure the etched paper for side B etching.
  3. Run the side B file.

Step 5: Fold

Picture of Fold

Start by folding along all the crease paths on each side of the piece, taking care not to "follow-through" across the entire piece: stop folding where the etched line stops. Once you have folded all the laser-etched creases, fold the piece in half three times to connect each vertex in the hexagon (in this case) with a manually-formed fold. Fold each one of these three folds back on itself to make it bi-directional. These folds are best not etched because they see a lot more tension than the rest of the folds in the form.

After pre-folding all the etched creases and applying the radial folds, work you way from the outside in, bunching the folds together and taking care to properly form the intersections of the manual radial folds and etched folds. Because the laser is operating at it's lowest emitting power setting to create the etches, the laser stops emitting as the gantry decelerates when it leads into and out of corners, which means that the etch paths stop "early". The center-most folds may require the tip of a knife or a skewer to enforce the proper topology.

Step 6: Experiment

Picture of Experiment

This is a very general strategy for encoding 3D form information into a 2D stock material. Please experiment with different geometries and materials!


jeanniel1 (author)2016-03-09

There was this paper artist who used to fold patterns like these and then cast them in bronze. Fabulous!

macrumpton (author)jeanniel12016-05-08

If you made the shape in a plastic sheet instead of paper you could coat it with graphite paint and then electroplate it.

masterURlaser (author)2015-08-17


Joekevdv made it! (author)2014-05-16

This is one of my favorite instructables, I also really like the projects on your website! I used this way of folding for an instructable I'm working on, of course with your name mentioned.

mdeblasi1 (author)2014-04-25

I have been toying with the idea of making one of these shapes in Copper Foil.
Now you have given me the idea of acid etching the creases to assist the folding,
Thank you.

craftyv (author)2014-04-24

Very interesting. I have no access to Laser etching but have been an avid follower of Dr. Erik Demaine and his courses in Mathamatical/Geometrical Origami.. Please have a look at his brilliant work.

XUZHEZONG (author)2014-04-23

好酷 so cool

instruct39 (author)2014-04-23

This is really cool! This would work great for complex origami models, maybe etch a crease pattern

pseaton (author)2014-04-21

Your creases are very very clean. What kind of paper are you using?

nathan nash (author)pseaton2014-04-22

I think he is using Kraft paper, which is brown wrapping paper.

nathan nash (author)nathan nash2014-04-22

It turns out that he is using elephant hide (it says in the introduction).

Kiteman (author)2014-04-22

So, you're using the laser to unidirectionally-score the crease-lines?

That is an awesome idea!

Mielameri (author)2014-04-21

Very interesting application of laser etching

About This Instructable



Bio: Engineer, designer, and artist who develops and applies novel 3D printing technologies.
More by andreasbastian:Removing Carbonized Buildup from An Ultimaker's NozzleEngineering Putty:  Microwavable Instamorph/Shapelock/Polymorph (PCL)The Lum 3D Printer:  Lower Frame and Conveyor Module for Infiniprinting
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